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Handshake proposal: P2P Access-Point

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Me and @Nico Pace come from the lived experience of rural wireless community networks, where communities build their own telecommunication infrastructure in order to widen their connections and access to information.

As so - many - communities, we've done so using LibreMesh.org with off-the-shelf repurposed wireless routers, or using the LibreRouter.org .

The LibreRouter is enabling the disconnected and less priviledged part of humanity to build their own network connections, and it is great! ... but manytimes not enough...

If (and they usually do) these networks get connected to the internet, the global and profit-driven nature of the corporate actors drag users to consumerism, washing away the colaborative nature of the communities.

We want to nurture digital spaces where we can feel safe and find ourselves with the choice of whom we connect and whom keeps our data, wether it happens within our local networks or within the internet.

To contribute to this, we want to improve one key element on the network: the home access point.


@luandro %bqkoaJUFI8w2Ve1fYrBAsh/zM80ITuv+68wxaCzzcwc=.sha256

The home access point is essential in any LibreRouter network (actually in any network) as it gives good quality access to the network to those that live under the same roof. It is pretty common that these devices sit in our houses doing pretty much nothing... but they could do so much more.

This device could support community members in using the network to build local connections with their peers, leveraging their new network paths, to make them more resilient and strengthen their communal bonds.

This could be accomplished by designing a web portal, that could provide user-experiences aiming to build solideraty and community, such as providing locally curated and created content (RĂ¡dio PSP) or displaying information that's relevant to the community (Moinho market and newspaper).

And also by running local services, that could go from standard self-hosted services, federated services that could discover each other within the network, or even Peer-to-Peer applications, that better distributed load amongst clients and work even if offline.

Deploying and maintaining these services requires technical experience and a proper captive-portal user-experience needs to be co-designed with communties.

In order to have wide adoption, a strategy should consider two things:

  • Communities need to just have bare minimal technical knowledge in order to maintain and make use of these services in their own territory, similar to what LibreMesh has done to mesh networks.
  • Proper user-experience research and co-design in collaboration with other Community Networks will help to uncover common patterns of community-centered experiences and uses.

It would be great to have a device tailored to do the job, with a set of functionality that serves the communities realities. In order to have clarity of what is required, we need to explore what is available, and experiment ourselves to find what's needed.

We recognize that we need to consider the needs of the existing community networks. We are connected to these groups, and want to engage with them in improving our bonds and working together in our shared exploration.

We want to make sure that the contributions we do can inform not only our process but also others, in order for all to learn and grow together. That is why we want to document our decisions in relation to hardware, architecture, software, user experience and interface design choices.

We want to contribute to the ongoing conversation with other implementors, so we will engage in the public forums to share our experience and build together more and better understanding.

We recognize that within the Community Networks movement, we are priviledged in regards to education and gender, and we want to contribute to disseminate the knowledge by working with fellow Community Networks in order to put that priviledge into action.

These are the contributions we believe we can give in this field:

  1. on the network infrastructure side, make the LibreMesh community captive portal service-aware, by discovering local services and exposing them to the visitor
  2. specify the hardware feature must-haves, good-to-haves and avoids
  3. explore existing hardware features, strengths, drawbacks and existing bugs
  4. facilitate co-design sessions with other CNs on topics: useful services, community-center ux and collaborative ui design process
  5. prototype web portal and access-point device with relevant features
  6. facilitate explorations with communities to gather feedback on the prototypes
  7. document the process so we can collectively learn

We have a set of paths that we want to explore. Each one requires people and resources to do it. We choose to focus on people and their will to work on what they're passionate about.

We plan on using agile iterations on hardware, software and design to enable a process of co-creation with other community networks.

As this is no new topic, we plan to engage with the tech communities in order to learn and collaborate as much as possible. Many have worked on similar approaches:

Tomorrow we'll publish an action plan and budget so yall can assess if persuing this path is of priority to the SSB community.

@luandro %bmDrGuuVd16Z72bKUNFX6x6xFy5UMuDnFod/YANJB38=.sha256

The Plan

p2p_ap.jpg

Both Nico and I are directly connected to organizations that are actively working with distributed technologies and communities: Alter Mundi & APC (Nico); Coolab & Digital Democracy (Luandro). We are also both active in various other online communities.

Despite of that, this funding from the SSB community is important for us to kickstart such a project as it would be hard to secure funding elsewhere to work on the usability aspects of p2p tech for communtity networks. We hope that the process and the outcomes will have been enough to have gotten communities and networks engaged in co-creating the experience and in having conversations around data-sovereignty and the importance of distributed protocols. As the LibreRouter has shown, having engaged communities around a "product" is the best way to secure it's further development and maintainance.

These are the tasks we believe that need acomplishing in order to improve each area, and how much time we estimate it would take to achieve them.

Access-point device ~ 50h

  • Definition of the requirements for a hardware device to act as AP and service provider, and tests to be done in order to ensure they are met (community gathering)
  • Research on what devices are available in the market that fit this criteria
  • Purchase of the selected devices (1800 USD)
  • Tests devices to filter out those that don't seem to fit the criteria
  • Purchase a set of the selected devices and ship to Argentina and Brazil to test in communities

Base software ~ 50h

  • Definition of requirements for base OS for AP, service providers and tests to be done in order to ensure they are met (community gathering)
  • Test diferent alternative options that came out of the gathering, and report back

Community Portal ~ 50h

  • Definition of common patterns for local community centered user experience (community gathering)
  • Development of portal that leverages p2p communication
  • Iterate based on feedback from communities on the prototype

LibreRouterOS ~ 50h

  • Definition of the integration with LibreRouter OS captive-portal (community gathering)
  • Development of integration with LibreRouter OS

We calculate a total of 200 hours of work would be necessary to achieve a prototype. We'll be using a base rate of 25 USD an hour, which totals to 6800 USD (work + hardware). Based on our agendas, the thoughtful discussions that need to happen and the distributed nature of our team, we estimate to have prototypes in the hands of communties by the first-quarter of 2022.

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