Bohemian broadband and the FOSS/maker culture |

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.

About the author

Phil Shapiro - Phil Shapiro has been an educator, teaching students from pre-school to graduate school for the past 30 years. He currently works at a public library in the Washington, DC area, helping youth and adults use 27 Linux stations. Between 2007 and 2012, he blogged for PC World magazine on various technology topics and currently writes for Ars Technica, MAKE magazine, FOSS Force, TechSoup for Libraries, and Visit him at his...