Volunteers Bring Open WiFi Network to Detroit

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On December 8, volunteers Brian Duggan and Chris Ritzo of CuWin (Community Wireless) and the UCIMC Tech working group traveled to Detroit, MI to help build a community mesh wireless network. In four days, Duggan and Ritzo and members of the Open Technology Initiative (OTI) mounted and connected two small mesh wireless nodes, four medium-sized nodes, and one large node at four sites. The large nodes have a much greater radio reach than the smaller nodes. All nodes can be mounted on rooftops, but the small nodes can also be mounted in windows. Valuable experience was gained in hardware installation, software development and configuration for the mesh nodes. Duggan and Ritzo plan to use C

uWin as a platformgroup to implement and expand a new mesh wireless network in Urbana-Champaign. Duggan, Ritzo and OTI worked with the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) and residents of the 48217 area code in Detroit to install the seeds of what will be a dense and active community internet in the near future.

Ritzo installing a high power mesh wireless radio to allow for the sharing of Internet access

OTI donated hardware and employee labor to organized twelve residents to host small mesh wireless nodes on or in their houses.
The nascent network will initially allow users to share Internet access with each other. Currently, most broadband subscribers seek to block community access to their Internet connections through wireless access points. This works because modern consumer routers make it easy to turn on encryption and because an unwelcome user must be in range of the wireless access point—typically no farther than across the street.
A community mesh wireless network turns the ‘one subscriber, one user’ model on its head. A mesh network can allow several city blocks to utilize one consumer Internet connection. It will also allow the same users in that area to utilize more than one Internet connection at more than one residence. So the users that subscribe to Internet connections could use community organizations to recoup costs of maintaining that subscription by sharing.
Mesh networks also allow for application sharing. For example, if the residents of 48217 wanted a streaming radio station on their network, they could save money paying just the hardware costs, the bandwidth between the nodes—within the mesh network—is free. For a community like that found in the 48217 zip code, that suffers from chronic government neglect, lack of proper emergency notification systems, and the most polluted air in all of Detroit, localizing services could prove to be a primary function of the mesh network. OTI and DDJC explained that in the future, networked security cameras and air quality testers could use the mesh network as a platform for informing 48217 residents of immediate dangers and for collecting data about the dangers their community faces on a regular basis.

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