OTI and HacDC members survey the new Mount Pleasant CWN node. Photo licensed CC BY-SA by Preston Rhea.
On Thursday May 24th, the corner of 16th and Newton Street NW became the eighth node in the growing Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network. Several folks in the neighborhood and a few team members from the Open Technology Institute (OTI) joined forces with members of HacDC, a community hackerspace, to install a Commotion-powered wireless router on the roof of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church. The installation sparked enthusiasm among local residents who were excited to join the network.
St. Stephens regularly hosts events and houses several community organizations, including HacDC. HacDC provides a place for aspiring techies of all levels to come together to share ideas and learn from one another. HacDC is also home to the developers of Project Byzantium, an ad hoc mesh networking and basic application software designed to operate on mobile phones and laptops in the event of total infrastructure breakdown. They hope to connect their node to the greater Mount Pleasant network, both to share bandwidth and also to use it as a testbed for Byzantium, which can run decentralized local applications.
Local residents were not the only people involved in this installation. A camera crew from Agence France-Presse came along to document the whole process. While the AFP journalists fired questions about Commotion and community wireless at OTI's own Preston Rhea, the organizer of the Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network, the hackers and neighbors diligently set up the wireless and mounting equipment.
In true hacker fashion, the members of HacDC built their own DIY mounting mast out of PVC pipes. This assembly in the parking lot caught the interest of a local passerby, who wanted to learn how she could install a node in her nearby apartment complex, the Woodner. The members of HacDC and others present were able to complete the installation with little input from OTI's observers, and in just a few hours the node was mounted and broadcasting to the west towards Mount Pleasant Street. However, there are large buildings in between this node, named MtPCWN_HacDC, and the next-closest nodes in the network. The organizers see this as an opportunity for getting residents in between involved in the network to complete the connection. Next up for HacDC is to hold a vote on whether to share Internet bandwidth with the community through the network, and to integrate Byzantium’s functions with Commotion.
This latest deployment demonstrates not only a growing interest in the community for sharing wireless connectivity, but also the relative ease with which residents can install their own nodes and join the network. For the cost of a router and some PVC piping, the folks at HacDC were able to put up a router in the span of a few hours. While their technical know-how was an asset, they were able to heavily involve newcomers to the process. With the new, friendlier Commotion website now online, and the documentation for installation and maintenance steadily improving, the process for setting up a community wireless network should continue to get easier.