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BYO Mesh Network: Commotion 1.0 Toolkit Released For New Year

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, January 2 2014

Commotion software is both smaller and so much bigger than a suitcase. (Flickr/Lasse Christensen)

Just before the new year, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute launched Commotion 1.0, a mesh networking toolkit more than 12 years in the making, also (and misleadingly) known as “Internet in a suitcase.” The toolkit makes it possible for communities to build their own mesh communication networks, which can be used as an Intranet or as a way of distributing access to the Internet without using traditional infrastructure.

Mesh networks are decentralized networks in which users connect their devices directly to other users, bypassing traditional communication infrastructure.

“Whether a community loses traditional infrastructure because of a natural disaster or as the result of a repressive regime,” Thomas Gideon, OTI's Director of the technology team, explained, “Commotion provides a locally-owned alternative for diverse communities in the United States and around the world.”

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, a team that included Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers and people from the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) set up a mesh network using Commotion software in Red Hook, a neighborhood hit hard by Sandy that suffered without power, heat and water in the days and weeks following the storm.

Beta versions of Commotion have also been deployed in Detroit and Washington, DC, and abroad in Dharamshala and Dahanu, India, in Somaliland, in Berlin, Germany, and in Sayada, Tunisia.

OTI's Director of Field Operations Joshua Breitbart called Commotion a “family friendly technology.”

“A mesh network is stronger when more people participate,” Breitbart said, “so we designed Commotion and the Commotion Construction Kit so an entire town or neighborhood can take part in designing, building and using the network.”

Although a project long in the works, Commotion is now one of several tools designed for use in repressed or otherwise disconnected countries. Beta versions of Lantern are up and running in countries like Iran and China, and Google revealed their browser extension uProxy at the Google Ideas Summit in October 2013. Also, if it is really Internet in a suitcase you're looking for, check out Ushahidi's Brck, which was Kickstarted last year.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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