James Vorderbruggen – Massachusetts Mesh Net

Ideas radiate from our comfort zone when we’re shocked to life.

I’m James, and during the co-design lab, I’m hoping to meaningfully engage communities in the design process of Mass Mesh, a community owned internet initiative that is currently in its infancy. This project is really comprised of the shared effort of a small group of core developers/enthusiasts right now. Work so far has focused on developing a low-cost, high-throughput router that is capable of scaling the network. The developers are disillusioned by market-based approaches to community internet like Althea, and unimpressed by short-cut implementations like the NYC Mesh (See: hub and spoke network.) In order to move beyond these implementations, though, we will need to engage with potential network participants in order to create a better strategy. It would be impossible to build a meaningfully decentralized network of this kind from the top down.

We have not done market research, as far as I know. We have agreed that we should focus on low income communities, but this decision was made based on no data about where that community may be. We have also not verified whether this imagined community would be receptive to operating network hardware in their home. We hypothesize that those without the means to purchase internet access from corporate providers will be the most receptive to alternatives because they have the most to gain.

I personally think that events and targeted advertising would be a good way to get the ball rolling on community engagement. Events could focus on getting hardware up and running, but I don’t think that’s the most effective way to use our time. Hardware setup is basically a fixed process. I think that the question of how to overcome the service provider -> customer relationship on our network is of central importance. Organizing as a co-op makes intuitive sense, but this is vague. Establishing basic by-laws and funding mechanisms will take some conversation. It would be best if we had early adopters to engage in this conversation with. Ideally, these people would know what it means to run a network node, and understand the methods available for connecting our mesh to the broader internet infrastructure at least in general terms. This basic knowledge will help guide the conversations about ownership of network infrastructure.

The problems facing Mass Mesh are multifarious, and we will be up against strong capitalist players in this market. Radical engagement with the community provides a way forward for us without compromising our core mission of bringing internet access into the Commons.