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Forget Comcast. Here's The DIY Approach to Internet Access.

July 26, 2016 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Dan Gillmor / Back Channel

Spanish engineer Ramon Roca got tired of waiting for telecom companies to wire his town -- so he did it himself.

You can see the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains from Gurb, about 75 kilometers north of Barcelona. It's a quiet farming community of 2,500, and in most ways there's nothing special to set it apart from many such towns across the Catalonia region of Spain.

So why do people like me eagerly journey to Gurb? Because it's the birthplace of Guifi.net, one of the world's most important experiments in telecommunications. Guifi is a community network that has long since transcended its local roots. From a single node more than a decade ago, it has become a vast mesh-and-more system linking tens of thousands of people in hundreds of communities to each other and the global Internet. In the U.S. most of us go online via Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable or other telecom giants to run Facebook, shop, watch videos and check our email. In Gurb and other communities, Guifi is the on-ramp to the fabled information superhighway.

For people who want to see an Internet at least partly liberated from the grip of rapacious, government-connected telecommunications giants, Guifi is one of the most hopeful developments to date. Its core values, ownership, and operations are testament to the idea that you and I, and our communities, can -- and should -- control how we communicate. For the tens of thousands of people using it, some at no charge, Guifi operates as well as Time Warner Cable does for New Yorkers (and maybe better).

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