Building a Wireless Community Network in Tzoumerka (Greece)
“[…] during the workshop 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
1. Who they are
Sarantaporo.gr is a non-profit organization, founded in 2013, after three years of intervention as a locals’ initiative in the village of Sarantaporo, located by the Olympus mountain in Greece. Sarantaporo started as a local culture conservation group but soon realized that the major problem f the village was the geographically and digitally isolation. It addresses the lack of Internet connectivity produced by the low profit that many isolated greek villages offer to telecommunications companies, the organization built their own Wireless Community Network (CN) offering open Internet access to all inhabitants and visitors of the village. Soon neighbouring villages incorporated and the CN has now 14 of them. The organisation has ten core members and a number of collaborating members in each village.
In mid-2017, the Sarantaporo .gr Community Network team collaborated with the P2P Lab in Ioannina – that had already established a collaborative workshop to fabricate farming machinery, Tzoumakers – in order to initiate a local CN for Kalentzi, a small mountain village 30km from the city of Ioannina in the borderline of the Tzoumerka National Park. Later that year, a member of P2P Lab and a municipal councillor of the North Tzoumerka municipality visited Sarantaporo in July 2017 to participate in a two-day workshop on Community Wireless Networks. FoundAction grant provided the seed funding which would support the project.
2. What they did
A three-day workshop in the region of Northern Tzoumerka where they built the first CN infrastructure with local inhabitants with the provision of the necessary equipment to provide Internet connectivity.
A lot of the preparation took place in the previous months. The planning of the project started in February 2018. In June they performed an autopsy to assess the geomorphology of the region, the range of the network, the number of expected users, the available backhaul and decide the final equipment selection. In July 2018, nine people attended an info day in Kalentzi organized by collaborating members to inform their local peers about the forthcoming building of a local CN and to work collaboratively on finding the answers to technical and organisational questions. The location selected for the devices also required some fore-planning and a lot of communication between the two organizations. To guarantee the necessary line-of-sight with neighbouring nodes they 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.
During the three-day event, seven local participants and six people from the Sarantaporo.gr community participated in a training workshop that covered the technical aspect of the network, as well as questions related to local community building, the sustainability model, communications and public relations, etc. At the same time, nine 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, to provide support and keep the contact with Sarantaporo.gr
3. Learnings for the FundAction community
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.
For all the involved parties, the project was a joint effort which involved technology as much as community building and training. Each of these components posed its own special challenge, but the first step was to establish communication with the locals. Having onboard key agents such as 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 churchyard. These places were suitable to deploy our equipment according to our planning and helped to accommodate some of the Sarantaporo.gr members who participated in the event.
4. Next Steps
Next steps will be planned by the local community, according to their needs and capacity, but there has been some interest from neighbouring villages to initiate a CN in their neighbourhood as well. The Sarantaporo.gr Community Network knows from experience that it takes time for a community to form, setting common goals and priorities for the region. They continue to provide technical support and training and to build a relation between the two communities. This interaction can provide many valuable insights and be the yeast for a bigger picture: many CNs across the country interconnecting to create the Internet of Local Communities.