Lawrence Hecht
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Walter Siembab
Lawrence Hecht
Kenneth Pigg
Ron Burnett
Steve Cisler
Jessica Brown
Ryan Turner

Community Networks Connect with Economic Development Lawrence Hecht recently completed a survey of community networks and the services they offer and set up the Internet Public Policy Network (IPPN) to connect organizations to experts on Internet public policy issues. The results of the study are located at
Lawrence Hecht

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 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 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 construction.

Increased interaction between community members can also lead to the development of mutually beneficial business relationships. The Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (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 (, 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 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 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 Tourism Center.

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 tries a different approach and provides Internet service to people's homes. They offer free Internet connections to low-income individuals.