On 17 August, 2023 we presented the Demo paper, Community Networks powered by Community Currencies, at ACM Compass in Cape Town.
The demo showed how a mutual credit-based community voucher or currency integrated with a community-owned network could be used to purchase digital services such as internet access on the iNethi platform. The vision is that it will lead to better custodianship of digital infrastructure and generation of more locally relevant digital content. This in turn would lead to the expansion, use, and stability of a community voucher to support wider local markets that embrace not just local digital services but physical goods and services as well.
The demo showed the functionality of iNethi (our local content and services cloud platform) integrated with the Grassroots Economics platform running on the newly released Cello blockchain. In the demo we were able to show sending Krone (our local community currency in Ocean View, Cape town) from a user to a Krone wallet of the community network administrator to obtain a voucher to access the internet. Sending Krone to a wallet is done simply by scanning the QR code (shown in the figure below) and choosing the amount you want to send. Specific amounts map to specific internet data packages.
At the demo, we had a hardware setup shown in the figure at the top of this blog with an Intel NUC running Ubuntu to host the core iNethi system, (b) an OPNsense Firewall to manage access to the internet and provide a captive portal, and (c) a WiFi mesh access point running MeshDesk.
We were also able to show our new open-source builder application, which automates the setup of the software to run the whole iNethi system and provides a simple way for any community network anywhere in the world to quickly build their own iNethi system with the option of integrating a local community currency.
We had a number of good interactions with attendees and asked some of them how they could use such a system in their own communities (see below).
We were able to identify the following streams:
- Digital cultural heritage preservation: creating content in the local dialect, learning more about ancestors and local traditions of the community. Ocean View community members already have a very strong sense of their Khoisan heritage and there are several community initiatives around preserving it. This would however be the first attempt to go digital in these efforts.
- Local economies and financial inclusion: using the platform to trade goods and services; ability to convert from Krone back to fiat currency.
- Community building, participation and creation: participatory community projects with feedback collection mechanisms; streaming platform for locally produced video material. Art should be rewarded with community currency: art is already hard to monetise, so an alternative way to reward artists is critical.
The demo setup at an international conference has proven to be a great way to get feedback from the academic community and potential users. We have already presented the mechanism we use to create content and services on iNethi at the International Development Informatics Association Conference in 2018. This year, the engagements at the demo have reinforced some of our initial ideas, such as creating a content streaming platform. However, some new ideas were also sparked, such as using the iNethi platform for cultural heritage preservation - definitely a point of view worth exploring further with our community members.