Alternative Internet's Political Economy

The quantitative analysis of the survey results is an integral part of D5.4. To avoid cluttering the printable version with tons of graphs we have collected all of them in different forms and  with a brief comments when useful at: The Deliverable document includes direct links to specific graphs when necessary. 

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Deliverable D5.4 builds on Deliverable 5.2 and D5.3. It contains a summary and detailed interpretation the survey data obtained. The Alternative Internet Survey used the open-source online platform limesurvey1 to design the survey and collect data. The survey closed on 22nd January 2018 when we hit our target of 1000 completed questionnaires. The aim has been to target sufficiently competent and frequent Internet users, notably Information Technologies (IT) professionals, academics, University technicians and administrative staff, and students, explained in D5.2. Respondents were selected using a purposive sampling method (Bryman 2016). More specifically, they were recruited through targeted email lists primarily in the main project partner countries but also beyond, as detailed in D5.3. Although not representative of the Internet user population, this public of Internet users is likely to be more appropriate for the topics the survey addresses and potentially better at tackling the complex and sometimes technical questions that are involved. With hindsight, this group of users have given us rich material in the open questions, something that can help possibly help the CN agenda. To re-iterate information from D5.2, the design of the online survey questionnaire has been based on the inclusion of different categories of questions, separated in five Sections labeled from A to E. After a short explanation of the aims of the questionnaire and the provision of the relevant consent form (in Section A), Section B, drawing on other similar surveys, includes a set of questions about the Internet usage and the digital skills of the respondent. Subsequently, Section C, which can be seen as the core section of the questionnaire, addresses various concerns that the respondent might have as an Internet user, relating to areas such as: a) privacy and data control, b) digital labor and advertising/consumer culture, c) monopolies of information provision, d) Internet governance and electronic democracy, e) opinions around Community Networks. Section D explicitly asks respondents to consider community networks as an alternative and also seeks to elicit their views as to the potential of such networks. Finally, Section E includes demographics of the respondents, as well as certain attitudes that they might have towards life and society, which might be indicative of the likelihood to support community initiatives. The analysis presented here focuses on the rich material provided in the open questions regarding, in particular, the five themes listed above. The responses to the open questions express the perceptions, attitudes and sense- making of the chosen public of Internet users with regard to the existing Internet but also, and more significantly, with regard to potential alternatives where concerns and problems are identified, exploring in particular the potential future of Community Networks (CNs), their purpose and sustainability. These are some of the core themes of the netCommons project. The analysis presented is qualitative and interpretive and is expected to be useful for CNs but also national and European policy-makers and regulators. At a more specific level, D5.4 complements D2.1 and D2.2 on sustainability, and informs the rest of the work in WP5 on alternative Internet’s social analysis. It also serves as input to WP4, specifically as a contribution to the forthcoming ethical and policy guidelines for CNs. Regarding privacy and data control, respondents express strong concerns about the monopolistic power of a handful of commercial companies that rely on harvesting personal data using extensive tracking and profiling practices, and the use of data for commercial but also political benefit. There was frustration about the lack of alternatives and the inability to use a service unless one surrenders personal data. In response to these concerns, respondents indicate what steps they have taken, including the use of anonymization and encryption tools, which overall they find cumbersome and not necessarily effective. Equally, regarding monopolies of information provision, the responses to the questions on Facebook and Google reveal strong concerns about their ad-driven business model which relies on personal data, their icreasing market power and intrusiveness, the potentially severe adverse effects for citizenship, democracy and the public sphere, but at the same time, even if a few responses mention alternatives to these dominant plat- forms, there are doubts about whether one can stop using them totally. Regarding Internet governance and electronic democracy, the open question on subscriptions to news content reveals contradictions, the most notable one being that between the funding of (quality and credible) journalism and content generally on the one hand and the potential for exclusion and implications for democracy on the other. In terms of alternatives, respondents suggest market structure and organizational models (e.g., new news ventures and non-profit news provision, including community media; and various funding methods, such as state subsidies and public service media, micro-payments, donations, crow-funding etc.), as well as behavioral interventions (e.g., regulation for free and independent press). Lastly, the survey reveals strong support for alternatives (Section D), even though understandings for alternatives varied from increasing market competition, non-commercial arrangements, decentralization of infrastruc- ture and power, less surveillance and less expropriation of work. Overall, respondents perceive alternatives as favorable to choice, allowing personal involvement and experimentation, which in turn link to sustainability. Turning to CNs in particular, respondents acknowledge challenges (e.g., scale, resources, community spirit, motives, opposition from established market players); yet, they see CNs as offering various advantages, such as affordable Internet connection, closing the digital divide, enhancing social cohesion, strengthening community ties and associate them with democratic participation and involvement in the running of the network, promotion of digital rights and gaining of technical expertise. The need for greater awareness and more information about CNs was emphasized. Turning to the term “community”, some respondents explain the term is neither progressive nor benign by default. Some warn that community initiatives can end up reinforcing local power structures, rather than empowering more citizens; and question whether such indicatives can address privacy issues. Finally, some respondents equate CNs merely with Internet connectivity and are unsure whether CNs can provide alternatives to existing powerful services and platforms. Additionally, some caution that local content can reinforce closure and exclusion, others see the local focus as an advantage, and yet regard global and local services as complementary.