Community Wireless Networks in action

Bristol Wireless is a volunteer-run community co-operative established in 2002 to supply open source ICT to businesses, the community and voluntary sector and the general public.  It was initially started some under-employed techies in East Bristol with the aim of improving society, particularly its less fortunate sections, by
providing affordable wireless network connectivity. They have since established a mesh network in Bristol that covers approx. 15 sq. km.  Bristol Wireless is a very active organization that blogs frequently, organizes regular digital literacy classes for residents, and advocates for net neutrality and the values of free software.


Bristol Wireless homepage


Bristol Wireless coverage area

A community in Bogota, Colombia in South America has been developing Bogota Mesh since the early turn of the century. It is now have a fully operational mesh network with over 25 nodes running the BATMAN software to a wide array of mobile and other internet capable devices.

This network is an great example of a community driving the adoption of ICT to meet organic needs. They are ardent advocates for core concepts of LIS 451, including a people-centered approach to technology and controlling your computing. See their manifesto as an example.

Bogota Mesh homepage

Bogota Mesh homepage

Bogota network node map

Bogota network node map

Very central to the North American community wireless network movement was the CUWiN – Champaign Urbana Wireless Network.  Based out of downtown Urbana, Illinois in what is now Pixo Technologies, the Independent Media Center, and the University of Illinois, CUWiN developed a wireless mesh network technology that they shared and deployed with other communities.  They also organized the first national Summit for Community Wireless Networks, held at the University of Illinois in 2004, and now in its 9th year with the next summit in Berlin in October. The organization disbanded sometime around 2008.  Much of the group has kept working together at the Open Technology Institute where they developed Commotion Wireless.  Unfortunately most of their online presence, especially their website, is no longer available.

There are however various articles, blog posts and book chapters that document not only CUWiN but other efforts around the US and Canada.  For detailed bibliographies on CUWiN, see:

  1. 50 Years of Public Computing at the University of Illinois Conference investigation into CUWiN
  2. LoDolce, K., Ayad, M., Ginger, J., McCauley, S., Thompson, A., Williams, K., & Jamali, B. (2008) Prairienet and community networking: An annotated bibliography. Community Informatics Lab Notes (University of Illinois GSLIS) 8

For an historical analysis of the North American community wireless network movement and case studies of two Canadian efforts, see Allison Powell’s excellent 2008 dissertation from Concordia University, Montreal, Co-productions of Technology, Culture and Policy in the North American Community Wireless Networking Movement.

The Internet Archive has a small amount of footage from the 2004 Summit for Community Wireless Networks that took place at UIUC.  See the 20 minute mark of the video below for a presentation by then Assistant Professor of Communication and community wireless networking scholar Christian Sandvig.

Comments are closed.