We met Malcolm Matson during a breakfast meeting at The Hub in London (an incubator for social innovation), and were very inspired by his efforts to create a worldwide infrastructure of free local access to the internet at the local level, by way of the OPLAN Foundation.
Here’s a basic explaination of these efforts:
OPLANs are springing up in hundreds if not thousands of local settings around the world. OPLANs come in all shapes and sizes – ranging from a cluster of yak farmers in Nepal communicating with each other and the rest of the world using WiFi wireless technology, through to city-wide fibre networks connecting all the homes and other buildings in a major city such as Amsterdam the Netherlands or Philadelphia in the USA. There is no hard and fast definition of an OPLAN, and a more extensive briefing note can be found here.
However, there are some distinctive defining characteristics of OPLANs that link them all together, and differentiate them from today’s telecommunications networks. OPLANs, to a greater or lesser degree, have the following characteristics:
* they only serve a local geographic community or location, ranging from a street or business park through a rural community to an entire city
* they provide “open access” and are for use by any party located within the community – they serve both the public and private sectors, corporate and residential citizens, service and content creators as well as consumers
* they are owned and controlled totally independently of any service or content that runs over them
* they are structured, financed and owned so as to serve the common good; the value and benefit of the technology remains with the users
* they are not owned by a PTO/ licensed telecommunications operator
* they deploy modern digital technology and offer true broadband (symmetrical) connectivity
The communications world that grew up around the telephone was shaped by a business model based upon managing and allocating ‘scarcity’ – scarcity of network capacity, scarcity of customer equipment and scarcity of central-office switching facilities. But the three seminal technological developments of the latter half of the 20th century have completely turned this world upside down. These developments:
(i) the digital computer
(ii) optical fibre transmission media
(iii) software controlled spread spectrum radio.
It is now a world of abundance. OPLANS are the natural final link in the chain to make this abundance freely available to everyone. OPLANs can transform the socio-economic life of all communities in the 21st century and turn the dreams of the information revolutions into reality.
You know, thinking about Paul Hartzog’s idea of a totally distributed internet, also got me thinking about some of the open design/peer fabrication ideas we’ve discussed on this blog.
I am starting to see that it could be possible over the next few years, or even possible right now, for people to make a self contained, inexpensive device that can efficiently and effectively extend mesh networks, and that can be placed anywhere. These devices could be produced by RepRap-style equipment. The basic design could be open, and people could be encouraged to place these devices out, kind of liek a “Book corssing” for WiFi mesh network nodes.