Despite tremendous growth in internet-capable mobile device adoption, internet usage and access to data is limited in South Africa by prohibitive costs and unequal coverage. Mobile data is expensive relative to the income of these residents, and costs prevent rural and low-income urban people from using internet-based communication to their full benefit. Community wireless networks aim to address this by aggregating demand, allowing community residents to purchase internet at bulk rates even when service providers lack incentive to improve their infrastructure. In these networks, communities deploy and manage their own locally-owned infrastructure for communications and internet access. This approach has significant potential, as demonstrated previously by the Zenzeleni and Rhizomatica projects. However, this is only the beginning. Our research (Phokeer 2016, Johnson 2012) shows that most communications in these communities is with users within the same locality. Yet for the most popular applications, including WhatsApp and Facebook, messages destined for neighbors across the street must first travel the world over expensive and constrained data links. Thus, we might further reduce costs by offering community-based services and content sharing that do not require use of the internet connection.
For the iNethi project (‘nethi’ translates to ‘network’ in isiXhosa) we work with communities to extend the existing community wireless models by enabling sharing and authoring of local digital resources and services. The flagship iNethi deployment is currently taking place in Ocean View, a township located in the Southern Peninsula of Cape Town. We have set up local servers connected to WiFi access points, as well as a WiFi and television white spaces (TVWS) wireless backbone connecting them. The servers initially are running several open source services, including social networking (Diaspora), chat (RocketChat), file-sharing (OwnCloud), and web authoring (WikiFundi). We are working with the community to also prepopulate the server with both global and local content, including free educational media. For example, in our workshops and discussions, residents of the Ocean View have expressed interest in Khan Academy, Wikipedia in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa, locally created music and videos, a community business directory, and community radio.
Principles of iNethi
- You have the right to join the network and add services and content to the network as long as this does not infringe on a community agreed User Acceptance Policy
- A fully representative governance structure should create an agreed User Accptance Policy in the community
- You have the right to understand the components of iNethi and spread knowledge of its elements and principles
- Content you place on iNethi belongs to you and you are encouraged to license content you make public under a creative commons license
- You can freely access and share content anywhere on your local network. Access to your content outside the local iNethi network on a global iNethi server will require you to pay standard Internet access charges.
- The iNethi Network uses mesh with TVWS and WiFi radios
- Mesh provides simple set-up (self-forming) and repair (self-healing)
- Mesh routes over TVWS or WiFi or both to provide better coverage, capacity and redundancy
- iNethi network enables decentralized content distribution
- Encourage content generation and local innovation
- Create local content, build locally hosted apps, locally hosted services
- Uses open source software and platform code will be released under GNU GPL
- Runs all cloudlet services as secure docker or LXD containers
- Uses a single sign-on API for all services
- All data is encrypted and can only be decrypted by the owner, users who data is shared with, or a group master key in case of a breach
- Synchronizes all data on local iNethi server to the global iNethi and some data to other iNethi communities in cases where users move between iNethi networks
- Integrates into community wireless networks that use e.g. WiFi, TVWS, OpenCellular
- Users interact with iNethi services using a web browser or mobile apps
- IoT devices interact with iNethi services using M2M protocols
Partners and Collaborators