In response to the 'digital divide', national and local governments in the UK, the US and Australia have embarked on various initiatives designed to promote the use of computer networks in low-income communities. These initiatives involve common models of self-help and mutual obligation; the pattern is one where government provides seed funding to encourage public-private partnerships between disadvantaged communities, businesses, philanthropists and universities. Together they rig up a solution to information poverty, giving people access to information technologies in their homes. The idea is that people will be better able to share resources, find work, acquire qualifications, help themselves and trust one another. Already, however, the reality has fallen short of expectations. It taken a long time for technical experimentation to find success; often, meanwhile, the public-private partnership model has broken down. More importantly for broader social policy discussion, there is a prevailing confusion about whether the focus should be on employment, education and training outcomes, or on more diffuse ideas about social cohesion. This paper reviews international examples of success and failure in building wired communities, putting the case for a stronger focus on self-education, informal learning and employment outcomes rather than on community-building and social cohesion.