Lack of legal certainty
We consider the current draft of the German government regarding the amendment of the telecommunications act as unfit to support the growth of free wifi, to gain legal certainity and to abandon the Störerhaftung (“Secondary Liability”) once and for all. Detailed information can be found here: http://freifunkstattangst.de
EU decides firmware lockdown
Mostly unnoticed the EU commission decided on a new bill which is supposed to forbid the replacement of the operating system (firmware) on devices with radio transmitters (for instance wifi routers): http://www.heise.de/netze/meldung/Funkregulierung-Angriff-auf-alternative-Software-2803189.html The US regulation agency FCC is currently discussing on a similar law. With this motion innovation in this area would be immensly thwarted. Initiatives like Freifunk but also commercial providers like DD-WRT (www.dd-wrt.com) or Hotsplots (www.hotsplots.de) would be unable to install their own firmware on wifi devices. Even laptops and PCs with wifi would be affected if they were running Linux.
Public radio frequencies are auctioned
Although wifi has proven as a worldwide success story and spread in countless numbers of usage scenarios it still has one major drawback: The utilized radio frequencies in the 2.4 and 5 GHz band are of limited suitability for an unimpededed transmission of radio signals: Outside the near field they need a line of sight. Even one wall of an appartement or a tree can reduce the signal quality significantly. Additionally the number of wifi devices in agglomerations is so high that the few remaining radio channels do not allow a stable data transfer. With the migration [from analog] to digital television by far better frequencies in the lower radio spectrum become available now. But instead of at least partially making this common good available for public and unlicensed usage (e.g. wifi) it was and is going to be sold to big telecom companies. Not many people understand that this is basically comparable to privatising water. For the simple reason that in the 21st century mobile communication achieved a similarly important role, as the “digital glass of water” explains it quite well already.
The end of the democratisation of communication media
While most people are just starting to slowly grasp the importance of Freifunk and similar initiatives and organisations around the world advocating for freedom of communication for more than 10 years, a systematic attempt is being made to kill this movement. Thanks to technical and net-political inability or lobbyists trying to preserve the interests of big companies. For a long time it was repeated again and again that the government together with telecommunication companies would be able to tackle the task of achieving broadband internet access nation wide. But how many more DSLs, UMTS, WIMAXs and LTEs do we need until everyone gets that there will always be people whose internet access nobody cares for? Sometimes such reasons are of economical nature, sometimes politically motivated – and sometimes both. Today we are discussing whether refugees need internet access at all and whether there are people in- and outside of agencies and providers who want to refuse just that – then we can feel what is at stake.
Empowerment = capacity building
Unfortunately too often we read about hackers, net activists and nerds being described as some sort of humanoid species with a lack of connection to the real world. But not just after the so called “Arab spring” and the following NSA scandal people are recognizing how real the internet already became. Because of that we need more people to spend time on making network and computer technology more transparent and easier to use. Projects like Freifunk offer an ideal setting for that.People learn how the internet works, can build up infrastructure all on their own and as a side-effect even develop a multitude of innovations in this field. All this happens based on the free software OpenWrt, an open source Linux distribution especially for wifi routers and tiny computers (embedded devices). The goal of all Freifunk initiatives is to not only empower yourself but also others. To be able to understand and to use computer and networking technology for everyone’s specific applications. In particular in the field of spontaneous and automated internetworking of devices (ad-hoc mesh networking) Freifunk together with similar communities around the world have made and developed siginificant contributions and innovations. This research, development and educational work is mostly done on a voluntary basis and are the reason why for example we have about 200 voluntary Freifunk initiatives in Germany today, which are making fast, affordable and simple free/libre wifi available in their cities and villages. Faster and better than any other organisation in this country! People in so called developing and emerging countries have had similar experiences where thanks to wifi meshing affordable and urgently needed communication infrastructure to provide internet access could be installed quickly. In the USA too there is a high interest in Freifunk and community based mesh networks to be able to quickly reestablish means of communication in disaster scenarios – quicker than public services like police, fire brigade or the army can do.
Getting down to the root of the trouble
If we want to prevent this still growing, delicate little plant of democratic communication infrastructure from getting steamrolled then we have to unite and make an effort now to build up enough political pressure to get the right decisions and get things on the right track. We also have to free ourselves from wanting to control and surveil everyone in the digital world. That includes preserving free and anonymous internet access without needing to authenticate first and that we will not reintroduce data retention laws – even if we are aware there will always be black sheep. That is the price we have to pay for freedom, similar to how we pay a price for road traffic (4000 deaths per year). Therefore we have the following three demands:
- Störerhaftung (“Secondary Liability”) must go – once and for all (also see: http://freifunkstattangst.de/2015/09/24/freifunker-und-digitale-gesellschaft-starten-kampagne-zur-wlan-stoererhaftung/)
- The possibility to install and run free and open source operating systems and software in general needs to be preserved
- We need better and more free/public frequencies, for instance from the former analog tv frequencies (=> TV whitespace – http://foerderverein.freie-netzwerke.de/Policy_Brief_EDA_Deutschlands_Mobile_Datennetze.pdf)
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