Is an alternative independent internet?

During a conference the Urbanlabs conference in Cornellà/Barcelona’s Citilab early October, I was fortunate to meet a presentation on, a mostly Catalan initiative to create an internet network that can operate without passing through Internet Service Providers.

I asked some of the organizers of the project, mostly Roger Baig Viñas with some extra comments from Ramon Roca, for some background information on their motivation and progress.

Interview with Roger Baig Viñas:

1) how is Guifi related to the internet: is it complementary or alternative, and if the latter, why do we need it? can be seen as both things at the same time. On one hand it can be considered as a complement to the Internet because network can be used to extend the “network of networks” coverage, and on the other hand it is an alternative to it: users don’t need to connect to the Internet, i. e. to use an ISP, any more for their digital communications among them, therefore, the so common and artificial picture of to neighbors connecting both of them to their ISP to exchange a file will not take place again among them.

Ramon Roca adds:

Guifi “is absolutely complementary. Actually we do see as an extension of it up to the end user by enabling a self-service access. Regarding to the commercial ISP, wants to become an alternative, although because of how is currently regulated, there might be a need to setup gateways to the internet. We do need it if we want the internet to reach the end users but without the need of having to do through a commercial ISP as an alternative.”

2) what is the status of, and where would you like to be in 2-3 years

To date, November 2008, has about 5500 working nodes, most of them linked each other. Geographically the main activity is centered in Catalonia, escencially because the project was born there, but everyone is encouraged to expand the network coverage contributing with his link.

Inside Catalonia the coverage is not homogeneous: while in Osona, the rural area where it, was born more than the 90% is already covered there are other rural areas where the activity is just starting and in the main cities it is very low.

A gratifying picture within two or three years time would be to have extended Osona’s degree and density of coverage around Catalonia and to have been able to cross its borderlines, both, by setting links across them and by exporting the’s platform to other regions of the world.”

3) are you part of an international movement, and how are you related to other techno-social movements such as the free software movement, the wireless commons movement, etc…

Yes, although I miss a stronger international organization to lead the movement, we try to participate in all existing ones, like WSFII, Freenetworks, etc. Within the international wireless communities movements we are quit well known. All our code is freely distributed under the GPL license and we reuse others’ free software.”

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