Personal Telco, your 15 minutes of fame await…

Personal Telco is one of Portland’s coolest non-profits. Back in 2001, they envisioned a community-owned alternative to telephone and Internet connectivity. But the tech world has evolved. In 2008, Personal Telco is a local — and maybe international — leader in advocating and building a “share-and-share alike” system for traditional Internet connectivity.

The theory is simple: lots of people have broadband Internet these days, and many of those same people like having Internet connections for their laptops when they’re out on the town.

So if all those folks would just open their home or business connections to the public, easy access fromjust about anywhere would become a reality, pretty quick. In fact, the project’s already well on its way; Personal Telco has a number of live hotspots, or “nodes,” all over town, with lots of Portlanders using them on a daily basis.

MetroFi, a for-profit company, tried to provide a similar, ad-supported service in partnership with the City of Portland over the last few years. But that project just went belly-up this summer. So with a rising number of Portlanders still seeking ubiquitous wi-fi, it’s Personal Telco’s turn to step into the limelight, and deliver the kind of service that may really only be feasible through voluntary collaboration, rather than an ad-driven business model.

Key to Personal Telco’s plan, in my view, is a shift in its emphasis. In the early years, Personal Telco sought to draw in a small number of really motivated and intelligent people, to take on the significant technical hurdles to deploying lots of free wireless. They were successful in their efforts; lots of geeks stepped up, and lots of free wireless has been delivered in the last few years. Their system works, and it’s ready for significant expansion.

But for that, what Personal Telco needs is a little different: with their elite squad of propellerheads in place, what is needed now is a rising tide of do-gooders willing to pitch in just a little, without the need to get all technical, attend monthly meetings, or the like. Lots of people doing a little bit of work is the order of the day. Get your node set up, and leave some time for an evening stroll; your node will serve friends and neighbors for years with little or no maintenance.

In order to achieve that, I think Personal Telco needs a new “elevator pitch.” Their web site, any printed materials, any contact with the press, etc. should reflect a very clear, very simple message: “our work brings you free wireless, and we’d love you to pitch in a little and help us deliver more free wireless.” 

To that end, I have written a draft of text for a new front page for their web site. Please read on, and if you’re so inclined, offer any feedback in the comments below. Many in the Personal Telco community have indicated general approval, but I’m sure there are lots of wrinkles to iron out.

Portland has a unique chance to build an invaluable free network, through community collaboration; let’s get it right this time!

http://www.personaltelco.net

Personal Telco aims to help Portlanders get free wireless access from many locations around town. Today, our wireless “nodes” are mostly useful for people with laptops. But increasingly, people are even able to connect their home or business computers to wireless networks, for free.

We are a non-profit, so we accomplish all this on a pretty lean diet. Rather than funding our nodes with advertising or other arrangements, we work to persuade individuals and businesses to share their own broadband Internet connections, and we provide technical assistance in setting that up.

Go get some free wi-fi!

<left column>

There are already lots of Personal Telco “nodes” around town, covering anywhere from one or two yards to many city blocks. Anywhere you see a wireless access point with the name “http://www.personaltelco.net“, you should be able to get online for free. (We have a map of nodes here.) If you haven’t tried already, fire up your laptop and give it a shot!

Take some time to surf the web while sipping a latte or watching a game at the park. Pretty cool, huh?

Now, how about helping us build another free wireless node?

Now help us make more free wi-fi!

<right column>

Do you have broadband Internet at your home or in your business? How about sharing it? Your neighbors and guests will love the convenience, you probably won’t notice any difference in your own service, and the fairly minimal risks are easy to address. On a larger scale, imagine a Portland where a couple people on every block choose to share this way; ubiquitous free wireless is no mere pipe dream!

Here’s the easiest way to set it up:

  1. Buy a wireless router, and install it between your Internet connection and your home computer. (It will have easy setup instructions.)
  2. Go into the router’s configuration screen, and change the network’s name (or SSID) from the default (which might be “linksys,” “d-link,” “netgear,” or the like) to “http://www.personaltelco.net“. That is a clue to your neighbors that you are sharing your Internet connection on purpose, and that they’re welcome to use it.

Of course, there are better ways than that, too. If you’re concerned about security, or you want to limit the bandwidth available to others, or have other needs or ideas, please get in touch. We’re happy to help anyone who wants to set up a public node; it’s what we’re here for.

Or, if you’re the “hey, I can do that myself” type, we have a wiki full of informations, a mailing list, and all kinds of other goodies to keep you busy. Or if you’d like to donate some cold hard cash, that’s most welcome, too, and will help us pursue other nodes. Donate here.

p.s. Major thanks to Amy Sample Ward, Don Park, Russell Senior, and many others for getting my mental gears turning on this. And to City folks like Marshall Runkel, Brendan Finn, Commissioner Saltzman, and former Commissioner Sten for seeking ways to provide City support for this sort of community effort. -Pete

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12 Responses to “Personal Telco, your 15 minutes of fame await…”

  1. Thanks for the post! I like the color scheme. But it may be too late in the evening to leave a comment more insightful than that. :)

  2. Perhaps instead of just “Your neighbors and guests will love the convenience..”, might you tack something in there to make people realize what would happen if even just a few thousand (or hundred) people in the city did this. A free, safe wireless network without ads. Positing a larger, you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours philanthropic idea might be advantageous.

  3. CaseOrganic, glad you like it! I should be clear though, the color scheme is just my blog’s default…what I’m proposing here is just the text (and the idea of arranging it in columns as described, which I couldn’t see an easy way to do here).

    Thanks for the feedback, Steven — you’re right, I should say something more explicitly about the “big picture.” I’ll make the edit.

    Also, I think it’s probably a good idea to move this over to the PT wiki site soon…that way folks will be able to edit directly. I’ll let you know.

  4. Pete,

    Good ideas here. The website frontpage is not static anymore and everything has been moved to the wiki. Feel free to start a draft on the wiki so formatting, wording, etc., can be taken care of there.

    Thanks!

  5. I completely agree with Steven. I don’t know if you already made the edits you mention or not…But I think that adding more/fleshing out the points Steven makes could really contribute to swaying people who are no’s to maybe’s and then maybe to yes, as the current language is more swaying people leaning yes to yes, you know? There needs to be acknowledgment of the issues the no people have and some of that can be covered by explaining the goal and the possible future (plus NO ADS!).

    Thanks for drafting it up, Pete! Once again, you’re awesome!

  6. Amazing work guys, I’m **so** incredibly pleased that PTP is still going strong.

    Thanks!

  7. Howdy Adam, been a long time! How’ve ya been?

  8. Jason and Amy, thanks. Yes, this will make it to wiki shortly, where y’all can just make your own edits without my interference..I’ll try to do it later tonight, running out the door now though.

  9. Hi Pete,

    I appreciate that you’re putting effort into this. Improving our “hook” is something that should be an on-going effort, and the content on the frontpage of the site is certainly part of that. I look forward to seeing your work make it to our wiki.

    I do think, however, that an even bigger piece of our hook, is individuals standing up and sharing with their community that they are participants and encouraging their friends and family to join with us. Towards this end, I’d love to see you switch from thinking of PTP as “they” and start thinking of PTP “we.”

    Part of the challenge we face–perhaps one of our largest branding challenges–is that so many people think of PTP as a finite group of people who are providing this free wifi, where really, PTP is largely a name that signifies a movement that everyone can and should be involved with. So, while helping us to hone the message we present to curious potential participants is great, becoming a participant and leading by example is probably the single best thing anyone can do for PTP and for more free wifi in Portland.

  10. Excellent point, Michael. I’m going to get this on the wiki now, I may take a stab at addressing your concern — but feel free to just make your own edits if I don’t get it right.

    I’ll follow up with Russell about getting my own house set up; I also have some thoughts about a couple specific businesses that might want to join in, and about honing the “pitch” to businesses as well, so I’ll try to follow up with all that.

  11. Hey Pete,

    Things are going good. I’m actually in LA at the moment working onset, I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it up to PDX sometime soon and check out a PTP meeting and say hi to everybody.

    I miss PTP, it was good times :-)

    Adam.

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