Why I'd Choose St. Louis for Google's Gigabit Fiber Project

One of the most interesting uses of wireless Internet technologies is something called a mesh network.

The economics of mesh networks is fascinating and holds out the promise of bringing basic Internet connectivity to all residents of a neighborhood at a minimal cost – and for some residents, at no cost. When I heard about Google's plans to bring gigabit fiber-optic Internet to a given number of communities in the United States, I started monitoring which communities had existing plans to roll out mesh networks. Such networks are often grassroots projects, organized by tech-savvy community activists. One of the most interesting of these is WasabiNet, organized by some good people in St. Louis. A quick perusal of this project's Website reveals that this project is for real and has been well thought out.

It's interesting to note that the original WasabiNet proposal dates from 2008, two years before Google's gigabit experiment was announced. The organizers of WasabiNet don't need Google's involvement to bring connectivity and empowerment to their community. Their project, though small, is already a success. Google's gigabit fiber could take WasabiNet much further than its organizers ever imagined and could teach the rest of the world what's possible when a community self-organizes in this way.

I became a believer in wireless community networks when I attended an international summit for community wireless networks that took place at Loyola College in Columbia, Maryland, a few years ago. At that conference I attended a session where two youngsters from Bosnia and Serbia explained about the wireless community network they built that extends across the borders of their countries. And when I heard the ways this wireless community network helped form new social bonds and connections across national borders, I became a quick believer. Here's a short video I shot of Bogdan Tancic, from Serbia Wireless, explaining the wireless community network he helped build and the bonds being made with colleagues in Croatia.

People interested in following the latest developments in community wireless networks might want to attend the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks that will be happening this year in Vienna, Austria, in August, 2010. I deeply admire visionary Sascha Meinrath and others who have advanced this field. These are technologists with a deep love of community: true geeks for good.

I don't work for Google, but if I did, I would pay for the airfare of the WasabiNet organizers to attend this conference in Austria. And I would announce St. Louis as the first city to be chosen for Google's gigabit fiber-optic experiment. St. Louis is known as the “Gateway to the West.” That gateway could also be the gateway to our future – a more inclusive, educated, healthful, hopeful, and well-functioning future.

And after St. Louis, I would contact Bogdan Tancic and ask him two questions, “What do you need? And what have you learned?” Human beings have a natural affinity for helping one another. As the WasabiNet project shows, we can purposely choose to build tools and institutions to facilitate that. And if we don't, we will have been remiss.

Phil Shapiro

The blogger is an educator and community builder in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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