Right now, we're beginning the deployment of a demonstration and community laboratory computer network in the Kansas City metropolitan area. We helped KC non-profit Connecting For Good to offer free wifi at low-income housing in KC, Kansas, and are in the process of expanding to other sites. In addition, we are hard at work on two development projects: FreedomStack is a set of tools for building free networks, and guifi.us is a planning, provisioning, and crowdfunding tool that will help people use FreedomStack. In general, we design, implement, deploy and talk about all sorts of network tech that can be used to build freer networks.
We've put hundreds of hours into building what we call “FreedomCenter” In essence, it's a solution for enterprise data ownership/digital self-determination. Most development project would just use IaaS/cloud tools, but we think that, in the long run, we'll be much better served by the flexibility and security of running our own systems. FreedomCenter powers our web properties, but more importantly, it powers our lab, which offers a continuous build, integration, and radio runtime testing environment. The idea is to ultimately offer this infrastructure to the wider world of network hackers. We're opening it now to a few trusted parties, but we don't think it will be ready for the general hacker public until the spring.
We like to think of it as "free as in freedom, not as in beer." In French or Spanish, for instance, we would use the word "libre" rather than "gratis." There are real costs to running a network, such as electricity, bandwidth, and maintenance, and users will need to pay something for access. However, the real costs of running a network are an order of magnitude lower than what the public currently pays to ISPs. By employing a cooperative model, we can ensure that participants only ever have to pay for the actual costs, and not to bolster the profit margins of the incumbents.
Not in the least! Networks that are owned by their users are subject to the same rules and regulations as networks that are owned by for-profit operators. The laws regarding data networks, radio transmission, and privacy can be fairly opaque at times, and so the FNF sees public education on relevant jurisprudence as part of its core mission.
Between June 2011 and December 31st, 2012, the FNF took in a total of $24,394.72, and spent a total of $18,987.71. A large share of the FNF's income came from a $10,000 award at the Contact Conference, a summit on using technology for social change, in October 2011, and from a $5,000 grant in October 2012 from the Jerry Greenfield and Elizabeth Skarie Foundation. The remainder was made up of individual donations, many from monthly contributors. We have been supported in-kind by the Sarapis Foundation, lghtsrc.org, and the New York City General Assembly. We’re now working on building a membership-base that will allow us to continue our work long-term – you can join by going here. A complete account of the FNF's financial data may be found on the Commons.
At this point, our main operational expenditure is the cost of colocation for our servers. We pay about $424 each month. At present, the FNF is all-volunteer. We’d love to be able to pay our staff something so that they can devote more time to our important work, and less time to making ends meet. We would also love to have a travel budget, so that we can attend more conferences, meet more innovators, and reach a larger audience.
It’s hard to say. Things are moving very quickly, and yet the scope of our work is practically beyond comprehension. All we can really tell you is this: we will keep working even after a ubiquitous civil network exists to serve the public good. The struggle for greater freedom and greater sovereignty on the net is not new, and will continue for some time. We try to take the long view whenever possible, in contrast to for-profit actors who feel compelled to focus on short-term gains. Sustainability is a central part of our operating philosophy, and so we plan not just for months and years of work, but for decades. One thing is for sure – it’ll go a lot faster if we work together.