Five years ago today, Hurricane Sandy throttled a 10-state area. One of every four people lost cell and internet service. The storm made clear to me that society’s core infrastructure — the fundamental facilities and systems that make every day possible — tends to fail us when we need it most.
My brother J and I honed in on the frailty of communications networks, in part because we marveled at the fact that our phones, in spite of all their functionality, are designed to plug into but not to create connectivity — causing all sorts of problems during both extraordinary emergencies and in everyday life. We started talking about what it might take to turn phones’ ubiquity into peer-to-peer mobile infrastructure, and goTenna was born. We set out to unlock our phones’ full potential by making it possible for anyone to create bottom-up, distributed connectivity, no matter what.
Hurricanes are still a part of goTenna’s story: we’ve been awarded a big resiliency grant, funded by Sandy recovery funds, that’s distributing 20,000 goTenna Mesh devices to people in the low-lying areas of New York City; at this very moment, hundreds of our Mesh units are deployed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominica, and Puerto Rico, providing critical connectivity to hurricane-battered communities.
When everything is destroyed, how do we choose to rebuild? The same way? Differently? What are the limits of our infrastructure under normal, everyday conditions? How do we structurally reimagine such systems for the 21st century? We should all be asking these questions not just of our communications networks, but also of our power grids, food systems, financial services, modes of transport, educational institutions, and all the rest.
I believe decentralized communications networks can increase scale, resiliency, and access to connectivity, providing an essential new layer not just during emergencies but also on “blue-sky” days.
The Mesh is Everywhere: A Bottom-Up Communications Movement Grows
Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) and administered by the New York City Economic Development Corporation(NYCEDC), goTenna is the recipient of a grant that is currently distributing over 20,000 free goTenna Mesh devices to small business beneficiaries in coastal Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. These communities encompass some of the city’s most diverse and economically disadvantaged communities, and goTenna Mesh will help recipients coordinate with other community members in the face of future natural (or man-made) disasters. These devices will also provide an extra layer of day-to-day connectivity, given that many of our grant’s beneficiaries are located in areas with poor connectivity on a daily bases. (Learn more about the grant and/or apply to be a beneficiary here.)
Particularly in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria recently, questions surrounding urban resiliency are more relevant than ever, and we’re proud to be working hard to equip populations in New York, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and most recently Puerto Rico with bottom-up, community-based communications solutions that don’t require any heavy, top-down infrastructure.
Much of what happens on the goTenna Mesh network happens offline of course — completely off-grid, by definition — but there are some ways to visualize what’s happening since goTenna Mesh began shipping in mid-July.
For instance, we’ve seen the number of mesh nodes registered on imeshyou.com’s Mesh Network Map grow to the thousands and now the tens of thousands. People are opting in to share where their nodes are and many are even setting up some of their Mesh units as stationary, always-powered-on nodes that others can count on in their area. And the Mesh Community discussion board has become a really busy, friendly, and vibrant place filled with ideas about the political economy decentralization, goTenna Mesh DIY projects, and so much more.
goTenna Mesh is still new, but the warm embrace of early adopters, tied to the fact that these devices are in such active use in areas of the Caribbean that are struggling after the same kind of cataclysmic event that inspired us to start working on this whole project five years ago, is inspiring to our whole team. There’s so much more to come!
Thanks for growing the movement to create and share your own signal. #imeshyou
— CEO and Founder, goTenna
Here’s what’s trending now on Mesh Community: