The author is now into his third day at the International Summit for Community Wireless, being held at Tech Gate in Vienna, Austria. This trip was made possible with a generous travel stipend granted to the author by the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.
A recipe for Digital Inclusion
Ben West, of WasabiNet
Josh King, of Chambana.net
Notable points from Josh King:
- Was able to qualify for NTIA stimulus funds to trench fiber in UC!
- Important to organize lots of neat Makerspace events to establish a large volunteer base. This helps sustain staff availability for more essential services like the computer help desk.
- Deploying computers to low-income families is only effective when coupled with basic digital literacy training.
- Having a public space (the UC-IMC building) has greatly helped solidify the role of wifi mesh, and additional services like the help desk, in the Urbana-Champaign area.
The author's WasabiNet presentation (PDF).
Where to from Here: Next Steps for Community Networks
L. Aaron Kaplan, of FunkFeuer. *
Joseph Boniciol, of Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network
Vic Hayes, Senior Research Fellow at the Delft University of Technology, and "Father of Wifi"
Funkfeuer, for example, decided to limit their growth rate, so that people who wish to host new nodes must go through some training and gain acquaintance with the technology.
- I.e. should Funkfeuer be a public service, or more intended as a tech resource group.
Tech geeks often like to build out experimental networks just to prove it's possible. However, interest may wane once the network is operational and stable.
Acknowledge there are multiple groups occupying the space for Community Wifi, which each have their own cultural and philosophical dimensions.
- Hacker community: motivation is often hacking itself, other motivations tend to be secondary.
- Community wifi groups: usually formed for social reasons, e.g. enhance community identity. Prominent examples: Athens Wireless and Guifi.net.
- Rural areas: form based on shared lack of adequate broadband infrastructure
- By extension, also create a uniform node database **, to be shared/updated by community wifi nets across the globe. => many raised hands in support of this. An example of this: http://interop.wlan-lj.net/
- The IS4CWN gatherings have been underway since 2004, there has been lots of growth, along with stagnation and even failed networks, but perhaps not enough common adoption.
- Ideally this could converge into a full, out-of-the-box solution for community nets that can be mailed to anywhere in the world. But, this should not deprive communities opportunity to learn technology, i.e. become self-sufficient, while also avoiding creation of a vulnerable monoculture.
- Possibly even petition for a common Top Level Domain, e.g. http://mymeshnetwork.wl
Besides the topics raised above, what is our wishlist?
** = Node map photo credit Matt Westervelt
Community Wireless - Placing Women's Empowerment Back into the Gender Equality Framework
Alison Powell, SSHRS Doctoral Fellow, Oxford University
Suchisnata Sahoo, Gender and ICT Project, IRMA-India
Kamilla Kovacs, Development and Communications Director, Media Access Project
A persistent, global problem of women being isolated from the mainstream economy, not just information and communication technology (ICT). In particular, they are excluded from knowledge networking, and the IRMA Gender and ICT Project has a mission to mitigate such exclusion.
At present, five ICT centers established, with both volunteer and paid staff.
Observation from the Debian Women's Project: The mixed environment affects the behavior of other people. This project encountered similar experiences as happened when women were first allowed into Antarctic research stations: reckless "cowboy" behavior by male researchers went down substantially with the introduction of mixed gender population.
Another inspiring project where the technology is not male-identified: Open Source Embroidery
Kamilla: open question about what people's incentives are for building or joining community wireless networks. A strong theme is community empowerment, often inspired by concerns over social justice.
From the FCC's standpoint in DC, one only sees the raw numbers of NTIA stimulus funds handed out for new broadband. Human stories, and also descriptions about equal participation among genders (e.g. how many women vs. men use it?), are sorely lacking. Regulators are disconnected from the local level.
Very strong need to tell stories, actively participate in public comment periods. (Usually, it's only reps from commercial telcos like Verizon are present at these comment periods.) Media Access Project, in particular, seek to collect stories from community network operators so they may be represented in DC.
Alison: Another common weakness among community-inspired activists in the inability to acknowledge and tell detailed stories about what did not work. E.g. what clearly did not lead to increased participation among women?
Evening Keynote Speech
Richard McKinnon from Austin Wireless stresses the importance of expanding into more areas besides wireless internet, e.g. community fiber, community satellite, broadcast radio.
Credit to Matt Rentenen for offering to pass on older equipment. Sascha suggests an email to CWN listserv for those in search of surplus gear li