Communications and media monopolies are merging, gaining ever more control over the way we receive and consume media through cable and the internet. There is also a growing digital divide between urban and rural areas, with weak signals and slow service frustrating rural residents worldwide. It’s costing more to stay connected, and yet that connection is something we are all relying on more and more in our daily lives. Try living without the internet for a day, a week, a month…a year! At first it seems novel and even helpful to our frantic lives, but after just a few days, you start to realize just how much we rely on that connection to get through the day.
Now think about the cost of that connection (or the multiple connections so many of us have, like home internet and smart phone data plans). Think about that cost multiplied by the number of people who live on your block, in your neighborhood, in a one-mile radius. It is easy for even one single person to spend close to or over $1,000 per year to maintain their internet connections on their digital devices. In so doing, we help the mega media and communications corporations continue to get richer and monopolize their control over our digital connections, and who has access to them. There is also the question of web servers and the data we access and send becoming more centralized as well, again leaving control and profit in the hands of a few.
So could the internet ever be free? Is there a way we can do it ourselves in a local, more sustainable and more affordable way? There are examples of communities doing just that, from complete DIY networks to community and municipal broadband, access to the internet can go beyond paying a mega-corporation to allow you to connect. The largest example of a DIY network is truly inspirational. In the Catalonia region of Spain, in a small farming community 75 km north of Barcelona, one man, Ramon Roca, began a local DIY network in 2004 with a single wi-fi node. Guifi.net has grown today to over 30,000 nodes including some fiber-optic connections which connect regions throughout the country, with more being added all the time. What is guifi.net? ”
guifi·net is a bottom-up, citizenship-driven technological, social and economic project with the objective of creating a free, open and neutral telecommunications network based on a commons model. The development of this common-pool infrastructure eases the access to quality, fair-priced telecommunications in general and broadband Internet connections in particular, for everybody. Moreover, it generates a model for collaborative economic activity based on proximity and sustainability. (from guifi.net)
For many of the users, the cost of belonging to this network, Guifi, is extremely lower than any large telecommunications subscription, and for some it is nothing more than the initial cost of a router. “Its core values, ownership, and operations are testament to the idea that you and I, and our communities, can — and should — control how we communicate. For the tens of thousands of people using it, some at no charge, Guifi operates as well as Time Warner Cable does for New Yorkers (and maybe better).” (from guifi.net)
These endeavors usually seek operate in a more sustainable way as their primary concern is not growing profits. They also maintain a stronger commitment to net neutrality, open internet, localization, cooperation and collective community action.
Here are a list of more links and resources that can help you learn about alternative options and steps you can take to make changes in your own communities in regards to DIY and community or local internet.