Expanding community networks: Around the world with AlterMundi

One year ago, our members’ network was joined by AlterMundi, an Argentina-based NGO that strives to promote a new paradigm based on freedom gained through peer-to-peer collaboration. AlterMundi explores different forms of such collaboration from a technological perspective and with an emphasis on wireless community networks in small towns and rural areas. Through projects such as LibreMesh and LibreRouter, they contribute to a model based on accessible technologies that can be used by people with no expertise in this area.

AlterMundi members describe themselves as nomads. Over the past year, their mission to expand their model of community networks has led them to cross several continents, to participate in projects in large capital cities and in small towns and to divide themselves between global meetings with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and small, rural communities. AlterMundi member Nico Pace shared an account of his most recent travels related to the expansion of community networks with APC.

Journey through Africa

During my trip to South Africa, travelling through Ithala for the APC member meeting, I visited Mankosi, the town where the Zenzeleni cooperative is based.

Zenzeleni, which means "Do it Yourself" in Xhosa, is an APC member organisation that seeks to generate well-being in the Mankosi community. It is mostly made up of senior and experienced community members who want to create a future of new opportunities for the local youth, as well as for young people who want to actively participate in this transformation. Since its inception five years ago, one of the cooperative’s strategic issues has been connecting the community to the internet, and this is where AlterMundi comes in.

During our stay, we were able to help provide installation services for the Zenzeleni Cooperative’s first commercial customer, Nedbank, which is setting up information points in different rural areas of the country. Nedbank chose Zenzeleni as the supplier for this particular area.

This experience was extremely helpful in the learning process that had to take place between Coenraad (an experienced professional who left the world of wireless ISPs to join the Umbrella project), Jay (who has been promoting the cooperative together with his community and with Carlos) and Zuko, who has just joined the project.

The work involved setting up long-distance connections and electrical installations in neighbours' houses. Just a few days before our arrival, they even installed a new electrical tower to connect directly with Mthatha... all engineering work.

Community networks in India

In India, we took part in the Community Networks Exchange, which was organised by another APC member, the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF). We talked about community networks, community ISPs and community radios and how these are developing in Southeast Asia, which is a different context compared to our work in Latin America. It’s so interesting to share experiences. We talked about LibreRouter, emphasising the importance of sustainability.

We also participated in the Digital Citizenship Summit, where we shared LibreMesh and LibreRouter solutions for community networks. We also actively took part in the development of DEF's Network in a Box project, where we helped the team deal with technical and sustainability issues.

We then travelled to Mumbai to learn about the Gram Marg project that is being developed by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), which undertakes research on community networks, and has connected with 25 different rural communities.

The next stops were Madurai and Trivandrum, where we met with other APC partners working to promote free culture in Kerala. There we organised an intensive community networking event and explored the possibilities of promoting community networks involving the government in Kerala, starting with secondary schools.

From India to New York... and Mexico

We then travelled to New York, where we gave a talk through Radical Networks. It was really interesting to have the opportunity to meet with other groups promoting community networks in the country, such as NYC Mesh, Red Hook WiFi and SayCel, and researchers including NYU's Rory Solomon, who is trying to map the history of community networks around the world.

From there, I travelled to Mexico to meet with May First/People Link (another APC member) and support the Technology and Revolution event. We also attended the hackmeeting gathering in Mexico City.

During October, we participated in the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference and held meetings with the Argentine government in Buenos Aires. The goal of this effort was to improve conditions so that community networks can flourish in Argentina. We also had meetings with ISOC and APC, Erick Huerta from REDES along with a regulation workshop for community networks.

Next steps

We will continue to support new or growing networks through LibreRouter and LibreMesh. We also will present research projects to assess the problems of community networks in different stages of development and will use that information to identify solutions. Finally, we’ll take part in an APC project on decentralised cultural repositories within the context of community networks.

It is highly important to refrain from becoming dependent on centralised platforms that restrict local communities but have a global projection. Communities can interact with each other and with other spaces globally.

We also will continue to examine regulations in different parts of the world, the use of community networks for activism and a feminist internet and within the framework of LGBTIQ movements. The goal is to create safe spaces for the exchange of information that protect content and people’s identity. And, of course, we will continue our efforts to expand community networks in other territories.

For more information on AlterMundi: https://www.altermundi.net/

Photo: Nico Pace, AlterMundi

Translation: Piotr Kozak – @arauco

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