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The PittMesh Community Wireless Network

Full pittmeshmapcwn
Meta Mesh's PittMesh Map, showing its 50 nodes around the Pittsburgh area
Full how it works
A simple diagram showing how Community Wireless Networks work
Full community hub mockup
A mockup of how the Community Hub would look and the features it would have
Preview pittmeshmapcwn
Preview how it works
Preview community hub mockup
Youtube 40073e2a27c3d525feb2942e86c500c768fec0d984a169da9df1f080c1754496

Project Overview
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.

Goals

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.


Submitted

Oct 27 2016

Organization Organization Type

Nonprofit

Challenge

Technology

Product Name

PittMesh

Product Stage

Concept


Contact this team about Funding, Collaboration or other methods of support. Contact Team


14 Comments

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Daniel Dongilli

12 months ago

Meta Mesh is bringing equality and narrowing the digital divide in underserved communities. I can't think of any tech companies that I'd be more excited about seeing them succeed. Progress is only true progress when it's accessible to everyone. Meta Mesh is doing exactly that.
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Colin Dean

12 months ago

PittMesh is filling a serious gap in connectivity and education in the city. Meta Mesh is demonstrating that city-wide connectivity is possible for a fraction of the cost of existing solutions, while producing a solid product with worldwide application. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of Meta Mesh Wireless Communities and have been involved in the project as an advisor since its inception.)
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Scott Wolovich

12 months ago

I've witnessed first hand the dedication and innovative spirit of Adam, Beck and the MetaMesh team. Their dedication to the social impact of Mesh Networks is unwavering and has earned a wide reaching audience. While many are working around the globe to reach the level of development that MetaMesh has accomplished, we should rally around our homegrown talent as a leading voice in the industry. Let's help PittMesh grow and level the playing field by bridging the digital divide!
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Greg Richards

12 months ago

I know people who have businesses in Allentown, I've worked in South Side and in Oakland, and I live in Brookline. I can see this having both immediate and long term benefits.
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Thomas Kupka

12 months ago

Community-owned wireless networks not only can bridge the ›digital divide‹ by connecting disadvantaged neighborhoods to the Internet, and thus bring their residents greater economic opportunity & access to information, it is also a valuable way of preventing data mining by the big tech players. We have increasingly more of these projects in Germany too. So it's certainly worth supporting. Strength to your hearts, heads & hands!
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Joshua Zorich

12 months ago

Innovators like the folks at MetaMesh are the ones who truly move the world forward.
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Geoffrey Di Beneditto

12 months ago

Very excited to see something like this happen! Its no accident the federal government declared the internet a utility and not a luxury just this year. The social and economic impact by a program like this is boundless and may very well be the difference between perpetual poverty and opportunity. Job searches, health care, online and at-your-own-pace learning, school homework, bus schedules, community meetings etc etc... these are not things you just can easily go to the library for. We need to bring the internet to everyone and PittMesh looks like they're the ones who can do it.
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Ashley Bianca Corts

12 months ago

I have had a business in Allentown since August 2015. Adam and Becky were some of the first people we met while working on our shop. They told us what they were doing with Meta Mesh / PittMesh and we wanted to know how and when we could be involved. Adam came by and installed a node, we were connected within just a few hours. Some of the most dedicated, hardworking & passionate people I have met and have the pleasure to call great friends. They have done so much for our community and I can not wait to see them continue to grow!
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Sean Furman

12 months ago

This is a project that will not only improve lives but will give back to the community in the long term. Providing access to the digital world many of us are fortunate enough to have easy access to will give people all over the city new opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have. Every city in America needs a program like this!
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Joe Mc Dermott

12 months ago

This is tremendously important work, especially In a time when Pittsburgh is in the midst of a transition to a high-tech, innovation-driven city. By expanding internet access throughout the city's many communities, Pitt / Meta Mesh is helping to ensure that the entire city can take part in the current technical renaissance. The community-building and educational aspects are equally important, as the mesh can also serve as catalyst for community-driven social change. The work Meta Mesh does for the city makes me proud to call Pittsburgh home.
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Daniel Cook-Huffman

12 months ago

Pitt/Mesh is a great concept powered by passionate and smart people who genuinely want to make their community better. It is progressive, helps inequality in terms of access to critical connectivity and will boost engagement and community development, education, and information-sharing. This is just great!
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Amy

12 months ago

Metamesh is a very important organization that has helped bring people together over a common cause, community owned infrastructure.
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Rhys Mc Ardle

12 months ago

Fabulous project. I was happy to go out on an installation and intend to continue.
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Eli Flanagan

11 months ago

Providing affordable, local access to such key modern infrastructure begins to equalize inequalities. The idea moves in the right direction. I have also attended a class hosted by Adam and Metamesh and benefited from that as well.

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