Motherboard & VICE Are Building a Community Internet Network

To protect net neutrality, we need internet infrastructure that isn't owned by big telecom.

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Dec 14 2017, 8:33pm

Image: Lara Heintz

The net neutrality battle has been exhausting. It has come at enormous cost in time, energy, attention, and money.

Fundamentally, the net neutrality fight is one where the best possible outcome is preserving the status quo: an internet landscape and connection infrastructure that is dominated by big telecom monopolies. Simply put, the internet is too important to rely on politicians and massive corporations to protect it.

In order to preserve net neutrality and the free and open internet, we must end our reliance on monopolistic corporations and build something fundamentally different: internet infrastructure that is locally owned and operated and is dedicated to serving the people who connect to it.

The good news is a better internet infrastructure is possible: Small communities, nonprofits, and startup companies around the United States have built networks that rival those built by big companies. Because these networks are built to serve their communities rather than their owners, they are privacy-focused and respect net neutrality ideals. These networks are proofs-of-concept around the country that a better internet is possible.

Today, Motherboard and VICE Media are committing to be part of the change we’d like to see. We will build a community network based at our Brooklyn headquarters that will provide internet connections for our neighborhood. We will also connect to the broader NYC Mesh network in order to strengthen a community network that has already decided the status quo isn’t good enough.

We are in the very early stages of this process and have begun considering dark fiber to light up, hardware to use, and organizations to work with, support, and learn from. To be clear and to answer a few questions I've gotten: This network will be connected to the real internet and will be backed by fiber from an internet exchange. It will not rely on a traditional ISP.

In hopes of making this replicable, we will document every step of this process, and will release regular updates and guides along the way. Next year, we’ll publish the Motherboard Guide to Building an ISP, a comprehensive guide to the technical, legal, and political aspects of getting a locally-owned internet network off the ground.

Projects like these are possible and affordable today, and are being practiced by groups like NYC Mesh and the Equitable Internet Initiative in Detroit. Enterprise-level fiber connections can be purchased from the same data centers and internet exchanges that big telecom companies use, then distributed using point-to-point Gigabit radio, which have ranges of up to 8 miles.

Today, the FCC stripped away regulations that protect net neutrality, but telecom companies can only end internet freedom if there is no alternative. Motherboard and VICE are dedicated to teaching those who want it how to build that alternative.

If you want to help or partner with us, please get in touch. We've also created a newsletter to provide specific updates on this project.