People’s Open Network

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= "a Bay Area-based mesh network in the early stages in Oakland".



Adele Peters:

"Unlike big telecom companies, which rely solely on a small number of these expensive relay points, a mesh network can route internet from house to house. Having a dense network of participants can keep the bandwidth high and makes the network resilient. But building a comprehensive network is also difficult. “One of the problems in starting a mesh network is bootstrapping–how you get a mesh network from nothing to actually existing,” says Juul. “Every time someone comes and wants to be on the mesh, in the beginning, they’re very likely going to be very far away from anyone else on the mesh.”

To start, those who want to be a part of People’s Open Network can buy a cheap, off-the-shelf dual-band router that the group has programmed with open-source mesh software. Once plugged in, it works as both a wireless hotspot and a router. If it’s in range of another router on the mesh network, it automatically connects. But until the network is big enough, people are using the routers differently–continuing to pay a traditional internet service provider, and sharing a little of their bandwidth with others in range. If a volunteer wants to take the next step, they can install an “extender” node on their roof or in a window, pointed at another node in the network.

All of this requires volunteers to install the equipment, which is another challenge. People’s Open Network wants to avoid charging for installation like a traditional ISP, because it doesn’t want to establish a traditional customer service relationship where customers are passive and uninformed. “What we’re trying to do is something horizontal, where everyone is part of the internet,” says Juul. “Everyone is a node on the internet that makes it possible for the internet to exist. We’re really trying not to get into that state of mind where people are thinking that the internet is delivered to them by someone else.”

It’s becoming easier as the hardware improves; some new equipment that will be on the market in early 2018 is smaller and simple to mount with a zip tie. People’s Open Network also runs workshops that teach anyone how to install a node. In 2018, the group will likely run a Kickstarter campaign to launch nodes in a large number of homes at once.

It’s feasible, they say, for community-run networks like these to eventually replace traditional ISPs. If a community can get cheap internet from a Tier 1 provider–in the Bay Area, the group is working with a company called Hurricane Electric that has a global network and low rates–and because the hardware is getting cheaper, then “you can serve a lot of people for almost no money . . . the bandwidth cost goes toward zero if enough people share it,” he says." (