The Personal Telco Project is a Portland nonprofit dedicated to the idea that people should have a bigger say in how their electronic networks are operated.
They began in 2000 by turning people’s houses and apartments into wireless hotspots (or “nodes”), and then set about building networks in public locations such as parks and coffee shops. If you’ve tried to connect to a wireless network while at a local cafe, chances are you’ve connected to one of these.
Here’s a google map that shows the expansive reach of their current nodes (green) and also locations that are listed as a potential note (yellow):
Zoom out and you’ll see that the network reaches into Gresham, Beaverton, and Vancouver, Washington. There is a more interactive map on their website.
How does it work? Their website describes the network as simply local businesses and individuals who have voluntarily opted to share their wireless signal. Participants only need to modify their router settings to unlock access and let members of the community know that they are part of the Personal Telco network. This makes your network public but Personal Telco volunteers can help you if you want to keep parts of your network private. With a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, volunteers have also been able to initiate new hotspots:
Personal Telco believes that telecommunications should be driven by the community, not corporations. Companies like Comcast, for example, can set very high rates for their internet services, partially due to a legal loophole by defining what they offer as “entertainment” rather than communications. Legalese does a very good job of illustrating how the corporate world has no interest in the participatory potential of new technologies.
Like many cities, Portland has watched wireless initiatives come and go, with MetroFi being one of the larger services to end its operations last year. The private company won the city’s bid to cover the metropolitan area but their business model of using advertising to fund their service had failed. The network they began to build around Portland has left a number of their transmitters behind, which has led some to suggest that a community-driven effort, such as Personal Telco, put them to good use. The hardware will be considered forfeit if MetroFi does not remove them by April, which is very unlikely at this point. Continue reading