What will you do with the bandwidth?

The European Cultural Backbone was founded as an initiative of 16 Trans-European Media Institutions. They baptize their baby with an extensive "We want Bandwidth" campaign, starting in a medium near you any minute. What to do with it and what to make with it?

"What will you do with the bandwidth?" - This question was uttered very shortly after the first steps of the European Cultural Backbone had been presented to the N5M audience, fresh from the oven as it was. The founding ECB meeting only happened last weekend, from the 4th to 7th of May in Vienna, Austria. The ECB sees itself as a steering group of member institutions for a pan-European network. The aims of the ECB can soon be found on the website (, as well as a list of the first generation of actively involved institutions. Konrad Becker from Vienna's Public Netbase t0 emphasises that the ECB was born as a love child of many European media initiatives and institutions who share the strong belief in the 'practice to policy' approach to media and cultural policy development.

The European Cultural Backbone wants bandwidth. At least this is the campaign which comes out of the consensus of the founding institutions. Bandwidth in this sense refers to the technical infrastructure across Europe which allows the distribution and exchange of (primarily digital) information. Marleen Stikker from De Waag, Society for Old and New Media makes it clear that "more bandwidth" not only relates to fatter chunks of media in the pipelines, but also an expansion of the existing low-tech infrastructure across the continent. Especially the network applications which can successfully run on low-tech networks (namely newsgroups, email, text-based internet services) have proven to be extremely important for the networking activities of independent media makers across the globe (those who are connected already).

"We want more bandwidth" could be seen as a consensus between the Europe-wide initiatives and cultural institutions working in the field of particpatory media. James Stevens from Backspace, London attempted to answer the justified question "What to do with it?" by replying: "redistribute it." That might seem paradoxical, instead of proactively using it you just pass it on? But it sums up the approach of the ECB initiative. ECB feels like a tactical network which is aware of its lobbying potential to help establishing an infrastructure which will eventually be of benefit to those initiatives who have little interest or capabilities for such an initiative themselves.

Additionally it needs to be stressed that the "We want bandwidth" campaign, a continuation of De Waag's 1997 campaign originated in the Hybrid WorkSpace (Kassel documenta X) is the first active step of the European Cultural Backbone. Many other fields of interest are lined out in the initial paper of the initiative. Accordingly, the ECB is not a membership based institution. Instead, every Institution and Individual can commit themselves to one of the workgroups which are currently formed and that way become an active partner of the ECB. Attempting to keep the bureaucratic effort of the ECB low, this model based on active partnership not only keeps the initiative functioning, but also follows consequently the approach of 'practice to policy'.
on Friday, March 12, 1999