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I share Richard Lowenberg's views. There is much more at stake here than
community networks. This is about the emergence of the new economy.

The real sustainability issue is not so much the financial survival of some
non-profit organizations (important as that is) but the far broader issue
of sustainable development, a principle that I based my own organization
on. It is not clear from the notes of the Reston meeting what notion of
sustainability was being discussed as important but I get the sense the
focus was on financial survival of c-nets.

Richard is quite right in pointing out that it is ultimately those larger
social and economic forces at play that determine the financial
sustainability of our work, despite the needs we address or the excellence
we bring to our efforts. That is why many of us work to shape the policy
frameworks necessary to create the climate for our work to grow and take
root. I very much agree with the view that community networks provide
"significant examples" as Richard puts it, of a heathier vision of the
world. These are the examples -- the best practices -- that can guide a new
level of policymaking for the Information Society. Good policy is best
shaped by good practices.

The priorities of the Reston meeting would give such policy work somewhat
lesser weight in the overall picture. And yet, markets are ultimately
shaped by social values embedded in policies. We are going to have to take
some responsiblity to shape the consumer markets in the new economy towards
socially responsible directions.

For example, twenty years ago there was virtually no market for organic
produce. Now it commands top dollar. It is no accident the Organic Labeling
Act in the 1990 Farm Bill, that emerged from earlier California
legislation, made some difference in stimulating this market in very hard
dollar terms.

We are going to have to think in terms of reshaping the political economy.
We have much to learn from our friends in the environmental movement who
have traveled this road before us. The Telecommunications Reform Act
actually gives us the leverage -- if we choose to grab hold. And I hope
that the Taos meeting gives us an opportunity to explore the necessary
coalition framework to shape the Universal Access debate effectively, once
and for all.

The financial sustainability issue for community network non-profit
organizations is in part driven by foundations concerned that government
seed money such as that provided by TIIAP is going to translate into new
demands on private philantropy. This is a rational concern. The role of
responsible philantropy here has yet to be worked out. But the picture is
far bigger than this.

We should remember that we're creating the conditions for sustainable
communities in the age of the "end of work" to borrow Jeremy Rifkin's
expression.

Indeed this is the work of our lifetimes.


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Richard Civille                         Center for Civic Networking
Executive Director                   P.O. 53152
(202) 362-3831                     Washington, DC 20009
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http://civic.net/ccn.html
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