The Internet can put the world’s knowledge at the fingertips of a young student. It can provide access to tools for community building. It can give a voice to those who have been politically marginalized. But for many of Oakland’s citizens, access to the internet is still a luxury.
Luckily, Oakland’s Sudomesh group is working to bring free and open internet access to all of Oakland’s citizens though the People’s Open Network. The Sudomesh group is a volunteer organization that is building out a free, open, decentralized wireless internet network using technology known as “wireless mesh networking.” The mesh network relies on a series of wireless antennas spread throughout Oakland. Internet traffic is able to hop from node to node and automatically route traffic around slower nodes or holes in the network. The main advantage of this decentralized system is that it allows communities to provide free internet access without having to rely on monopoly internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T. Mesh network systems are also extremely fault-tolerant; in the event of a natural disaster it is possible for the mesh network to continue to provide internet and communications to Oakland’s residents even if the main internet providers go down.
For the past few years the group has been hard at work coding and testing a small-scale test network. Now the group is ready to expand out the network to all of Oakland. Every Sunday the group gets together to mount new wireless “nodes” on homes and businesses throughout Oakland. Thanks to generous donations of money, equipment and time, Oakland’s free mesh internet is expanding quickly. Each weekend brings the group closer to the goal of providing free, open internet to all of Oakland. For donations, to volunteer time or to join the People’s Open Network, visit peoplesopen.net.