Kalentzi is a small mountain village of approximately 350 inhabitants, located in the south of Ioannina Prefecture, 30km from the city of Ioannina. Located in the borderline of the Tzoumerka National Park, it is a place of wild natural beauty and authentic Greek countryside. The village belongs to the North Tzoumerka municipality. The main economic activities of the population are farming, animal breeding and partly tourism. Excluding the touristic activities, it is otherwise a village very similar to Sarantaporo.
One year ago, in mid 2017, the Sarantaporo.gr Community Network (CN) team collaborated with P2P Lab of Ioannina to initiate a local CN for the village of Kalentzi. P2P Lab already operates in this area with its Tzoumakers community, a collaborative workshop to fabricate farming machinery, under their EU funded "Phygital" project. In this context a member of P2P Lab and a municipal councilor of the North Tzoumerka municipality visited Sarantaporo in July 2017 to participate in a two-day workshop on Community Wireless Networks. The ground was set and all that was missing was the seed funding which would support the project. This came a few months later, in early 2018, from FundAction via the Rethink grant.
At this point we would like to thank FundAction for funding us and all the great changemakers of the FundAction platform who voted for our project and offered us this opportunity.
During the course we found that the way we (Sarantaporo.gr and Tzoumakers) think is very similar: from constructing our own farming tools to building the connectivity infrastructure we need, we realize we can create local value when dealing with our needs and resources as common goods.
Alekos Pantazis, P2P Lab
Setting the stage
For us, the Sarantaporo.gr community, this project came as a result of our long-planned target and commitment to actively facilitate the creation of more CNs around Greece and abroad. It was the first time we initiated a project to share our CN building know-how and expertise to a village far from our region, and as such we had to overcome a series of challenges.
Collaborating with an actor with local presence in the area has been a critical factor in the success of the project. The ongoing work of P2P Lab with the local community created a fertile ground, on which to plant the first CN seeds. Knowing the people and the local champions, working within the context of the area, identifying local needs and mapping the potential geographical spots and houses on which the CN equipment can be deployed are important elements of the CN building process.
The planning of the project started in February 2018. For all the involved parties it was a joint effort which involved technology as much as community building and training. Each of these components posed its own special challenge for us. But the first step was to establish communication with the locals.
A dedicated Telegram group worked well for us in coordinating with members of the local community. We also used Doodle to help us arrange our meetings, Jitsi for our teleconferences and Google Docs to collaboratively work on documents.
In late July an info day was organized in Kalentzi by collaborating members to inform their local peers about the forthcoming building of a local CN. 9 people attended the meeting where they discussed about the project and layed down some organizational issues, such as accommodation for the Sarantaporo.gr community members who planned to visit later in August or possible locals’ houses to deploy networking equipment. During the meeting we participated in a teleconference in which we shared experience from our CN.
Some “hard questions” came up during this meeting, such as “why should only a small number of people contribute (in kind and in cash), when the network is open and freely accessible?”, or “why not set (accessing) limits for those who do not actively participate?”. These are the questions that introduce the community aspect of the CN. Working collaboratively on finding the answers forges the shaping of the community.
That meeting concluded with a screening of a TV documentary about Sarantaporo.gr CN.
Dealing with the challenges
The technical challenges
One of the first challenges one needs to tackle when planning a community network is to help the community members overcome their fear of technology. The technical challenges of a wireless community network vary in nature and complexity. They range from very simple tasks that do not require special knowledge or tools, such as putting a wireless device on the roof, to more complex ones, requiring some tools, such as erecting a pole on a rooftop or crimping a network cable, to even more complex tasks which require special knowledge, such as aligning antennas or configuring devices. It is important to make people realize that everyone can have a part in the CN, regardless of the technical knowledge he or she may have.
We decided on the actual equipment after an autopsy that we performed in the area in early June. The geomorphology of the region, the range of the network, the number of expected users, the available backhaul are factors that affected the final equipment selection.
The location selection for the devices required some fore-planning and a lot of communication between the two organizations. For the accommodation of the equipment we needed to find appropriate houses (and agree with the community members who own them), which provided line-of-sight with neighboring nodes. For this purpose we used a tool called WiND, which was specifically developed by members of the Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network to facilitate the planning of the CN nodes location selection.
Having on board the head of the local cultural association and the village elected representative was really helpful in acquiring access to the local municipality’s building and to the church yard. These places were suitable to deploy our equipment according to our planning. These two persons also offered their homes to accommodate some of the Sarantaporo.gr members who participated in the event.
The deployment of the equipment took place during a three-day workshop in the village of Kalentzi, where seven local community members were trained in basic networking and equipment maintenance.
The training challenge
Training is a critical activity towards building a CN. A common misconception about training in the context of a CN is to consider that it comprises only the technical aspect of the network. In fact, the technical aspect is a very important component, but it is rather limited to people who are interested and perhaps have a certain technical background (although even this is not a prerequisite). Other aspects of training relate to the local community building, the sustainability model, the communications and public relations etc.
During the three-day event seven local participants and six people from the Sarantaporo.gr community participated. The content of the training workshops covered issues from all the above aspects such as:
- basics about wireless networking
- architecture of a community network
- how to crimp an internet cable
- CN financial sustainability
- social impact of the CN in the local community
- collaborating with other actors of the region
- experience from the Sarantaporo.gr CN
9 people worked hands-on for two days to deploy three backbone nodes and five mesh nodes (hotspots) for the access network.
At the end of the three day period, a Telegram support group was created for local community members. The group serves as a place to seek support for various issues that arise, as an experience sharing medium for Tzoumaker’s CN members and as a means to facilitate and preserve the community bonding with Sarantaporo.gr.
The community building challenge
Every small rural place has its own culture and social codes. The relationships between the locals form the backbone of the community’s social fabric. Speaking about the “community” part of a Community Network is not a trivial issue. It is also a part that differentiates one CN from another. When trying to spark the creation of a new community around a wireless network you don’t always know what this community will grow into, at what pace and how strong it will grow to be.
This is why we chose to let people of the Sarantaporo.gr CN explain for themselves what it is they personally value in their community. Six members of the Sarantaporo.gr CN joined the mission to Kalentzi and shared their views, opinions, feelings and aspirations with local community members. Not only did they talk about it, but they also participated in the hands-on installation of the local CN equipment along with Kalentzi’s local community members.
In the times of financial crisis this has been like a therapy for us! It offered us a creative way out.
Sakis Katis, Sarantaporo.gr
Since last August, Kalentzi village has its own Wireless Community Network! The Kalentzi CN is alive and kicking, servicing the inhabitants and visitors of the Kalentzi village. We are extremely proud to have initiated this project and to have supported a local community to replicate our project in their region.
Their network is built as an open access network for everyone wishing to access the Internet. It currently comprises three nodes bearing five access points connected to the Internet via a two-ADSL backhaul.
The newly formed CN’s next steps will be planned by the local community, according to their needs and capacity. A positive sign is that already there has been some interest from neighbouring villages to initiate a CN in their neighborhood as well! (this is also how the Sarantaporo.gr Community Network expanded: via word of mouth in nearby villages).
We know from experience that it takes time for a community to form, setting common goals and priorities for the region. From our side we continue until today to provide technical support and training via the Telegram group and build the relation of our communities. We expect that this interaction will provide us with valuable insights on the dynamics between two geographically distinct communities, which can be the yeast for a bigger picture: many CNs across the country interconnecting to create the Internet of local Communities.
June autopsy visit: https://gallery.sarantaporo.gr/index.php?/category/128
August event: https://gallery.sarantaporo.gr/index.php?/category/127