Vignette Of A Neighborhood Captain

This is a crude example of the kind of swarming we will need to do in order to build our network from the grass-roots. It will never be this straightforward, but critical roles and strategies are explored in this vignette.

What follows is fiction. Charles does not exist -- yet!

The Quest For An AP Host

I just got off the phone with Charles, who lives in one of the many triple-deckers in Roxbury. His house and some of his neighbors' houses were all passed over by Fios, Starry, and Netblazr. Those who have home Internet on his block buy it from Comcast. Some of Charles's neighbors use their cell phone as their primary Internet connection because the bill for cable Internet is too high to justify. This eats into their data, and they routinely get dinged for overages. Charles is confident that he can convince some of these neighbors to join his network if the monthly cost is low enough.

Charles has been coming to Mass Mesh meetings for a few months, and understands how the technology works in broad strokes. He's volunteered to be his neighborhood captain, and Mass Mesh has agreed to meet once a month in a location near him in Roxbury so that he can stay in the loop with the development team and vice versa. What Charles needs now is a fast, stable connection to the Internet so that he can start connecting his neighbors.

There’s an apartment building up the street that was connected to Fios during their 2019 rollout in the area. Charles and his roommates have just distributed flyers around the block, and he want’s to know what’s next. I tell him all I know -- to be patient. We’ll know in the next couple of days whether anyone’s interest has been piqued. If no one bites within a couple of days, we'll revisit the matter. We say goodbye for now, and that we’ll see one-another at next month’s Roxbury local meeting.

The Flyers

On the flyers Charles distributed, there’s a reward on offer: if you’re living on the West side of the building, and are willing to keep a small radio in your window (connected to the Internet and powered “on” at all times,) you will receive a $20 dividend every month from Mass Mesh. In addition, your Internet is going to get a lot cheaper, should you sign up. The flyer explains that Mass Mesh is a volunteer-led community group, and that we do not make a profit. This flyer states that it is being posted by your neighbors, and if you choose to help, you’ll be helping them directly. The flyer may even give the contact information for the neighborhood captain, should they choose to provide this information.

Some Basic Accounting Of Costs

The $20 monthly dividend was something Charles and his roommates added to the deal, as they thought this would help attract an access-point host more quickly. They’ve been allocated $100 from the Mass Mesh bank account to back this dividend up during the first couple of months, so that they have time to attract enough neighbors to be self-sustaining. A 1Gbps connection at the apartment building on his street costs $200/month. During these first 5 months, Charles aims to attract eight more neighbors into the network, so that they’re monthly uplink subscription cost per capita is $20. (The uplink host and Charles both count as “capita.”) As has been said, Charles thought it was a good idea to incentivize the AP host to join the network, and added a dividend incentive for them. This dividend adds a total of $20/month to the total uplink cost, and bumps the total uplink cost per capita up to $22/month.

The $20 monthly dividend was something Charles and his roommates added to the deal, as they thought this would help attract an access-point host more quickly.

The proposed network on Charles’s block would consist of 10 nodes. Each node would vary slightly from the others, but the average cost of a single node's hardware is $200. This means that the whole network would take $2000 of equipment to set up! That’s a lot of money, but the hardware won’t have to be purchased all at once. Instead, it can be leased from Mass Mesh by the local network (all of the connected members are now members of Mass Mesh.) The proceeds from this lease and others like it are used to pay down Mass Mesh’s outstanding loans, while surpluses are redistributed among the network’s membership in accordance with the Mass Mesh's bylaws.

The catalyst for this process is selling a bond or getting a loan. Mass Mesh can use the equipment itself as collateral for this bond, and should negotiate a fair deal for its repayment. We may be able to get a small loan from Ujima for this purpose, if we come prepared this time. The exact terms of a bond/loan like this are not known at this time.

The actual terms of a lease agreement are beyond the scope of this vignette. Instead, let’s get back to Charles.

The Volunteer

Charles has just received a phone call from someone living on the West side of that apartment up the street. They’re interested! Charles does his best to answer all of her questions about Mass Mesh over the phone, and promises to explain the technology to her more. She’s a little unsure about how the technology works at this point, but agrees to meet in person with a couple Mass Mesh volunteers for a site visit. She picks a date for the site visit from the core team’s calendar, and Charles thanks her for getting in touch. His vision for a neighborhood network is one step closer to reality!

The Site Visit

On the day of the site survey, Charles is joined by two members of the core team at Racheal’s apartment. She invites them in, and they have a look out of all the westward windows. There’s a problem… none of her windows have a line of sight to Charles’s house! Charles is utterly disappointed. We came so close to starting his neighborhood network, only to be thwarted by some trees.

After huddling with the core team for a few minutes, Charles has an idea… What if Rachael can still help us? She lives in this building, and while she’s new in town and has very few connections, she has access to one thing Charles does not – door knobs. Rachael agrees to distribute flyers for Charles in the doorknobs of her neighbors apartments for free. She’s still excited about the Mesh, and since we had the flyers ready for her, it seemed a small task. We help her distribute the flyers on the upper floors of the building, and we leave the site for now. It wasn’t the day we were hoping for, but Rachael helped us get the word out to a more targeted group.


In the vignette above, Charles made the decisions about how to incentivize his neighborhood’s AP host, and Mass Mesh backed him up financially. Charles also scheduled the site-visit with Rachael, and Mass Mesh backed him up with an install crew.

Charles was constrained by the capabilities of Mass Mesh’s technology when a tree blocked the signal from a prospective AP host’s window, which he overcame by involving Rachael in the search for a viable AP host. Charles would have been constrained as well by the lease agreement that he made with Mass Mesh to obtain the equipment. Charles was also constrained by the cost of his up-link to the Internet.

The moral of this story is that we need Charles-es, and Charles-es need our support.