Networking Path To A More Democratic Internet

Networking Path To A More Democratic Internet

 August 27, 2022      
 Uncategorized   

The refugee crisis has revealed the limitations of the telecommunications market to offer internet connectivity to people in need. As is often the case when the market fails, citizen organizations have stepped in.

Freifunk.net, one of the most successful such community networks. Has come to fill the gap and provide vital internet services to refugees in Germany. This was made possible thanks to an innovative way of using communications technology: DIY networking.

DIY networking is an umbrella term for different types of grassroots networking, such as mesh networks. According to Vice magazine, mesh networks not only allow wifi routers to provide. Signals to wifi-enabled devices, as usual, but also, routers have the ability to connect to and talk to each other. By meshing them, or connecting them together, you are creating a larger wifi zone.

Artists have been looking at these networks as a way to expand and diversify our communication abilities. While questioning mainstream access to internet. In this spirit, Mathias Jud and Christoph Wachter recently used the technology to talk back to the NSA.

DIY community networks have been also used as social tools to reconnect citizens, for example, the Sarantaporo.gr initiative in Greece. Sarantaporo has provided a community solution for affordable internet access. But it’s also a revolutionary model for building networking infrastructure. Attracting the attention of academics and institutions.

The Spanish community network Guifi.net even won a European Union broadband award last year. These networks have an important role to play as a counter to the few corporations that dominate the internet, and also as a way to raise awareness of the challenges of privacy, net neutrality, censorship, surveillance and manipulation.

How Does Internet Work?

A wireless router, in essence a special purpose computer, can do more than just connect your devices to the internet. It could host a wide variety of web services, from a simple site to a fully fledged collaborative platform, accessible only to those in physical proximity.

These include a virtual announcement board for a block of apartments, an online guestbook for an urban garden, a file-sharing platform for a workshop, and many more creative uses of self-hosted web applications, like WordPress, Own cloud and Etherpad that anyone can host on a private web server.

These services are accessible through the router’s wireless antenna announcing a network name, a Service Set IDentifier (SSID), exactly as it works when you connect to a free or home wifi. They can appear automatically on a splash page or captive portal when you open you browser as is often the case in airports, cafes and hotels.

Similar Router Residing Internet

If the router is equipped with a second antenna, it can easily connect to a similar router residing in the coverage area whose size depends on the type of antenna and environmental factors.

The first antenna can then be used to allow people with their personal devices to connect. And the second to exchange information with the neighboring router. Each router then becomes a node in a small network: anyone who connects to one of them can access the services offered by, and people connected to, the other as well. As more nodes get connect, larger areas are cover, and a community can be form, initially by the owners of the nodes and eventually by everyone in the area.

Of course, you cannot easily build a whole such network by yourself, but you can build yourself a single network node using cheap hardware such as a Raspberry Pi and free self-hosted software for installing the set of local services and applications of your choice.

The only legal issues appear when you also offer internet connectivity through such a network because of liability issues when it comes to copyrighted content.

Personal Networks Internet

It is perfectly legal, in principle, to operate such a node on its own, attached to your balcony or inside your backpack. This could be your personal network inviting your neighbors, fellow travelers, or any strangers sharing the same public space.

The presence of an invisible digital space can be announce through physical urban interventions. A visible marker on the device itself, a QR code, a poster, even through artistic performances or direct face-to-face communication.

Anyone in proximity can join without the need for credentials or other identification. Except for being there, and without the need of any internet connection.

Examples of successful uses of such personal networks include occupy, here or the Pirate Box. Polylogue allows people in proximity to post short messages and see. Them print live on a piece of paper that as it advances, gets shred on the other end. A sort of hybrid, real-world Snapchat.

Soon it will be possible to build and customize a wide variety of such DIY networks using the MAZI toolkit https://slotapik.com/.

Community Networks

Community wireless networks have been under development since the late 1990s by tech enthusiasts. And activists advocating for a more open, neutral and democratic internet. They include a mix of local services, such as file sharing and live streaming AWMN.net and Ninux.org. And the provision of internet connectivity. Freifunk, WlanSlovenja, Sarantaporo.gr, and many more focus on this aspect.

There are also important differences related to the governance model and the concept of the community itself. Freifunk follows the free internet for all approach and depends mostly on voluntary. Contributions of their members to offer internet connectivity.

On the other hand, Guifi.net places significant focus on the concept of the commons. Implying concrete boundaries and resource management rules. It has developed a unique model in which the network infrastructure, including fiber cables, is treat. As separate from the services they are involve with providing.