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The paper focuses on the link between regional development, social enterprise and digital infrastructure, through analysis of an initiative in Goulburn NSW, in which local entrepreneurs rigged up a wi-fi network, providing free internet access to the public in the city’s main street.
Public wi-fi, like open source software, the DIY and hacker movement, can be understood as ‘inverse infrastructure’: an emergent challenge to the modernist conception of infrastructure as centrally-provided large-scale technical systems such as electricity and water utilities (Egyedi et al. 2012). Inverse infrastructures may be enterprise-level responses to state or market failure, such as municipal broadband, or less formal citizen-based activities, such as community wireless networks. Such community-level initiatives are not necessarily demonstration sites of civic affiliation or bespoke provision. They involve competing interests, wavering volunteer commitment to repair and maintenance and the myriad disruptions caused by physical environments and human actions.
Our research maps the links between the human, material and institutional actors that make up the Goulburn network: the physical site, equipment and design artefacts, and the civic, commercial and association transactions associated with the enterprise. We track how community and local commercial interests used the affordances of the market, working within existing market structures to create a commercial commonality in the public interest. As the vision of a national broadband network fades, impacting on the thin telecommunications markets of regional Australia, we may see increasing ‘bottom- up broadband’ activism. Stories such as this one may support a more pragmatic understanding of these emergent public-private initiatives.
The papers presented at the 2015 State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC 7) were organised into seven broad themes but all shared, to varying degrees, a common focus on the ways in which high quality academic research can be used in the development and implementation of policy. The relationship between empirical evidence and theoretical developments that are presented as part of our scholarly endeavours and policy processes is rarely clear and straightforward. Sometimes, perhaps because of the fortuitous alignment of various factors, our research has a direct and positive impact on policy. Sometimes it takes longer to be noticed and have influence and, sometimes, there is no little or no evidence of impact beyond or even with the academy. And while there are things we can do to promote the existence of our work and to present it in more accessible formats to people we believe to be influential, ultimately the appreciation and application of our work lies in the hands of others.
This paper is one of 164 papers that have each been reviewed and refereed by our peers and revised accordingly. While they each will have been presented briefly at the SOAC conference, they can now be read or re-read at your leisure. We hope they will stimulate further debate and discussion and form a platform for further research.
Adapted from the SOAC 7 conference proceedings introduction by Paul Burton and Heather Shearer
The State of Australian Cities (SOAC) national conferences have been held biennially since 2003 to support interdisciplinary policy-related urban research.
SOAC 7 was held in the City of Gold Coast from 9-11 December 2015. The conference featured leading national and local politicians and policy makers who shared their views on some of the current challenges facing cities and how these might be overcome in the future.