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Internet You Can Actually Stick in a Suitcase

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, May 7 2013

Erik Hersman, aka @whiteafrican, in a Brck video screengrab

More than six months after Hurricane Sandy knocked Verizon’s landlines and Internet service out of commission, there are New Yorkers who are still waiting for their Internet connection to be restored. While a rarity in the States, unreliable access is not so uncommon in developing countries.

A new device from Ushahidi hopes to solve that problem. On May 5, the Kenyan NGO launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new product called BRCK, a portable device that can supply an Internet connection even when service providers or power sources fail.

Unlike the open source wireless networking platform Commotion Beta, popularly (and misleadingly) heralded as ‘Internet in a suitcase,’ the BRCK device can actually fit in a suitcase. It is a solution to the problem of unreliable infrastructure in developing countries or otherwise unpredictable environments. It works like a cell phone, automatically switching between Ethernet, Wifi and mobile phone networks, to provide service for up to 20 devices.

Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the MIT Center for Civic Media, said of the BRCK: “It’s the equivalent of a backup generator for the net, a battery wired to an access point, mated to a GSM modem, design so that your coding session doesn’t have to end when the power goes out.”

Ushahidi is a nonprofit technology company that develops free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Activists across the world use their mapping platform to visualize violence against journalists, infrastructure failures in countries governed by repressive regimes and sexual harassment. However, the software has been criticized for distracting citizens and the media from real solutions.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.