For the past four years, the Open Technology Institute (OTI) and the Allied Media Projects (AMP) have been working with communities to build wireless mesh networks. Mesh is a technology for creating inexpensive local WiFi that allows users to connect their devices directly with each other rather than going through a central hub; unlike a series of wireless hotspots, a local mesh works as a network whether or not it is connected to the Internet. Mesh networks can provide hyper-local tools like neighborhood shout-boxes and local lending libraries, and can keep communities connected even during power or Internet outages.
One question we hear all the time from community members, funders, and government representatives is: how do these networks scale? People always seem understandably frustrated with the best answer we can give them: it depends.