July 11 2024 GM

From TCU Wiki
Glitter Meetups

Community Networks Guide

Join us on 11 July  to hear from Hiure, a community network and internet infrastructure builder, who will be talking about:

  • What community networks are
  • The process of start building a community network building
  • Types of Community Networks

Bio: Hiure (@hiure on Mattermost) is very passionate about DIY culture, computers and programming since university life. A dreamer of seeing a world that balances natural resources and technology while respecting diversity and different worldviews, for this decide to work with rural and traditional communities and build a new reality for technologies through the community networking movement.

What is Glitter Meetup?

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the digital rights and Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EDT / 1pm UTC. It is a text-based chat where digital rights defenders can share regional and project updates, expertise, ask questions, and connect with others from all over the world! Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.


When did you build the guide?
  • This material was written while I was doing a knowledge exchange in India at the end of 2022 but it took a while to finalize the illustrations and ended up being released a year later.
  • We tried to do it in a way that was attractive and simple to understand, but without giving away enough technical information so that anyone can start a community networking process.
Can you tell us what community networks are and why are they important?
  • In summary Community Networks are communication infrastructures managed and operated by local communities. They provide access to internet, telephony, and other communication services tailored to the community's specific needs and goals. These networks promote local autonomy over technology, enabling communities to control their communication infrastructure and ensure it serves their collective interests rather than commercial exploitation
  • They are important by the Autonomy and Empowerment over their communication tools and infrastructure, for local development to enhance local economies and support local content and services, the Inclusivity by provide access to underserved or rural areas neglected by traditional telecom companies and the cultural preservation to protect against cultural impositions and support local customs and ways of life
Ah so community networks exist to bridge connectivity and accessibility gaps that exist when we rely on telcos to provide in rural areas?
  • Community networks are born in this context, but as they grow and we take ownership of this infrastructure, we end up realizing that we can do more... if more and more community networks are being formed and one starts and connects directly with the other, we could have a communication infrastructure fully managed by community interests and not by financial interests
Whether you need Telco buy in to create the network? And who gets connected, how do they get access or get connected? Do they buy your router, connect to a specific service? what does it look it?
  • In terms of connectivity, community networks create a communication infrastructure that can be connected to a conventional internet provider, but can also be connected to research networks such as universities or directly at traffic exchange points.
  • Depends on the possibilities and rules of each country
So does that also mean that you have to understand the network policies of every country you are creating in?
  • Some community networks, especially in indigenous communities, sometimes choose not to be connected to the internet, only providing local content in their own languages.
  • It is important to understand the rules of each country, especially if you choose to use technology that deals with electromagnetic frequencies... the spectrum is often "crowded". But in general, the Wi-Fi frequencies (2.4Ghz and 5.8Ghz) are free to use at a certain power.
  • Can you take us through the process of building community networks? Please explain it like Im a grade 2 child learning mathematics.
  • In general, we configure the local server, which is nothing more than a computer (it can be an SBC like Raspberry) and we direct the DNS to this local server, we configure the SSL certificates locally and we have a local web service, for example. So we do something really cool with the communities, which is to create content in their own language and this creates an understanding and appropriation of surprising technology.
Can you show me an image of what it looks like if say I am part of an indigenous community, what do i see when i use or connect the local web server?
  • Yes! This depends a lot on how each community wants this to work, but normally we configure a captive portal, just like at airports where the person connects and is redirected to a portal that will welcome them and show everything that can be accessed on the network.
  • There are many ways to build a community network, but in this guide we thought about synthesizing our experiences and created the following steps:
    • 1 - Organize the Community: Gather a group familiar with the community's territory and communication needs.
    • 2 - Map the Territory: Create a detailed map highlighting important locations and potential infrastructure points.
    • 3 - Choose the Technology: Select appropriate technology (e.g., Wi-Fi mesh, telephony networks) based on cost, availability, and community needs.
    • 4 - Install the Equipment: Set up the infrastructure, ensuring accessibility to electricity and proper equipment protection.
    • 5 - Maintain the Network: Train community members for ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting
And they connect for free?
  • About the costs, again, it depends on how the community wants it.. but maintaining things always has some costs and needs to be shared.. it is important to do a financial analysis of the costs and share them with the community and understand how these costs will be paid. . whether this will come from sponsorship of a project or whether users will pay... if they are going to pay, those who have better conditions help those who don't and thus can create different payment levels according to each person's ability. The objective is not profit but on the other hand the accounts need to be closed
Can you give me a key example of what this looked like in a location? Maybe contextualizing it will give a really good picture.
  • Let's take the most common example, which are community networks created from mesh WiFi networks. In this case, WiFi has good coverage or the entire area is covered. So the person accesses the network via WiFi, and when he connects to this network, this entire captive portal system guides him where to navigate and how it works
What are the partnerships and resources required to sustain a community network so it doesnt die out?
  • That's been the main issue we've faced... There are many organizations (like APC and ISOC) that try to support community networks around the world. But for a community network to be able to maintain itself over time, it requires a network of people and organizations in synergy to fight for this achievement, as the world as it is tends to make it impossible for these initiatives to flourish. I believe that a network of engaged people like digital right defenders can create the necessary strength to support and oxygenate these initiatives so that they stay alive
Thats very true, to close us of, how do you see other digital rights defender supporting community network initiatives. I know sustainability is something we all speak of, and it would be important to understand the type of collective work and effort that could get us there
  • I believe that defending this idea of ​​community networks as a fundamental right of access for communities creates influence and thus presses for there to be international guidelines for the creation of public policy to support these initiatives, directing funds such as telecommunications universalization funds in each country. whether targeting networks or even approaching and helping communities with support at events to publicize the needs of each one
How can people interested in chatting reach you?
  • Anyone who wants to get in touch with me can send me an email at hiure@riseup.net or on Mattermost (@hiure)