Rockville Plans Network

The residents of Rockville, Md., push for a community network on the Internet

An upsurge in Internet usage and a growing appetite for local on-line services has led a group of tech-savvy residents from Rockville, Md., to plan an Internet-based community network.

The term "community network" is defined by Rockville residents as a cluster of World Wide Web pages created to serve as a forum for two-way communication between residents and city government.

The Rockville network will give browsers access to city meetings and 22 city government boards and commissions. Residents will also be able to get information on local weather conditions and community activities, according to Rockville residents.

Glennon Harrison, who is credited with creating the idea for the Rockville community network, has helped recruit a team of 40 people to plan the network's launch, including City Council members, residents and business leaders. The project is still at the idea stage, but the techie community of Rockville plans to launch the project by year-end.

Harrison says the community network will also stimulate interest in the Internet and on-line communication and serve as an educational tool in libraries and educational institutions.

"It creates a broader, deeper sense of community," said Harrison, who has lived in Rockville for 15 years. "It's what will tie people together besides complaining about traffic."

The idea of a community network in Rockville started last year when Harrison wanted to establish the city as a high-tech business and employment center. Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening and the Rockville City Council started working on a $75,000 project called Community Visioning, a community action plan to improve the quality of life in Rockville. The idea of the community network, inspired by Harrison, became part of the project.

The city has budgeted $15,000 for the non-profit project to cover the cost of getting the Web pages hosted on a server and to provide the link. Harrison is expecting high-tech businesses to contribute further financing for the project and provide the equipment. He is uncertain how much the whole project will cost, but he said community networks are normally low-cost. However, Public Electronic Network in Santa Monica, Calif., has received $550,000 in contributions from Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif., and Metasystems Design Group Inc., Arlington, Va.

According to Paul Baker, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy at George Mason University and an expert in community networks, the main cost of a community network is time and energy.

"The point is to facilitate communication between the city and the residents," said Baker. "In this day and age, we have a hard time talking to each other."

Baker said that economic development plays a large role in the motivation and success of community networks. He credits the community network in Santa Monica, Calif., established in 1984, as one of the original and most successful city government-sponsored networks. A successful network will not only allow Rockville to distinguish itself as a community within Maryland but it has potential to serve businesses. There are several electronic networks that allow users to search businesses and firms that are looking for business partners. For example, the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority ( has a site that allows users to search for a business location or site, arrange a meeting or convention and gives access to partners and suppliers in the business database.

Alexandria, Va., has had an electronic community, called ALEX, on the Web ( since May 1994. The non-profit site has been very successful and receives approximately 6,000 hits every three months.

Harrison is confident the community network will be successful, and demographics are in his favor. With a population of 47,136 and an estimated employment base of 48,000, Rockville is the second largest city in Maryland.

Rockville residents will need a computer, modem and Internet access. Harrison estimates that computers and modems exist in more than 25 percent of Rockville homes.

A Few of the Nation's Community Networks:

? Alachua Free-Net, Florida.:

? Electronic Alexandria Community, Alexandria, Va.:

? Blacksburg Electronic Village, Blacksburg, Va.:

? Boulder Community Network, Boulder, Colo.:

? Buffalo Free-Net, Buffalo, N.Y.:

? Civic Network, Cambridge, Mass.:

? Cambridge Civic Network, Cambridge, Mass.:

? Central Virginia's Free-Net, Richmond, Va.:

? Charlotte's Web, Charlotte, N.C.:

? City of San Carlos Home Page, San Carlos, Calif.:

? Cleveland Freenet, Cleveland, Ohio:

? City of San Diego, San Diego, Calif.:

? Davis Community Network, Davis, Calif.:

? City of Palo Alto, Calif.:

? Eugene FreeNet, Eugene, Ohio:

?Grand Rapids FreeNet, Grand Rapids, Mich.:

? Greater Detroit FreeNet, Detroit, Mich.:

? La Plaza de Taos, Taos, N.M.:

? Libertynet, Pennsylvania:

? Prairienet: the FreeNet of East-Central Illinois:

? Michigan Free-Net, Indiana:

? Seattle Community Network, Seattle, Wash.:

? Silicon Valley Public Access Link, California:

? Tallahassee Free-Net, Tallahassee, Fla.:

? Texas Metronet, Texas:

? Twin Cities FreeNet, Minnesota:

Source: Paul Baker, George Mason University

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