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Community networks: Community capital or merely an affordable Internet access tool?



In this study a perceived gap between the ideal and the reality of a community network (CN) is examined. Most proponents of CNs state that building a better physical community is their major service goal. However, there has been a concern that citizens might use the service simply as a means to connect to the Internet rather than as a means to connect to their communities. Using a survey research method (n = 213), users' perceptions of community aspects of CN service and the influence of such perceptions on their use were investigated. User demographics and alternative service accessibility were also examined as predictors of use. The present study found that the respondents were using the service mainly for general Internet features. More than two thirds of the respondents were not aware of the community content aspect of the service. Approximately 20% of respondents were identified as those whose perceptions of the community aspects actually affected their use of the service. They were both aware of community contents and using an additional Internet service provider. Findings suggest that the providers did not fully communicate the community aspects of the service with the users, while the user perception of community aspects is a key to further promotion of the service.