Who We Are

Table of Contents

  1. Our Mission
  2. Our Vision
  3. Our Values
  4. Our Team
  5. Our Board of Directors
  6. Research
    1. COVID-19 Notice
    2. Heinz Endowment Grant
  7. Partnerships

Our Mission

To bridge the Digital Divide in a meaningful and permanent way by building Community Wireless Networks in Pittsburgh and around the world.

In our own city of Pittsburgh, nearly 23% of people do not have Internet access. To live and work in today’s digital society, it is essential to have access to the Internet. Reliable Internet access is no longer a luxury – it is a necessity and a right.

To bridge the Digital Divide we need to achieve three main goals:

  1. Build the United States’ first and largest community-owned WiFi network. By building an exemplary network here in Pittsburgh, we can show others around the United States (and the world) that they too can build and own their own Internet distribution networks without paying exorbitant fees. Check out a side-by-side comparison of our mesh/WISP WiFi model next to incumbent ISPs’ approach to WiFi.
  2. Build the United States’ best community-owned WiFi network. What good is a huge network if it doesn’t work well or if it doesn’t benefit the local community? We strive to build a fast, reliable, and expansive network to get Internet access to as many people as possible. In addition to Internet access, a local “intranet” can host websites and services that enable communication even if the greater Internet goes down. The Meta Mesh Network can support community message boards, local chat programs, ebook libraries, and emergency notification systems. Meta Mesh is developing open-source resources to improve these mesh-specific benefits.
  3. Be an example and a resource to others. This means sharing our knowledge and engaging those who need to build their own WiFi network. Meta Mesh is dedicated to creating high-quality educational and administrative resources that can be used freely by anyone, anywhere in order to build networks like ours. You can also view some of our classes at www.youtube.com/metameshwc.

For more on Meta Mesh Wireless Communities, check out our 2020 Organizational Fact-sheet.

Our Vision

A Pittsburgh where everyone has affordable and reliable access to the Internet.

Our Values

  • Inclusion – We support people in underserved communities by addressing the critical need for affordable Internet access. We also created a glossary of terms to translate “tech talk” into concepts that everyone can understand.
  • Transparency – We ensure the public can view our progress and see metrics of our success on our live map.
  • Stewardship – We organize existing neighborhood resources to maintain and monitor good connectivity for the public benefit.
  • Equity – We embody equal opportunity through a not-for-profit model that requires low up-front investment from communities and low monthly fees for individual households. The income from these costs goes directly back into the operations of our organization to maintain and expand the network.
  • Sustainability – We develop and install a complete Internet connectivity solution for our neighbors’ needs. We gather grant funds for the initial build-out, and then we assist neighborhoods in creating sustainable community oriented methods for covering any maintenance costs that arise after installation.
  • Empowerment – We share our knowledge by creating high-quality educational and administrative resources that can be used freely by anyone, anywhere in order to build their own WiFi network.

Our Team

Adam Longwill – Executive Director

Portrait of Adam Longwill

Adam was born in Pittsburgh, went to Woodland Hills, and studied Industrial Design at Philadelphia University before transferring and earning an English degree from Goucher College. He spent a semester at UMBC studying Human-Centered Computing before looking at this bank account and promptly fainting. When he came to, Adam was back in Pittsburgh working in IT. He founded Meta Mesh in 2012. He believes access to information is essential to having a more equal society and the best way to disseminate information is through community-owned infrastructure that is resilient and expandable.

Becky Zajdel – Director of Outreach

Portrait of Becky Zajdel

Becky is a “citizen of the world,” born and raised in North Braddock before graduating from Penn Hills High School. She then headed to Juniata College for her double BA in International Politics and History. After a few years bouncing back and forth between the US and Central Europe as a Political Science PhD candidate and teaching fellow at Pitt, she left to work for an international law firm before joining Pittsburgh’s growing startup scene. Becky is happy to be part of the Meta Mesh team and loves working with the lovely people at WorkHardPGH in Allentown! She is passionate about foreign languages, comic books, good wine, and British television.

Sam Garfinkel – Development Coordinator

Portrait of Sam Garfinkel

Sam is a Pittsburgh-native who grew up in Fox Chapel. She attended DePaul University in Chicago for undergrad, majoring in English and minoring in Studio Art. After her stint in the Windy City, she moved back to The Burgh and worked for Contemporary Craft, a local nonprofit museum, as well as for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute as a Grants Administrator. She then went back to school and completed an MA in Rhetoric from Carnegie Mellon University. Sam is very happy to be back in the nonprofit community as a team member of Meta Mesh! Sam lives in Highland Park with her partner and their baby (who is a cat named Baby). In her spare time, Sam is a printmaker and an amateur non-fiction writer.

Rania Abdulnour – Organizational Contributor

Portrait of Rania Abdulnour

Rania is our team’s Organizational Coordinator. Part of the focus in this role is to complete organizational and management tasks that support the efforts of variety of projects, campaigns or events. With focus on establishing and maintaining a set of sound procedures, standards and tools which are consistent with MMWC policy and practice.

Jacob Driggs – Network and Systems Designer

Portrait of Jacob Driggs

Jacob, a life-long tinkerer, graduated from Fox Chapel Area High School where he first honed his interest in server administration, and network design. He then attended Penn State University where he focused his attention on the Industrial Organizational work of Psychology. After graduating and spending some time in the real world, he started his own business marrying his skills in the IT world with his I/O psychology experience, acting as an IT Consultant for small businesses and non-profits. He became interested in the potential of wireless networking technology and built some long distance Point-to-Multipoint systems before being introduced to Meta Mesh. He’s excited to continue doing impactful work with like-minded folks!

Justin Goetz – System Administrator

Portrait of Justin Goetz

Justin Goetz grew up in the neighborhood of Brookline in Pittsburgh. Since a kid he’s enjoyed all things tech. His current skill set focuses on Linux System Administration and Network Administration, with 4 years of real-world hands on experience. Justin maintains all Meta Mesh server infrastructure as well as assists in keeping a 100+ node network functioning.

Our Board of Directors

Colin Dean – President

Portrait of Colin Dean

Colin hails from the great northern Greater Pittsburgh area, with Bachelors and Masters degrees in Computer Science and Education from Westminster College and Robert Morris University, respectively. He’s run businesses and non-profits since he was 14 and has been involved with Meta Mesh since its humble beginnings as just an interest group meeting at Hofbraühaus. He is deeply involved with the developer community in Pittsburgh, Code & Supply, and has organized more than five major developer conferences in Pittsburgh.

Ashley Corts – Vice President

Portrait of Ashley Corts

A resident of the Allentown neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Ashley is also the co-owner of Black Forge Coffee House on Arlington Avenue. She is a dedicated fixture in the Allentown business community and is dedicated to improving her hilltop neighborhood. The Blackforge Coffee House is one of the many locations where guests can jump on the Pittmesh wireless network and is home to both indoor and outdoor wireless routers.

Knowledge Build Hudson – Board Member

Portrait of Knowledge Build Hudson

As a full time entrepreneur, Knowledge Build A. Hudson utilizes on the ground and social media strategies to reach, engage, and connect people to opportunities. Knowledge has a strong background in planning, coordinating, and facilitating campaigns. He also has a comprehensive experience in recruitment and managing projects. In his free time he enjoys traveling, learning, and teaching. Knowledge Build-Hudson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing on child development and comparative cultures.

Sascha Meinrath – Board Member

Portrait of Sascha Meinrath

Sascha is an Internet freedom activist who holds the Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University. He is the founder of X-Lab, a future-focused technology policy and innovation think tank, and promotes the “Internet in a Suitcase” effort to create ad hoc mesh wireless technologies. Meinrath founded the Open Technology Institute in 2008 and directed the Institute while also serving as Vice President of the New America Foundation. He is also the co-founder and executive director of the CUWiN Foundation, a non-profit launched in 2000 that aims to develop “decentralized, community-owned networks that foster democratic cultures and local content,” and in 2007 founded the Open Source Wireless Coalition, “a global partnership of open source wireless integrators, researchers, implementors and companies dedicated to the development of open source, interoperable, low-cost wireless network technologies.”

Research

COVID-19 Notice

Given that our most recent report on the scope of Digital Divide was conducted in 2018, we know that these metrics do NOT reflect the growing number of individuals who need WiFi because of hardships caused by COVID-19. Due to reduced hours, layoffs, and whole industry shutdowns, we must assume that there are more people who cannot afford residential Internet access in Pittsburgh. We must also consider those who do have Internet access from telecom giants, but the bandwidth of discount packages often does not support multi-device functions. For example, a parent who has to work remotely cannot do so while their child is video-conferencing into online classes on some providers’ lowest “broadband” tier of access.

While an updated statistic of residents without WiFi has yet to be determined, we are currently working with an increasing number of community partners to serve remote workers, online students, and families in need.

Heinz Endowment Grant

In May of 2018, The Heinz Endowments awarded Meta Mesh a $15,000 grant in order to survey and analyze “home Internet access and a sustainable approach to public WiFi in three under-served Pittsburgh communities.” We chose to execute our project in Hazelwood, Homewood and the Hill District not only because as low-income neighborhoods they demonstrated need, but also because they are “target neighborhoods” where Heinz also focuses its efforts.

We had two general objectives for these three areas:

  1. Research: to gather our own survey data regarding Internet use and more specifically, broadband exclusion.
  2. Operational: to plan logistics, including the placement and location of access points, to provide a minimum viable WiFi network suitable for public use.
  3. We completed more than 900 surveys and several in-depth interviews, all of which were conducted door-to-door by Meta Mesh employees throughout eight months.
  4. Our cursory conclusions include:
    1. A majority of residents in all low-income neighborhoods rely on smartphones to access the Internet. However, this method of accessing the Internet does not qualify as having home broadband and creates severe limitations to what can be accomplished and greatly increases the time it takes to accomplish tasks.
    2. Broadband Internet access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not a consequence of it; and the people in low-income communities know this. Whether or not families work with public or private Internet support systems, they still suffer from skill gaps, and “taxes” on their time and privacy.
    3. Price is merely one element shaping the delicate balance of including home broadband into the monthly budget. ISP (Internet Service Provider) pricing issues go beyond the obvious challenge of steep monthly fees. Upfront hardware costs, billing transparency, the inability to assess the quality of service, and general service availability are major issues for low-income communities.
    4. Public organizations that offer free public WiFi such as libraries, community centers, and parks often fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand. Libraries and community centers also provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under social and government pressure to meet community connectivity needs, and yet their public funding levels are at an all-time low. This is why the efforts of Meta Mesh are so important: libraries and community centers have hours of operation and long waits for a turn at a public computer. Public WiFi can be accessed at all hours of the day.

The full report titled Home Internet Access and A Sustainable Approach to Public WiFi in Three Underserved Pittsburgh Communities is available for your consideration.

Partnerships

In May of 2020, Meta Mesh partnered with Carnegie Mellon University’s Sustaining Equitable Education Network (SEEN). SEEN is “focused on first helping high-need K-12 schools make a successful transition to remote learning through emergency relief, and then continuing partnerships with those schools and communities to invest in equitable new educational systems post-COVID-19”.

Through this partnership, Meta Mesh and SEEN have secured an invaluable opportunity: to mount four HD PtMP sector antennas on the top of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. This high point location will allow us to broadcast The Meta Mesh Network across farther distances, reaching Pittsburgh areas that we could have reached not before. The Cathedral is our gateway to the internet provided by KINBER, and will act as our “hub,” beaming direct connection to and from each of our towers.

Thanks to this integral development, we are currently working to get Internet access to the areas of New Kensington-Arnold School District, Cornell School District, and Homewood. More information on the procedures and equipment used for these projects is available on the tech resources page.

We are honored by the number of interested parties who contacted us about setting up their own projects with Meta Mesh. Please reach out if you are interested in what we do and want to explore options for connecting your area. New partnerships will be announced on this page.