Based in Toronto, we are a grassroots and decentralized group of volunteers who started Toronto Mesh at CivicTechTO in early 2016. Through building community-owned infrastructure using off-the-shelf hardware and open-source technology, we are hoping to address barriers to internet access in our city. There are many ways that people can be involved.
Since January 2016, Toronto Mesh has been working to build a community network using peer-to-peer, decentralized mesh network technology. A mesh network consists of routers (or ‘nodes’) spread throughout the city with no single internet service provider or central servers. All nodes cooperate in the distribution of data, serving as a separate and redundant network (description via NYCmesh).
The internet is currently not open and inclusive for all people. We are building a community-owned infrastructure that gives us:
- open, lower-cost access to the World Wide Web
- a resilient and redundant network
- agency to make important decisions about privacy
- autonomy to access information in a free manner
- an opportunity to develop technical literacies
The primary driver for Toronto Mesh is to empower people to create spaces in which they can make decisions about the way they access and share information. For many of us, managing our online privacy means compromising it; the apps we download, the websites we visit, the operating systems we use, and even the infrastructure which carries our data around the world are implicated and leveraged by practices of surveillance for profit and social control. Internet access in general is sold in a ‘black box’; meaning that the buyer doesn’t know what it does or how it works. We believe this approach is at odds with the understanding of the internet as a place where people are empowered to act. Community-owned networks ask users to understand the technologies they use and to make decisions based on their community needs, rather than those of corporations.
As citizens, we cannot simply create our own parallel internet by pulling fibre optic cabling through the ground and the sea, or building data centres and switching stations. What we do have access to are the tools and devices through which countless wireless networks are already substantiated. In our project we are using familiar routers and antennas, we draw on lessons from existing projects worldwide in order to help us bring together residents, business owners, technologists, and others, to provide internet access in their neighbourhoods and cities. Building a mesh will be another way to connect people and spaces in this city to each other.