Spring-Summer 2005

Open Space Austin: April 29-30, 2005

Open Space Austin certainly reinforced everyone's belief in the value of meeting face-to-face. We had a near perfect mix of attendees — ISP reps, rural community leaders, project directors, consultants for telecommunications and economic development, activists, academics, and many new faces representing expertise in community media, mesh wireless, as well as several of the old guard of community networking. Our only regret is that many good folks were unable to join us in these lean economic times.

This was the first time I've attended a conference that focused 100% on supporting the networking among attendees. Typically, most conferences are competing presentations where most presented information is missed by most attendees, and everyone struggles to network in the halls during the limited time between sessions.

Jon Lebkowsky's conference report noted above does a fine job covering the themes discussed and you might enjoy his blog, too. Michael Maranda and other participants have been posting follow-ups to generate new partners, resources, energy, and fresh ideas. The bottom line is never has there been a greater need for good people to come together to make good things happen. By working together we can build collaborative capacity that benefits everyone involved.

This is the core challenge for all community technology organizations — to come together to walk-the-talk and create an organized, if informal, advocacy consortium to jointly address national and state policy issues as a first priority as well as more efficient sharing of resources and expertise as a second priority.

Gene Crick of AFCN, Will Reed of Technology For All, and Michael Gurstein of the Journal of Community Informatics, at Open Space Austin
Gene Crick (AFCN), Will Reed (Technology For All), and Michael Gurstein (Journal of Community Informatics) at Open Space Austin

Among the participants' work and contributions:

  • Richard MacKinnon has sustainable venues with many organizations serving 40,000 people with wireless in Austin, a model well worth further exploration—and he's working to create OrgForge.net, a project to support organizations develop into nonprofit 501c3's or the best appropriate format.
  • Sascha Meinrath shared his community wireless innovations, which are now key listings with other wireless resources I've gathered.
  • Ana Sisnett impressively represented the Austin Free-Net and the diversity issues and opportunities before us.
  • Inspiration for future whitepapers articulating how AFCN can work more closely with the Rural Telecommunications Congress, CTCNet and many other com-tech orgs can be found in essays by our colleagues in the environmental movement "Movement as Network" project.
  • Texas telecom policy bill 789 threatens to outlaw communities installing wireless for their citizens even when the telcos refuse to deliver service. Kudos to SaveMuniwireless.org for carrying the torch of opposition on this goofy legislative pitch which is happening all across the country.
  • Will Reed and Jim Forester represented TechnologyforAll and its intriguing social enterprises.
  • Peter Miller and Paul Hansen shared the exciting new community technology VISTA project directions which will have a community networking project component and other new innovations.
  • Fred Johnson has a full-time faculty position with the UMass/Boston Community Media and Technology program working with the VISTA project.
  • Richard Cutler is working with innovative Forum 9000 “smart social networking” software systems.
  • Christopher Jowaisas represented the library projects of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, libraries having an unshakeable role to play in community learning programs at all levels.

Literally every participant has a passion and story to tell — I've encouraged everyone to share their passions and visions via the AFCN listserv and elsewhere. It was very clear that those who made the extra effort to attend were there "on a mission."

Spring is the season of renewal and may we all renew our commitments to what we believe we can make happen together!

Frank Odasz is a long-time contributor to the community networking movement and the ComTechReview. See his latest complete listing of resources.


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