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Accepted Paper:

Data infrastructures for all: the case of community networks and the DiY IoT Scene  
Andrés Domínguez (The Alan Turing Institute)

Paper short abstract:

New communication standards and open-source tools and building blocks are allowing more actors to engage in shaping the Internet of Things. This paper explores the formation of new milieus where citizens and expert users are able to appropriate data infrastructures and innovate on their own.

Paper long abstract:

Communication infrastructures are largely dominated by capital-intensive network service providers, vendors and data aggregators, but it has been observed that users sometimes reject or displace such top-down and hegemonic organisations and innovate on their own. Community wireless networks, decentralised architectures and distributed ownership of infrastructure are examples of ways in which users have reclaimed control of technology. This paper discusses the case of "The Things Network", a global Internet of Things (IoT) network that crowdsources its physical infrastructure. With a model of openness and decentralisation, this organisation relies on voluntary contributions to provide an otherwise commoditised and industry-oriented service. I will present the preliminary findings from an ethnographic observation with the core team of developers of the network's backend and from interviews with voluntary "initiators" of communities. The aim of the study is twofold: first to present an account of the phenomenon from a sociotechnical perspective and second, to offer explanations for the occurrence and survival of such bottom-up initiatives. The case study serves as a basis to advance the notion of a "DIY IoT Scene" that strives in the context of a technological trend that has not yet reached mainstream adoption. In the last few years, communities have spawned in cities around the world with the goal of building a critical IoT infrastructure and offer inexpensive coverage in their local area. Such arrangements, largely led by developers or expert users, constitute new milieus for innovation in the city and bring about challenges in terms of governance and sustainability.

Panel A28
Socio-technical encounters in the city: urban spaces, data infrastructures and new modes of civic engagement
  Session 1