Sourcing And Distributing Community Internet


The internet is not like food. We can’t grow our own internet. We have to connect to it. Unfortunately today there are gatekeepers who control access. If we want to be able to work and browse the internet, we have to work with these gatekeepers.
There are lots of ways to get an internet connection. Most nomads I’ve interviewed are using hotspots from companies like T-Mobile or Verizon. The Earthships at Taos are using satellite internet. I’ve also worked on long-distance microwave uplinks. Many people and communities are using cable, fiber, or other forms of hard-wired internet.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option and some best practices.
Hotspots are currently cheap and good. The T-Mobile deal mentioned above is hard to beat. Let’s hope it lasts! One downside with hotspots is that they only work when you have cell service. Here in Taos where I’m writing this, the coverage is currently kind of bad, so it can be frustrating. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy now to get large antennas which can give you a great connection even when there is very little cell service in your area.
Satellite is expensive and slow. Latency is currently unavoidable, though future tech like Starlink and Kuiper promises to change that.
Hard wired internet like cable and fiber are controversial in the resource sovereignty discussion. Earthship Biotecture takes the position that this is the same as being on-grid and should be avoided because the grid can not and should not be relied upon. I think this argument will hold up a lot better once things like Starlink and Kuiper are available.

Load Balancing For Resiliency

One challenge with any internet connection is that it may go down or slow down. This is why I always use a load balancer. This means you can set up accounts with more than one connection and the device will automatically switch to whichever one is working best. It can even split up your users onto your different connections so that they can all get as much bandwidth as they want.
I am currently doing this with hotspots from Google and T-Mobile. I use T-Mobile as my main internet connection with Google as a backup.
I am planning to sign up for accounts with both Starlink and Kuiper once they are available. Then I can use my load balancer to automatically use whichever one is working best, and then I will have internet connections from two very reliable and affordable sources. Practically speaking, this will be more than enough bandwidth to support the needs of an entire community.

Distributing Internet To Your Community

There are several ways to think about this problem. In a past community internet project, I used simple off the shelf wifi repeaters to rebroadcast the signal to everyone in the community. These are very cheap but they don’t handle enormous workloads very well.
If I was providing broadband internet to 10-50 people today, I would use an 802.11s mesh wifi system like Google Wifi which is going to do a really good job of distributing high-speed connections to everyone.
Another good option depending on your situation would be trenching ethernet cables. This is actually pretty easy to do and it would provide an extremely reliable high-speed connection to all your community members. At my burning man camp, we already trench power cables across fire lanes and walkways, so it would be as simple as burying another cable along with the power cables. In that case, the ethernet cables would need to be shielded and grounded in order to prevent induction from the power cables running alongside them.