GISWatch is a collaborative community committed to building an open, inclusive and sustainable information society.
This year’s (2008) thematic focus for Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch) is “access to infrastructure”. The Geneva Plan of Action that emerged from the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) declared information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure an “essential foundation for the Information Society” and identified it as one of six main action lines.
In spite of this attention, it is beginning to be considered of less importance by some development funders and practitioners, including civil society and communication and information activists.
One of the consequences of this is the development of a conventional wisdom that leaves the domain of infrastructure development to the market; to operators and investors who do not always see the broader social value of communications in society; to governments that lack capacity and often clear strategy; and to international institutions that tend to approach it in a limited and “technocratic” way.
Access to infrastructure is important in its own right. It constitutes the layer that enables communication, and is interlinked with other access challenges such as the capacity to use ICTs, access to content and knowledge, as well as access to public participation and citizenship. In this sense, the overall theme of access to infrastructure links to GISWatch 2007’s focus on access to participation, and is a bridge to GISWatch 2009’s theme of access to knowledge.
Other editions of GISW:
2007 – Participation
2009 – Access to Online Information and Knowledge
2010 – ICTs and Environmental Sustainability
2011 – Internet rights and democratisation
2012 – The internet and corruption
2013 – Women’s rights, gender and ICTs
Wireless Networking in the Developing World
Wireless Networking in the Developing World is a free book about designing,
implementing, and maintaining low-cost wireless networks.
Available in English, French, Spanish, Portugese, Arabic and Indonesian.
This book was created by a team of individuals who each, in their own ﬁeld,
are actively participating in the ever-expanding Internet by pushing its reach
farther than ever before. The massive popularity of wireless networking has
caused equipment costs to continually plummet, while equipment capabilities
continue to sharply increase. We believe that by taking advantage of this
state of affairs, people can finally begin to have a stake in building their own
communications infrastructure. We hope to not only convince you that this is
possible, but also show how we have done it, and to give you the information
and tools you need to start a network project in your local community.
Wireless for Communities: A case book
At one time, all roads were supposed to lead to Rome; in today’s world, the information highway leads Rome right to our homes. Using desktop and laptop computers and mobile devices, we can access data about Rome or virtually any other area under the sun from the Internet. Landlines, broadband, and wireless connections where terrestrial connectivity or infrastructure is non-existent, all do their ‘bit’ to bring the world to our doorsteps.
Yes, it is an age of information, of networking and coming together in virtual communities. In fact, connecting people and communities is considered the hallmark of a developed information society. However, Internet penetration and connectivity in rural areas still poses a major challenge. Large swathes of the hinterland remain unconnected to the World Wide Web. It is in this context that initiatives like the one taken by “Wireless for Communities” (W4C) in places like Chanderi and Baran assume great importance as they showcase successful interventions in wireless connectivity of remote locations.
This casebook is an abstract that highlights several such examples of individuals, communities, and institutions taking advantage of wireless broadband connectivity in distant areas. The casebook outlines the impact of such connectivity on the people, their lives and their work. The examples given in the casebook have been culled from the pro- gram called “Wireless for Communities” (W4C), started by the Internet Society (ISOC) and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) in 2010. In the last three years, the project has had an impact on eight locations and on thousands of users – all of them in remote areas.
“I worry that people do not want to imagine alternative possibilities, alternative worlds. They want to let the monoliths of this world do their imagining for them. And for me that is very sad and very very challenging.” – Isaac Wilder, Free Network Foundation
This November-December COOK Report explores the free network movement literally across continents and hemispheres – from agrarian villages nestled among the foothills of the Pyrenees to urban inner-city neighborhoods in America’s Heartland. As a follow on to the March April 2013 exploration of guifi.net and Isaac Wilder’s Kansas City work, it looks at these networks as part of a global movement – one where the builders are collaborating on a national and international level. These builders work together and share their tools and code. Nothing proprietary here. They don’t seek wealth. They do seek to do for the communities in which they live what, “free market” based capitalism has failed to do. They are a bright hope for a future that, if one is not a part of the ruling elite, looks increasingly dim.
These networks of course are not free of cost – nothing is. But they stand for the freedom of users to create and build their own telecommunications infrastructure and to say “no” to the extractive model of shareholder-owned, restrictive and predatory telecommunications firms that have no interest in their customers other than extracting money and sending it to far off financial centers. Furthermore, they display no interest in innovation because when backed by regulatory capture on behalf of their extractive business model they have no need to care about innovation. Because, with monopoly models, they have no need to compete.
By way of contrast, the Free Networks emerging in the shadows of the granddaddy of them guifi.net in Catalonia Spain are models, not only of technology and economic innovation, but also of full scale collaboration among the members of the communities in which they grow. As the West marches blithely on towards the next economic collapse, the communities that survive outside of a centralized neo-feudal surveillance state will do so because they take matters like telecommunications into their own hands. It is the intent of this issue to show how this very basic, boot strap development is being done in North America, South America, and Europe. The goal here is large and very basic. It is the right of every community to define and then build the infrastructure on which its economic political and social self-determination depends. It is no longer just “internet” – it is far more basic. Does every community have the right to self-determination? The right to determine its own economic future? They have had it in past – but the question now becomes whether the corporate state will allow them to have it in the future?
It is now possible for a community to build broadband from the bottom up and dispense with the costly bureaucratic layers of the former national incumbent telecom carriers. A community does this by interconnecting wireless nodes into what is known as a mesh network. When we look at what this means, there is considerable confusion between the first-generation model of more than ten years ago where a group of geeks put up some radios and connected them on an ad hoc basis. Now with more advanced radios operating in different parts of the unlicensed spectrum, a new generation of geeks is doing two things never done before. One they are building networks to serve their communities – geek and non-geek alike. Two they have designed routing protocol’s for their meshes that enable an amazingly resilient fabric of broadband throughput to be established and maintained. Because everything is open source and they share all their code and like Linux progress is rapid and significant.
What guifi.net pioneered almost ten years ago is a means of community ownership of the infrastructure. Radios are installed and linked in such a way as to form a fabric that like the air people breathe or the pastureland they use is treated as a commons something that belongs not to individuals but to the entire community. If you are skilled geek, you can use your Commons connection to do things like send email to anyone else with a Commons connection and do so entirely for free,
But the secret that guifi.net has discovered is how to preserve, protect, and sustain the commons. It does this by action that is similar to structural separation in the commercial world. Namely it establishes an environment for installers who, for a fee can, enable any non-technical person to become a part of the mesh infrastructure. But once this is done, the installers have created an infrastructure platform that it is in their interest to maintain because it gives them a means of offering content for a small charge. The content is carried by the infrastructure platform that belongs to the community.