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Why Should I Care?
About Community Networking and Self-directed Learning?

Engaging rural citizens in becoming motivated to understand their opportunities for utilization of high bandwidth presents both challenges and opportunities.

Justifying the Investment

Careful analysis of over ten years of community networking projects, and the current lack of replicable successful models, and metrics to measure success, suggests a different approach is needed.

To justify the investment in infrastructure, models and metrics for training outcomes, proven benefits, and creating a readiness for widespread utilization, are needed. Measurements are the key to success.

It will ultimately be what the majority of people learn to do with bandwidth that will justify the investment. If training is omitted, the lowest levels of benefit can be expected.

The new competitive dimension for community economic sustainability is mobilizing the self-directed learning and collaborative sharing potential of citizens, using those Internet applications which return the greatest benefit, and motivation, requiring the least time and effort invested.

Moving Beyond Infrastructure, toward Creating a Social Info-structure
- Citizen Engagement in Developing Both Social and Economic Value

It's not obvious what type of fast-track community engagement program can establish widespread interest and participation.

It's not obvious what type of training produces inspired and motivated citizens and requires the least time and effort, while delivering the highest possible benefits.

One of the lessons learned from ten years of community networking test-bed projects is that the promise of inspired, motivated citizens collaborating online has yet to be realized on any significant scale.

The Builders of These Networks Need to Partner
in New and Meaningful Ways with the Intended Users

Most citizens are intimidated by technology, doubt their abilities to keep up, and don't have a means of learning how to benefit at high levels in the short term.

Unlike the majority of rural citizens, which we hope will benefit at high levels, those in high tech industries know how to learn the latest applications on an ongoing basis.

It's not obvious how best to define successive steps forward as a learning pathway for citizens, but posting known Ecommerce successes, and posting a roster of locals willing to share their skills as mentors, are recommended….. Consider a Kinko's-like Mentoring Cooperative; easy, inexpensive, fast, and collaborative.

There exists an increasing opportunity for vendors to creatively mobilize the collective will of communities by validating the outcomes of learning new Internet applications.

Creating Visible Success;
Public Ongoing Self-assessment Via Evaluative Metrics

While technical academies exist for the perhaps 1% of us who will maintain networks, the real need is for an academy program for the other 99% aimed at community applications, including entry-level entrepreneurship and Ecommerce.

Tangible goals, combined with mobilizing the collective will of a community, need to be reflected in a public ongoing manner so everyone can work together.

Balancing Training and Bandwidth Investments

As costs for bandwidth are dropping due to new wireless and satellite options and other factors, providing expensive bandwidth at today's prices, before communities have the training to be ready, may waste the majority of bandwidth and investment.

Matching infrastructure and training expenses, dollar for dollar, is recommended to avoid the wasted expense of under-utilization. You want the highest bandwidth you can afford that you know you're ready to utilize.

Bandwidth isn't a single fixed entity but is increasing all the time. The level of bandwidth is not necessarily directly proportional to the level of realized benefits. It's what you've learned to do with existing bandwidth that determines whether the "promise of broadband" is realized.

Why should I care – about Community Networking?

Originally the term “community networking” meant getting to know the talents and needs of your local community. Often this had direct economic motivations as most business was conducted locally and developing personal relationships was generally the key to generating business. There was a reason for networking beyond simple sociability, we needed each other in order to make a living.

In today’s world of accelerating change, we often don’t know what we need to know and suffer from information overload. Due to many factors, rural retail is changing and rural communities are in economic decline. While a significant number of rural citizens have learned to use the Internet as an economic tool, most have not.

How will you learn what you didn’t know you needed to know?

Local Internet access opens the door to a new form of both local and global community networking, for both economic and social purposes. We have new opportunities to share what we have learned in return for what others have learned and if we each give a little, we’ll all have access to all our knowledge. But, for these benefits to be realized we all need to share a will and a vision to contribute and collaborate. Community networking online using new Internet tools can be easy, efficient, productive and even socially fun.

While the Internet is a tool for finding and sharing information, it can be misused and often is. Technology can present its own threats such as information overload,– identity theft, porn, hoaxes, pedophiles, privacy intrusions, and push technologies such as spam, pop-up ads and more.

Citizen Science Has Become Important to Communities

As if terrorism and bioterrorism are not enough of a threat, spawning the new priority of homeland security, we face nature’s biothreats of AIDS, SARS,  West Nile virus carried by birds, Hanta virus carried by rodents, mad cow disease in Cattle, and Wasting disease in Elk. The pine borer bettle is severely impacting our precious forests, ozone depletion, drought and the list goes on and on.

There is an increasing need to create summative local resources accessible anytime via Internet to keep citizens current on the local status of these and other threats to health, safety, the economy and our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Economic Threats; While the Internet offers inexpensive global advertising, it also offers this equally to everyone and many fear they’ll learn too little too late to be able to take advantage of Internet opportunities. Most of us feel inadequate in the face of technology and need some serious ongoing assistance. Our perceptions as to what’s possible are often misinformed.

What can a community do to support the needs of citizens?

How can we use Internet tools to build our information sharing capacity?

Continue your reading at http://lone-eagles.com/afcn4levels.htm and http://lone-eagles.com/ruralempowerment.htm with yet more at http://lone-eagles.com/articles/articles.htm