One of the main concerns for people who supported net neutrality was the state and local regulations that assured artificial ISP monopolies. One counter to the repeal of net neutrality, however, is the emergence of local, alternative ISPs that are challenging the local monopolies of large ISPs.
The Trump administration’s recent decision to kill the Open Internet Order has a lot of net neutrality advocates fearing the worst. Foremost among those concerns: that last month’s Federal Communications Commission vote might embolden broadband providers to manipulate how their customers access and use the internet. Although it remains to be seen whether that will happen, a small but growing number of users are taking matters into their own hands by exploring community- or municipal-owned, operated and funded internet access as a cheaper, faster and more neutral alternative to using large commercial internet service providers.
NYC Mesh, which typically gets 20 requests per month for membership to its community-based network in New York City, has received connection inquiries from more than 200 people since the FCC’s December 14 vote, says Brian Hall, a software consultant who helps manage the network. Self-organized, community-run systems including this one and Detroit’s The Equitable Internet Initiative have for years offered alternatives to corporate ISPs such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
The community approach typically involves organizers renting internet access from a local data center, and installing rooftop antennas and wi-fi routers that together act as access point for nearby residents. Unlike a home or office router that provides wi-fi service for a dozen or so square meters, a community network can provide a wi-fi signal for several square kilometers. Residents connect to the access point by mounting their own antennas on their buildings’ rooftops or outside their windows. These antennas receive the network’s signal and send it through a cable to wi-fi routers located inside members’ homes or offices. The setup is called a “mesh” network because any member can act as an access point, or node, for other members.