Community Networks

Community Enhancement through Information Sharing

Many forms of human organization based on shared information now have on-line versions, through the World Wide Web, through earlier text-based systems, or simply through e-mail. Community Networks (also Public, Public Access or Civic Networks) are generally directed at serving the common interests of geographically-defined communities through electronic communication among citizens, government, private organizations and local business. As information providers, they must address the issues of content and access. Content varies from material of interest mainly to a geographically-defined community or region to material of more general interest, relating perhaps to cultural affiliation or civic discourse, and it also includes, increasingly, interactive services. Access refers to the physical means by which users are connected to the network, and community networks must choose the degree to which they attempt to provide that access themselves and the degree to which they rely on (or have their users rely on) commercial means.

Community networks seek to provide low-cost access to services of value to the public, and so usually operate as non-profit organizations supported by grants, private donations and/or subscriber fees. Public-private partnerships are often formed in order to acquire and integrate the needed resources. Sources of support for DCN are listed on our homepage.

Organizations and Projects

The Association For Community Networking (AFCN) is an educational nonprofit corporation dedicated to fostering and supporting "Community Networking" -- community-based creation & provision of appropriate technology services.

The National Information Infrastructure (NII) is a conceptual view of an open platform extending the notion of community networks to the national level. There are many associated political, economic and legal issues regarding privacy, access, censorship, and the coexistence of commercial and civic activity. For a public-interest perspective on these matters, see Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, CPSR.

Federal government interest in the NII is expressed through the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency (NTIA), an agency of the Department of Commerce. NTIA is one source of funding for community network s.

Freenets are community networks with special emphasis on no cost or low cost, public access terminals and the use of non-commercial software.

For an organization devoted to networking in support of civic discourse, see the Center for Civic Networking, CCN.

The CalTrans-funded Smart Communities project is directed at developing a model for the enhancement of community functions through electronic technology. Its Web page contains inf ormation about the project (including the roles of UCD and DCN), related links, and an excellent catalogue of community network applications.



The following examples illustrate the diversity in community networking.


The Internet has already generated more commentary than anyone can hope to read. Many references to community networking literature can be found at the organizational sites given above. Here are some examples of the on-line literature:

Surveys and Indexes

The following resources are good starting points for further investigation.

To find out more, use any of the available global search engines with search strings such as "Community Network" or "Public Network".

This page benefits from the combined knowledge of DCN staff and volunteers. Recent contributors are Jason Coffer, Steve McMahon and Vicki Suter.

Comments should be addressed to Paul Healey,, with subject DCN Community Networks Page.