Dave Hughes, Founder of Old Colorado City Communications

Dave Hughes is probably the premier technical and policy facilitator in grass-roots community networking. In 1981, he started what may be the first bulletin board system (BBS) whose goal was to empower the local public politically. Since then, Hughes has traveled around the world in an effort to bring some of the most disenfranchised and isolated communities into the electronic age.

In Hughes’s home town, Colorado Springs, Colorado, all residents can get online, including truck drivers logging in from Rogers Bar. On more than one occasion, Colorado Springs citizens organized by Hughes online won a changes in the procurement policy by local government. His local private bulletin board has evolved into a city-run “City Link” on which the city council communicates openly with the entire community online. Hughes is targeting the state legislature next.

Hughes’s work in other communities ranges from Hawaii to Russia. He designed the decentralized Big Sky Telegraph educational network in Montana. He employs Russian engineers, linked by modem, to do technical work. To support languages that don’t use ASCII characters, he uses NAPLPS (North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax). For a project in San Luis valley—a poor, rural, Hispanic area of Colorado and New Mexico—Hughes even plans to bring support for sound and music.

In December 1992, Hughes was asked by the transition team of President-elect Clinton to submit a low-cost plan for bringing computer networks into all public schools. His suggestion was by far the cheapest, because he recommended transferring data through brief phone calls, using simple store-and-forward technologies such as UUCP, Fidonet, and FrEdMail. A large part of his suggested budget would go to training. The White House ultimately sent to Congress a request that was close to the dollar amount that Hughes projected, billions less that other projections.



Following is Dave Hughes’ statement about government policy and community networks.

The Electronic Public Interest Versus the Private Good by Dave Hughes

The US Government stands at a major crossroads in its role in building the National Information Highways. There are three paths open to it.

One option is to build, with tax funds, the major networks of the National Information Infrastructure. The government and other analysts argue we can’t afford that.

A second choice is to remove all obstacles to the giant communications, telephone, cable, computer, and entertainment sectors. Allow them to build the network and offer it as a mass consumer service.

A third option is to unleash and support the private sector to build the infrastructure, but to use laws and regulation to ensure that every American has free or highly price-regulated access.

I am afraid this Administration already has taken the second path, abandoning the 1934 Telecom Act’s principle of universal access for voice phone service. This decision has broad implications for future interactive telecommunications services.

Unfortunately, the Administration is applying the principle if you can afford it, you can have it. This will affect historically “public” information services like K-12 education and public libraries, where the skills of the future have traditionally been passed on to the public, at the public’s expense. By letting the “marketplace” decide the degree of access, we let commercial vendors of telecom go only where they see a profitable “market”; not where there is a need. This contrasts strongly with the policy of regulated phone service to rural areas, which was also the basis for business rates subsidizing residental voice phone rates.

If the Administration continues with this trend, we will equate the private interest of a some citizens and groups—either wealthy, or inside favorable markets—with the public interest, which should recognize no such distinctions. And that guarantees an Information Rich/Information Poor society resembling Europe before the Industrial Age.

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