Welcome to Telecommunities Canada 1997 Conference


August 15-18, 1997 Halifax, Nova Scotia

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Universal Access Workshop - Document 1 of 4

		Garth Graham


	Universal Access Workshop,
  Information Policy Research Program, FIS, U of T,
	Toronto, Feb 6-8, 1997.

Right from the beginning of Telecommunities Canada, in August
1994, the members of the Board have encountered difficulties
in communicating both the significance of a community access
movement and the role of Telecommunities Canada in support
of it.

Community networks are grassroots organizations.  Their
continuing growth depends on sustaining self-organized local
initiatives.  Right from the beginning, community networks
were concerned, correctly, to retain the local autonomy that
defines their essence and makes them both useful and
ultimately sustainable.

As a consequence, Telecommunities Canada is an association of
associations.  It does not 'represent" the collective interests
of members, it expresses them.  It does not act "for"
community nets, it provides a means for them to connect in
joint action.  The member associations of TC have consistently
expressed the need for a national capacity, not to provide
centralized services "to" community networks, but to share
experiences and resources "among" community networks.  In
other words, Telecommunities Canada's primary role is to find
the means of rendering local learning into a common knowledge
base that is generally accessible to anyone who might want to
use it.  It can only do this by mirroring at the national level
what many community nets are already doing very well at the
local level.  This is not something that is "built" or engineered. 
It just "grows" itself.

In spite of strenuous efforts, we remain concerned about the
possibility of a National Universal Access Strategy continuing
to undervalue the critical experience that Canada is gaining
from its growing grassroots community access movement. 
Community Networks are profoundly aware that the way in
which the National Universal Access Strategy gets defined will
directly affect to climate for their future success and

Consequently, Telecommunities Canada's position begins by
emphasizing how electronic community networks augment the
means available to communities to participate in (or "control")
the socio-economic and political restructuring that affects
them.  Community networks assist communities in retaining
their autonomy to self determine their own interests, issues
and boundaries.  In effect, they are a powerful means for a
community to know, to express, and to negotiate something
significant about the fundamental development (and political)
question of who benefits and who pays.  There are three
components to our model of community networks:

	1. The community is the network, not the technology

	2. The community's social interactions are becoming
virtual.  Electronic networks virtualize social process as
certainly in the social sector as they do in the organizational
restructuring of governments and corporations.  

	3. A community's survival depends on controlling the
means to capture the experience of virtualization and turn it
into practice.  Unless there's a community network in place at
the local level, the community lacks the means of capturing
what's going on and applying it to its own interests 

That's the true role and purpose of community networks.  They
help the community apply what it is learning about the
transition to ever greater degrees of virtualized social
interaction .  They help the community defend the electronic
public space that is essential to defining its own identity, the
virtualized zone of social interaction within which it can self-
define its own boundary.  They allow for the process of
virtualization to enhance civic engagement.

(For a full exploration of the consequences of this model, see;
Garth Graham, The electronic highway and the future of our
communities, BC in 2001 Conference, Royal Roads University,
Victoria, BC, October 25, 1996, on the Telecommunities Canada
homepage at:

There are four major concerns that should preoccupy a
community network association and thus define the local
electronic public space that it sustains:

	1. COMMUNITY - because the intersection of virtual
community and geographical community requires a new
approach to community development

	2. COMMONS - because a community network's primary
responsibility is the defense of universal access to electronic
public space as a commons

	3. CONTENT - because the content of the electronic public
space that the community network provides through computer
mediated communications is not a commodity. It's behaviour.
It's a dynamic process of informing through dialogue, and it's
the chief means of learning netiquette (the rules of social
interaction and citizenship in cyberspace)

	4. CARRIER - because there are many possible routes in
and out of a community network, but the community
networking association is responsible for moderating the
experience of being there.

 (Extracted from Graham, Garth, 1996 "What Community
Networks Are All About" - complete text available at

The visible dimensions of the present Canadian federal
strategy for universal access clearly begin and end with
reliance on markets.  Thus, the only imagined federal role
becomes the identification of and response to market failure.

"Public lanes" are an extension of the concept of "Information
Highways," a concept that defines communications as the
technical transportation of bits.  But "getting there" is only
half the problem of coping with transitional change.   Relying
on the mere provision of private and public electronic goods
and services as a solution may be simple, clear and
quantifiable.  But it is far too narrow to be of ultimate use. 
The other half is "being there."  Thus our insistence on adding
an additional spatial metaphor to the policy debate, the
concept of electronic public space.  The underlying
transportation metaphor implied by the word "highway"
profoundly circumscribes what can be imagined about how
anyone might design electronic public space as a commons. 
This means that much of what is essential about our
understanding of  transition to a knowledge society  is left out
of  the socio-economic and political policy dialogue.

It's good government that matters, not just cheap government. 
And the idea of community is the best route to understanding
what good government is.  Stating these values is not about
nostalgia or looking backward.  It's about specifying how
electronic social networks should *FEEL* .  In Canada, the
values and principles that structure community include:

	* Inclusiveness

	* The assumption of neighbourliness..."We're here, all
around the table, talking, and it would only be polite to ask and
to listen."

	* Set against a vast landscape, but surrounded by
familiar voices

	* An unhurried and courteous curiousity

	* A pragmatism that is the very opposite of the
momentous, or self-important, or ideological

	* Choice about place and self-reliance.  "Here is
wonderful.  This is a good place.  I want to make my stand here. 
I want to stay here and thrive."

(Adapted from David Macfarlane, "Gzowski's last stand,"
Macleans, November 18, 1996.)

The top levels of decision making and governance in Canada do
not really seem to  perceive the crisis of social change on its
own terms.  Perhaps they find it difficult to let go of what 
once might have worked?  But, in the middle of Canadian
society and its institutions, there are committed groups of
social change agents who do perceive the crisis in terms of
adapting to its future unintended consequences.  The members
of the grassroots community networking movement are
examples of this.   These groups act, applying what they know
about the Internet and open distributed systems as social
systems, in community development and institutional

We believe that, on its own, a purely market approach destroys
civic engagement.  It does not connect citizens, it isolates
citizens as consumers.  When Telecommunities Canada talks
about the purposes of electronic community networking, we
avoid talking about universal access to "services."  To define
community networks in terms of services, instead of their
social role, is a slow kiss of death.  

When you assume that the impact of access to the Net can be
thought about as merely a problem of access to services, you
begin to commodify community.  You obscure substantial issues
of the public good.  In fact, private delivery of community
services will usually appear more sustainable than public
delivery if problems of social change are defined only in terms
of the economics of service access.  The purely economic
approach isolates people by separating them into service
providers and their clients, the very opposite of the sort of
converging social connection that occurs in electronic
networks.  There is very little payoff for communities to
participate in policy dialogue when the outcome is so
predetermined.  It seems far better to just "do it," to organize
community networks as fast as possible.

Because electronic networks mediate social networks (the
determinants of basic human identity) in new and different
ways, their impacts on peace, order and good government are
multidimensional, not just economic.  The chief value of a
network lies in the complexity of its connections.   The more a
network connects the more it can connect, and the greater its
value to its participants.  When networked individuals freely
give out information (that is to say they utilize any form of
electronically networked expression), they collectively get
lots in return.  The more they share what they know, the more
they can know.

New ideas emerge more from unexpected places than they do
from corporate organizations.  And new ideas are coin of the
realm in a political economy of knowledge.  We believe that,
without conscious efforts to sustain the autonomy of
communities in the face of the virtualization of the social
networks that are their constituent parts, the potential of a
knowledge society cannot be realized.  The viable "spaces" for
individuals in community to self-define and grow, and 
therefore to innovate, cannot occur.  Healthy virtual
communities lead to higher levels of inclusive social
integration, to greater social capital in complex social
networks, to greater capacities to know, and therefore
to higher levels of innovation. 

Successful community networks are in fact quite conscious of
this role.  It makes sense to understand and disseminate the
experiences of growing a locally controlled community
network.  It provides the community with a pragmatic and
accessible prototype of the experience of social change that
confronts the community in its transition to a knowledge

Ultimately then, access is about connecting and giving, not
receiving.  It's about the means we have available to each of us
to express our ideas and to learn from the consequences of that
expression.   "Now we make our networks and our networks
make us." (William J. Mitchell, City of bits: space, place and the
infobahn, MIT Press, 1995, 49).  The Internet is an extension of
our minds into a shared thinkspace.  The organization of a
community network is the extension of the idea of community
into that shared thinkspace.  If a community does not bring the
parts of its experience of social and institutional change
together in a community network then it cannot do this.

Telecommunities Canada emphasizes community-centred
approaches that recognize the second level of access, the
social participation level, are absent from federal information
highway policy discussions. Why wait for someone else's
vision?  In particular, why wait for vision in a crisis when
none appears forthcoming?  Plugging a unix box into community
development processes not only generates learning from the
bottom up, it shares that learning at the same time as it
generates it.  The people at the community level who create
community networks are extending a responsible vision of the
future of peace, order and good government into cyberspace.