One issue that repeatedly comes up when talking about CommunityNetworking is "Why can't I get paid for doing this?". Here is my break down of the issues involved and why taking money for providing community network access is a bad thing.

I see community networking as an extension of the ideals of the FreeSoftware movement (note that this is a little different from the ideals of the OpenSource movement but we will ignore those differences for now). There are many people who are very knowledgeable about computers and networks and who strongly support the FreeSoftware movement. However, because they are not programmers they have been unable to contribute. CommunityNetworking is a way that system and network administrators can contribute to the FreeSoftware community using the skills we are best at: building and scaling networks.

Here is the question. If we are going to build a Community Network, what is wrong with putting up a CaptivePortal system which allows people, for a nominal fee, to gain access to the network? This will allow node operators to recover their costs and so potentially provide a better service. Right? No, I do not think so, and here is a list of reasons why I believe charging money is a bad idea:

  1. By charging money to access a network you are reselling your broadband access. If you have residential pricing then this almost certainly puts in breach of your terms of service to which you agreed.
  2. By charging money, even a small amount, your customers now have a reasonable expectation of service. Do you really want to return early from your vacation (or visit to the bar) to fix your broken node?
  3. By charging money you have a responsibility to promptly and responsibly deal with any billing issues that may arise. Do you want to deal with processing credit card transactions, returning money etc in your spare time?
  4. Money corrupts ideals. As soon as money is charged people will become jealous that one node operator is more successful than they are. If it is done strictly for love of the project then hopefully such problems will stay in the background.

What about fund raising in general, are there reasonable alternatives? Sure there's no reason that the organization can't raise money or accept donations, but these need to be given with the understanding that they aren't in exchange for service and will be used to improve or promote the network in general. Here are some ideas of what might be useful ways to raise awareness and funds for your group:

  1. Straight up, just ask your members to contribute. Getting contributions sent to a PayPal account seems to work fairly well for us. Another option might be Amazon's honor system.

  2. Make t-shirts and stickers and sell them to people for a reasonable profit.
  3. Hold a traditional fund raise. Provide beer and food and ask for a donation for access.

A good analogy is to think of it as a public library, only instead of loaning books we loan bandwidth. So another way of looking at it would be to ask how you would feel if the library started charging money to check out books, under the premise that with the money they could get more books? While this isn't an unreasonable suggestion, it's not what libraries are about, libraries are about public access to a resource. The same holds for community networks.

-- AdamShand

See also WhatIsFreedom?

Also, let's not confuse ForFree Vs. ForProfit and ForSecurity Vs. NoSecurity.

I happen to be in the ForSecurity camp - and think that like Wiki (which I DON'T love yet!), it's a tool to allow access, but still retain the ability to boot abusers, limit bandwidth, etc.

Another take on the Free Vs. Profit thing - what about a CoOp node? My ultimate goal is to get a T1-level line into my house ($300/month - 1 Mbit EarthLink SDSL), and parcel that out to others in the immediate node that are willing to help fund it - cheaper than DSL & Much faster. Match that up with a CaptivePortal that allows free loading, non-members to get 64k, 128k, 30 minute, 60 minute blocks, and you might have a viable solution.

If it's under the CoOp auspices you aren't technically reselling the service - you are just adding computers to your personal network that happen to be wireless. Kinda like roommates paying 1/2 the electricity bill each month - your roommate just happens to live across the street in this case!

Ok, so it sounds like a bunch of CapitalistBS, but it's just an extension of my goal to get a Community CoOp started - where you share tools, backyards, and yes, even bandwidth! -- DanRichardson

I only restarted watching logs this month. I stopped for a few months. It's bad that I did that because I'm supposed to be tracking wiki growth. This shouldn't be surprising considering I have a link to ExternalReferals on SunirShah (and that's why it's there--cf. OpenProcess).

For what it's worth, lately, (the Mother Eve freenet server) has been mailing its membership with donation request forms that make it appear as if the member must pay. This is because freenet is seriously underfunded, especially now that most of Ottawa has cable broadband running to the home.

CommunityNetworking is an admirable goal, but it's not necessarily practical. But there are other solutions. You can have variable pay rates depending on the income range of the participants. You could also work on the honor system if you are upfront about why you need this, and you are mercilessly strict if people are caught lying. This is how the W3C funds itself. Companies like IBM pay upwards around $50 000USD a year, whereas open source projects are invited in for free. -- SunirShah

Community Networks are either willings and without demand supported by thier Community or they die. In the Portland area the PTP has laid it out such that the node owners foot the bill with some of it being covered by grants, donations and good will. With over 100 nodes it seems to be working. So the end user has a truly FREE as in cost connectivity. This is no longer speculation but a few years of action. -- TomhHiggins


ForFreeVsForProfit (last edited 2007-11-23 18:01:44 by localhost)