DETROIT — The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute has completed the first phase of construction on a next generation wireless network located in the Cass Corridor section of Detroit. OTI will use the Detroit network to test Commotion — a new, open-source wireless technology — ahead of its public release in early 2013.
“The Detroit wireless network plays an essential role in OTI’s development of an open wireless solution that will put control of the Internet into the hands of its users,” said OTI Director Sascha Meinrath. “The partners OTI works with in Detroit are not only self-provisioning connectivity for local residents, they’re proofing out technologies that support free, safe, ubiquitous communications around the globe.”
OTI’s Commotion communication platform uses laptops, mobile phones and other devices to create decentralized wireless systems known as “mesh networks.” Its combination of dynamic routing capability, security features, and local tools and apps provides a range of connectivity options for communities. The prototype network can potentially distribute Internet access to local residents, but even without a connection to the global Internet, Commotion allows neighbors to communicate with each other.
The Detroit Commotion testbed is supported by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, whose mission is to promote informed and engaged communities, and by the U.S. Department of State, which sees the potential of the technology in places like Egypt or Syria where dictators have cut off access to the Internet.
OTI is working with local organizations to develop a training program for wireless engineering and installation, which will make use of the network as an open air classroom. The prototype Commotion network connects low-income apartment buildings, community centers, churches and businesses in the Cass Corridor, with ties to similar networks in the North Corktown and 48217 neighborhoods. More than half of Detroit residents do not have Internet service at home due to the cost of service and a lack of investment in infrastructure by Internet service corporations.
“We selected Detroit because of the combination of social and technological innovation here,” said OTI director of field operations Joshua Breitbart. “The city is not just a backdrop for this network. The residents are playing an active role as designers and engineers. We are building the workforce here, piloting innovative applications here, and learning from how entrepreneurs and activists make use of it here before we distribute this groundbreaking technology around the world.”
Detroit-based Allied Media Projects is hosting and co-designing the Commotion “Digital Stewards” training program. The Digital Stewards program is integrated with AMP’s Detroit Future Media training program, which the organization launched in 2011 with support from the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The Detroit new- media firm The Work Department is also a Commotion partner, developing the project’s main website and key components of the software.
“These networks prove that innovation doesn’t have to be cloistered in a university lab or a downtown incubator, but can thrive and grow throughout a city,” said Diana Nucera, co-director of Allied Media Projects.
The project is endorsed by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.
The Open Technology Institute formulates policy and regulatory reforms to support open architectures and open-source innovations and facilitates the development and implementation of open technologies and communications networks.