Ninux Day: here's why you too may need your "neighborhood Internet"

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According to TV commercials, a fast Internet connection turns your whole life upside down: music, movies and online games at the smallest possible cost, more news than you may ever handle and, above all, cheaper and more efficient services of all kinds.

The Internet makes it possible to use a computer to stop wasting hours in lines at medical centers, banks or postal offices, or to keep your public administrators under control. To enter this paradise a family would just need an Internet connection which is both fast and, of course, affordable. Unfortunately, many communities worldwide lack public funds to build the necessary infrastructure and private operators often demand too high prices… assuming they want you as a customer!

The problem here is that, in current conditions, a traditional, private network operator does not want to get customers in remote, scarcely populated or low-income areas: the money to spend to bring to each household the necessary cables, optical fibers, radio links or anything else would not be profitable enough.

If you don’t give us the Internet, we’ll build our one!

Lately several people have started to grow tired of this situation and decided to put an end to it by doing, as much as possible, everything by themselves. In Catalonia, for example, many households are connected to each other and to the Internet thanks to a Wireless Community Network (WCN): this is nothing else but a telecom network which is designed, installed and managed by local citizens and technicians which work side by side with their public administrations. Besides providing a service, WCNs also create local jobs, from shops selling the necessary hardware to technicians who install and configure it.

OK, but what would I DO with a Wireless Community Network???

At a first glance, many people may consider a WCN as just the latest, pointless technological fad. What on Earth would do an average family or senior citizen with a neighborhood Internet? Here is the answer according to Clauz, a member of Ninux, a group that is trying to build a WCN in Rome:

“Why should I pay a phone company to route my voice back and forth the whole city just to call a friend living just a few hundred meters away from me? Couldn’t we just connect our phones directly to each other and then talk without any extra fee or limitation?”

“Oh, and why should we limit ourselves just to phone calls? If we connected our computers we could also exchange pictures, video or email. All without paying more than actually needed just to pay for access to the network of some big operator, especially if we could use radio, that is wireless links, from computer to computer! And if other neighbours joined us, we could create our very own local network on which we could exchange any sort of data. Eventually, if such a network were connected to the actual Internet, we could also share the cost of that connection” (Note from Stop: this kind of connectivity may also make all the services mentioned above affordable to many more families)

Wireless Community Networks like those described by Clauz are already being built all over the world, especially in Europe. Italy is still late in this particular race, partly because of bureaucracy and unfriendly laws and partly because of lack of interest and information among citizens. To solve the second problem, Ninux will host a three days meeting open to the public in Rome, from Nov. 27th to Nov. 29th.

Do Wireless Community Networks only bring advantages?##

I admit I still have several general doubts about the idea that everybody, especially in densely populated areas, should be allowed to set up a WCN without any real technical expertise, control or coordination with other residents. I’m concerned both about safety hazards due to electromagnetic pollution, and about low reliability of the network.

This said, I am well aware that Wireless Community Networks may provide extremely useful services at low cost, and that small companies that could build and manage them properly already exist or could be created easily if there were no legal obstacles. I am also aware of the abuses and lack of efficiency of the current, big providers of Internet and phone connectivity.

Therefore, I feel it’s become mandatory for every citizen, including (especially???) those who have no Internet connectivity yet, nor any interest in getting it, to get as much information as possible on these topics. That’s why I’m inviting everybody in Rome to attend the Ninux Day, and all others to discover how to organize one in their community.

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