Network Self-Determination and the Positive Externalities of Community Networks

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2017
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This paper argues that existing examples of Community Networks (CNs) provide a solid evidence-base on which a right to “network self-determination” can be constructed. Network selfdetermination should be seen as the right to freely associate in order to define, in a democratic fashion, the design, development and management of network infrastructure as a common good, so that all individuals can freely seek, impart and receive information and innovation. The first section of this paper argues that the right to network self-determination finds its basis in the fundamental right to selfdetermination of peoples as well as in the right to “informational self-determination” that, since the 1980s, has been consecrated as an expression of the right to free development of the personality. The paper emphasises that, network self-determination plays a pivotal role allowing individuals to associate and join efforts to bridge digital divides in a bottom-up fashion, freely developing common infrastructure. In this perspective, the second section of this paper examines a selection of CNs, highlighting the positive externalities triggered by such initiatives, with regard to the establishment of new governance structures as well as the development of new content, applications and services that cater for the needs of the local communities, empowering previously unconnected individuals. The paper offers evidence that the development of CNs can prompt several positive external-effects that considerably enhance the standards of living of individuals, creating learning opportunities, stimulating local entrepreneurship, fostering the creation of entirely new jobs, reviving social bounds amongst community members and fostering multistakeholder partnerships. For these reasons, policymakers should design national and international policy frameworks that recognise the importance of network self-determination and facilitate the establishment of CNs rather than hindering their development.


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