Citzen Lab is a a “hothouse” that brings together social scientists, filmakers, computer scientists, activists, and artists, the Citizen Lab sponsors projects that explore the cutting-edge of hypermedia technologies and grassroots social movements, civic activism, and democratic change within an emerging planetary polity.
Creating our own communications networks may be our best hope at preserving our freedom of speech and access to information. Below are resources for getting started:
Mission Statement: Personal Telco is a grass roots effort to empower people to build the infrastructure through which their data flows. By creating, packaging and disseminating Open Source tools, documentation and community support we are building city wide networks which are open to, and maintained by, the public.
http://www.wirelessanarchy.com/ – There may be a group near you.
http://www.oreillynet.com/topics/wireless/802.11 – Several articles on the topic.
http://www.freenetworks.org/ – News an discussion.
Especially useful for infrastructure construction purposes:
I found this article of the same title by David Isenberg and David Weinberger. This paper makes a good case why the best networks are the ones least likely to be profitable for the provider. Essentially we are talking about a shift away from centralized bandwidth distribution in the same way that p2p file-sharing networks decentralize content distribution. Original link posted on Infoanarchy.
Telephone companies are not the only institutions goaded by new network technology. We can see from the reaction to today’s Internet that the Paradox of the Best Network is not kind to the recording industry, to book publishers, or to any other group that makes its living by controlling access to content. These groups have already called in the lawyers and lobbyists to protect their current business models. Nor will the new network be popular with any institution, economic, political or religious group that seeks to shield itself from conflicting cultures and ideas.
In fact, the best network embodies explicit political ideals so it would be disingenuous to pretend it didn’t. The best technological network is also the most open political network. The best network is not only simple, low-cost, robust and innovation-friendly, it is also best at promoting a free, democratic, pluralistic, participatory society; a society in which people with new business ideas are free to fail and free to succeed in the marketplace.
Freenetworks.org is a new community weblog for people trying to create free networks.
What is a freenetwork? A freenetwork is an excercise in telecommunications freedom. A network created by those who use it rather than brought to consumers by business. It is not neccessarily ‘free’ as in cost, but more to the point, autonomous and self governing.
Freenetworks.org is a group of individuals and organizations that are committed to facing the social, political and technical issues that occur in the creation of these networks. We believe that through global communication and collaboration, we can work through these issues in a more efficient manner.
The pro-democracy Six/Four project from Hacktivismo is a potentially valuable step to protect political dissidents and other people who have the quaint idea that their access to information shouldn’t be thwarted by government-run firewalls in places like China and Saudi Arabia.The basic idea is to use the Internet’s decentralized nature in a way that lets people create anonymous, secure data tunnels from here to there and everywhere. If this works, governments will be harder-pressed to prevent their people from communicating freely and seeing online material that, for whatever reason, is considered objectionable.
There are a lot of developments coming our way that could bring back the free wheeling days of the internet before it became completely commercialized and monitored by governments. Technologies like Mesh Networks and high-speed 802.11g wireless gear, now available from Linksys, which will speed up wireless access to 54Mps and still be compatible with existing 802.11b networks. Combine this with cheap wireless devices, anarchistic p2p networks like Freenet and even anonymous e-cash, and who knows what will happen next. But like the internet in 1994, I couldn’t see how it could ever be controlled, yet 8 years later we have a network that is becoming increasingly closed, censored, monitored and proprietary. Currently, I am unable to see how they could bring decentralized wireless networks under control either, so who is to say? This time, I’m really hoping the genie stays out of the bottle.
Freenet does what people thought the internet was supposed to do – free information from censorship. But as we know, information flows through propietary pipes and exists openly on identifiable servers. This means that not only is our surfing activity and email exposed to prying eyes, but that if certain information is offensive to individuals, corporations or goverments it can be removed. More importantly, it has become increasingly difficult to post information on the internet anonymously. The ability to speek freely, openly, and anonymously assures that ther person can speak their mind without fear of reprisal or even imprisonment or death. Freenet changes all that. Freenet has been a work in progress for over 2 years, and until now it has been cumbersome to use for the average user. Now, with the release of Freenet 0.5 (download here) it has an intuitive and easy to use interface. Freenet works by storing information in an encrptyed, decentralized and distributed manner. Information resides on individual computers on the network. But not even the computer owner knows eactly what information is stored on their machine. What this means is that even if a goverment were to demand that information be removed from Freenet at gunpoint, no one would be able to comply. Once information is published on freenet, its is essentially impossible to remove.
Wow, Monday morning and already there are plenty of exciting tidbits in the news. The first community based wireless mesh-network is up and running near Devon, UK. You can read about it here. As you may already know, mesh-networks are a disruptive technology because each device acts as a router for all other devices, eliminating the need for a centralized network.
In a recent speech FCC Chairman Michael Powell questioned the FCC’s assumption that spectrum is always scarce, suggesting software-defined radio’s and other new technologies should be allowed to operate on frequencies that are currently un-used or under-used. The speech doesn’t represent any policy changes at the FCC, but these initiatives could open enormous amounts of frequency that could be used for all manner of wireless devices (read: massive mesh-networks!).
An article in the New York Times this morning talks about a startup company in CA that says it will announce WiFi antenna technology today that can give a 2000 ft. range indoors (and up to 4 mi. outdoors). This would be awesome if they really deliver – because with greater range means more robustness and coverage of ad-hoc wireless mesh-networks, further speeding free communications away from centralized power borkers into the common user.
UPDATE: As of March, 2012, almost 10 years later, none of these technologies have never made it the public. The internet is more monopolized, centralized and controlled than ever. To my knowledge there are are no long-range wireless “mesh” technologies available to the general public.