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"Last mile" or local innovation?: Canadian perspectives on community wireless networking as civic participation

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In the rush to solicit corporate bids for WiFi coverage, North American municipalities may be overlooking the capacity of existing community wireless networking (CWN) projects to not only provide WiFi service, but to mobilize civic participation. CWNs, where citizens experiment with, install, and maintain information infrastructures based on 802.11x wireless equipment, may be providing new opportunities for participation in civic life, including developing innovative technical and economic solutions to local problems, developing WiFi as a platform for community media, and mobilizing new spaces for political advocacy. The data presented in this paper assesses four Canadian urban CWNs: Montréal’s Île Sans Fil, WirelessToronto, Vancouver-based British Columbia Wireless Networking Society and the newly-formed Ottawa Gatineau Wi-Fi. The adaptation of each of these groups to their local policy and technical environments reveals the importance of local, grassroots players in the WiFi universe, as both innovators and policy-makers. Canadian CWNs provide good examples of how grassroots innovation can emerge in competition and cooperation with other types of service provision. Furthermore, the activities of these CWNs underline the importance of safeguarding the network and policy spaces that allow communities to flourish.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/29465/

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