Considerations of visibility are as important in revealing the politics of grassroots technology development as they are in revealing the implications of corporate technological advances. Ile Sans Fil, for example, leverages their visibility in mainstream and alternative media outlets as a way to compete with similar corporate ventures.
Ile Sans Fil members at the St-Laurent Boulevard Street Fair (photo by Robert Crecco)
Working from a marginal position in the competitive world of high-tech, Ile Sans Fil is simultatneously part of underground culture as well as being connected to the technological cutting edge. These two influences combine when the group attempts to make its ideology and services visible. Since its formation in 2002, Ile Sans Fil has actively pursued media coverage in both mainstream and alternative media, but it has also been sought out by members of the media looking for an engaging story on an emerging, trendy technology. Group members are available for interviews, and the group has been featured three times in the weekly magazines Voir and Mirror, as well as in the anglophone national daily Globe and Mail, the francophone daily Le Devoir, the Toronto monthly Spacing Magazine, zine review Broken Pencil, and alternative publications Acc”s Libre, and the Quebec Linux Journal. For the group, this visibility is considered essential for several reasons: first, without paid staff, media coverage provides free visibility and name-recognition. Since most potential hotspots are approached in person by volunteers, media coverage can help to extend the location of hotspots beyond those near where volunteers live. Second, given that one of Ile Sans Fil’s long-term goals is to to establish a non-profit, free-of-charge model for public wireless access as a successful alternative to a for-pay model, media coverage can help to disseminate this message. Most importantly, media coverage encourages businesses and individuals to work with Ile Sans Fil. Ile Sans Fil has been very successful in this regard, having been named as a sponsor for the Montreal Fringe Theatre Festival, the street festival La Frenesie de la Main, and the social action study weekend Les Journees Alternatives. These activities create a wider potential user base for the “social software” applications that the group is currently developing, but they also position Ile Sans Fil as a community provider of information technology solutions.