The K-Net Broadband Governance Model - a doctoral thesis by Adam Fiser | Media.Knet.Ca

The K-Net Broadband Governance Model - a doctoral thesis by Adam Fiser

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Brian Beaton
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The K-Net Broadband Governance Model: Historical development and Institutional Framework

How social enterprise integrated public, for-profit, and not-for-profit institutions to enable broadband community networking in Canadian Aboriginal high cost serving areas (circa 1997 to 2007)

Adam Paul Fiser

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Faculty of Information

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This thesis articulates the K-Net broadband governance model, a community-based approach to administering broadband deployment in remote indigenous communities and other high cost serving areas.  The K-Net model derives from my investigation of the Kuh-Ke-Nah Network (K-Net), a community-based network that encompasses over 100 broadband Points of Presence (PoPs) in remote First Nations and related public service organizations across Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba, Canada.  K-Net operates under the not-for-profit stewardship of Keewaytinook Okimanak Tribal Council and its ICT arm, K-Net Services.  KO Tribal Council, located in Northwestern Ontario, brought the original vision of K-Net to life amongst the Tribal Council’s six member First Nations in the mid 1990s.  As K-Net evolved, KO and K-Net Services maintained a principle of devolving network ownership and control to the expanding membership of First Nations community networks.  This principle reflects a cooperative approach to broadband governance and infuses KO’s use of social enterprise to steward K-Net’s broadband deployment.

Broadband deployment under K-Net has rapidly escalated since 1997 when K-Net’s core constituents fought for basic telephone service and Internet access in Northern Ontario.  Since 2007, the telecom infrastructure under K-Net control includes a C-Band satellite transponder, IP videoconferencing and telephony, web and email server space, and a variety of terrestrial and wireless links that effectively connect small, scattered First Nations communities to each other and the wider world.  In the space of less than a decade, these K-Net communities have gone from a situation in which it was common for there to be but a single public payphone in a settlement, to a point where over forty now have broadband Internet service to households.  

As a form of not-for-profit social enterprise KO’s K-Net Services enforces a system of cooperative governance that advances local indigenous property rights amidst necessary transactions with government programs, public services, and for-profit industry players.  Through K-Net’s decentralized configuration, the social enterprise enables its constituent community networks to deploy, at their discretion, various network assets and services. 

Almost 70% of K-Net’s current PoPs support multipoint networks in remote First Nations.  Their social enterprise partnership with K-Net Services enables schools, health clinics, administrative offices and small businesses to cooperate with each other and residents by sharing bandwidth, human resources, applications, and the high costs of broadband deployment.  K-Net protocols encourage member First Nations to own and control community local loops under the authority of a local internet/application service provider.  First Nations ownership and control over local loops allows participating communities to collaborate with K-Net Services to adapt broadband applications to local challenges and priorities.  For some communities, the priority is creating residential telephone access or cable plant for entertainment purposes, for others it is promoting education opportunities and public health online, and for others it is economic development.  This aggregation of demand from disparate users, within and across member communities, creates economies of scale for K-Net and allows a dynamic reallocation of bandwidth to meet social priorities (e.g., high school classes, remote eye examinations, residential connectivity, and so forth).    

To make its socio-technical configuration workable within a multi-stakeholder environment, K-Net must carefully balance public service and private sector demands, while accommodating local indigenous demands for sociopolitical sovereignty and socio-economic sufficiency. The result is cooperative governance through social enterprise.  K-Net integrates public service delivery within a community-based networking model, and attracts private sector technology partnerships without giving up local First Nations autonomy to incumbent telecom carriers. 

Based on four years of participatory action research with K-Net stakeholders under the Canadian Research Alliance for Community Innovation and Networking (CRACIN), my thesis documents the sociopolitical struggle and cooperative partnerships that shaped the evolution of K-Net’s social enterprise and the stabilization of its cooperative governance.  Drawing from Community Informatics and the Ecology of Games I trace K-Net’s rapid broadband deployment, and assess how K-Net Services and K-Net’s constituents have made social enterprise work for member First Nations. 

In the K-Net broadband governance model social enterprise bolsters the role that community needs and community capabilities play in shaping telecommunications development.  It is particularly a model for high cost serving areas, where default governance, based on ambiguous legislation, regulatory forbearance, and market failures, divides consumers without adequate broadband telecommunications.  K-Net demonstrates that cooperative governance is a valid and viable alternative for administering broadband deployment.