Northern California studies best practice in community networks

Submitted by acohill on Thu, 01/06/2005 - 14:45

The Redwood Technology Consortium has won a grant to collect data on the best practices of community networks around the country. The RTC represents technology interests for the North Coast region of California, centered in the Eureka area.

This is a great project. As I've often remarked, it's more about education than technology, and the RTC is doing right by trying to learn from other projects. Too many communities end up reinventing the wheel, and in the process, spending too much money and getting bad advice from local "experts" who typically have no experience in managing communitywide technology and telecom efforts.

The usual pattern is to appoint a local IT director from a school system, a corporation, or other large institution to head the project. But institutional networks operate under budget, staffing, and technical constraints very different from heterogeneous communitywide networks. Communitywide projects have to be approached in a very different way, with a heavy emphasis on education and relationship-building. Technology itself is also much less an issue for community projects, in the sense that there are now well-established tools and platforms for community portal sites, and for infrastructure development, the market is now mature, and the emphasis for infrastructure should be on tying communities needs and goals to the investments, rather than rushing out to buy a lot of "stuff."

The North Coast area is fortunate to have a Tech Council taking the lead on these issues. One of the problems with community investments in telecom and technology is that they typically fall across many public and private institutional boundaries, meaning that there is no one entity that has ownership in the same way, for example, that a town owns and manages public roads. It truly is a public/private enterprise, and tech councils are a great way to bring stakeholders together and to sustain the process.

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