Frequently Asked Questions
Who are we?
What is Philly Community Wireless?
Philly Community Wireless is a project to develop community-owned mesh networks in North Philly. We are a working group of organizers, technologists, academics, public school teachers, and City Hall staffers in Philadelphia. During a time of social distancing and online teaching, roughly half of the city’s public school students lack a wifi connection at home. In certain neighborhoods, even more residents lack any connection to the Internet. We seek to address the city’s digital divide with community-owned and -operated mesh network technologies.
Mesh networks allow a single Internet connection to be shared among a broader group of users with very little cost or infrastructure required. With the help of PhillyWisper, a pro-net neutrality, wireless internet service provider, we are working toward installing two pilot sites in Kensington and Fairhill. From there, we will plan participatory design workshops and technical training for the community that will empower them to maintain and grow this free network connection.
For more information on our partner, Philly Wisper, see their FAQ
What areas of the Norris Square Park neighborhood currently have wifi?
The free public wifi network should be accessible in most areas of Norris Square Park and the surrounding streets, approximately in a one square mile area. Neighboring streets are currently receiving wifi, as will many of the homes and buildings in the area. For updates on upcoming installs and service expansions, sign up for our newsletter.
Grant funding is enabling us to grow the network around Norris Square into the northwest, especially Fairhill. Our goal is to connect residents, in their homes and in public spaces, to high-speed, free internet, for at least the next decade (the length of the agreement with our bandwidth provider, PhillyWisper).
What is the public wifi network name?
Philly Community Wireless
How does it work?
Wireless mesh networks
PCW’s infrastructure depends on wireless broadband technologies, in particular, mesh networks, a distributed system of network routers which allow a single source of bandwidth to be shared among a broader group of users with very little cost or infrastructure required for connection.
Traditional internet service providers rely on a one-way, centralized hub that transmits network traffic to all users on the receiving end. But with mesh networks, every router both receives and transmits network traffic simultaneously, enabling the network to remain operational even when individual nodes go out of service.
The technical shape of mesh networks (interconnected, resilient) thus reflect the social connections that PCW seeks to amplify (democratic, participatory, decentralized).
For technical information on the project, please see our Docs page.
Is the wifi actually free?
Yes, as long as PCW exists, you will never be asked for your payment information to access our public network.
How fast/stable will the connection be?
We aim to provide at least 25 mbps download speed in public and private spaces. We can’t promise consistent connection in any given area, but many areas of our network currently receive higher download speeds.
How secure is the network? Who can access our information?
We don’t track user activity. We support net neutrality principles and believe that the Internet should be provided free of throttling, zero-rating, and the tracking and monetization of user behavior and data.
By joining our network you agree to share the available bandwidth with others. Be mindful of downloading large amounts of media when others may be using the network to attend important Zoom meetings during the work day.
When connecting to the public network you should use the same standard precautions as you would when connecting to public wifi at a coffee shop or airport. Use your browser’s secure mode when possible, and consider using a VPN service to be extra safe.
Can I get hacked / is my personal information protected?
Nothing you do on the internet should be considered fully “private.”
Will my activity or data on the internet be tracked by a third party?
No. Please see our data policy on our Terms of Service page.
How do I get involved?
How do I sign up to get connected?
If you would like to host a rooftop antenna or a mesh kit in your home, please fill out the join form and look for an email with next steps.
If you have any questions, or would like to volunteer with Philly Community Wireless, reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and see our Volunteer page for more information.
What does a rooftop antenna installation involve?
A normal installation takes a few hours, and requires cabling power to the roof, and installing a non-penetrating roof mount with line of sight to Gotham Tower, our main hub. A router can be installed inside the house, and we often try to install one relay antenna on the roof or side of the building to share the signal around the area. See our Installations page for more info.
If I host an antenna on my roof, how does this affect the structural integrity of my house? Will extra drilling be involved?
Some homes will only need an indoor mesh antenna, plugged into a wall outlet. For homes that require a rooftop installation, an antenna will be attached to a chimney, or secured between cement blocks etc. Whenever possible we use non-penetrating roof mounts. Cables can be run into existing holes in your house. For more information, see our Docs page on rooftop installations.
How much will the electricity cost to keep the radio powered?
We estimate roughly 25 to 50 dollars a year for the electrical costs.
Who do I contact if things go down?
Please contact us via (215) 316-5761 or email at email@example.com.