Meet Freifunk, the German group that aims to provide free internet to all

Here's the problem: Internet access has become an essential part of life. However, many still cannot afford it. There are also growing concerns that internet connections could be unilaterally cut by Internet Service Providers at the request of public agencies. How do we ensure everyone has internet access?

 Activating the Urban Commons

Here's how one organization is working on the problem: As early as 2002, the German activists of Freifunk, a noncommercial grassroots group, decided to self-organize to provide a free and autonomous internet infrastructure for all. In 2014, Münster free-internet activists from the local hacker space Warpzone decided to deploy a mesh network for their building complex. They visited a neighboring Freifunk community in Bielefeld that provided them with a crash course into the technology involved, which was mainly provided by the national Freifunk network.

The idea is that any WiFi router can be turned into an access point that communicates directly with other routers, passing along information between them, and thus forming a "mesh" of router-to-router connections. This way, people can send data from any point in the mesh without even connecting to the internet. The infrastructure is owned and maintained by the activists, who formed an association to handle legal and financial practicalities.

In 2015, Freifunk Münster joined with nearby Freifunk Warendorf to pool resources, including skilled people and IT infrastructure, and then made them available to the whole Münsterland region.

Results:

  • In June 2015, the parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia (Landtag NRW) decided to support the local Freifunk initiatives by granting permission to use the roofs of buildings that belong to the state.
  • In 2016, the Freifunk initiative was awarded 8,000 Euros to build a wireless backbone over the city, bringing Freifunk to places with no internet connection and connecting the scattered little mesh clouds.
  • Thanks to the growth of communities in western Münsterland, the mesh reached 2,000 access points on April 20, 2016, making it the largest mesh network in Germany.

Learn more from:

This case study is adapted from our latest book, "Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons." Get a copy today.

Header image of the Freifunk-Initiative installing WiFi-Antennas in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 2013 provided by Boris Niehaus

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