Unemployment, business development, social cohesion, and technology
training are all considered economic development issues. Community networks can
effectively address these issues by providing local information, community interaction,
and access to technology.
Community networking helps develop strong relationships
between community members. Community calendars are one tool that fosters community pride
and participation. Local residents use calendars operated by community networks like the
Columbia Free-Net www.tcfn.org to learn about local
events like community theater, church rummage sales, and political government hearings.
Calendars increase awareness of local events and encourage citizens to participate in
community activities they otherwise would not have known about. Community networks like
the Twin Cities Free-Net http://freenet.msp.mn.us
operate forums and chat rooms that let local residents communicate with each other. In an
America that has become balkanized by fenced-in yards, electronic community forums are an
alternative medium for citizens to discuss neighborhood issues such as schools and road
Increased interaction between community members can also
lead to the development of mutually beneficial business relationships. The Appalachian
Center for Economic Networks (ACENet) (www.seorf.ohiou.edu/~acenet)
nurtures and strengthens relationships. ACENet operates a small business incubator where
entrepreneurs rent space, are provided assistance, and most importantly, can interact with
each other. Increased communication in the business community has resulted in partnerships
in diverse businesses such as restaurants and furniture manufacturing for people with
disabilities. ACENet is also a partner in the Public WebMarket (http://www.civicnet.org/webmarket), a
program sprearheaded by the Center for Civic Networking, that acts as a virtual incubator.
It lets local craftsmen communicate with others in their industry. Public WebMarket also
increases the ease with which local businesses can sell their crafts on an international
market. Community networks can be considered virtual incubators because they often serve
as a repository of small business resources, are a locus of community interaction, and
provide access to the Internet's research capabilities.
Community networks like Philadelphia based LibertyNet www.libertynet.org create one-stop information-sites
that connect citizens to economic development resources. Community networks increase the
number of people with access to existing programs and activities by making it easier for
local residents to find information. Instead of creating their own jobs database, they
provide links to job listings in the Philadelphia Inquirer, JobBank USA, and many other
sources. LibertyNet also educates users about prominent economic groups like Pennsylvania
Small Business Centers and Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.
Community networks also stimulate the local economy by
promoting the region. A business that is considering relocating to Okmulgee County can go
to the Okmulgee County Electronic Village www.ocevnet.org
and find valuable statistics on topics like the area's demographics and transportation
facilities. The Columbia Free-Net actively promotes tourism. They provide information on
the area's hotels, vacation highlights, and aggregate all the information into their
Community networks believe that access to technology will
increase economic prosperity. LibertyNet, along with Philadelphia's Northeast Regional
library, provides free classes to community groups on such topics as "Introduction to
Computers," "Exploring the World Wide Web," "Job Searching on the
Web," and "Resume Creating." They also partner with Lincoln University to
offer web design classes that help organizations increase productivity and lower costs.
ACENet's Women's Sectoral Training and Empowerment Program gets low-income women off of
welfare. Since they understand that computer knowledge cannot in itself ensure employment,
they incorporate basic business skills into their training program.
Community networks offer disadvantaged populations cheap
and sometimes free access to the Internet. LibertyNet helps operate the Bridge Project
community computer lab and offers free Internet access and training 20 hours a week.
LibertyNet also publicizes computer access at public libraries. The Eugene Free Community
Network www.efn.org tries a different approach and
provides Internet service to people's homes. They offer free Internet connections to