The iSociety alerted me to recent coverage by the BBC and the Guardian Online about EdenFaster. It is a community-led project supplying broadband to a valley in rural England which would otherwise be passed over by telecomms suppliers.
What is interesting about EdenFaster is that while it provides some Internet access it intends to use the speeds it offers – up to 40Mbps – primarily to deliver community-generated content.
I hope they are successful, but I am not sure they will be able to find enough active information providers among a small community of rural farmers to provide a serious amount of deep, well-maintained content. Freenets in the 90s (mostly in the US) sprang up with similar intentions to offer community networking and Internet access to their local areas “on the side”. Unfortunately, people were mostly attracted by the ability to access the Internet and when commercial Internet providers appeared, the Freenets gradually died away.
To my mind community content will succeed when
1) broadband is reasonably ubiquitous in an area (and people know their neighbors will be reading)
2) Tools are available that make providing content and community participation easy for everyone
3) Enthusiastic leadership evangelises use and provides support.
Let’s hope all three elements are in place with the Edenfaster project and that it can be an example of good practice for other such projects.