Darknets of Light - Homebrewed Free Space Optics in the Czech Wireless Community

Johan Söderberg

Ronja (Reasonable Optical Near Joint Access) is possibly the first commercially successful, free hardware project in the world. The project was started by the Czech wireless community in 2001 as an alternative to commercially sold WiFi links. For about five years the technology offered the cheapest and most reliable method for connecting computers over a distance. The quality of the product is testified by that it was used commercially by small Internet Service Providers in the country.

Not only are there technical advantages with utilising the visible, red light spectrum for sending data, it is also attractive because the light spectrum is as of yet not regulated by governments. The goal of creating a decentralised communication network which was controlled by the users on the infrastructural level was a moving force behind the Ronja project. No less intriguing was the ambition to place the ordinary user in control over the technology by designing the device so that a non-expert could understand how it worked and create his own optical link. I conducted a 5 month fieldstudy in the Czech Republic the autumn 2008.

Based on my findings from the Ronja project, I would like to discuss the possibility of doing politics through the creation of (hardware) technology. The questions looked at through the Ronja lense includes how political ideals about equality might cope with the necessity of expertise, the demand for functionality, and the pressure to commercialise the invention.