It would seem simpler to first focus on community radio as a tool for networking.
However, I think we have to eventually grapple with the internet as an interactive communication tool. This means going beyond browsing websites and webcasts.
There is a long history of supported internet networking in rural NL beginning with the Enterprise Network rural telecenters (cut in 1997) and also including the Community Access Program (hacked away at since 2004).
I also would like to raise the potential of a local evolution to rural Community Media Centres - such as are developing in Asia.
"The Enterprise Network was Canada's first rural online service and introduced North America's first rural telecentres. The Enterprise Network offered two essential rural informatics services, an online, dial-up, electronic information and communications service (began in 1990) and a system of six rural telecentres (began in 1989).
The vision for the Enterprise Network was:
To transform the rural economy through the application of information technology solutions for economic development.
Elements of the vision included:
creating an online network for rural social and economic development organizations;
offering information services to small business and rural community development organizations through a series of rural telecenters;
creating the local capacity to design, plan and create electronic information and communications products;
building partnerships among business, the community and governments through the development of appropriate ‚Äúorgware;"
transferring the skills associated with the Information Economy to business and economic development organizations in rural Newfoundland and Labrador."
Against the Tide: Battling for Economic Renewal in Newfoundland and Labrador. J.D. House.
Bridger's (Ira Bridger, Newfoundland and Labrador Development Corporation) boldest innovative move had been the hiring Richard Fuchs to begin a subsidiary agency, Enterprise Network Incorporated, which would be charged with realizing the commission's vision of electronic villages and towns in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, by providing up-to-date electronic business and economic development support services to the rest of the province.
In his background report on service industries (to the royal commission) Richard Fuchs recommended as follows:
A concerted effort needs to be made to transfer these technologies to rural residents in order that they become computer literate in their interaction with the urban sector. Government would be well advised to begin the transfer of this technology through the structure of rural Development Associations and local governments as a component of both its new policy of post-secondary educational decentralization and its longstanding policy of rural development. Put simply, if rural areas are able to negotiate, cajole and influence public policy in the service sector, they will need an information network among themselves which makes decisions affecting their lives. If the revolution in computer technology is to be interactive, rather than extractive, the rural resident seated in front of the video monitor will have to know the language of exchange.
The Enterprise Network was an electronic telecommunications system that provided business and economic development information and communications services throughout rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
pp. 144 - 145
The Enterprise Network started a progressive movement in rural Newfoundland and Labrador that will endure beyond the closure of the network itself.
Our other main involvement in regional economic development from the outset was the establishment of the Enterprise Network. The Enterprise Network did live up to and exceed our expectations. It introduced rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to the computer age and the information highway and showed them that, in principle at least, one could become part of the global economy and global society from the most remote locations in the province. But, more than that, the Enterprise Network was also a catalyst for information technology business development in rural areas, with the town of Clarenville, in particular, becoming a small rural centre of IT expertise. Before it was closed down, the Enterprise Network had begun to explore ways in which telework and telecommuting could become integral to rural economic development.
After leaving NL, Richard Fuchs eventually ended up at IDRC where he continued to globally support rural telecenters.
In 2007, at a networking conference in Vancouver, I videotaped a presentation by Marta Valles, Barcelona, on Spanish telecentres.
The centre of the Telecentre Program is now the Phillipines.
IDRC Telecentre Program
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Industry Canada was determined to implement community access to the Internet starting from Canada's rural periphery, and to work only later toward the urban center. "The industrial age," Hull observed, "has hollowed out the hinterland around most urban areas. These communities get the sense that they are dying and withering away." With rural Internet access, Hull stated, "people can realize that the world is available to them and that is a two way street."
Gagetown, New Brunswick was one of the first Community Access Program sites to open. Visiting the school, Hull found 20 computers operating, and was reminded of New Brunswick's strong prior investment in computing. He also witnessed, firsthand, the value that Internet linkage added, and what community access meant. Hull recalled his conversation with town officials:
The Mayor said, 'When trade was by river, we used to be right on the main route. Then came the real highway, which bypassed this town, and we‚Äôve been languishing for the last 100 years. Now, with this program, the information highway is here and we don't mean to be left behind. We're tired of our kids leaving town. We want them to stay here. Until now there has been no prospect for development here, because the only highway has been far away. The Internet is changing all that.'
In December 1994, the Government announced its support for the Community Access Project, part of a federal initiative it called "Building A More Innovative Economy." CAP and SchoolNet were formally recognized. In its 1995 budget, the Government approved Industry Canada's request for 1,000 CAP sites across the country, at a cost of $22.5 million. About 300 sites were to be selected and funded each year in 1995, 1996, and 1997.
It was accepted that young people would go to the university outside such small rural communities. Yet it was also necessary, now, "to provide the proper environment for their return." That was the rural promise of CAP ‚Äì to make it possible to engage the information economy without relocating away from the rural heartland.
With the application and selection process underway, Industry Canada had established its basic operating principles.
"Everything we've done we have done in partnership," observed Wayne Tosh. Financially, for example, Industry Canada worked out a cost-sharing agreement with New Brunswick and other provinces, in which each put up 50 percent of the government resources. Communities made a 50 percent match of inkind or cash resources.
Above all, the idea was to keep "ownership" local. "The way we designed the program, it's really run by local groups," Doug Hull said. "You have to apply. We don't care where you locate it or how you get it done," he said. "We give you resources to make it happen and here is what we want in general terms: public access, training help, convenient location, and so many hours per week."
The drive for linkage could only succeed if it came from extremely local levels, and it often did. "The communities get quite passionate about it," Hull noted. "There is always a missionary who thinks that everyone should get wired, and they make it happen."
The process of coming together around an application would itself "get people talking about how they are going to make this happen," according to Hull. This had the added benefit of creating new awareness and support for institutions such as schools. "The idea of using it in schools is important," Hull claimed, "because it makes the infrastructure work for the communities and the schools. After a while, a community says that if we are going to use this for our own adult use in the community we will put more resources in it so kids can have it during the day and adults can have it at night. There becomes a strong bond between the community and the school."
"You can walk into any community in North America or the world," Michael Binder explained, "and find the volunteer sector, however defined ‚Äì either the industry leader, or an elected official, or a teacher, or a hospital administrator ‚Äì that really wants to do something for the community they live in." The task of government ‚Äì its opportunity ‚Äì is to "get those guys charged up, energized. You say to them," Binder continued, "We will help you if you bring the community together to help your kids." It‚Äôs a winner. They get together, they come together, and they say, "This is what we want to do."
The process unfolds. "Before you know it, somebody volunteers a facility that is not used 100 percent. For example, a library, or a school." Government offers the solution. "You say, 'All you need to do is keep it open on Saturday and Sunday, and you don‚Äôt have to invest anything.'
Community Access Program NL
Fast forward to 2010 - the federal government has been reducing CAP funding for years. Tony Clement's speech today (November 22) about the future of the digital economy doesn't even mention CAP.
Nunavut funds most of its CAP program but my understanding is the NL program is still funded by the federal government.
It would be useful to survey what community communication is fostered by NL CAP sites.
The Community Media Centres emerging in Asia combine traditional media (such as community radio or video) with new internet communication technologies - such as found in traditional rural telecenters and CAP sites.
A few years ago it was my hope that the Sharing Our Future program, as it survived in Burnt Islands, with its regional approach and its grassroots participants making - community television; radio; theatre; newsletters; websites; photography, and brochures - would evolve into a community media centre. But the program didn't survive the termination of federal funding.
Supporting the Democratic Voice through Community Media Centres in South Asia
The media models and initiatives in the ictPR project have been under development for only a short time but the potential of an inclusive and multimedia view of ICTs is clear. Content creation is a powerful means of engaging people with media technologies and developing sophisticated ICT skills that has the added benefits of allowing them to voice their concerns and to acquire and share locally relevant knowledge. This can be seen as an example of the development of a creative ICT literacy and wider participation. Engagement with ICTs brought out innovation and creativity in marginalised users and communities both in content and in understandings of the media. The sites have demonstrated a significant local capacity for expression, programming and production using a range of media. Mixed media approaches have clearly facilitated an increase in local users¬í' media literacy and a greater capacity to express their ideas concerning a range of issues and ideas.
This research reinforces Dagron's statement that technology alone may not be the answer if culture and identity are not at the heart of the discussion. When new technologies are introduced to a different social setting, what is transferred is not only technology itself, but also the social use of it, a set of assumptions and practices that emerged from another context and other needs (Dagron 2001: 31).
It is precisely in the ways in which interventions recognise and work within existing communicative ecologies and social networks, and allow for creative expression and the promotion of voice that both technological determinism and western-centric practices and assumptions can be avoided. Given such a starting point, initiatives employing new ICTs can build upon existing community media and multimedia models (particularly community radio and video) which have long traditions of community content development and participatory training and production. This can help shift computer and internet use in the community from general purpose skills and information access to the production of locally relevant content, both through local management of information, and through incorporation of content into media and multimedia formats that are closer to the community.
Integrating ICTs with established media like community radio also draws on the strong organisation and ownership models of community media, which has positive implications for the sustainability of local ICT initiatives. In many cases, through this process of integrating media, technologies and resources we are seeing the potential emergence of local community knowledge organisations that promote local voices and local content and work towards active citizenship.
More links to Community Media Centres:
Democracy and Governance: Where communication and media are central to Democracy and Governance: Media Reform in India: Legitimising community media
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copyright of the respective authors.