Chapter 8. Radio Free Planet

The past few years have shown an explosion of interest in building wireless public networks. The ubiquity of affordable 802.11b gear has fueled enormous interest in extending the Net and providing open (or very low cost) access to it. The idea seems almost inevitable: if major wireless providers charge forty dollars or more per month for (comparatively) low-speed network access and tools are available to provide high-speed access yourself for very little cost, why not join in and make it happen? People all over the planet who have shared some part of the "unlimited free bandwidth everywhere" dream are building their own ubiquitous high-speed networks. By cooperating and using open standards, people are now building the infrastructure necessary to provide network access to thousands of simultaneous users, at very little cost to themselves. People everywhere are beginning to realize that this can be done more practically as a cooperative community service, rather than as a commercial venture with an ultimate cash profit motive.

When I started work on this book in early 2001, there were perhaps 10 well-known wireless groups in existence. When the first edition was published (in November of 2001), the wireless communities list at Personal Telco ( listed more that 50 projects. A year and a half later, that number has again increased fivefold, to more than 250 independent community wireless networking projects.

Here are a few of the biggest and most unique projects that I've come across. While by no means comprehensive, this introduction should give you an idea of what's going on (maybe even in your own neighborhood).