Richard Civille, Director of the Center for Civic Networking

Richard Civille entered community networking in a unique but highly characteristic way. In 1982, as part of an experiment at the University of California at Santa Cruz, he helped establish electronic mail links with remote Pacific island communities over an old weather satellite. The goal was to help underdeveloped island communities hook up with sources of information and funding in other parts of the world. Through many diverse projects since then, Civille has maintained his concern for helping underdeveloped areas and providing equal access to information for everyone.

Civille later started a distance learning project that was revolutionary at the time: using telecommunications to link school children around the world to do joint work on an ecological issue. The subject matter was water quality. Cohesion among the students was built by using audio teleconferencing as well as e-mail. One exchange took place a day after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Civille listened to the tearful exchanges of students from Canada, Germany, and Scotland concerned with wind directions and whether food was safe to eat.

While working with projects in underdeveloped communities and in distance learning, Civille often encountered bureaucratic constraints and problems with public policy. He has become a leader at bringing together people from different grassroots telecommunications initiatives to learn from each other and organize politically. Civille consistently stresses the importance of access for everyone, especially disenfranchised and low-income groups.

Civille also co-founded Econet and worked with its eventual sponsor, the Institute for Global Communications. He is the Washington director for the Center for Civic Networking, which promotes the public interest in communication policies and creates community networks. He is a board member of CapAccess, the community networking organization in Washington, D.C. and also serves as the Director of Information Services at the Center for Budget Policy Priorities.


Following is Richard Civille’s statement about government policy and community networks.

The Civic Promise of the National Information Infrastructure by Richard Civille

In Oregon, the county of Lane is struggling towards a sustainable economy as their logging industry declines. Several dozen citizens—loggers, educators, environmentalists, business entrepreneurs—are creating a county-wide public access network called Lane-Online. This service will connect schools to the Internet and global resources through community libraries, provide job listings and training opportunities, and promote community development.

In Washington, DC, the National Capital Area Public Access Network (CapAccess) is forging new ties among volunteer social service agencies, local public radio, cable and television programmers, and regional libraries to combine separate services into new forms of public media.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Sustainable Development Information Network (SDIN) is developing library access to vast geographic and statistical databases in order to assist community groups to plan for the future.

In Blacksburg, VA, a local university, the city council, community groups and the telephone company are preparing residential connectivity to the Internet for a town of 35,000.

Civic networks are spreading across the country like wildfire. Such grassroots initiatives are creating new models for communication policy, and intensifying other initiatives that use older media and face-to-face encounters.

A new model for community involvement is taking place in Vermont, where over twenty bills concerning telecommunications and public access were introduced after citizen groups and the legislature held hearings for a year around the state. Public access cable stations, a state-wide bulletin board service (BBS), and local BBS’s all got involved in broadcasting and archiving the hearings.

Efforts like Vermont’s will influence the federal government as communication policy is shaped for the 21st Century. Now that Congress is grappling with the true meaning of the National Information Infrastructure, they can learn from the best of the local and state-wide actions and apply these new models nationwide.

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