Dear PoPville – Community wireless mesh networks in DC?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Joe in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I was wondering if you might know about any plans to establish community wireless mesh networks in DC. I had no idea these even existed until reading about them in the NYTimes and what a great idea — I would love to organize internet access with neighbors and not deal with the big companies. Based on some quick google searches, it seems that Mount Pleasant had/has one, but what other areas of DC? I live in Petworth, for what it’s worth.”

Is this the DC Community Access Network? Did one of these mesh networks ever get set up in Bloomingdale?

13 Comment

  • I would LOVE this. I hate Comcast and my only other option is slow Verizon DSL. Seriously, I hate it!

  • All of the newer street light poles in DC are set up to serve as wireless access points, but I have no idea if they’ve ever wired them up. There have been long term plans to offer municipal wireless Internet service in DC, but I haven’t heard anything about it in a long time.

    Also, newer Comcast wireless routers are set up to offer WiFi service to other Comcast subscribers when they are in range.

  • First, check out

    Second, only Kansas City has a free network robust enough for everyone to give up their monthly internet bill — and that’s because Google’s funding it (and even then, it’s highly experimental). Public wifi isn’t just a matter of setting up access points around the city, especially in a place like DC with heightened security implications. It’s also insanely expensive to implement and, more importantly, maintain. You know that saying “build it and they will come”? That applies threefold to wireless networks — everyone and their mother and their grandmother and their auntie’s drycleaning business will jump on it. Trust me, you are not the first person that’s had this thought occur to them. So, while it’s been something DC Gov (OCTO) has wanted to tackle for years, it’s probably not coming anytime soon, at least from DC Gov. The good news is that DC Gov has a highly unique asset that few other cities have; a very robust fiber optics network that it’s even selling to federal agencies. So, if it’s going to happen anywhere, it may well be here.

    • There’s also the little matter of lobbyists for the ISPs. Don’t think that they aren’t fighting tooth and nail to prevent low-cost or free wireless access from becoming a commodity.

      There was one up and running in Bloomingdale a couple years ago. I believe it was part of the DC Wifi pilot program, and I just assumed the trial period ran out when the signal disappeared

      • This is the #1 reason why, that for such a technology-connected city, we have such limited options for broadband in DC. Verizon is deeply, DEEPLY entrenched in DC government. And Comcast wields enormous political influence here.

        • Is this different from other places? I assumed most cities have 2, maybe 3 options for high-speed residential internet but now that I think about it I don’t really know.

  • hows the security on these? i would imagine everyone on the same network = everyone can access your stuff.. or easier to hack

  • The Columbia Heights network still exists, and I believe there is also one in Mt. Pleasant. Those networks still require an ISP at some point (Comcast, Verizon, etc) in order to reach out to the wider Internet. There is also a project called Hyperboria which is trying to create a sort of replacement Internet that is entirely mesh (though not entirely wireless).

    I’d love to work with others interested in setting up something like this, and I live on the northern side of Columbia Heights, not far from Petworth.

  • I live in Mt. Vernon Triangle. I would love this option!!!

  • When I’m walking around the 1300 block of Hamilton, my phone automatically connects to “DCFreeWIFI”. for what its worth..

  • The Mount Pleasant Community Wireless Network (MtPCWN) and Columbia Heights Community Wireless Network (CHCWN) are sibling projects, and they still exist. Both of them use the Commotion software discussed in the NYT article.


    There was an earlier effort in Bloomingdale that is now defunct.

    I believe the Capitol Hill Energy Co-op is trying to get a network organized right now as well, as is a group in Takoma Park.

    The difference between these community mesh networks and DCFreeWiFi is that the community networks are owned and operated by community members, instead of managed directly by one organization or the DC government.

    If you want to learn more about organizing your own community wireless network, check out the Commotion Construction Kit:

  • I think HacDC was championing the project.
    Check out this:
    Here is the group:

  • We also six nodes operating in Columba Heights.

    Check out:

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