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

Demand Side Policy Needed to Extend the Information Highway
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Kenneth Pigg is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia. He holds degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Engineering and History and Cornell University in Development Sociology. His current work in the study of CINs is examining involves comparative research in the U.S., Canada and the E.U.

Kenneth Pigg

Analogies are useful tools for lots of things including national policy making. Federal universal service policy encouraging open access to the Information Superhighway uses the transportation infrastructure analogy extensively towards efforts associated with putting more hardware in place--wires, modems, servers, routers, etc.--just as the federal government invests trillions of dollars in concrete. However, in my view, there is one critical difference in the federal highway system that undermines the Information Superhighway analogy as a basis for universal service policy: The highway system is maintained by public tax revenues while the telecommunications system is basically privately-owned (and now being deregulated). Why then, do we take a supply-side approach and use federal and state funds to add more physical infrastructure to this privately owned system when a demand-side approach may be a far more effective and appropriate use of taxpayer's dollars?

Since creation of the Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Project (TIIAP) in the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Congress has appropriated over $118 million for "demonstration projects" that promote universal service. A recently published evaluation of the TIIAP projects awarded in 1994 and 1995 touts the success of this policy (Westat, '99). The evaluation notes that over half of these projects have been sustained past the end of federal funding and the federal funds have "leveraged" over 1.5 times the amount of funds provided by TIIAP.



Borgstrom, Amy. 1999. Personal communication with President of the Association for Community Networking.

Gurstein, Michael. 1998. "Information and Communications Technology and Local Economic Development." Pp. 159-181 in Perspectives on Communities: A Community Economic Development Roundtable by Gertrude A. MacIntyre (ed.). Sydney, Nova Scotia: UCCB Press.

Information Society Forum (ISF). 1997. Second Annual Report. Brussels: EC Information Society Project Office. [ ].

Pigg, Kenneth E. 1999. "Community Networks and Community Development." Paper presented at the Conference of the International Community Development Association, Edinburgh, Scotland. April.

Pigg, Kenneth. 1998. Missouri Express: Program Implementation Assessment. Project Report. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri. Available at

Schuler, Doug. 1996. New Community Networks: Wired for Change. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Vendramin, Patricia and Valenduc, Gerard. 1999. "Advanced Communication Technologies and Local Development: Opportunities on Certain Conditions." LEADER Magazine, Winter, '98-99, No. 19: pp. 4-12.

Westat. 1999. Evaluation Report--Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Assistance Program: 1994 and 1995 Grant Years. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NTIA.

Yet, regulatory language requires that nearly all funds be spent on hardware for "extending existing networks to new users," and "demonstrating new technologies for providing access." Very little can be spent on content development, awareness building or training. Are we to believe that government's basic assumption here is that the private sector would otherwise have no economic incentive to invest in this infrastructure?There are similar policies at work at the state level. In Missouri, the General Assembly and the Governor created three separate programs and appropriations to connect schools and libraries and create community information networks. In each instance, the use of the funding was limited to hardware purchases. Iowa went a step further and spent tax revenues on creating its own fiber optic network across the state to promote access and connectivity. A similar approach was followed in North Carolina as state revenues were used to purchase access for public institutions in many communities in the state. Our Canadian neighbors chose the same policy approach, using tax revenues--limited to $10,000 (Canadian) for each project award--to provide a high bandwidth connection in public places such as libraries and community centers to increase public access. Project winners in the Canadian Access Program generally have to provide the computer and any other hardware necessary to make the "access" really work. Nevertheless, several thousand such sites have been created across the provinces.

A better policy strategy and use of public tax revenues would be to focus on creating greater "demand" for this telecommunications infrastructure, and then rely on the commercial sector and market efficiencies to provide the hardware itself in recognition of this demand. Such a demand-side strategy would mean investing in something other than hardware for expanding the infrastructure. To be successful, a demand-side policy would have to acknowledge the existence of a "community information infrastructure" that exists in all communities and the need to establish a "collective" technological literacy (Pigg, '99).

Community information infrastructure (CII) is not hardware--wires, modems, servers, routers, etc. The term also does not refer to how communities provide access, increase individuals' computer literacy, or extend connectivity. Rather, CII refers to the nature of the information infrastructure, e.g., the content, structure, and relationships among discrete information resources, providers and users, and the intended social function of the CII. To the degree these two key aspects correspond and create a new "public sphere," democratic decision making and community building are enhanced. Doug Schuler ('96), an observer of community networking in the U.S. offers a parallel observation saying that community networks represent the capacity for "building community awareness, encouraging involvement in local decision making, or developing economic opportunities in disadvantaged communities."

Communities are vital social entities when there is an active, inclusive information infrastructure: mass media, gossip, community forums, friendly conversation on the street, and messages emanating from various organizations and agencies. CII is also characterized by a social network structure meaning that flows of information (communications) are "structured" by relationships, status and power. Community information networks that utilize electronic forms of communication may or may not reflect this community information infrastructure. Where they do, we may assume a new public sphere has come into being.

Understanding how these new public spheres can be created means policy makers must fully understand the role of information and its modes of communication in community. The assertion here is that information transmitted or exchanged is not sufficient to build/maintain "community." The community networking movement has provided access to technology intended to "build community," or contribute constructively to community development. Achieving these outcomes may depend on the degree to which the community network corresponds with the already existing community information infrastructure.

A wide variety of community-based projects have been launched to bring the benefits of electronic networks to citizens, students, government agencies, small businesses, libraries, schools, and non-profit groups. The purposes of these network projects varies, but often include: providing access for increased inclusiveness, strengthening the economic base of the community, enhancing life-long learning opportunities for citizens, increasing technological literacy among residents, and achieving general community building outcomes. One estimate indicates there are about 182 of these community or civic networks. They have taken many forms: Free-Nets, InfoZones, bulletin board systems, Tele-villages and smart cities (Borgstrom, 1999). David Miller at the University of Sheffield lists 54 community networking sites in the U.K. (   and Peter Scott lists 59 in Canada ( ).

Investing public funds to increase the supply of hardware does not build demand by increasing collective technological literacy. It is important for policy makers to realize that the ability to achieve these kinds of collective purposes associated with community networks requires more than simple individual technological literacy. It requires a collective literacy, a comprehension of what the technology will support for bringing people and their community closer together, with higher quality interaction than exists in the usual CII.

For example, economic development that contributes to stronger, more sustainable communities usually involves collective efforts to build a stronger, broader economic base for the community. In the Missouri Ozarks, several communities with CINs have organized themselves for a regional tourism development effort to attract visitors ultimately headed to Branson, Missouri off the interstate highway and through their small towns. This is accomplished by a coordinated effort--using the Internet--to feature local bed and breakfast facilities, antique shops, restaurants and historical sites that tourists might not ordinarily be aware of when they board the bus to Branson. In Nova Scotia, a provincial project organized at the University College of Cape Breton worked with local industries to organize a coordinated system of proposal preparation, production and delivery with a group of small manufacturers in the province. These manufacturers individually could not compete with larger companies for supplying major OEM companies with parts and assemblies. Communications are maintained via Internet connections provided by the Canadian Access Program (Gurstein, '98). These kinds of economic development projects are not effectively organized by individual communities or businesses without some kind of external intervention to mobilize the resources provided by the telecommunications system and given form by the CINs.

To increase demand for telecommunications services, different kinds of public investments are needed (Vendramin and Valenduc, '99). Funding for human resources are more important than funding for hardware and appliances. Investing more in human resources helps local groups think together about how this new form of communication can be used to increase their collective well-being, enhance civil society, expand the economic base of the community or increase life-long learning. Letting individuals "stumble" along in pursuit of individual technology literacy without a realization of the collective capacity that can be built using cybertools wastes good opportunities and taxpayer dollars. Developing collective technological literacy improves understanding of collective action processes in general and how cybertools can support and enhance these processes. Building demand around the existing community information infrastructure will, in turn, increase private sector investment in technology.