Community and civic networking in Milan, Italy

G. Casapulla, F. De Cindio , O. Gentile, L.Randone
Civic Networking Lab.-Department of Computer Science-Univ. of Milan Via Comelico 39/41, 20135 Milan, Italy e-mail address:


The Milano Community Network (Rete Civica di Milano, RCM for short) has been started Sept. 22, 1994 by the Departement of Computer Science (DSI) of the University of Milan.
By a small investment and thanks to the donation of some sponsors, the connection to RCM is free for all citizens. Rcm and Bologna's Iperbole, are the two guiding experiences of civic/community net in Italy. Among the factors which characterize RCM, we believe that the following were the most effective:

1) Choice of rules and the principles:  
The RCM is strongly inspired by Internet values, such as being free and open, and having the principles and goals of community networks, as presented in (Schuler, 1994). RCM's slogan "la rete siete voi" ("you are the network") inspires everyone entering the network to be an active member and promoter. The content of the net is provided by the members. No rigid design is imposed, each member can propose and manage a thematic conference if the others agree (as with the Internet Newsgroup). Today RCM has more than 300 such "alive conferences", more than 200 volunteers manage areas as delegates of RCM administrators; about 2500 registered as members of the 6000 who entered. We now believe that we were fortunate, at the beginning, to have no municipal involvement. This lack induced the networkers to rely upon themselves for the network content, and this positive aptitude seems to continue now that the network has local authority partecipation.

2) Technical choices:  
Our choice is BBS technology, namely the SoftArc FirstClass software. This choice was based on many reasons: it provides the appropriate access facilities (functionality and menus) for users equipped with windows interface (both Apple and MSWindows); FirstClass protocol and other software facilities allow good performance even with low speed modems, and do not require a computer equipped with high processing power, memory capabilities and speed connections. Items not possessed by all current and potential members.
RCM had an IP address from January '95, reachable through Internet via FirstClass client or with a telnet connection. In September we added a "mirror" of RCM to the WEB interface; It provides access through the most common Internet brousers particulary for conferences which needed a world-wide access, such as our pubblic administration. (  )

3) Net managed by DSI:  
As part of the state university, DSI is super partes, is open to all the components of the community and indipendent from the political turbolence, a critical issue in Italy.
The department has a long tradition in networking and groupware and has good educational capability. The promotion of RCM intends to avail the local community of these skills. When the local authorities gained the net, many problems were solved by RCM introducing them to profit the new kinds of communication. The Provincial office, the Regional office and the Municipal office are now on-line. RCM stresses with the local authorities as well as with others association, the importance of multidirectional communication. For example we asked for presence of a "direct line", i.e. a place where you can ask and talk with the principal partecipants, in every conference. Now, in the municipal area, it is possibility to ask to the Vice Sindaco of Milan anything about the administration of the town and to receive a public answer on the net.