Telecommunications Reclaimed: A hands-on guide to networking communities

 

Publication date: 
February 2020
Author: 
Various (Edited by Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay and Félix Tréguer, CNRS)
Publisher: 
Internet Society

This book is a guide on how to build a community network, a shared local telecommunications infrastructure, managed as a commons, to access the internet and other digital communications services. It was written collectively by a group of community network pioneers in Europe, activists and researchers during a writing residency week held in Vic, Catalonia in October 2018.

It was a time of hard work and fast writing, but also of discussions in a friendly environment. Meant for a wide audience, the book includes practical knowledge illustrated by several hands-on experiences – a set of 32 real-life stories – as well as legal, technical, governance, economic and policy material extracted from netCommons, a three-year-long research project supported by the European Commission. Its goal is to guide the reader through a set of actions aimed at setting up and fostering the growth of a community network, but also, for policy makers, local administrations and the general public, to create the right conditions to let community networks bloom and flourish.

Starting with presentations of successful community networks, and an introduction to the importance and the role of community networks, it provides step by-step guidelines and concrete information on the resources needed to start a community network, get it running, and keep it sustainable in the long term. From technical options to economic models, governance choices, legal requirements, and the various skills involved, this lively resource proposes ways to engage with a local community at every stage of a community network.

The book is organised in six parts that comprise 25 short chapters. The first parts address different topics, starting with general definitions of what community networks are, and why they are important in society and in the global communications ecosystem. Next come more technical parts that address different dimensions (engineering, social, legal, political) on how to kickstart a community network, how to let it grow properly, and how to make it sustainable. After three years of work and research, we are convinced that there is no single recipe for the success of a community network. To reflect this, the book takes an "exemplify and experiment" approach. The exemplification starts with success stories which are framed within a more general and methodological process to highlight positive patterns. As for experimentation, it takes the form of questions and reasoning around them to help the readers and practitioners elaborate the right strategy for their own context: social, cultural, economic, political and geographic.

The significant emphasis on personal stories highlights the fact that the book represents the perspective of a specific group of people, gathered in a specific place in a specific moment in time. The book takes a European perspective, since all experiences documented have taken place in various European countries. Some technical details presented in the book might be outdated today, and others will probably become outdated in a few years.

But since they are presented as stories of key actors in the field of community networks, we believe that they can remain a source of inspiration to new community network pioneers around the world. The book is completed by a seventh part with five appendices. They include the Pico Peering Agreement, a document formalising the interactions between volunteers and owners of individual network nodes; a template for terms of use (based on European law) that will make community networks who use it legally safe and robust; and guidelines for policy makers on how to foster community networks (again, they are based on the European legal environment). These appendices are completed by a glossary to navigate the complexity of technical terms that are needed to understand a community network, and finally, a list of suggested readings to strengthen knowledge on specific themes and find appropriate resources to help increase knowhow and technical skills.

The research presented in this book, the writing residency and the editing process were funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union (Grant Number 688768), project netCommons Network Infrastructure as Commons (netcommons.eu). The production of this book was co-funded by the European project netCommons (see above) and published with the additional support of the Internet Society and the Association for Progressive Communications.

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