The Multiple Aspects of Politics and Sustainability in CNs: Definitions, Challenges, and Countermeasures (v2)

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This deliverable conducts a pilot study in order to examine the perceptions of and attitudes towards sustainability of community networks (CNs) held by key actors involved in their creation. It does so by employing the conceptual framework of sustainability developed by Fuchs (D2.1). Indeed, this deliverable should be seen as building on and complementing D2.1, in that it examines the multiple aspects of sustainability in community networks through empirical research. We examined seven cases of community networks located in the EU, notably in the UK and Greece: in East London; Free2Air in East London; Digcoop in East London; B4RN in Lancaster; Kinmuck in Aberdeenshire; I4free network in Trizonia, near Nafpaktos, Greece; and the Sarantaporo network in northern Greece. These community networks were selected using purposive sampling. They represent a reasonable diversity of community networks: some in urban locations, some in rural areas whilst others in quite remote places; some quite small in size, others bigger; some more successful than others; a couple wound down or yet to take off. For all the cases examined, we relied on semi-structured interviews. For analytical purposes, these were organised on the basis of three broad aspects of sustainability: economic, political, and cultural. The deliverable discusses the seven selected community networks separately and proceeds to identify some common themes and challenges. Key themes around economic sustainability concerned funding and resourcing, the size of the community, and time. Main questions around political sustainability touched on organisational and legal issues, and open structures. Finally, core issues around cultural sustainability related to the sense of belonging, community identity and spirit and communitarian practices. The narratives provided by our interviewees suggest that their perceptions of sustainability cannot be straightforwardly anchored on a single aspect but, rather, that all three broad dimensions of sustainability examined (economic, political, cultural) are inextricably linked whilst some themes are hard to classify. We conclude with some thoughts about the contemporary relevance and the future of community networks, as well as a checklist and an evaluation form that communities can use to assess the sustainability aspects of their (planned) network. Given the sustainability challenges that community networks face as well as the evolving technological and market circumstances since many of them started, the logical question which comes to mind is whether community networks should be understood as a response to specific contexts which have now eclipsed and as such these networks are expected to fade away gradually; or, rather, whether there are continuing and perhaps even new reasons behind the conception, launch and development of community networks. These are some of the core questions that the netCommons project as a whole attempts to address. At this stage, we suggest that there still are valid reasons for running community networks, notably the lack of (adequate) Internet access; arguments around open structures, better privacy, autonomy and control; and issues related to experimentation, playfulness and knowledge transfer. Broader implications of this deliverable for further work in the netCommons project have to do with the challenges related to economic sustainability, the incentives for those involved in them, the need for community building, as well as potential policy and legal issues.