Internet as Community Infrastructure

Typically imagined as a cloud, the internet flows below our oceans, through our cities, and into our homes as a complex system of soft and hard infrastructures. Material networks reflect and reinforce social conditions, making differences in access, exchange, and civic investment visible. To make the internet tangible is to connect with our possibilities to transform it.

I spent the first months of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York hyper-aware of how the internet held us together while the virus kept us physically apart. While school, work, social services, and commerce all relocated to virtuality, in Bushwick we know based on Bushwick Ayuda Mutua’s outreach that more than 300 households to this day, have no at-home connection.  

can mutual aid,
can community care,
exist without a space in common?
To many people in our communities, excluded in the thinking around online platforms, the virtual response to the lockdown was not an option. Aquacomms was developed between 2020-2022 as a quick response to internet inequality, both materially and conceptually in Bushwick. In partnership with NYC Mesh and Mil Mundos en Común we learned about the internet, and organized groups to provide subsidized at-home internet connectivity to neighbors. Aquacomms is a play on words and a play of materiality. While the internet is not aquatic, its underwater components are essential to global connectivity, and it is comms because we focused on the transformational capacities of communication towards demystifying the internet. One of the key principles of a distributed mesh is autonomy and participation.

The conceptual gaps in understanding, what the internet is, how it works, how it reaches us, and how it could be different.  Aquacomms includes Arts-based investigation that sustains us into the territories of not what is, but what could be.  The project has two parts: Laying the Threads, mutual aid organizing for Internet equity, and Shared Imaginaries, arts-based actions, and speculation for Internet autonomy. At large the project includes translations, information sessions, resource distribution, intake, visualization, reading lists, training, coalition building, friendship forming, lots of long text exchanges, and most importantly, climbing up on roofs and installing the internet.

Collage, Aquacomms paintings on NYC Mesh install at Mil Mundos photo, 2024.  

Laying the Threads 

A growing group of people from various mutual aid coalitions from across NYC and specifically in Bushwick came together to carry this effort forward. What brought us together was our interest in the intersection of autonomy, internet equity, and mutual solidarity. Also guerrilla infrastructure, cables, and defying the limits of the city. Providing internet access was our driver. 

To get at-home internet in New York, there are a couple of commercial options, that are more or less available depending on your neighborhood. All of them, however, require proof of address, and a credit card, among other restrictive access barriers to get you connected. Across New York, NYC Mesh, an independent internet network has been circumventing these barriers since 2012.  The community-ran network is donation-based and focuses on education to empower our relationship with the internet.  It works as a mesh, so every connection expands the reach of the network to others. I learned about the mesh sometime in 2019 and organized our first Internet sessions at Mil Mundos Books - laying a bridge for what this project would evolve into.  

With the support of NYC Mesh organizers, we began by training ourselves and others on how to DIY a NYC Mesh install, learning about the different hardware and software components involved in forming a connection. As many of the families we were installing for are Spanish-speaking, we translated materials including documentation and support details, to address the language barrier that was still preventing access. Lastly, Mil Mundos En Común fundraised to cover the cost of the installs, ensuring that no one would be turned away for lack of funds. 

Installs involve identifying if a connection is possible, granted by visibility to another NYC Mesh major hub or node. Then, we have to get to the highest possible point near that household, typically the roof. Once up there, we configure two antennas, the Omni and Litebeam, and lay the CAT-5 cables that connect all the way indoors and into a router. My favorite part of installing is crimping the cables. Handling the order of the colors is like putting threads together in preparation for embroidery. Weaving was the highest form of theory for Aymara peoples (Sociologia de la imagen, Silvia Cusicanqui), and it was a practice for women. In the early days, so was the internet. I see these histories as I throw the cables down the side of the building, and intricately set up the color order to ensure they work. 

Internet Installs
Install in-progress. Laying the cable that connect the antennas to the router.
Install 007 - Install in Bushwick where we used a special device. 
Install 003 - Install pointing east in Bushwick. 

Internet trainings
Learning to link antennas at NYC Mesh and Internet Society Parkside Avenue Install training event October 19, 2019. 
Sorting colors of the CAT-5 cable. 
Aligning, and crimping cables. 
There is one commonly used standard for crimping ethernet: T-568B. (oO-gB-bG-brBR).

Internet Info-session 
Internet Session: NYC Mesh presentation at Mil Mundos Books, October 17, 2019.
Mind-map of the Internet, documentation from session on October 17, 2019. 
Mind-map of the mesh, documentation from session on October 17, 2019. 

Internet Book Pop-up
Graphic designed by Bethania Viana Sachelaridi (Co-director of Mil Mundos Books).
Side-walk book pop-up at Mil Mundos store front. 

Shared Imaginaries 

The borders of the internet are where its behavior changes. As a user, when you travel from one location to another, the internet experience changes. The differences might be minuscule, like a pop-up asking for consent regarding cookies (in Europe’s GDPR internet landscape), or you could lose access entirely. Other borders to the internet are those we reach in terms of our understanding. This system is so expensive, and complex that collectively we understand bits and pieces, but we have limits of comprehension around it. These vary from person to person, but what do those borders look like to different communities? Languages? Or places? If we put all of our internet knowledge together, where would we see gaps?  

Throughout the program, arts-based learning supported us in creating and revealing shared languages and imaginaries to think and act on the internet as an essential community infrastructure. The internet augments our potential, with access to information and connectivity, but it is also a military tool, predictive policing, and exclusively biased algorithms. All of these realities are sustained through physical infrastructures, and yet in most conversations, the Internet is an abstract and intangible network. Rather than talking about an abstract future, an imaginary worldwide web that only caters to the global north, we made the internet tangible by drawing, painting, and sculpting it. By making it tangible, we can begin to transform it.
Pushing back to ethereal, intangible representations of the Internet, in training sessions we grounded in the physical components to understand how the Internet gets into our lives. Play-like and real tools are leveraged to explore our thinking around connectivity, access, and function. Accompanied by NYC Mesh experts, nonsensical sculptures represent our in-progress understanding, and literature pushes us to broaden our limited purview of how technology, nature, and people, intersect materially in exchange. The resulting artifacts represent a body of collective work as cooperative re-definitions of the internet. The pieces created are displayed at the bookstore, as a work-in-progress exhibition, and as an invitation to engage with the program. 

Painted indoors and outdoors from direct observation, Aquacomms concludes with a personal series of drawings and paintings of the internet and cables as the connective tissue of the network. This series reveals my learnings and curiosities towards the network at large. Simulating family portraits intersecting and becoming-with other species, animalistic cables with discrete personalities cohabitate in a landscape of change and ambiental disruption. The internet, grounded in the material world, is presented as a living, breathing entity, completely entangled with all forms of living.  Where the internet lies, species are transformed, and where the community is organized, we can transform the internet. 

Collective Sessions 
Collective, Public Internet Sesions: Visualizing the Internet Together - on November 20, 2021 at Mil Mundos Books.
“Maps of the future of the Internet” 
“Maps of the future of the Internet”
“Maps of the future of the Internet” Documentation from November 20, 2021 at Mil Mundos Books.

Mapping the Internet
Mind-map of the internet for A/D/O Journal (2019)
Internet Studies
Cable Studies, 2019-2020

Cable Studies, 2019-2020

Cable under a tree, 2021

Cable Studies, 2021

Cable and Windows Studies, 2022

Aquacomms Painting Studies

Aquacomms (portrait of a species in transition / cyborg algae), 2022. Oil on canvas 56 x 64 in.
Aquacomms (spider web of intricate relationships), 2023. Acrylic on canvas, 31 x 50 in.
Aquacomms (contacto estrecho con cyber alga, Watch hill), 2021.
Aquacomms (blocked), 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 18.25 in.
Aquacomms (neurones/windows/channels, 1466), 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 18.25 in.
Aquacomms (entrañas [offline]), 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 19.75 in.
Aquacomms (entrañas [online]), 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 19.75 in

The work that began in Aquacomms, is an ongoing program, funded by Mil Mundos en Común, organized in coalition with BAM and NYC Mesh. The work included above, involves my personal participation, and reflections on art, activism, and social infrastructures. This project was collectively run and owned. The program was paused in 2022, as we had to evaluate how to run it sustainably. Today, through our documentation and translations, it is being re-activated through a larger network of volunteers from Mil Mundos En Común and NYC Mesh.
Main collaborators:
  • Maria H (Mil Mundos, BAM)
  • Daniel H  (NYC Mesh)
  • Eliseo (BAM)
  • Mohammad A.(NYC Mesh)
  • Julien C (NYC Mesh)
  • Marg S (NYC Mesh)

Related links:
How Community Groups are stepping up to address digital accessibility and learning among latinos in Williamsburg

ADO Journal - Internet Maps 
Mil Mundos en Común Wants to Bring Free Internet to Bushwick
donate & support
  • Race after Technology - Ruha Benjamin,
  • Networks of New York - Ingrid Burrington,
  • Interpreting the Internet, Feminist and Queer Counterpublics in Latin America - Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Design Justice,
  • Community-led practices to build the worlds we need - Sasha Constanza-Chock,
  • Cybernetic Revolutionaries, Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile - Eden Medina.