community oriented telecommuniction project for the Italian village of Civitella
D'Agliano, Lazio, near Orvieto, due north of Rome. The Telecommunication Project
for Civitella is a project pro- posed by the INS (Institute for Network
Studies)-an international group of media analysts and media artists.
the world moves toward globalization and interconnectivity in cultural,
political and socio-economic terms, familiarity and expertise in computer based
technologies for the average person is more und more important. The INS has
taken one of the first concrete steps toward the establishment of a working
model for the integration of a hi-tech telecommunications station in an
industrially underdeveloped yet culturally rich environment, the village of
Civitella D'Agliano. The project was to provide access to a majority of the
citizens of Civitella to the Global Internet at the lowest cost possible. It was
also deemed essential that access be provided free of charge for each user. The
overriding consideration was and continues to be the creation of an experimental
environment wherein the citizens of Civitella (along with as many others as
possible) can experience first-hand an introduction to an international
electronic communications infrastructure (the so called and much hyped
Info-Superhighway). It's therefore necessary - beyond all useful and practical
aspects - to educate and make available to the residents of Civitella
information on existing and planned infrastructure policies. We hope to make a
meaningful contribution to the formulation of a regional telecommunications
policy which is based primarily on the experience and practical knowledge
generated by this project, not the formless hype of advertising slogans and
biased telecommunications organizations and their media extensions.
first phase of this project was initiated during a three week period in July
with the implicit understanding that it would last at least one full year during
which it would grow, adapt and finally be evaluated. As of February 1994 Nik
Williams, Tobias Pfeil and Ingo GŁnther had vivid exchange of e-mail planning
the actual details of the project. We concluded that Civittella should be
equiped with a booth which would house the computer which would be connected to
the Internet. The booth itself was to invite cooperative surfing of the
Internet, which is to say that the architecture itself was to be conducive not
only for a single user at a time but for joint use and exploration of the
resources which the computer itself and the Internet would offer.
This part of the project was considered essential in as much
the technology itself leans towards a single user, equipped with his/her own
telephone line, his/her own computer and a remote account on some host computer.
This is the requisite formula for telecom isolation. More importantly, it
requires personal computers and modems be available in users homes. The
situation in rural Italy (not to mention the rest of the world) does not warrant
such a prerequisite. Given the size of the village of Civitella (max. 2000
people),the telecom booth, to be located near the town center, would be
accessible to anyone within a few minutes of walking. These conditions were
suitable for our proposed public access model.
David Weiner (an MIT trainer
architect currently practicing in New York) started work on an "Internet Booth"
as well as larger "Internet Container", a piece of idealized architecture which
could be adapted to the local situation. Paolo Atzori (Italian Architect
currently in residence at the School for Media Arts in Cologne) has contributed
his design of a hyper cube for telecommunication. Jae-Eun Choi (Korean artist
based in Japan) is currently working on her design for a booth which is to
incorporate elements of a Siberian jurt. All designs were to be improved and
exhibited during our time on location.
Given the constraints of a very limited budget, we decided on
a UUCP type connection to the Internet. The computer in Civitella would be
programmed to call a host computer which, in turn, resides on the Internet. This
"polling call" would typically happen once a day, most likely at night when
traffic was low. After much research we realized that there are very few sites
in Italy offering that service and only for a sizable set-up fee and very high
rates for each megabyte sent either way. Italian host computers are available in
Milan and Rome only and connection costs to them are again very high (Italy has
the highest telephone rates in Europe) for long distance calls.
lucky that Tobias Pfeil had the foresight to apply and arrange for a UUCP
service in Frankfurt, Germany. During the initial 3 weeks in July in Civitella
we relied exclusively on this Internet connection. This "detour" constitutes a
temporary fix, not a long term solution. We are continuing to explore
alternatives such as linking with both the new University in Viterbo and with
the Institute for Mathematics at Rome University.
independent of an international connection
Another feature at the
station is the Civitella electronic post office. This is a collection of
personal mailboxes wherein anyone with access to the machine can deposit a
message for anyone with a mailbox. A space for public message, much like a
bulletin board, will be installed. This will happen as the user group defines
themes for investigation and designates somebody from their own ranks to
moderate discussions, keep records, etc. An invitation has been extended to the
local (monthly) newspaper to publish an electronic edition on the computer which
can then be linked to a direct reader feedback system. Articles can be broadcast
to all users in e-mail form as they are written - inviting a response at the
click of a button.
The computer system (hard and software)
decided that a the type of computer and software to be used should be a UNIX
computer in as much as UNIX allows full compatibility with the Internet (which
operates from and on UNIX machines).
Tobias Pfeil offered to design the
proper hardware configuration to run NeXTSTEP. The configuration which was
brought to Civitella in July consisted of an INTEL 486 motherboard running at 66
MHZ with 20 MB RAM, a 1 Gigabyte Fujitsu hard drive. This drive is large to
build an extensive library/database filled with information of regional and
Idealy and quite
naturally a system like this should be owned and operated by its users. The cost
should be equally shared and should remain reasonable. As the resources for
this, the first phase, were in the form of donations of our own time and energy
plus some money from "Project Civitella", direct ownership and/or responsibility
has not yet been sufficiently established. But since this is more of an
experiment than a service it appears best that it be kept in limbo until its
nature becomes evident to all of us. Our suggestions for the future development
take that into account.
On from here.
After our initial three
week period of setting up, demonstrating, discussing and reevaluating we declare
our efforts to be an unqualified success. We have established and demonstrated
the potential for meaningful use of this technology, within the community and
the larger regional context. We have identified and addressed to individual
needs of those wo already own a computer and responded to those who would
continue their work from a far while working in Civitella during the summer
We suggest multiple paths be taken from
- Pending the availability of remaining funds we must decide
whether to keep the international connection up and running for the next two
months - or to disconnect it temporarily until a more cost efficient and robust
method of connection can be determined. Options include to connect to and/or to
collaborate with a nearby university and initiate polling from a US based
- The hard fact is that for the next two months the system has
to survive unattended. This is the first reality check. It remains to be seen if
a group will generate an internal structure and work out the necessary
operational modalities. The local user group has to define itself and take
charge and generate unsupervised expertise. During this time, INS will be
available electronically to present technical advice, operating suggestions and
general direction. Tobias Pfeil has worked to insure a reasonable level of
confidence in the strength of the software and hardware.
Paolo Atzori: Net-Hyper-Booth David Weiner
Even at this early stage of development, we hope that a regional
telecommunications policy can begin to be discussed and formulated. All effort
should be made to encourage participation by the Civitella community in this all
important dialogue. If a community oriented telecommunications policy can indeed
be formulated it may serve as the model for similar communities all over Italy.
However, we are mindful of the traditional tendency to sacrifice a user-oriented
development in favour of bureaucratically controlled financial guaranties
offered through EU-sponsored development agencies. Even though such subsidies
are necessary at this juncture, they can only be accepted as long as the
station/network is allowed to retain its experimental, non-commercial character.