Interview Points of Interest and Extraction

Laura Forlano:

“the use of skype is the most interesting example in the 6-7 years, where non profits groups that needed to save money, people that lived far away from their families, specific groups had really clear needs for low cost telecommunications service for those that have a computer and a connection to the Internet”

“if the sign on process and usability is intuitive enough, you can use it and have a need, then you’re likely to use. the problem with community networks and wireless mesh networks is that they don’t have this usable layer. ”

“how does issues of privacy or security work in a community network?”

“in terms of mapping onto user needs or what is the best use case”

“in disaster situations, there’s the mesh protocol, where you are less depedent on centralized infrastrucutre, which is what we thought after hurricane katrina, lots of people going down to work on mesh protocols, people from CISCO, NYCwireless board memebers”

“if you have people sharing other things, a group of families sharing a car, eco housing or co housing situations people are sharing daycare ”

“if you find communities that are already involved in a sharing economy, then that could be a likely place where community wireless networks would be an obvious asset”

“once social layer is developed, more easy, not that hard to find communities that see value in that.”

“in new york…not interested in sharing, not part of living life, maybe at work or with friends, tend to be individualistic, that could change based on residential design”

“singnaling to people where there are similarities, their differences” —> fridge

berlin residential , cancelled freifunk “network wasn’t offering additional content or services or something of value that would keep you there”

do people in community network interact in real world?
—-> “absolutely ” “because of the physical equipment involved in building networks, climbing on roofs, putting up antennas, building cantennas, every network has weekly or monthly meetings” -> happen in specific geographic areas where people come together

negative activity: people hogging bandwidth

—> some activity cause people to worry: nycwireless, pornography on network, network in park can’t do anything, once someone ordered 20 pizzas
—> security concerns

“the national landderail” – > “we already have a lot of the bandwidth we need, we already have the network we need” -> we aren’t using the public network as efficiently, universities hooked in but not community wireless -> kada commons network

Rui Aguiar, coordinator of: Advanced Telecommunications and Networks Group

“motivations we had for a user-centric approach, was to radically depart from this bias approach that the operators have ”

“tried to imagine a society where there are no big players, so could we devise the technology to empwoer the users so they can control their own communications environment.” -> the answer was “yes, we can devise technology for that”

what has been challenge:
“try to bring that user empowerment into the more traditional, let’s say more economically viable vision that the telecom operators, big manufacturers are trying to push”

“we do understand that there is ” -> “the society we have is such, that we cannot go to a fully user centric communication environment – there are no economical incentives for doing that, there is no way you can deploy this expecting user organization to do this, will only work in small communities”

“the time where the internet was just good guys, has disapperead”

“we cannot build again”

“there are lessons we can learn about what technology allows us, ”

“how can we keep on pushing the user to have more power, and still do this in such a way to be viable in the future”

“if you can use ‘free’

“technology is a huge amplifier” “how long does it take ”

Alison Powell

What do you think are the most critical social hurdles involved in setting up and running a community wireless network? Do these hurdles change over time as the network matures? Is entropy inevitable?

I think these hurdles vary by location. At the time I was researching, getting the networks to function technically was a big hurdle. Over time the biggest hurdle became sustainability and the nature of the partnerships that secured the funding and support for the network. In the other areas around Montreal, the organizations didn’t struggle as much with the technical side. And of course, entropy (in human terms) is inevitable. Volunteer run organizations or community based projects always struggle with attrition, as people move on and change their lives and jobs.

Should governments, businesses or the people directly fund community network infrastructure? How does individual and group autonomy play into these infrastructure policies?

In practice, the answer varies, and in the past, has depended on a number of things: the purpose of the network (connectivity, social enterprise, fun open-source project, community start-up, municipally funded utility), where the idea came from to invest in the network in the first place, where the resources are located for sustainability, etc.

“should” is a normative question. it depends on the goals of the network. If it’s a hacker network just for fun, maybe it shouldn’t be funded in the same way as a large public-interest network. And of course in between there are numerous hybrids that are possible.

Do you feel that local network software should be developed from within a community, to address the specific needs of said community? Or, is providing a basic framework with the ability for limitless local customization a better approach?
Again, it depends. “better” for what? Functionality?

What do you think are the most critical social hurdles involved in setting up and running a community wireless network? Do these hurdles change over time as the network matures? Is entropy inevitable?

Should governments, businesses or the people directly fund community network infrastructure? How does individual and group autonomy play into these infrastructure policies?

Do you feel that local network software should be developed from within a community, to address the specific needs of said community? Or, is providing a basic framework with the ability for limitless local customization a better approach?

Again, better for what? A basic framework is more functional, but many communities I’ve been in touch with enjoy the challenge of making something their own. As most networks built for access purposes are now based on a small number of frameworks, much of the innovative thrill of community networking has moved to investigating mobile and mesh networks. If the purpose is to provide connectivity in somewhere unconnected though, there are a number of basic frameworks (including proprietary tools) that people use and have used.

Have you ever noticed any unexpected uses for software tools on community networks, not in the original design?
My favorite anecdote is of a user I interviewed telling me how he used the community network’s ‘chat page’ that listed all network members online in a specific location as a proxy for the likely download speed in that location. he’d then avoid places where lots of other people were using the networks.

What kinds of communication or exchange have you seen occur most frequently on networks?
Not sure what you mean by this – what do people use WiFi networks for? Many of the same things they use 3G networks for, or other public access networks. In Montreal around 2005, lots of freelance work, some studying. Some online video, but Facebook wasn’t really popular at that time, nor Twitter. The bandwidth was limited by user, so rarely anything really high bandwidth like Skype. One of the things that the local community tried to do was get people to interact with each other online when they were in the same space, but that didn’t ever seem to take off (see above). The idea was that you would see avatars and could click through to profiles of the people using the same network as you. It was an idea far beyond its time, but I never found anyone who had used it to communicate, although many people recognized ‘familiar strangers’ in their favorite locations.

Aside from WiFi Dog and the various visual arts and music programs seeded over the Île Sans Fil network, have any other localized or cultural tools emerged from the networks you’ve studied?
The current partnership with the city government means that there are local pages giving civic and tourist information that now appear as part of the portal page when visitors visit a city-run hotspot. There are also Android and Iphone apps that help people find places with free WiFi. This is all Montreal specific . . .

WiFiDog is now being replaced by a new authorization server also programmed by the same group of people – it’s called AuthPuppy, apparently, and is being spread to some of the other communities in the region who use the same platforms and organizational structures.

You mentioned in your thesis that the technical areas of Île Sans Fil were given notoriety (ninja status) over the arts and culture areas, which eventually led to a decline in enthusiasm in those areas. Did the people working in the arts and culture areas move on to outside projects instead, or stay in the network community?
Well, of the people that were at the core of the network community at the time I started work, none are still involved, regardless of their main interest. The technical people have moved on to interesting jobs as well, five years on – some work for the city, one is a venture capitalist, one works for the local Linux organization. But during the fieldwork, there was an ebb and flow as well. People are still in touch, still working on projects that sometimes intersect or use the platform.

I’ve been inspired by the counter-publics you mentioned in your thesis, in relation to non-hetero-normative and minority based pockets of separate communication infrastructure, has the Île Sans Fil or any other network every addressed these areas directly?
French Quebecers are a cultural minority within Canada, and there is a way that Ile Sans Fil grew from a culture of opposition and self-sufficiency that is directly related to this cultural history. But having said that, there was no explicit effort to address the other potential counter-publics you mention, aside from a well intentioned and poorly positioned attempt to ‘help’ a historically black neighbourhood ‘get connected’ using donated Linux boxes. This failed to get any local community support as the local people could not see how it would be valuable, and because it wasn’t positioned well for what they were most concerned about. However, there are some great networks that some other collaborators visited in Detroit where communities are developing their own tools – and you might also want to look up Christian Sandvig’s recent work on race and access in Native American communities, which is in Lisa Nakamura’s latest book.

Have you noticed a shift in the types of decentralized Internet initiatives that have emerged since the communication shutdown in the Arab Spring? How do these new “ad hoc, dark net, revolutionary” efforts compare to the more structured, community-centric approaches?
Neither is more or less structured. Technology is not neutral – its capacities can be drawn on for bringing together people as easily as it can be used to create other unstable heterogenous collections of actors, who may have a variety of motives from benign to sinister. I think the darknet is probably really exciting for tech-savvy folks right now, which is one of the terrible consequences of enclosing or limiting the legitimate internet – all the interesting tech development will just happen in places where law-abiding people are less likely to go.

Do you think community wireless will ever become ubiquitous, wherein each community could could connect directly to other communities? Or should alternative networks exists alongside the main Internet?
I think the expansion of the commercial internet and the lowering of access prices has made this a less obvious propositon than it might have been. But at the same time, the limiting of commercial internet access through violations of net neutrality and opaque throttling, content-provision and quality of service might reinvigorate interest in alternative networks. In this case, I would imagine they would develop locally and link to each other, rather than be built as a large mangaged network. THere is a nice paper on this kind of evolution, by Harmeet Sawnhey, which visualizes wireless networks as lilypads with links.

Also look at Keith Hampton’s Netville study for another example of local communities using new media (and in particular, his assessment of when and why neighbours used the (then new) email to communicate, and when they didn’t.