Wi-Fi for Everyone!

By Nigel Ballard of Portland, Oregon. Nigel is an activist and spokesman for the Personal Telco Project.

WirelessThe Personal Telco Project or PTP has been in existence since 2000, when a bunch of Portland computer geeks decided to start sharing their home Wi-Fi networks with each other. We then extended the invitation to complete strangers - namely neighbors, passers-by and even visitors to the City were invited to drive up to our front doors and surf the net. The expensive 24/7 broadband we'd each bought we really only seemed to use 4/7 - what to do with all that excess? Give it away of course!

PTP then decided to venture downtown to Wi-Fi the Pioneer Courthouse Square, a myriad of local coffee shops, public spaces and parks - even the Cedar Hills Mall. We now have well over 140 locations offering 24/7 free Wi-Fi access to the Internet. There is no registration required; your surfing is free and truly anonymous. We don't know and we don't care who you are or where you surf.

We were recently awarded 501c(3) non-profit status, and now with the aid of a generous grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust and an equipment donation from our friends at Intel, we're embarking on an altogether more momentous undertaking, namely the unwiring of a large stretch of the Mississippi Retail district.

Along the way we've made many friends and thankfully only a few enemies. The dissenters are mostly the phone and cable companies who want to monopolize Internet access in the USA and in doing so keep it slow and prohibitively expensive.

Currently we rank an embarrassing 17th in terms of affordable broadband Internet access. South Korea's superfast and supercheap offerings keep them firmly in first place. We're always looking for fresh blood in the shape of volunteers. Linux hackers, people with inroads into local businesses, etc. Remember, we are tax deductible and you'll look cool to your peers; wondrous amounts of karma will ooze from your pores if you get involved. Visit PersonalTelco.net for more information.

The Internet really does want to be free you know!

  • (Show?)

    It's odd that this is here and doesn't include a link to today's Oregonian story on PTP.

  • tom (unverified)

    You mean this one?


  • (Show?)

    That would be the one I linked. ;)

  • tom (unverified)

    There are a couple of differnt ways you can get involved with the PTP, all are good ..some have coffee involved.

    • Show up to one of our monthly meetings, We meet at Urban Grind Coffee East (22nd and NE Oregon St) on the last Wednesday of every month. Meeting start around 6-6:30 pm. We have a section of the meeting set aside for letting new folks introduce themselves, ask questions, and what they would like to help out with.

    • Join our General Mailing list. It runs hot and cold with info, debate, tech talk and informative news on commuity networking in the Portland area. You can use the easy web based sign up form at http://lists.personaltelco.net/mailman/listinfo/general

    • Read up about what we are working on, what we have done and all the things we plan on doing, if we get enough coffee in us, at http://www.personaltelco.net

    • Go to any of the plethora of nodes (hotspots) we have set up and enjoy the wifi. The splash page that comes up in your browser when you first connect to it will have more info and links to delve deeper into our rabbit hole of wifi evangalism.

    Regardless of how you choose to participat the bottom line is that you use the PTPnet (our name for the collection of hotspots and nodes that will eventualy all be linked togther) and spread the good word that Portland is indeed the city that is all about being a good nieghbor.

    Enjoy and Expand

    -tomhiggins [email protected]

  • tom (unverified)

    Sorry bix, I missed your link in the first comment. need more coffee.

  • (Show?)

    I don't mean to be a pissant (I'm just drawn that way), but this post doesn't seem to be quite the level of involvement I would have expected for a BO post.

    It's not the promotion of PTP that bugs me (they deserve the promotion), it's that the post isn't much more other than promotion. There's a lot of philosophical background to the spread of wifi, and alot of context to the issue, and it seems to me (in my critic hat here) that the opportunity should have been seized to not just promote PTP but to educate people on the philosophy and the context, the pressures and the politics.

    It just seems... thin.

  • tom (unverified)

    Ok, so lets fatten up the bits with some livley comments.

    The philosophy of the PTP is simple, well ok it seems simple at first and then when you spend a few years in the group you realise its not exactly what you thought at first because each memeber of the PTP has a differnt slant on what the PTP is all about. Its an onion in many respects, or maybe more like a good book, or perhaps..ok its ripe with analogies, so I will give you my own 2 cents, Ill make change if you want.

    It can all be sumed up in one sentence...

    "We are here to promote and build public wireless networks through community support and education."

    The PTP is about the empowerment of a community through the use of certain techonologies that have reached a state wherein they are affordable, understandable and open for McGuyvering to meet the needs at hand. There are several ways to accomplish this but we have found that educating the community is the key to long lasting usefulnes.

    I mean sure we could slap in nodes (hotspots) till the cows came home, but unless the community knows what to do with them, knows how they work to maybe fix a problem should (and they do) come up, and knows how to expand on what has been done then its all nice and well but it does not go very far. Yea, it might make a nice market of consumers of connectivity, but we are out to empower people not simple turn them into market sheeple good only for the sheering.

    So Education is a keystone. Of course I say this being the Director of Education, but really and truly it is one of the fundemental things that sets the PTP apart from projects and efforts who seek simply to make a market of consumers.

    Not that we have anything against consumers, markets or the like. Some of our few critics try to paint us with the "Communist" brush. Sorry, go paint somewhere else. If you look at our groups make up many of us are working in the IT or Communications field, its what many of us do when we are not unwiring the city of Portland on donations, grants and copious amounts of coffee. We would not even be where we are today in terms of nodes (hotspots) or visability if it were not for all the shop owners we have had the privilage to work with, all the companies who have given us gear and all the others who have seen fit to give us some cash and gear to go do good things.

    Community includes citizens, business, and local government. Its when all those parts coem togther that things really hum. So far we have been able to get two of those three working togther on this project.

    Its lateand i need sleep, but thats my own personal view of the PTPs philosophy. Like I said above, every member will have a differnt take on it. Some are into it for just the tech, some are into it for the fun of building this huge network of nodes, some love to climb rooftops, others enjoy the community aspect, some dig working at making a city cloud of wifi they can use, a few just like to dirnk coffee...for many its all those things and more.

    "We are here to promote and build public wireless networks through community support and education."

    Yea, that sums it up nicely.

    I hoep this helps b!X. If you have any questions or thoughts just shoot them up here.

    -tomhiggins [email protected]

  • Tom (unverified)

    Sorry for the typos folks, with a 2 year old in one arm it was going to be hit or miss , or hunt and peck, at best. Spell check at will.

  • Sid (unverified)

    Cable co. lobbyists have already successfully lobbied Salem pols to introduce legislation that would make it very difficult for any Oregon muni to invest in wi-fi, even if it were a public/private venture. I understand that the venture in Portland is privately financed, which is great, but as the public we shouldn't limit our options, especially those who live in small towns.

    A recent House Bill that was backed by the cable cos. died in committee. I don't know the details of why it died, but I do know that it didn't die die. Maybe the pols thought it needed some tweaking before they introduced it on the floor.

    We need to create the vision of free wi-fi and the benefits it will bring to communities across the state, rather than being on the defensive and fighting the cable companies down in Salem. Beat them to the punch.

    We don't want to end up like Pennsylvania where the cable companies have successfully clamped down on the state outside of Philly.

  • allehseya (unverified)

    We need to create the vision of free wi-fi and the benefits it will bring to communities across the state,

    I agree. Portland could act as a model for that and spearhead (digital) media reform initiatives in the process. The model builds upon itself -- first here in Portland -- one neighborhood at a time....one neighborhood at a time... then one city at time....

  • nader (unverified)

    Now, I don't want to seem harsh on what is obviously a generous project committed to laudable goals of free and easy internet access. I just wonder how effective it is in bridging the so-called "Digital Divide" - for background info on what I mean by "Digital Divide" check this out from PBS, or go here.

    I mean, wi-fi is all well and good, but I think that the people with the most limited access to the internet likely do not have the hardware required to utilize wireless networking. It seems like those most able to make use of the free wi-fi are people who probably could afford to pay for it if necessary.

    Again, don't mean to be too critical, but I think that in recognizing the good work of Personal Telco, we don't want to forget that there is a very real problem that still needs to be addressed.

  • tom (unverified)

    (The following comments are mine and not the views of the PTP as a body)

    On the Muni Network Ban: This makes a lot of sense if you are protecting a vested interest, that is it makes a lot of dollars and cents if you are the one who gets to be say who should and should not be able to offer services. From what I have read in the Philly case and in like cases around the country it is the corporate entities that seem to be fueling the fud train.

    The claims of better service (no one has any problems with Qwest or Comcast service?) is an interesting one, debatable at the least.

    Now having said that there is an argument to made against gov run programs. Pork being what it is and possible censor blocked access are reasons to give pause to the idea.

    In the long run though I think the option should be there, it should be a matter of finding the best fit for the needs of the community, not simply the best bottom line for any one or two entities or a politcal feather for a party.

    Infromation and its moving have a funny way of routing around such damage as bottom line squeze outs, poltical censorship and de jour detours into the lands of control. Whatever access you may chose to use make sure it is well able to do its thing.

    On the Digital Divide: Every neighborhood we put a node in where one or two people who would not otherwise have access is so empowered is a step in closing the digital divide. I dont think the PTP as a body, nor any body that I can think of, will be able to close that gap in one all emcompasses all pleasing swoop of the magic wand. Its hard work, its a battle won one person at a time and it is one of the reason why I keep doing what I do for the PTP.

    Empowerment comes with education. Education requires not simply feeding some one a fish but showing them how to make a fishing pole, to dig up worms and to find the good spots with the yummy treats.

    This requires willingness on the part of those in need to laern and those who can to help them get the knowing and tools.

    We live in a city where a person can work a handfull of weekends to earn a computer (www.freegeek.org) and place to find access (www.personaltelco.net). It is also a city where folks cna go to a local library and begin thier education even without thier own computer or access.

    Once the parts fit then a person could further work with places like FreeGeek and Personal Telco to help others do the same, to expand the coverage range, and to keep the education train rolling.

    Not with a grand gesture but with a thousand small gestures, this is how we will pull the gap closed.

    It is the PTPs intention to clearly show this in all that it does. The recent Myer Memoorial Grant has finaly given us the funding to show what we can do with more than 300$ in the bank:)-

    But its not just about what the PTP does, it what each and every one of us does to help close the gap. Ever see those amazing Free after rebate deals at Frys for wifi gear? Ever think about buying some to give away? Most of us in the PTP have and do. Personaly if I see wifi gear below 20$ I pick up what I can knowing I will find a good home for it. Sure it makes the wife go ballistic form time to time, exspecialy being underemployed at the moment, but she does realize its all for a greater good.

    A FreeGeekBox + a Low Cost Wifi device = some one who has crossed the digital divide in our city and is potentialy some one who will help someone else jump the gap.

    And yes, before the posts come back saying "What about people without electricity, what about those without homes, or clothing..net access is not what they need" I would say this. There are some great projects in the city that are trying to close those gaps as well, my talents at this point in my life are best served closing the net accessability gap. I dont think the PTP , or any group, can be the total solution for the short falls of our society. Each group, though, can be the part that closes a part of the Big Picture gap by doing what they do best.

    How can you help? That answert is all about who you are.

    As Lenon/McCartney once warbled out "You ask me for a contribution/Well you know/ We're doing what we can"


  • (Show?)


    I don't think you realize the cross-partisan appeal of your working model. You require very little in the way of public support. You are proposing a system that will be invaluable individuals in all walks of life. You do address the digital divide (on the internet connectivity end; let someone else deal with the hardware issues). This proposal is the kind of low cost, grassroots effort with big payoff that has drawn migrants and businesses to Portland.

    This, folks, is the sort of issue that Progressives should get behind before the Republicans figure it out and grab it. It's pro business, pro development, pro poor people, really pro everyone. Who opposes this but cable and telephone monopolies?

  • tom (unverified)

    Thanks for the observations. The partisan crossing is a side effect of not expecting the most from the powers that be and trying to get the community to do for itself.

    The balance of the three parts (citizens, biz and gov) is not always about a perfectly cut pie:)-

    The type of public support we need , need in droves, is the support of the public by helping out where best they can. Spreading the word of our existence is a thing that can not be undervalued, our services do folks little good if they do not know we are where they can get us.

    There are other was, simple ways, the public can help. Letting us know when a node is down, if it needs some work, if there is a place willing to host another node. All this helps us keep the infrastructure up and all it requires are open eyes and a quick email to us if something is amiss.

    Educated users are our best source of public support.

    Thanks for that support, eveyrone who has helped in ways large and small have made the PTP what it is.


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