Fall-Winter 2002-2003

AFCN Update
by Gene Crick

Gene Crick

As reported on the AFCN email list, results of the 2002 Board of Directors balloting were announced in July. Group members re-elected Ann Bishop, Richard Lowenberg, and Gene Crick to second terms on the board. Sally Rawlins, respected CN leader and rural technology advocate, was elected as a new member of the board.

These board members join directors Laura Breeden, Judith Pepper, Andrew Cohill, and Steve Snow, whose terms were not expired. And as AFCN President-elect, I succeeded Andrew Cohill as president.

Hence, this is my first "AFCN Update" to the Community Technology Review. Please excuse any literary shortcomings. As a veteran CN leader, my writing experience has been mostly creative fiction and fantasy, notably grant applications and project budgets.

Since the early Nineties, I have been President, then Executive Director of a community network, the Metropolitan Austin Interactive Network. We began as a text and gopher-based online information network, later installing Austin's first free public library Internet access (in 1995, if I recall correctly).

With the birth of Austin FreeNet, our friends and unofficial "sister", and their wonderful public access programs, MAIN re-focused on web information and support for non-profits within Austin and launched the TeleCommunity Resource Center network to install free public access terminals in 25 cities outside Austin (1996). In years since, TCRC has worked to become a support resource for community technology network leaders everywhere.

One of our most rewarding TCRC projects is "The Internet Roadshow," a community technology outreach program. The Roadshow goes from town to town, by invitation, to explain and promote local telecom bandwidth and community technology networks.

Another enjoyable TCRC project is the national Community Network Conference, co-hosted by AFCN. This year's fifth annual conference, "CN2002," will be held December 8-10 at the Hyatt Regency in Austin, Texas. (FYI: We currently plan to offer discount registrations for AFCN and CTCNet members.)

AFCN and The Year Ahead

As you may have heard, Dr. Andrew Cohill has left Blacksburg Electronic Village and the university to become a full-time CN consultant. Well, I'm happy to report Andrew has agreed to remain as active in the AFCN administration as he possibly can.

This is one more good sign for AFCN and community networking in general: the group's creators laid a solid foundation for our future. Since then, AFCN has steadily grown and is now a strong organization, blessed with more members and supporters than ever. Operations, accounting, communication, and other basics are running smoothly, thanks to smart, hardworking volunteers.

And a key mission remains unchanged: to provide support for CN leaders everywhere. Our challenge, with finite resources for the coming year, is where to sharpen focus and possible new directions, therefore I propose our next step of growth include broadening our leadership, our membership, and our services.

As a CN leader this challenge should sound familiar to you, because AFCN is itself a CN, as is CTCNet. Both organizations link a virtual, non-geographic community of people who use technology as a tool for social and economic benefits. Seems only reasonable we should aspire to become our own best CN model.

So how about it? Are you willing to speak up and step in as a volunteer leader for the coming year? You can help AFCN decide the best ways to help our communities and define the roles and committees (or working groups or whatever) required to deliver those services. This help doesn't have to be a burden; even a little time given can make a big difference.

Let's review some notions and needs, and then ask your insights and suggestions on the AFCN year's agenda. (And let us know if you are willing to work with any of these initiatives.)

Wider Perspective – CN and Local Bandwidth

Our team spends a lot of time on the road with the Internet Roadshow and with our community technology consulting services. (We've done CN planning for more than fifty towns and cities.) In these travels, mostly to rural and underserved urban areas, we're hearing a clear message that the rural mood is changing.

Getting adequate local access is no longer viewed as merely a social "do-gooder" concern. With businesses closing and families leaving, community leaders now recognize telecom as part of a life-or-death economic priority. Similarly, people in underserved urban neighborhoods are increasingly aware that telecom inequity is another barrier facing their families and their futures.

These leaders tell us, "Telecom is not a novelty anymore; it can no longer be a luxury. Internet use has become a fundamental tool for community survival. We need it...but we don't have it."

In the US, despite "guarantees" like Section 254 of the 96 Telecom Act, too many people and places are still denied the full opportunities of our celebrated Information Age. Rural areas, for example, are losing residents who would stay if they had connectivity for jobs, for education and all the rest. Unfortunately, the deregulated broadband marketplace is simply ignoring them.

Let's hope AFCN can help improve this situation, working to expand access, training, and opportunities to use technology to enrich lives.

Information Resource for Policy Makers

Though AFCN, as a 501c3 nonprofit group, will never go into politics, we can inform decision makers about possibilities and realities of technology networks for community development. This assistance can help them make the best choices for government policy and programs (TOP and CTC, for example). Most legislators and regulators appreciate knowledgeable input from a credible source like the members of AFCN.

Communication among CN Professionals

Inclusion and communication are valuable not only within community networks, but also among community networks. Each member can help AFCN continue to improve cooperation and sharing among CN leaders. If members wish, we could even explore practical collaborations such as "group pricing" and vendor discounts for all AFCN member CNs.

Management Support for CN Leaders

Prompted by concerns about sustainability of state-funded CNs, TCRC and Texas government agencies are developing tools and training to support CN operations. These programs, beginning in early 2003, will be available to all CNs, wherever located.

Community Network Guide

This project is active but remains challenged by constant change in CN overall, and by the limited time of potential authors. We'll review and report on this effort.

Outreach, Membership and Partnerships

AFCN needs each community technology professional to join and enlist other organizations and professionals. AFCN membership is a powerful tool for CN leaders everywhere, and a genuine bargain besides. Please help us grow.

On that subject – We're actively working to recruit members outside the US as well. So if you know someone who might be interested, do them a good turn and recommend AFCN.

Map of CNs

Is anyone interested in improving online mapping of CNs worldwide? While this could never be an absolutely perfect map, if kept current it will offer a valuable resource. (Hey, educators, wouldn't this be a great dissertation topic?)

General CN Support

There is little sense in each CN developing similar tools from scratch. AFCN, working with TCRC and other groups, could identify resources or create them as needed. Examples could be collections of Acceptable Use Policies, legal and privacy protection updates, and anything else you feel could help you.

Wider Leadership

AFCN, like the CNs we serve, grows stronger every time we gain another person willing to help the organization. Thus we ask about committees and working groups: Which committees should we have? Which will you join and support?

And don't forget...

National Community Network Conference, December 8-10, 2002, Hyatt Regency - Austin, Texas (includes an AFCN General Meeting ). AFCN is a sponsor of this fifth annual event, which gives us an opportunity to assemble and share the best possible information and resources for the changing world of community networking. Volunteers are invited to help build this world-class CN professional gathering. Please contact Patti Clifford, Conference Director: 512-919-7590. More conference info will be available via www.afcn.org.

So tell us how AFCN can best serve you and your CN. And please help us make that happen. Thanks, Gene

Gene Crick is the President of the Association for Community Networking.

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