At a time when internet access is increasingly perceived as a basic utility—on par with necessities such as water and electricity—the commercial market has failed to bring broadband to low-income, urban communities in the United States. Both the city of Los Angeles and the state of California have attempted to expand residential internet access by subsidizing community broadband networks. Specifically, local and state agencies provided a combined $700,000 in funding for three peer-to-peer broadband initiatives—Little Tokyo Unplugged; Open Mar Vista; and a cluster of mesh networks spearheaded by the non-profit Manchester Community Technologies. However, all three of these networks, which were located in geographically and ethnically diverse L.A. communities, proved unsustainable. In an effort to better understand the role played by government funding, this study examines each of these community broadband projects through both a commons and a public goods framework. Based on interviews with stakeholders, as well as on document analysis, the study found that as these L.A. community wireless networks sought to fulfil “public goods” obligations tied to financial awards, they neglected to include participants in efforts to design and maintain their projects. The findings suggest that government funding is an inadequate substitute for adhering to “principles of the commons” that traditionally sustain community broadband networks.
community broadband networks, public good