Establish Discrimination-Free Infrastructures

One of the main challenges in advancing commons as a stable paradigm is finding ways to develop appropriate infrastructures. We lack infrastructures that “by design” foster and protect commons and commoning. Many existing systems, indeed, are commons-destroying (e.g. fossil fuel-based individual transportation) or they generate negative social and environmental impacts (e.g., nuclear power and even “clean” energy sources).

While some infrastructures have progressive dimensions (using distributed networks, promoting local access), they may be minor parts of larger capitalist infrastructures that still advance regressive systems and practices (e.g., individual transportation, centralized power grids, concentrated industrial structures).

A key reason for establishing commons-friendly infrastructures is to enable multiple, distributed commons to mutualize the benefits of large physical or design systems. This helps ensure a diversity of locally responsive systems based on commons principles. It also helps prevent the abuses and exploitation that concentrated power tends to entail. Assuring the open "shareability" of the infrastructure requires that it be open to all interested parties, without discrimination, so that no single player or group can have privileged access and use. This policy doctrine -- known in telecommunication circles as "net neutrality" or "common carriage" -- must be a guiding principle of commons-based infrastructure.

Infrastructure can take the form of physical systems such as roads, railway systems and waterways, or natural systems such as land, water and the atmosphere. In each case, the scale of the resource and broad dependency on it argues for treating it as a common-pool resource that can benefit everyone equally.

Infrastructures can also be seen in system design protocols such as the TCP/IP standards that have made the Internet and World Wide Web possible, and Creative Commons licenses, that serve as a voluntary "legal code" to enable the sharing of creative works and information. If one considers design standards in an expansive sense, language itself is a kind of shared infrastructure. It facilitates cooperation and mutual gain and must reflect shared understandings; it is also vulnerable to "privateers" who seek to distort or poison the meanings of words to advance their own purposes.

Peer production often uses commons-based infrastructures -- open source design standards and software platforms -- to break the stranglehold of concentrated, competitive-averse markets. Access to P2P infrastructure can help develop more innovative, distributed systems of provisioning. The Internet is obviously a key infrastructure for P2P systems, but many P2P communities devise their own "inhouse" infrastructures to facilitate sharing and mutualization, which then become more generally available. That was the origin of Enspiral's Loomio and Co-Budget software platforms, and it was how wifi hackers in Barcelona created their own commons-based infrastructure for Internet access,, html which now has more than 35,000 working nodes.

# Sources Infrastructure stream at Economics and the Commons Conference, 2012. html