Commotion Wireless as a Community Technology: Lessons from Community Technologists in India and Nepal

The Open Technology Institute (OTI) gathered innovative community technologists and organizers from India and Nepal for the first international Commotion workshop in June, 2013. By gathering participants from a variety of community-based technology training and wireless networking projects, OTI and the participating groups were able to exchange experiences, training models and technologies. OTI received valuable feedback on the Developer Release version 1.1 of the Commotion mesh software, the Commotion Construction Kit training modules and OTI’s Digital Stewards model of community-based technology. The workshop was also an opportunity to strengthen the global network of technologists and organizers who see communities as a vital source of innovation in information and communications technology. The workshop was held in Dharamshala, India and co-hosted with AirJaldi, a social enterprise providing rural broadband connectivity and networking trainings in Dharamshala.

Fourteen participants representing eleven organizations from different parts of India and Nepal attended the workshop. The participating organizations work on a range of technology issues, including community radio, last-mile rural wireless networks, digital literacy, digital security and open source technology training and advocacy. The participants included network engineers, broadcast engineers, community organizers, educators and policy advocates. Each participant evaluated if and how community-owned mesh networks could complement their own work. By the end of the workshop, participants successfully built a temporary nine node Commotion mesh network combining a short-distance, high-density network with a longer-distance, wide-area mesh.

Key conclusions from the participants’ discussions and debates included:
•    Community technology projects are more sustainable when communities have the capability to govern, as well as break and repair the technology themselves.
•    Successful technology training and adoption needs a clear and common use in the participant’s life. 
•    Internet access is not always the most important consideration—a local network can and should provide local content and applications in the local language.
•    Wireless networks require planning and technical skills; however, there are different methods of achieving that end. Service provider models employ trained technicians, while community models utilize participatory planning and community engagement.

Click here to read the full report (pdf).

Authors:

Bincy Ninan-Moses
Will Hawkins
Ryan Gerety

Andy Gunn was a program fellow with the Resilient Communities Project and Open Technology Institute at New America, where he partnered with communities to build and govern their own digital communications using the principles of Community Technology.