June 1, 2007 By Indrajit Basu, International Correspondent
The fact that Djurslands.net is considered one of the biggest -- if not the biggest -- non-commercial rural wireless Internet network in the world is not its most notable feature. Neither is the fact that it runs at about a third of the cost it takes to run a similar project in the urban areas. Nor is the fact that it is run solely by volunteers in the several hundred villages across Djursland. No, by far the most interesting feature of this rural wireless project in Djursland (a region in the middle of Denmark) is its volunteers' fierce passion to share their experience and knowledge. They sincerely want to us "good old Wi-Fi" to form more self-help groups so that all the rural districts around the world can build their own wireless network and bridge the growing digital divide.
"Cities are an exception on earth," says Bjarke Nielsen, the maverick founder of this project who remains the main driving force of what many are now calling a movement. "Most of the surface of the earth is rural districts. And among the things they have in common is that it is often too expensive to deploy enough broadband infrastructure coverage so that everyone living on Earth can be part of the global ICT society. Thus the divide between life in cities and countryside is widening with catastrophic ramifications."
To believe that market forces -- commercial telecom companies -- will expand to bridge a digital divide of this magnitude would be sheer naivety. Amongst many other things then, adds Neilsen, DjurslandS.net most importantly serves as a showcase of how all local societies in rural or poor areas around the world can establishment of their own free (or cheap) high-speed wireless community network to access the global information society.
To this end Nielsen and his team of volunteers have also set up the Djursland International Institute of Rural Wireless Broadband" (DIIRWB) that teaches the lessons learned during the establishing, building and running of the DjurslandS.net -- what he describes as all the pre-requisites lessons for success for a rural wireless community network.
The significance of Djurslands.Net as a project is only fully understood with some inkling of the topography of area. Djursland is a rural countryside in Jutland, the western mainland of Denmark, a peninsula which is connected to the continent in the south. Djursland is about 40 miles long and 30 miles wide, but as the peninsula is surrounded by ocean towards north, east and south, Djursland is a lot of water and just 600 square miles of land.
In terms of deploying Wi-Fi, its biggest problem is the sparseness of its population. Compared to the density of about 320 residents per square miles in the rest of Denmark, Djursland's has just about 82000 residents living in about 36000 households -- a density of about 143 people per square mile.
This sparseness of population, says Nielsen, makes this region attractive and difficult for commercial telecom operators to provide broadband connectivity. For instance Tele Denmark Company (TDC), the only telecom company that owns copper-line infrastructure in that country, can connect 95% of all households (with a 2-megabit ADSL broadband access) through just 1600 central hubs. But if TDC were to give the same connectivity to Djursland residents -- who constitute the remaining 5% of Denmark's population -- the company would have to install another 4600 ADSL centrals.
"Consequently," says Nielsen. "The economy of this region was facing collective collapse. And to reverse this situation we really needed a functional, self-sufficient IT-society. And that's how DjurslandS.net was born."
DjurslandS.net is based on an Internet connected optical fiber ring all around Djursland, bandwidth rented from commercial Internet Service Providers. Each of the now ten community networks on Djursland has access to this optical fiber ring in their biggest village, but as a cabled