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LOCAL Review :: General : Legislation : Media

STLIMC wrap-up of Community Wireless Conference

Over the weekend of 4-1-2006, St. Louis Indy Media correspondents attended National Summit for Community Wireless Networks in Lindenwood University in St. Charles. The conference was hosted by the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network CUWIN, and was held to promote the use of wifi technology for providing inexpensive, ubiquitous Net access to all communities, rural and urban. As a result, STLIMC learned about Net Neutrality, and wants to set up a neighborhood wifi net right here on Cherokee St!
Click on image for a larger version

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Homemade FM transmitter

Present were media reform activists, academic researchers and faculty, lots of Canadians, people who have successfully built community wifi nets, representatives from wifi equipment manufacturers, and even a guy from the FCC. This conference was a follow-up to a similar conference held 2 years ago in Urbana-Champaign, only with this year's event proving many times larger and diverse than the organizers had expected.

STLIMCistas Ben, Finley, Justin, and Steve participated in panels such as “How to Put the 'Community' in Community Wireless,” “National Wireless Policy,” and “Open Source Wireless.” In general, the conference was composed of tech-geek presentations of various wifi technologies, panel discussions about policy (national, regional, etc.) towards community wifi nets, and casual open-house sessions where folks could show-and-tell all their cool gadgets. The self-coverage of this event was extensive; minutes/transcripts were recorded of every session, in addition to pervasive real-time blogging by many of the attendees, all topped off by video footage commissioned by the organizers.

Two notable things fell out of the conference still worth mentioning.

  1. Net Neutrality (and another link), which is the concept that Internet traffic should not be segregated based on its content. This is meant to counter the efforts of corporate media purveyors like Time-Warner, Verizon, and other corporations in the radio/telephone/TV businesses, who are avidly lobbying the FCC and Congress to establish a 2-tiered Internet: one tier for corporate media to provide high-bandwidth streaming content like video, audio (all one-way), and a 2nd tier for anything else not deemed marketable. This would require fundamental change to the architecture of the Internet (which Congress could legislate and the FCC could enforce), and it would eliminate guaranteed access to all the realms of public expressions, commonly called electronic “greenspace,” that currently exist on the Net, e.g., blogs, VoIP, podcasts, Indymedia, your favorite band's website, and pretty much anything else that doesn't revolve around profit. Indeed, there is already IMC coverage in Chicago and New York about implications of losing Net Neutrality. For those who feel like chatting up their local congress-critters about this, the good bill is the Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and the bad one is the COPE Act. The wifi conference folks said it was important to nag whomever answers the phone in Carnahan's office until you get hold of a staffer. Moven.org also has a page for the Single-Click Progressives.

  2. STLIMC/CAMP([search]) want to set up a neighborhood wifi network right here, starting on Cherokee([search]) St! SBC charges folks $50, $60, etc. a month for DSL, when Net access could be made ubiquitous and free (or nearly free) using wifi technology, WifiDog in particular. The wireless conference was filled with dozens of people who have set up and successfully run cheap wifi, city-wide even, and I was sure to get their contact info. More information on the Cherokee Wifi Project coming soon!

Click on image for a larger version

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Folks from Prometheus Radio (and Finley!)

More gritty details can be gleaned from extensive blogging and pics made by the participants. In particular, you can look up the CUWIN conference page, and the Technorati tag: NS4CWN. These folks have far nimbler fingers than me.

Selected highlights from the conference:

  • Dharma Daily from Prometheus Radio demonstrated how to build your own micro-power FM radio station using homemade FM transmitters, inexpensive audio mixers, and laptops. April Glaser also hosted a Cantenna-building session.

  • Benoit from Île Sans Fil demonstrated his captive portal technology, WifiDog, which lets you construct neighborhood- and even city-wide wifi nets using cheap Linksys routers.

  • Harold Feld of Media Access Project led a boisterous panel on national policy toward broadband and wifi technology, which ultimately became a preaching-to-the-choir session about Net Neutrality.

  • On the 2nd day of the conference, several dozen attendees made their way down to south St. Louis city to enjoy a genderless/wireless after-party hosted right here at CAMP. Wifi technology activists met up with local community activists to share stories and beer.

  • On the 3rd day, the conference organizers played a video-taped message of support from FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who supports Net Neutrality and the creation of cheap/free community wifi nets, which sadly makes his the minority viewpoint among current commissioners.

  • Also on the 3rd day, tornadoes and highway jesus billboards introduced some out-of-towners to typical Midwest turbulence. Besides that the weather was just dandy.

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Harold Feld fro Media Access Project

Examples of inexpensive neighborhood- or city-wide wifi nets that STLIMC could use as models for the Cherokee Wireless Project:

  • WifiDog, a “captive portal” wifi technology which lets you construct neighborhood- and even city-wide nets using cheap Linksys routers

Participants:

  • Austin Wireless, a non-profit that pursues community education of wifi, and seeks to establish public wifi access in Austin, TX

  • BGWireless, a non-profit that promotes and builds city-wide wifi networks in Belgrade, Serbia

  • CRACIN, a research partnership that investigates the status and achievements community networking in Canada

  • Heads on Fire, a San Diego-based organization dedicated to bridging the Digital Divide through community based media arts programs

  • Île Sans Fil, a university-funded research project that built a city-wide wifi net in Montreal, Canada

  • Media Access Project, a prolific non-profit law firm that promotes First-Amendment rights in present and future electronic media

  • Media Tank, non-profit working to promote public awareness around media issues and to create a more democratic media system

  • Prometheus Radio Project, which builds community-oriented Low-Power FM radio stations around the country

  • Radiophony, researches and develops telecommunications access for people of limited financial or physical means

  • SLACO, a 28 year-old coalition of neighborhood associations and churches in the city of St. Louis

  • St. Charles County Emergency Management Agency (like FEMA, but local and actually functional)

  • St. Louis WizKids, a youth-directed project that provides underprivileged families access to online educational tools

  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

  • Urbana-Champaign Indy Media Center

  • Tribal Digital Village, a regional wifi net connecting rural Native-American communities in southern California

Full list of participants here.

A technorati tag I'm supposed to include: NS4CWN

 
 

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