Back in a jiffy!
Meta Mesh Wireless Communities is a non-profit organization based in the Allentown neighborhood of Pittsburgh, with an office in the WorkHardPGH co-working space. Our primary goal is to bridge the Digital Divide by building a community-owned and operated, decentralized public wireless network. We call this network PittMesh and it is growing in and around the city of Pittsburgh, PA. PittMesh is a network of 802.11 WiFi routers, currently supported by 50 nodes. The network is easily scalable, expandable, and most importantly, can provide Internet access to public spaces. Residents and visitors no longer have to seek out a library or coffee shop for Internet access when it is available in their own neighborhood! PittMesh also acts as a network unto itself (an intranet) that can be used for communication and emergency notification purposes during inclement weather or during regional Internet outages. We are working to give users both the best WiFi experience possible as well as showing neighborhoods the resources of a Community Hub on the intranet. Most importantly, Meta Mesh encourages community growth by offering youth and resume-friendly classes that will teach local residents how to install, maintain, and troubleshoot their own networks.
A need addressed
With community-owned wireless networks, the Digital Divide can be bridged by connecting Pittsburgh neighborhoods to the Internet, and consequently bringing their residents greater economic opportunity and access to information. According to a 2014 study by the US Census Bureau, 22.7% of Pittsburgh households do not have Internet access. Most people can’t imagine living without the Internet today, but many either do not have access to the Internet or cannot afford it in their homes. Yet in order to fill out an online job application, check on social services, or even submit homework, people lacking Internet connections must drive or take public transportation to public Wi-Fi areas. Implementing the PittMesh network in a developing community such as the Hill District removes this inconvenience by creating a large “bubble” of shared connectivity that bridges the Digital Divide.
The goal of the PittMesh Project is to make the concept of a community-owned wireless network (and therefore reliable connectivity with free public access) a reality to Pittsburgh. This hyper-local solution for connecting to the Internet would give low-income Pittsburghers what they need to connect to resources on the Internet. Not only that, but businesses could then offer Wi-Fi on their properties, and use the new service to draw new customers, adding to a much needed narrative of a positive and vibrant business district.
This solution isn’t designed to be a full replacement for Internet Service Providers such as Comcast or Verizon in private homes. However, wireless mesh networking can establish a community-wide public wireless network by sharing the burden among willing community members, local government, and businesses who see its benefits, thereby providing access to those who would otherwise not have access to the Internet at all. Meta Mesh has already helped close the Digital Divide in Allentown, Braddock, and the Hill District, and has dozens of other nodes all over Pittsburgh.
How does it work?
In a nutshell, donors share their unused Internet bandwidth by installing a “node” - simply, one or more wireless routers on the premises. That signal is then broadcast out into the neighborhood. “Repeater nodes” (routers that are not directly connected to an Internet source) may also be installed to relay the wireless signal, creating greater network coverage for the area. The more volunteers (or “node hosts”), the stronger the connection. By donating bandwidth and hosting repeater nodes, public WiFi can be achieved in a neighborhood without recurring fees or expensive IT maintenance contracts! An illustration of this concept has been included with this submission.
About the organization
Founded in 2012, Meta Mesh Wireless Communities is a cutting-edge non-profit organization (EIN no. 47-5465911) that develops mesh-networking hardware, software, and community deployment strategies. Meta Mesh’s goal is to provide a turn-key solution for community networking in the city of Pittsburgh and beyond. Supported by a dedicated Board of Directors and the PittMesh Working Group, Meta Mesh has the experience and stability to develop, implement, evaluate, and sustain innovative programs that positively impact the quality of life of residents and increase the economic viability of neighborhoods wherever the PittMesh network is deployed.
We are now exiting our proof-of-concept phase and need to be able to scale not only in a few neighborhoods, but throughout the entire city and beyond. That means perfecting our prototype of the PittMesh project as a whole. This would include the foundation of the Community Hub application, the improvement of our educational process, and development of more effective hardware. Having all of these components in order, we would be able to strengthen and expand the network sustainability in the Hill District and beyond.
First and foremost, we want to demonstrate the use of the intranet on our Community Wireless Networks by developing what we call the Community Hub. This Hub is a splash page that every Internet user would see that would give them access to community message boards, emergency and weather alerts, local advertisements, even e-book repositories. The Community Hub will be the virtual center of the neighborhood. The Community Hub adds value to existing neighborhood assets by giving them a digital resource center that ensures residents, businesses, and visitors alike to see what the community has to offer. In addition, the Hub adds value without adding hardware because it runs on the routers themselves without the need for a dedicated server.
Moreover, our educational program needs to be strengthened. The classroom component of our community networking projects empowers neighborhoods by providing youth and resume-friendly WiFi and computer networking training. But we need improved tools for in-class demonstrations, hands-on learning, and better recording and live-streaming equipment. We also need a stronger advocacy strategy to reach people in communities where Internet access is scarce, and where online posts and e-mail campaigns do not work.
While our custom hardware is functional, in order to be able to become the solution for inexpensive public WiFi, we need to begin designing and manufacturing plug-and-play weather-proof hardware that anyone can deploy anywhere in the United States. We want to build consumer-grade public WiFi devices that any municipality, Community Development Corporation, or group of citizens can purchase and deploy independently. Mesh should become a Pittsburgh institution, an organization that the city can point to as a prime example of a novel innovative technology company. But to do that we need support.
Oct 27 2016Organization
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