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!
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!
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!
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:
- Buy a wireless router, and install it between your Internet connection and your home computer. (It will have easy setup instructions.)
- 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
This entry was posted on August 1, 2008 at 10:10 am and is filed under City Hall, customer service, open government, politics, WikiWay with tags marketing, municipal wireless, open source, personaltelco, politics, portland, portland oregon, share-alike, wifi, wireless. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.