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Why wireless communities/mesh networks are importantDisaster ZonesThe internet is structured in a way so that it relies on centralized infrastructure so that it can connect you to other networks. Think of your wifi network as a town with a train track that is connected to a central train station where all other tracks from every town meet. From there you can freely travel to/communicate with people from other towns. In a nutshell that is how your wifi network and associated devices can connect you with people across the globe. Now in times of disaster, such as the recent hurricane Harvey or Irma, these centralized hubs can be destroyed and can no longer be able to send what you want over the internet, crippling the distribution of information and means of communication with others. This severely limits a sufficient federal or state response to deal with a disaster since first responders critically need up to date information of who needs help, where etc. In addition, it hinders people ability to help each other at a local level with them not knowing if their neighbors or friends need help or perhaps if they need help themselves. Peer to peer mesh networks solve this problem by creating a sort of web or mesh of connections between networks to provide workarounds if a connection fails. Going back to the town analogy, instead each town having a single rail track connected to a central station, towns have tracks leading to multiple nearby towns. This improves reliability in disaster situations since if one connection fails, you have multiple more connections to rely on. For examples, say we have 3 towns A,B,C, if the tracks between A and B are destroyed the people in A and B can still visit each other by first going to C and then their desired destination. This ability of mesh networks helps ensure that people can stay connected and request and send help where needed in uncontrollable situations making theme extremely important to set up in the modern era.For a more detailed explanation see NeutralityRecently the FCC repealed net neutrality which basically legally prevented your internet service provider from slowing/shutting down connections and required them to consider all content on the internet freely. With that gone ISPs can now legally control the content you see, slowing down content they don’t like/harm them. This threatens healthy your freedom of information, small businesses, and political activism. if you think that if your ISP doing this to the common consumer will hurt them since people will simply switch providers it’s not that simple. For one most of the connections in the U.S are handled by maybe 4 or 5 major companies so if all of them start messing with your content there is very little alternatives. In addition, many people in the U.S only have access to at most 1 or 2 providers in their area and don’t have the option to switch to a new one if they start screwing them over.Mesh networks solve this problem since there is no centralized structure and everyone is recognized as an equal node, thus no one entity can majorly influence where information flows and what kind of information passes like in the case of our regular internet. If there is a corrupt node it is a simple matter of either cutting it out or ignoring it entirely when accessing information.Well established U.S Based Mesh Communities/Wireless Communities: History and detailsThe following is a description of well known mesh communities that you can join, contribute to, or learn more from that are based in the U.S.People’s Open Net/Sudo Mesh (Oakland, California)The People’s Open Net is a open source, decentralized, peer to peer, mesh network based in Oakland California. It is a non-profit, community owned internet infrastructure made up of 50 homes nodes and 15 extender nodes. They offer multiple free services such as tutorials for setting up nodes in their mesh, workshops, and weekly community coding sessions. In addition, they offer many ways to contribute if you don’t want to contribute in the IT aspect with them having a demand for designers, community organizers, outreach coordinators etc.Website: Address(for more donations): 12RxU4DpLpdWcmEBn7Tj325CCXBwt5i9HcFunding documentation: County Mesh Organization (Orange County, California)The Orange Country Mesh is a organization with the goal of making a mesh backbone from the Mexican border to the San Jose area in conjunction with other communities.Website: Community Wireless Network(Illinois)Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network is an Illinois based non-profit mesh infrastructure that started in 2000. Their network is currently growing at a rate where they foresee having scaling issues soon. There three-part mission is to1. connect more people to Internet and broadband services,2. develop open-source hardware and software for use by wireless projects worldwide, and3. build and support community-owned, not-for-profit broadband networks in cities and towns around the globe.Website: wireless internet network(Minneapolis)The network was first proposed in 2003 and eventually grew in great prominence due to its ability to coordinate emergency services when the I-35W Mississippi River bridge collapsed in 2007. It was awarded a multi-million dollar contract by the city and currently offers packages at 6 megabits per second at 20 dollars per month. With tens of thousands of members it is considered one of the most successful municipal mesh networks in the country. In addition they are responsible for maintain 117 free wifi hotspots throughout the city with the average being 67 in other cities.Website: York City Mesh(NYC)A municipal non-profit, community run Mesh in the city of New York whose mission statement is”We aim to create a free, resilient, stand-alone communication system that serves both for daily internet use and also for emergencies?—?be it power outages or internet disruption?—?running software that helps our community with hyperlocal maps and events.”They also offer a number of diverse documentation to setting up your own node, configuring routers etc.Website: https://nycmesh.netDonation: Telco(Portland, Oregon)Personal Telco project is a 501c non profit based in Portland, Oregon that started in 2000 with roughly 100 active nodes in public areas. They focus specifically on giving everyday internet users to tools to setup their own network and provide detailed documentation to do so.Website: Wireless(Seattle, Washington)A non-profit metropolitan area network based in Seattle, Washington started in June 2000 byMatt Westervelt and Ken Caruso. Note as of 2016 this organization has disbanded due to lack of funding.Website: your own Mesh Network in your neighborhoodThe section above was not a comprehensive list of all mesh/wireless communities based in the U.S, if you did not see your area then try googling where you live and check out if there are any that you can participate in. If not the follow resources should help you get started on perhaps starting your own wireless community project. ThoughtsEven if you don’t have a community in your area or think you lack the technical expertise and skill to develop your own community you can still help participate in the numerous open source projects regarding developing and managing networking tools that have members and leaders willingly to help new members combined with easy to use documentation coupled and great community support. For example I am currently participating in Openwisp 2, and organization that develops free applications and tools that improve people’s ability to deploy, monitor, and control their own networks.Hoped you enjoyed this article!

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