Community Networks: Overview

Community networks are community-based electronic network services, provided at little or no cost to users. In essence, community networks establish a new technological infrastructure that augments and restructures the existing social infrastructure of the community.


Most community networks began as part of the Free-Net movement during the mid-1980s. According to the Victoria Free-Net Association, Free-Nets are “loosely organized, community-based, volunteer-managed electronic network services. They provide local and global information sharing and discussion at no charge to the Free-Net user or patron.” This includes discussion forums or real-time chat dealing with various social, cultural, and political topics such as upcoming activities and events, ethnic interests, or local elections, as well as informal bartering, classifieds, surveys and polls, and more. The Cleveland Free-Net, founded in 1986 by Dr. Tom Grundner, was the first community network. It grew out of the “St. Silicon’s Hospital and Information Dispensary,” an electronic bulletin board system (BBS) for health care that evolved from an earlier bulletin board system, the Chicago BBS.

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