Meet the French community of citizen networks

felix's picture

From May 5th to May 7th 2016, I conducted participant-observation during the fifth general assembly (GA) of FFDN, the umbrella organizations gathering 29 community networks (CNs) operating across France (plus one in Brussels, Belgium).

A bit of history

FFDN was founded in 2011. At the time, the historic French community network, French Data Network, (founded in 1992!) as well as the wider debate on digital rights motivated people across France to join and start building their own community networks.

But rather than growing a single organization, or even the handful of other community networks already existing across France at the time, the choice was made to “swarm” in a decentralized mode by creating many local non-profit organizations (all under the French 1901 law on the freedom of association).

To coordinate these developments, share expertise and take care of the legal and political representation of the movement, an umbrella non-profit organization was also created: The Fédération FDN (or FFDN). It now comprises 29 member organizations operating in both rural and urban areas, using both wireless and leased landline networks. Taken together, FFDN CNs have a total of around 2000 subscribers, plus many other non-subscribing members taking part in these organizations' activities.

FFDN's 2016 General Assembly

Held in a rural area close to Grenoble, near the French Alps, the 2016 GA was attended by more than 60 people from almost all FFDN's members.

On the first evening, I held a short presentation to introduce the netCommons research agenda. Then, over the course of the event, I attended various workshops touching on technical or regulatory themes.

On the technical side, a project of particular interest within the community was the “Brique Internet” (also called "Internet cube"). This small device is plugged to one's Internet box, providing a WiFi connection channeled to one of FFDN members' VPN services and embarking a Debian-based self-hosting operating system called Yunohost.

On the regulatory front, fascinating discussions were held over the legal obligations of Internet access providers operating open WiFi hotpsots, in particular on issues such as data retention were significant legal uncertainties remain. Other topics of interest included the upcoming European consultation on Net Neutrality guidelines, the transposition of the EU Radio Directive, and more generally the need to be proactive in trying to influence telecom regulation. The recently announced French plan for fiber roll-out –and the promise of many “fiber orphans” that this disappointing plan entails– was seen as an avenue for seeding new community networks in underserved areas.

More to come...

I came back from the event with a much better understanding of the socio-political dynamics of this fantastic community. The many discussions held with participants about their organizations and the challenges they face are a great starting point on which we at netCommons will be able to build upon as our research further develops. Stay tuned!