Anne Fallis, Founder of TREC (Technology for Rural Enhancement and Communities)

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, a bulletin board system (BBS) has become a tool for delivering social programs. Anne Fallis uses her BBS daily to help set up programs in distance learning, job training, and prevention of drug and alcohol abuse.

A photograph of Anne Fallis.

Fallis has raised 4.5 million dollars for her programs with an expenditure of only $20,000—an incredibly low expense rate of under one-half of one percent. She credits her economizing to the use of the BBS. Fallis does research through a Listserv maintained by EDUCOM, uses e-mail to communicate among constituents, and advertises her programs to the outside world by connecting to other BBS’s. (You can phone into her BBS at 605-394-0468.)

Programs can also use the BBS to deliver services. For instance, with the help of the BBS, collaborative writing projects are flourishing on several Indian reservations, and a professor at M.I.T. has offered long-distance courses to students in those places.

Fallis’s way of working is to start programs of value to rural communities and American Indians, then turn the programs over to the community to administer. Part of the task of getting community members involved is to get them onto the BBS. Because computers are quite common in the schools on Indian reservations, Fallis uses the schools as a networking resource. She drives out to many communities to hook up modems and train staff (something that the commercial network providers generally won’t do).

Getting an Internet connection in South Dakota is very hard unless you’re a university faculty member. One of Fallis’s current projects is linking a large number of state residents to the Internet. She uses a combination of SLIP connections and her BBS system for this project. She is also looking into packet radio as a possible medium.

In the big picture, Fallis’s goal is access for everyone to the outside world via computer networks. To promote this goal nationally, she has founded a non-profit organization, Technology for Rural Enhancement and Communities (TREC).


Following is Anne Fallis’s statement about government policy and community networks.

People Using Networks Can Have an Impact on Government by Anne Fallis

Computer networks are starting to make a difference. But providing access to parties with money and technical ability, without paying attention to the rest of the population, will widen the gap between socio-economic classes rather than improving governance.

To reverse this trend, everyone must have easy-interface, cheap access to world-wide information highways. Public schools, libraries, and government systems can be the foundation for this access by reallocating resources. National and local governments can perform many of their functions electronically, and save enough in time and travel to pay for electronic infrastructure.

Here are some instances of local networks at work:

Although these examples are exciting, current facilities are not enough. Access for many can be accomplished now if public policy makers quit waiting for high-end technology or Federal solutions. One rural state reports expenditures of $1.5 million for Internet services available only to 990 faculty members. In contrast, North Dakota and Montana operate distributive systems for their entire elementary-secondary school structure for about $200,000 per year.

Finally, economically-deprived people have little energy to participate in governance. The same telecommunications infrastructure that supports government improvement can support “tecnomics”—economic activity through high technology. On-line facilitation of equal economic opportunities for all will result in a true change in governance.

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