Matt Towers says that when he climbed onto the roof of his Central District home to screw in a commercial-grade antenna, it was like planting a giant P-Patch in the middle of the neighborhood.
Towers spent $300 of his own money on the antenna to share his wireless internet service with those living near him. He saw it as a way to connect his community, setting up what he calls a "mini internet" in the neighborhood. But when he moves at the end of this month, his neighbors will have to find another way to get wireless service—probably by paying upward of $60 a month to one of the big telecoms, something Towers set out to help them avoid.
Towers says he was inspired by Matt Westervelt, whose SeattleWireless project, a grassroots attempt at linking up the entire Seattle area, has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, and the Christian Science Monitor. Occasionally, Towers's smaller network joins up with the Seattle- Wireless network, which functions as a mesh linking up a handful of nodes spread across the city. Towers says his project is about "providing a free, community-based network, and sharing information."
Cities like San Francisco and Philadelphia share that thinking, and have taken shots at providing free wireless for their residents. However, all attempts to provide free municipal Wi-Fi have ended in resounding failure because the companies involved couldn't figure out a way to make money. The City of Seattle is laying down cable to provide free service to individual neighborhoods, like Columbia City, but doesn't have any plans to provide more widespread service. The best option, city analysts have decided, is to let private businesses and individuals take care of providing the service themselves.
Next month, Towers will move to Capitol Hill where, he says, flatter terrain will give him the ability to broadcast a more powerful signal and provide service to even more of his neighbors.