Scoping new policy frameworks for local and community broadband networks


Over several years, locally-initiated and operated Internet infrastructure projects have attempted to provide online connectivity and simultaneously achieve various social goals. Many generations of do-it-yourself network efforts that are either wireless, such as community mesh networks, or wired, such as fiber cooperatives, exist, but in the United States scaled developments have been stalled for a variety of reasons. This research examines the history of local connectivity efforts as well as technologies designed to cultivate sharing or commons organizational approaches. By exploring instances of community-based or -oriented networking efforts, we identify some of the noneconomic benefits that might be realized with certain technologies and organizational and governance structures. Technological, social, regulatory and economic logics that have shaped historical opportunities for local responses to connectivity needs in the U.S. are not necessarily inevitable; alternative approaches do exist. Improved social and technical outcomes for connectivity may be possible, especially when catalyzed by supportive policies.