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Wireless Summit @ Vienna Day 3

on Sat, 08/14/2010 - 2:30pm

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.

Highlighted Talks:

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. *
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

 

There is a strong need to acknowledge existing community wifi nets that have proved to be viable, e.g. Guifi.net and Athens Wireless, and perhaps start to consolidate software/hardware/firmware choices to encourage interoperability.
- 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 thisAn 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?

  • A very big thing not to forget is KISS = keep it simple (stupid).
  • Develop common scheme for guest access to community wifi nets.
  • Better cooperation with efforts for community fiber, i.e. for collaboratively owned uplinks.
  • Collaborative lobbying for favorable spectrum allocation, a la efforts of the Open Spectrum Alliance, and in so doing push for open access (no mandated encryption or auth) to such spectrum.
  • Better sharing of accrued legal advice, since community wifi nets often project themselves into grey areas legally by running open networks.
  • Form purchasing groups to enable bulk equipment purchases, lower prices.
  • More work in ICT security.  Prevalence of botnets, torrent, and other distasteful aspects of Internet as encouraging formation of more borders: firewalls, restrictive legislation/policiing, or even dark nets.  Community wiifi nets can help push against this trend of balkanizing the Internet.

* = Aaron Kaplan photo credit Brough Turner.
** = Node map photo credit Matt Westervelt

About India

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.

Goals:

  • Creating Class of Women Entrepreneurs
  • Changing Stereotypic Roles

Ways forward:

  • Creation of Intermediary Organizations
  • Imparting Technical Skills and Education
  • Creating Virtual Networks and Remote Volunteers
  • Setting up Prototype ICT Models
  • Building Partnerships
  • Focusing on Research and Innovation

IRMA's general approach is to identify specific villages that are acknowledged backwaters for full gender empowered, and then to install ICT centers (e.g. computer spaces, Internet access) at those locations, coupled with technology training, to help improve economic productivity of women in the area.  LIkewise, this also lets women connect with peer groups, both personal and professional, so they may gain advice and knowledge otherwise unavailable in their villages.

At present, five ICT centers established, with both volunteer and paid staff.
 

Alison: another fundamental problem is that the framework of ICT itself is heavily gendered.  Technological citizenship is still skewed by gender.

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 and Less Networks 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