The Path to a More Democratic Internet

DIY networking refers to different forms of grassroots networking, such as mesh networks. According to Vice Magazine, mesh networks allow wifi routers not only to send signals to wifi-enabled devices as is usual but also “routers have the capability to connect and talk to one another.” You can create a bigger wifi zone by connecting the routers.

The artists have used these networks to question mainstream internet access and to broaden our communication capabilities. Mathias Jud, Christoph Wachter and others have used to “talk back” at the NSA.

DIY community networks are also being used to connect citizens. For example, in Greece, the initiative. Sarantaporo is a community-based solution to affordable internet access. It’s also a model for creating networking infrastructure that has attracted the attention of institutions and academics.

Last year, the Spanish community network won a European Union Broadband Award.

These networks can play an important role as counter against the few corporations who dominate the internet. They can also be used to raise awareness about privacy, net neutrality, and the issues of censorship and surveillance.

What is the process?

Wireless routers, which are essentially special-purpose computers, can do much more than connect your devices to internet. It can host a variety of web-based services, ranging from a simple website to a collaborative platform that is only accessible to those who are physically nearby.

These include an online announcement board for an apartment block, an online guestbook in an urban garden, or a platform to share files for a workshop. “self hosted” web applications can be used by anyone on their own private server.

The router’s antenna will announce a network name and SSID (Service Set Identification), just as you would when connecting to free wifi or your home. These services can be displayed automatically when you launch your browser, such as in hotels, airports, or cafes.

The size of the coverage area depends on the type and environmental factors.

The first antenna is used for connecting people to their devices. The second antenna is used to exchange data with the router next door. Each router becomes a node in a small, local network. Anyone who connects to a router can also access services and people related to the other. As nodes are connected, a larger area is covered, and a community is formed. Initially, the node owners and then everyone else in the region can create this community.

You cannot build an entire network on your own, but you could make yourself one network node with cheap hardware (such as Raspberry pi) and free Self-hosted Software to install the local services and apps of your choice.

Only when you offer internet connectivity via such a network will there be legal issues? This is due to liability concerns when it comes to copyrighted material.

Personal networks

In principle, it is legal to run a node like this on your own. You can attach the device to your balcony or even inside your backpack. It could be your private network inviting neighbors, other travelers, or strangers who share the same public space.

Physical urban interventions can announce the presence of an invisible digital space: a visible marker, a QR code, a poster, or even artistic performances and direct face-to-face communication.

You don’t need to have an internet connection or any other credentials. Just be there.

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