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Hi Brent -
 
You said:
>Let me share with you, and others, the plight of the Tallahassee (FL)
>Free-Net.
>
>First, I think we share your view that urban areas have to
>cross-subsidize rural areas if they are to ever get access.  We have
>counties surrounding Tallahassee that could never afford the costs
>associated with setting up their own server and connection (even
>56Kbs).  We drafted an NTIA grant that reflected this unfortunate
>reality.  It was, however, based on the conversion of the local Free-Net
>to a Fee-Net, which, in the best case (read: cash-flow) analysis, would
>have fee paying users underwriting free users.
>
>Our grant plan was to hook into POPs in each rural county to provide them
>with local cost service.
>
>But now, things are worse.  The TFN has grown a lot, local sponsors are
>less willing to pay for the costs, such that we are faced with a
>privitized bail out, a miraculous fund raising effort, or mana from
>heaven.  Local government has decided that this is a private matter.
>
>If these problems cannot be resolved, the TFN is in danger of ceasing to
>exist.
 
If you completely privatize, your users are likely to become disgruntled as
a consumer online service was not what they signed on for.  However, it
would be worse just to cease to exist.  Failing a change of heart with
regard to your sponsors or divine intervention, I suggest the following for
your consideration:
 
1.  Prepare a business plan that divides the processes of TFN into defined
groups.
 
2.  Determine which groups of processes are the core of what makes up the
community network.  (locally based, user developed content; public forum
training for new users; communications forums (e.g., SIGs))
 
3.  Determine which groups of processes can be privatized.  (enhanced data
services such as dial-up access; certain types of content (e.g., content
not from nonprofit orgs or govt orgs))
 
4.  Find a commercial organization willing to acquire the assets and
services making up number 3 and use a royalty payment contract or some
other revenue stream mechanism by which the commercial organization can pay
TFN on an ongoing basis.  Such revenue will enable TFN to continue, albeit
in a new form.
 
5.  Or, instead of 4, have TFN create a wholly-owned for profit subsidiary
which handles all of the processes in number 3.  Taxes are paid on the
revenue this unit earns, with the remainder going to TFN, the nonprofit
parent.
 
In the 1980s, when there were no consumer online services, Free-Net systems
had a large definition in terms of what services they offerred.  With the
advent of competition in the consumer online services industry, it is time
for Free-Net systems and other forms of community networks to redefine
themselves by narrowing what activities they pursue.  Such focus should
include user literacy, local content development, and operation of an
electronic community that has relevance to the lives of citizens and
institutions within a geographically identified region.
 
Peter
 
 
 
---
Peter F. Harter, Executive Director & General Counsel
Home Page: "http://www.nptn.org:80/about.nptn/whois/pfh/"
The National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN)  "http://www.nptn.org/"
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Offices: 30680 Bainbridge Road, Solon, Ohio  44139-2268  U.S.A.
 
** DISCLAIMER: These opinions are not to be construed as legal advice.
Please consult a local attorney to gain legal advice.  These comments are
general in nature and address a public policy issue and not the particular
interests of any single or identifiable person.  No attorney client
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