Bohemian broadband and the FOSS/maker culture

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Last month, Verizon announced their HomeFusion broadband Internet service, which provides faster-than-DSL Internet service to a broad swath of rural America. After paying a one time fee of $200 for a device that hangs on the side of your house, you can live anywhere Verizon's LTE cell phone service reaches and receive fixed wireless broadband Internet at that location for $60/month.

For the longest time, rural home dwellers have had very poor choices for high-speed Internet. Some chose to use satellite Internet service, but that was often a costly and unsatisfactory solution. Verizon's new option is going to be

particularly welcome to those who have suffered under dial-up-only options for the past few years. Considering that homes in rural America cost substantially less to buy and rent than city homes, this new broadband option might even entice a migration of people out of cities to more rural areas. The people most likely to make this migration are creative types: artists, writers, actors, artisans, programmers, cartoonists, animators, tinkerers, makers, craftmakers and the like.

When I explained this thought to my actor friend Sasha Olinick, his immediate response was, "I get it. You're talking about Bohemian broadband."

In some parts of the country you can buy a three-bedroom house for less than $100,000. A mortgage for that house might be as low as $500/month. Divide that sum between two renters, and you end up with a very affordable living situation. How does FOSS and the maker culture fit into this picture? Well, if you're living on a rural property, there are all kinds of ways that you can push the self-sufficiency envelope--homebrew solar and wind energy projects, hot showers from a compost heap. You can press your own cider using a bicycle-powered cider press. You can adapt all kinds of tools and processes to the way you like to do things.

When you choose that kind of lifestyle, you'll want to continue living that ethic in the software that you use, customizing it to your needs and preferences. FOSS and the maker culture fit in perfectly with Bohemian broadband. You'll be living in your own private makerspace. Visit any makerspace in the country and you'll see FOSS on almost every laptop that shows up there.

With broadband reaching your rural home, you'll be able to do many kinds of remote work, including computer programming, video editing, digital design work, writing and editing, and a myriad of other kinds of work that don't require physical presence. You can even do remote teaching via Skype videoconferencing and screensharing technologies.

This is not to say that Verizon's HomeFusion broadband service is a panacea. The service does have a limit of 10 GB per month of data usage. That can be a constraint for certain kinds of remote work. There is also a $90 monthly plan that provides 20 GB of data and $120 monthly plan with 30 GB of data. If you run over by a single gigabyte, you'll have to cough up an extra $10.

But even given those constraints, HomeFusion is a huge step forward over dial-up and opens up many tempting opportunities for rural living.

Consider, too, that people moving to rural areas are helping to reduce the congestion and traffic problems within our metropolitan areas. That's just what our nation could use at this point. And how about the unemployed? Wouldn't this open up a low-cost option for them to go live with a brother, sister, cousin, uncle, aunt or friend until they've located their next job?

Bohemian broadband also opens up the possibility of building small, rural conference centers. These conference centers need not be indoors. An outdoor shelter with overhangs to protect against the rain and mosquito-netted walls could bring together folks to learn from each other in a Mini Maker Faire or other grassroots conference. The cost of the conference can be minimized even further by having conference attendees pitch their tents at night underneath the rain-protected shelter that also serves as the conference meeting space during the day.This conference center could be located far off the beaten path. Electricity can be provided by diesel generator, solar, wind, or a combination. Bathrooms at such conference centers can be designed to produce methane, a further source of energy for the conference center.

By pushing down the price of holding a conference, Bohemian broadband could facilitate the greater sharing of ideas at such conferences. Isn't that what is most needed in a knowledge economy? A greater sharing of ideas? People can be transported to such conferences using vehicles retrofitted to burn biodiesel. The implications of Bohemian broadband are large. Without intending such, Verizon may have given our nation a potent tool for self-advancement while fostering the geographic redistribution of the population.

Imagine it: you can easily set up high speed access points on Yasgur's Farm in the Catskills. And then invite Joan Baez to sing another round of Joe Hill, in harmony with her 1969 rendition, played live from YouTube. Is Joan Baez not available to travel to Yasgur's Farm? No problem, just Skype her in. What a great event.

To see how much of rural United States is covered by Verizon's LTE HomeFusion service, check out the service map for Verizon LTE service. Then pick any small town far away from city lights. Look up the zip code for that town using Google. Then head to and search for that zip code to find out how much properties and land in that area costs.

We should get back to the land to set our souls free--and while we're at it, set our software free. Doing so will advance our nation.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you or me.
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead?"
"I never died," says he. "I never died," says he.

Smiling librarian standing in front of bookcase
Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 35 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use their public Linux stations.


It's rather unfortunate that the author refers readers to telecom monopolist Verizon -- whose service is expensive and has data caps -- rather than mentioning wireless ISPs, or WISPs. Unlike the cellular companies, WISPs often have no caps at all, and have much faster and more reliable service. They are also small businesses, run by hackers/makers, and usually base their systems on open source software. And they cover more than 70% of the US population, including areas where you can't get high speed cellular data at all. I hope the author will do his readers a service by writing another column in which he gives WISPs their due.

Is this THE Brett Glass who started LARIAT? I would love to find out more about WISP - especially in some areas that currently have DSL / cable so there can be some real competition.

Yes, I'm the same Brett Glass who started LARIAT (which, as far as I know, was the first WISP). WISPs are now far more widespread than most people realize. See

Monopolist, they may be. Expensive, it may be.

It works, though and it's about the only functional play other than a few other monopolist satellite services where only one of them could honestly be called "broadband" and the others "fraudband".

If you're going to bitch about something about it.

Brett, I sure appreciate your bringing up the opportunities provided by WISP's. I've written about those previously, but not so much in the context of rural broadband access. I'm all for supporting small businesses whenever that is possible. See my prior blog post at

DC Access, the urban WISP you covered, is great; I know Martha and Matt. However, while urban WISPs are useful to provide competition, rural WISPs are even more important to many of their users because they represent the only available form of terrestrial broadband. Terrestrial wireless is the most cost-effective and reliable way of reaching rural areas. If you're interested in doing an article, I'll give you a tour and show you how we have literally built our network with our own hands -- machining and welding the metal, climbing tall buildings, and more. And also how we use open source software -- our routers are all based on BSD UNIX -- to run it.

Sadly, in many areas, the WISPs end up being as expensive or more expensive than players like Verizon. Might be a different story, but in places like East or West Texas, there's few WISPs and they're priced about like Verizon and have caps just like them.

I'm not sure what you are expecting a WISP to do. They buy their bandwidth from the Telco at very inflated pricing and then the Telco gets subsidy money from the Government to compete for the same customers the WISP is going after. Typically they send out their come-on's with the telephone bills every month, and I bet even that mailing is subsidized. A WISP has everything going against them yet they continue. In actuality, it is Verizon that is priced like the WISP's who were there first and have their cost of doing business inflated by the bandwidth they have to purchase from Verizon. They use phone lines they were paid to install years ago and they run their backbones on fibre they only recently were paid to run. Someone should be questioning why they are so expensive. And give the WISP a break. They pay for everything they get.

Untrue. I know of no WISP that charges as much as a cellular provider for similar data volumes or speeds.

I thought it was an incredible article, but Phil has been one of my personal heros for a long time. I enjoy the writing and the imagination as well as the information. Thanks, Phil!

Have you read the comments on the article that you linked to? I didn't see one positive comment there. The consensus was that this might work for a phone, but not for a home, and to was WAAY overpriced, and slower than satellite, to boot.

Out here in Iowa, back in the sticks, where the real Bohemians live [e.g. folk from the Czech Republic and Slovakia], we have had high speed Internet EVERYWHERE in the state, because the local telephone cooperatives banded together and installed it back in the early 90s, right as the Internet was made available to the public. The rural areas sometimes got Internet before the large cities got it. Do you remember that? Besides that, we already had a state high speed Internet that reached every school in the state.

If you want a technological solution, look at the networking scheme used in the OLPC laptop that was developed for third world countries where there is no telecom infrastructure. IT is called 802.11s wireless mesh network protocol.

So the solution is not some hare-brained technological solution, but a political one. Band together in your communities and demand that your legislators repeal the protective laws that keep local cooperatives from competing on a level playing field. Then band together and do something about it, just as we have been doing in the Plains states since our great^n-grandparents arrived here.

Here are some links:
netINS, the statewide Iowa ISP owned by the state's telecom co-ops:

State-owned Internet in Iowa:

Iowa Telecommunications Association, parallel to netINS, an association for the co-ops that started netINS:

The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA), "the voice of rural telecommunications,"

And, finally, quit using the word Bohemian. It makes you look very ignorant. It was coined by people who were very confused about their geography, mostly the idle rich of England and France, and was used to describe gypsies, not Bohemians/Czechs. If you look at the Wikipedia article on Bohemians, you will note that there are no Czech names listed, nor are any places mentioned from the Czech or Slovakian Republics. Even eating two dozen poppyseed kolaches would not make you that confused, so get with the program, would you?

Alas, the service provided by rural telephone monopolies -- often called RLECs -- is overpriced and underperforming. That's where WISPs can help. We can reach more remote locations for less money, and don't lock customers into an old dinosaur of a monopoly as those companies in Iowa are trying to do. Again, Phil, we welcome you to come out and take a tour. We'll show you how we craft the technology -- perhaps even take you up a tower.

You answered the wrong question. If you read my comment again, you will see that I am talking about rural telephone COOPERATIVES, not RLECs. There is a huge difference. Cooperatives are owned by the customers, and unlike RLECs, are not overpriced, and are definitely NOT underperforming. In fact, co-op members get checks every year refunding the difference in revenue and expenses. Again, if you read my comment, you will see that rural cooperatives have provided technology far ahead of that provided in urban areas by the Baby Bells and other large telecom companies. Rural co-ops installed digital switches long before the Baby Bells. Rural co-ops provided ISDN and DSL while the large companies were still trying to figure out how to avoid the expense of installation and cannibalizing of their installed base. There was no such problem at rural co-ops, because we, the customers, are the company, and we decide what is best for us.

I see no competition between rural co-ops and WISP. But I think that WISPs might benefit from the ownership structure of rural co-ops, where it is appropriate. And that should be decided by the customers. Otherwise, you will just grow up into another Baby Bell, with equal disregard for your customers.

I predict that as you grow, you will run into the same problems that are addressed by the state laws governing telecom. Unless those laws support cooperative companies, you will get squeezed out of the market by the big players, as they lobby the state legislatures and telecom regulatory commissions.

Looking at your WISP map, I don't see much penetration in the Midwest outside of Illinois, Michigan and Indiana. I know that co-ops are very successful in Iowa, the Dakotas and Minnesota. It would be interesting to see how well your WISP map dovetails with areas with strong co-op coverage. If the populace is already being served, I would not expect to see much WISP penetration. Urban areas, of course, would not factor into this, because of their lack of co-operative coverage.

Alas, rural "co-ops" still play the monopoly game, often doing everything they can to shut out competition -- including WISPs. (They frequently refuse to provide backhaul for WISPs and/or try to make WISPs noncompetitive via their pricing policies.) Fortunately, WISPs are adept at working around these monopolies and providing consumers with choice.

That map that Brett linked to is surely not accurate. I bet the whole country is red with coverage by WISP's. They are not organized and do not promote themselves. Why should they? They act locally. Most just "do it" and you will never hear about them let alone see them on a coverage map. The Telco's on the other hand have a more Global presence and they get the funding, many times by claiming an area is not served, when in fact it is, just not by them.

Brett, you also need to point out that WISP's filled a need way before the Telcos were even understanding what a router is, and they funded it from their own pockets out of love and a community spirit. Now that the Telcos are getting into, they are receiving gobs of money to bring in an underwhelming product and will likely are competing with the current WISP's who in many cases even have to buy the bandwidth from the very same Telco's. And from personal experience the Telco's do not give any bargains to a WISP.

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