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How Bottom-up Broadband will overcome the ‘last mile’ problem

photo of Sepp Hasslberger

Sepp Hasslberger
23rd July 2013

Jaume Barcelo is a Spanish post-doctoral researcher who co-founded the bottom-up broadband project in Barcelona. He works on spreading the concept of user-owned bottom-up networks that will eventually overcome the bottleneck of the “last mile”, an economic hurdle that has kept telecom operators from providing decent internet access to many potential users.

Telecom operators cite the “last mile” as a problem, because according to the logic of the current business model it is not profitable to connect people if there aren’t enough of them living within a certain radius, roughly a mile, of a broadband distribution point.

Jaume, wrote a paper describing the philosophy behind bottom-up networks and giving examples of some such networks that already exist. The paper promotes the concept and gives some examples, rather than providing a complete listing of current initiatives, showing how eventually the telecoms’ last mile may be taken out of the equation, as there is an already connected community to service, not just individual users.

Jaume’s paper, titled “Bottom-up Broadband: Free Software Philosophy Applied To Networking Initiatives” is available as a PDF document here:


A few quotes:

Sharing Internet access is a first step towards more open networks. This sharing can often result in a win-win situation for all the participants. We provide three examples of such sharing.

Eduroam is an international WiFi roaming service for members of education institutions. It is useful for visiting scholars and for students using libraries of different universities. All of them can use their home university credentials to access the Internet from the premises of any other affiliated institution. It is useful for the visitor and also for the host institution that benefits from the visit.

ProvinciaWiFi is a WiFi service available in the province of Rome and other regions in Italy that offers WiFi access in public locations. Many commerces collaborate and share their own bandwidth with ProvinciaWifi to attract and retain customers. In this case, the commerces acquire an access point with ProvinciWifi’s open firmware called OpenWisp, and ProvinciaWifi takes care of the user authentication according Italian law.

Finally, FON is an example of a business model built on collaboration. Collaborating members of FON install a FON access point to their Internet connection and share that connection with other users. This becomes a FON hotspot. The members can connect to any of the millions of FON hotspots worldwide for free.

Free (libre) networks are the network equivalent of free (libre) software. They are community-oriented and governed by rules that emphasize freedom. guifi.net is an example initiative of a free network and operates according to four basic pillars:

• Freedom to use the network, as long the other users, the content, and the network itself are respected.

• Freedom to learn the working details of network elements and the network as a whole. Freedom to disseminate the knowledge and the spirit of the network.

• Freedom to offer services and content.

• By joining the network, the network is extended according to those principles.

Bottom-up Broadband initiatives normally begin with a purpose of social service. Quite often, the participants are interested in satisfying their own networking needs and those of their communities. It is not uncommon that each participant buys her own hardware to be part of the network. As the building of a data communication networks results in the simultaneous construction of a network of trust, the participants team up and collaborate using crowdfunding schemes to buy equipment that is perceived to be beneficial for all.

For the most ambitious initiatives, such as optical fiber networks, the participants need to reach an agreement and advance an important quantity of money to make the deployment possible. Sometimes, local authorities perceive that there is a value in supporting the deployment of networks and also contribute to these initiatives.


One Response to “How Bottom-up Broadband will overcome the ‘last mile’ problem”

  1. Sepp Hasslberger Says:

    A recent posting by Jenny Ryan in an email discussion group brings a real-world example…


    The sudo room mesh networking group has gotten to the point where we are nearly ready to launch a free community wireless network in Oakland, California!

    We will be launching the first part of the network with 100+ wifi nodes, and we need your help to raise the money! Even a single dollar helps! We’ve 9 days left and about $700 to go:


    Even if you can’t contribute monetarily, please consider forwarding this to your friends / social network of choice. You can use this tweet:

    A #mesh network grows in #Oakland. Help them bootstrap free as in freedom alternative Internet! http://bit.ly/15UT357

    We will provide a free wireless network controlled and maintained by the local community. The network will be used to provide both local community services, post-disaster backup connectivity and free internet connectivity focusing on the less connected communities.

    If you’re more interested in donating equipment directly, look at our wishlist:


    Check out our wiki to learn more about our process, add to our growing list of tips and resources, or join the conversation directly by signing up for our mailing list and stopping by to visit us on IRC (#510pen on Freenode)!


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