Wireless Internet and The Politics of Places

It is not as if ICTs are somehow external to cities or divorced from their politics. At individual city levels as well as at global levels, the presence of ICT networks and infrastructures is part of the politics of places. Although the forces of capital fixity and hypermobility operate to consolidate wealth and power, ICT networks are often used to work against these privatizing and marginalizing forces. In the next sections I look at how Montreal’s community wireless group Ile Sans Fil negotiates with various types of visibility in the very particular social context in Montreal.

http://youcancallmeal.flinknet.com/archives/grocery store.html
A wireless antenna almost invisibly graces a storefront

The power relationships underlying urban splintering and its economic, spatial, and social implications heavily favour large corporations, and can create a disengagement of elite communities from local areas. In other chapters I have attempted to make these relationships visible to allow us to see more clearly the base upon which our everyday actions rest. Now I will consider how independent media development brings forward elements of this power and influence by describing a community group that develops and distributes wireless internet access.

Despite the global processes that reinforce splintering, local movements continue to attempt to rebalance splintering. Historically, these movements have included telephone cooperatives (de la Sola Pool, 1977; Fischer, 1992; Martin, 1991), cable television cooperatives, co-op Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and FreeNets (Cohill & Kavanaugh, 1997). Currently, the cutting edge of this movement against splintering is represented by community wireless internet groups, who use inexpensive (often commercial) wireless internet hardware to cheaply connect computers to one another and to the internet. These groups attempt to use emerging technology to reduce or share the cost of internet access, and to make it possible to access the internet wirelessly in public areas. One of these groups, Montreal’s Ile Sans Fil, has as its primary goal the provision of free wireless internet access across the city of Montreal. The group also aims to provide wireless service in areas not deemed profitable by commercial operators, and to create software that will encourage deeper engagement in one’s local place. However, the tactics used by the group to maintain their media visibility and status create paradoxes that reveal on a local level some of the complex relationships first described in the chapters of Part One.