Community Wireless

The Internet Archive’s mission is universal access to knowledge.   For us, that access happens over the Internet. In many places, there are two or few providers of fast Internet access, which tends to lead to high prices, bad service and makes censorship too easy. We would like to see more options and are doing something where we can: in places where we own buildings, the Internet Archive provides free and fast Internet access. Currently, we cover parts of San Francisco and Richmond, California with Community Wireless.  Our most recent community project is with Atchison Village, in Richmond.

There are two layers to this, an access layer that anyone can connect to with WiFi devices, and a backbone layer that connects the access layer to the Internet at large. The backbone layer is built and operated by the Internet Archive. We monitor its performance and upgrade parts as needed.

The access layer is largely build in a crowd-sourced manner by willing participants. Anybody can connect with their own WiFi devices. The Internet Archive recommends specific devices that we know work well, but access is not limited to those. We also recommend connecting rooftop-to-rooftop; while rooftop-to-couch might work for some people, best results are achieved with devices mounted outdoors with line-of-sight to the closest access point.

Participants will be responsible for their own devices, including purchasing them, mounting them, pointing them and keeping them powered. For recommended devices the Internet Archive can provide initial configurations. If such a device’s configuration is changed, it is the participants responsibility to make it work.

There are a few caveats: Both layers operate in unlicensed frequency bands where interference is common and expected. The network is also a shared resource. Thus, experienced bandwidth and latency can and do vary. The Internet Archive will do a best effort to keep the backbone running well, but we cannot guarantee specific performance metrics. Also, over time expectations of what is an acceptable speed tend to go up. For this reason, we recommend upgrading devices about every three years, just like computers and phones.

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