The Wireless Commons Manifesto
"We can't create a culture of freedom and innovation, but we can build a network which fosters its growth."
We have formed the Wireless Commons because a global wireless network is within our grasp. We will work to define and achieve a wireless commons built using open spectrum, and able to connect people everywhere. We believe there is value to an independent and global network which is open to the public. We will break down commercial, technical, social and political barriers to the commons. The wireless commons bridges one of the few remaining gaps in universal communication without interference from middlemen and meddlers.
Humanity is on the verge of a turning point because the Internet has transformed the way humans relate with one another. All communication can be traced to a human relationship, whether it's lovers exchanging instant messages or teenagers sharing music. The Internet has given us the ability to communicate faster and more cheaply than ever before in history.
The Internet's value increases exponentially with the number of people who are able to participate. In today's world, communication can take place without the use of antiquated telecommunications networks. The organizations that control these networks are limping anachronisms that are constrained by the expense and physical necessity of using wires to build their networks. Because of this, they cannot serve the great mass of people who stand to benefit from a wireless commons. Their interests diverge from ours, and their control over the network strangles our ability to communicate.
Low-cost wireless networking equipment which can operate in unlicensed bands of the spectrum has started another revolution. Suddenly, ordinary people have the means to create a network independent of any physical constraint except distance. Wireless can travel through walls, across property boundaries and through a community. Many communities have formed worldwide to help organize these networks. They are forming the basis for the removal of the traditional telecommunication networks as an intermediary in human communication.
The challenge facing community networks is the one limiting factor of wireless communication: distance. The relationships that can be formed across a community wireless network are limited by their physical reach. Typically these networks are growing to the size of a city, and growth beyond that point requires coordination and a strategic vision for community wireless networks as a whole. Without this coordination, it is hard to see how the worldwide community of wireless networking groups will ever merge their systems and create a true alternative to existing telecommunication networks.
There are many barriers to the creation of a global network. So far, the focus has been on identifying the technical barriers and developing methods to overcome them. But technical problems are the least of our worries, the business, political and social issues are the real challenges facing community networks. Hardware and software vendors need to understand the business rationale for implementing our technical solutions. Politicians need to understand our requirements for universal access to open spectrum. The public needs to understand that the network exists and how to get access. Unless these problems are identified and addressed, the community wireless movement will never have influence beyond a local level.
Most importantly, the network needs to be accessible to all and provisioned by everyone who can provide. By adding enough providers to the network, we can bridge the physical gaps imposed by the range of our equipment. The network is a finite resource which is owned and used by the public, and as such it needs to be nurtured by the public. This, by its very nature, is a commons.
Becoming a part of the commons means being more than a consumer. By signing your name below, you become an active participant in a network that is far more than the sum of its users. You will strive to solve the social, political and technical challenges we face. You will provide the resources your community consumes by co-operating with total strangers to build the network that we all dream of.
Community Wireless Definition
The definition of what defines a community wireless network is still in flux. Many different people and groups are trying to solve the problems in different ways. Approaches range from sharing out no-cost Internet access with stand-alone wireless hotspots to building city-wide wireless networks which are entirely separate from the Internet. Only time will tell what is the most effective approach to building a community wireless network.
Eventually we aim to create a concise definition of what the crucial characteristics of a community network are, in the mean time here is an outline of those that we feel are important to consider.
In order for the network to remain open to all it's important to build agreements which allow traffic to pass freely over the network. Nodes in the network must pass all traffic regardless of origin, destination or content. It will be important to allow node owners to deal with abusive activity but whenever possible routing agreements should be as open as possible.
The barriers to gaining access must be kept as low as possible. In order to allow the network to grow where it's needed bureaucratic and administrative requirements to join the network must be kept to a minimum. In general all that should be required to join is to find someone that is already connected and make arrangements directly with them. This is very similar to the way the Internet originally grew.
Because volunteer labor will continue to be the core of these networks it's important that require as little maintenance as possible. They should adapt to damage and restructuring as efficiently possible. Mesh networking has to potential to allow new nodes to be automatically be detected and integrated into the network, allow broken nodes to be automatically culled as well as routes through the network to be optimized on the fly.
As the network grows and begins to provide compelling value there will be efforts to control the network for personal gain. By making sure that ownership of the network is distributed across the community as a whole we can make it as difficult as possible for the network to be commandeered.
It's important that we don't get bogged down in discussions of how to make the network as reliable as possible. Adopting the principle of "best effort", one of the principles that the Internet was built upon, means that the network is less encumbered and can grow more freely. It's also important that we restrict how traffic can flow across the network as little as possible so we don't fall into the trap of trying to control it ourselves.
In order to maximize the potential of the network it is vital that there is true connectivity throughout the network. This means that any two hosts on the network should be able to directly contact each other without the help of a third party. This allows any device which is capable of joining the network to be capable of also acting as a server.
Fully Routable Addresses
It is true that a city-wide community network would have tremendous value without Internet connectivity, it's value can only be enhanced by adding two way connectivity to the Internet. Not only should wireless clients be able to get to the Internet, but the Internet should be able to get to the wireless clients. This opens up the new possibilities of being able to offer services world wide from a device hosted on a community network.
It is inevitable that an open network will eventually experience abuse. The network should be architected in a way that limits the amount of damage that a single attack can cause. Due to the nature of wireless networks there are some types of abuse that are impossible to protect against, but abuse in my neighborhood shouldn't affect traffic in yours.
Anonymous speech is one of the requirements of a free society. An open wireless network provides a perfect platform for us support this. It is important that we don't allow the ability to speak anonymously to become marginalized as we build the network.
Building Use and Generating Content
The more people that use the network, the more people that have a vested interest in our continued existence. The generation of content which lives on the wireless network may be the key to building usage. The more useful we make the network and the more services that are available over the network the more resources we will have at our disposal to build the network.