Commons Network in London: What would an alternative Internet look like?

#SummerNews: In this series, Commons Network writes about what we’ve been doing over the past few months. It’s been a busy summer.


Our friends at netCommons organized a conference in London to talk about community networks, mass surveillance, the enclosure of the digital commons and much more. It turned out to be a very interesting discussion on digital civil rights and the value of communication technology for our societies.

netCommons is a research project that studies how community-based networking and communication services can be shaped in order to offer an alternative to the Internet’s current dominant model. The project involves six teams from the University of Trento in Italy, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain, CNRS in France, the University of Westminster, the Athens University of Economics and Business in Greece, and Nethood in Switzerland.

Thomas de Groot attended the conference in the beautiful old building of the University of Westminster on behalf of Commons Network. Other organisations that joined us in London (amongst many others):

The roundtable discussions focussed on topics such as data management and data protection, privacy, surveillance, digital democracy, digital participation, net neutrality, and alternatives to the Internet’s monopolies. The participants discussed and started formulating foundations of ethical guidelines for advancing a participatory, community-based Internet. Looking at community networks in a broader context, exploring their impact on the development of a fair Internet, really brought the discourse of a commons-based internet to the next level.

Prof Christian Fuchs, leader of the Westminster netCommons team, commented: ‘Edward Snowden’s revelations, fake news and fake online ads, Cambridge Analytica, etc. show that the list of Internet scandals that threaten democracy gets ever longer. The netCommons workshop showed how urgent it is that we advance the digital commons and alternative Internet projects in order to save democracy’.

The policy workshop showed that visions for an alternative Internet are needed in order to strengthen the public sphere and that the digital commons pose a viable option. The project’s next steps include the formulation of recommendations in a report as well as talks in the European Parliament for raising awareness. Commons Network will support these efforts and work together with all stakeholders to further advance our vision of digital commons and a human rights-based ‘Digital Society for Europe’.

Read more about the Free Networks Movement, or about Wireless Commons, like Freifunk in Germany. Make sure you read up on our work on digital commons and knowledge as a commons: start here.