I still want to be a Node, but I have more questions
What does "node" mean? How does a "node" differ from an "access point" or a "wireless router"?
"Node" is simply a generic term for an individual component of a computer network. Access Points and Wireless Routers are network components, hence they are nodes on a network. In other words, they are types of nodes. For Personal Telco, "Node" has a specific meaning as defined in NodeStandards and NodeTypes.
Must I have a DSL Connection? What about going "all wireless"?
One exception to the "you need an internet connection to share" is if you happen to be close to an existing Personal Telco network. In that case, you might be able to piggyback off of that network. Extending a SkyPilot network is a good example of this scenario. If you are close to one of our existing SkyPilot networks (currently just NodeArborLodge, but perhaps near "restaurant row" along 28th on the eastside coming this Spring), then hosting a SkyPilot on your building could extend the signal. This is still unusual, so don't get your hopes too high.
What about liability? What if someone uses my node for bad things?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has written about this, and concluded that you are not liable for the bad actions of others. Does that mean that the cops won't wrongly kick down your door? No. However, if they do and you are innocent, then you might have cause to sue them. We aren't lawyers, so this isn't legal advice. The good news is that the local police seem slightly more clued than others. A child-porn case in Milwaukie, Oregon led investigators to a home, but they checked the wireless and discovered the illegal activity was not from the service address of the internet connection, but a neighboring home. The police knocked on that door instead.
Our experience is that, across 60-odd networks we manage, we see a DMCA takedown letter a few times a year. We check the indicated network for the indicated abuse, and write back. Usually, the delay between the alleged infringement and the arrival of the letter means that the infringing activity is no longer occurring. We report what we found (usually nothing), and reiterate our willingness to block infringing activity, given timely notice, and then never hear another thing about it.
We are not aware of any cops-breaking-down-the-door incidents at any Personal Telco nodes, ever.
Personal Telco members do attempt to keep abreast of technology-related legal issues.
How do I make sure people play fair with my internet connection?
This is a common concern, but in our experience there is little trouble with this. If you notice a problem on your network at all, it is likely to be BitTorrent or another peer-to-peer networking application soaking up all your upstream bandwidth. We try to dissuade people from using BitTorrent on Personal Telco networks for this reason, both using automated means (by detecting and auto-blocking them, temporarily), but also manually, by monitoring network usage and logging in remotely, identifying the user and blocking them more permanently (at least until we can have a discussion about why they were blocked, and ask them to stop).
It is possible to limit the bandwidth available to the wireless network, but for obscure technical reasons it can be difficult to make it work well. Firstly, you can really only effectively shape outbound traffic. You have essentially no control over whose traffic gets sent to you by your ISP. In order to prioritize your traffic, it is usually necessary to know the total capacity of your network connection, so that you can cause queuing to occur under your control. We are often installing our equipment in a place that doesn't know the capacity of the network, because the node host's private traffic is outside its vision. So, it *is* possible, but in practical terms, we've found that there are easier solutions (outlined above) to reach an acceptable compromise.
The "BitTorrent problem" has been recently identified by some as a problem of "buffer bloat". Mitigating the buffer bloat problem might also make this problem largely go away. (-- DanRasmussen 2012-03-10 11:53:11 "Recently" like when? Any updates, experts?)
If it is essential your network stays zippy but you still like the idea of donating bandwidth, consider a separate internet connection for the Personal Telco node. This does entail an added expense, but your two connections will be completely isolated.