Infrastructure Commons

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Charlotte Hess:

"This sector is inspired by Frischmann’s work on infrastructure as a commons. Frischmann uses the term “infrastructure commons” to describe physical resource systems made by humans for public consumption. He includes “a list of familiar examples: (1) transportation systems, such as highway and road systems, railways, airline systems, and ports; (2) communication systems, such as telephone networks and postal services; (3) governance systems, such as court systems; and, (4) basic public services and facilities, such as schools, sewers, and water systems” (Frischmann 2007; see also Frischmann 2005a&b).

The electromagnetic spectrum is a primary example of a new commons created from the capabilities of new technologies. It is also a part of the global commons and related to the knowledge commons. Along with many other scholars, Benkler (1998) urges the regulation of wireless transmissions as a public commons, as we today regulate our highway system and our computer networks. The choice we make among these alternatives will determine the path of development of our wireless communications infrastructure. Its social, political, and cultural implications are likely to be profound. A small sample of the spectrum and wireless communication commons literature includes Benkler (1998, 2002b); Benjamin (2002, 2003); Brennan (1998); Brito (2007); Buck (2002); Daniels (2007); Ikeda (2002); Rheingold (2002); Snider (2002); Soroos (1982); Sur (2003); Thompson (2006); and Wellenius and Neto (2007). Werbach (2004) writes about “supercommons”—collections of wireless devices can share spectrum effectively without exclusive rights.

Golich, writing in 1991, drew from Soroos (1982) in considering the domains of the communication commons to include satellite orbital slots and the electromagnetic spectrum. “They are unique,” she wrote, “because, unlike minerals and forests, they have no physical mass. It is impossible to deplete these resources permanently or to damage them and render them useless to future users. It is, however, possible to diminish the usefulness of these spaces through overcrowding or interference. . . .” Other works on telecommunications are Aufderheide (2002); and Thümmel and Thümmel (2005). Steemers (2004) writes about the “digital cultural commons” of the BBC and public broadcasting.

Little (2005) examines the issue of public services (telecommunications, electrical power systems, gas and oil, transportation, and water supply systems as an infrastructure commons with an eye toward sustainability in the context of classic commons dilemmas.

Several have written about transportation systems as commons. Oakerson did his seminal dissertation on Kentucky coal-haul roads and the commons problem in 1978. Van Wugt did his on social dilemmas and transportation systems. Gutscher et al. (2000), Rosin (1998), and Alatoree (2004) have delved into the issue of speed reduction and street congestion as commons problems.

Internet infrastructure as a commons has been a topic of considerable importance (Huberman and Lukose 1997; Bernbom 2000; Hess 1995; Benkler 2003). Cotter and Bauldocks (2000) overlaps with the knowledge commons sector but deserves to be mentioned here. They write: “A vast amount of biodiversity information exists, but no comprehensive infrastructure is in place to provide easy access and effective use of this information. The advent of modern information technologies provides a foundation for a remedy.” Their paper outlines some of the essential requirements and some challenges related to building this infrastructure.

Drawing from the traditional commons theory, Sened and Riker (1996) write about air slots as common property. Studying seaports as commons, Bowden and deJong (2006) investigate privatization of infrastructures; while Selsky and Memon (1997) study conflicts arising in urban seaport development.

Budgets can also be seen as falling under the infrastructure sector. Baden and Fort (1980) looked at the federal budget as a commons. Shepsle (1983) wrote about overspending a budget as a commons problem. Hurley and Card (1996) make a case for global physicians’ budgets as a commons. Brubaker (1997) applies the tragedy of the commons to budgets." (

Source: Hess, Charlotte, Mapping the New Commons (July 1, 2008). [1]


Sam Rose and Paul Hartzog offer the following typology for Commons based on different distributed infrastructures:

  1. Energy Commons
  2. Food Commons
  3. Thing Commons
  4. Cultural Commons
  5. Access Commons

"Creating an infrastructure commons around the above needs will create what we are calling a "wealth generating ecology".

"Wealth generating ecology" is what I offer to people when they ask me to create an open source business model for them. I tell them that they don't need a "business model" they need a "wealth generating ecology" that generates multiple types of wealth, defined by what the people and systems in the ecology decide is 'wealth'. (For instance, in Adam Arvidsson's "Ethical Economy", sound ethics and actual trust are one of the highest forms of "wealth" in the system. )

Energy and Food commons are self explanatory (in fact if you really think about it, food is actually part of the energy commons, as food is transformed and stored energy for human physical systems) "Thing Commons" above is what some people call "means of production". Open license machines, designs, materials, etc. This is probably going to be Paul's offering to the group. But, we'd work on it with you ahead of time either way.

"Access Commons" is our current place holder for access to data flows, designs, networks, resources, anything that is a building block towards basic survival. Plus, it addresses the encirclement of concepts and resources which were never meant to have access blocked off from (like atomics particles and compounds, genes, etc that otherwise naturally flow and evolve freely within systems)." (p2presearch list, August 2009)


  •, c'est un partage de matériel de manuels de gestion et d'organisation d'infrastructures.