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Tuesday, October 8 • 11:45am - 12:30pm
Information Infrastructures

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Information Infrastructures

Paper Titles and Abstracts

Jen Liu: Internet of Dirt: Maintaining Agricultural IoT Systems

In recent years, Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructures have expanded into the field of agriculture. Some of the applications for IoT in this context includes precision agriculture, livestock monitoring, and smart greenhouses. While these systems are designed in specific ways to fit their environment, they may degrade and fail in unexpected ways that require replacement and repair. In this presentation, I will present initial research on the maintenance of IoT infrastructures in the context of farms in the upstate New York region. This research includes examining the interactions between farmers, technicians, IoT infrastructures, and the environment as a way to understand how these systems are maintained across different field sites in rural and agricultural contexts. The findings from this research identifies mismatches between practices at the field sites and current design directions of IoT infrastructures as a way to question the development of IoT systems for agriculture at local, regional, and global scales.

Rory Solomon: Unpacking a Mesh Install Kit: An Object Lesson in Community Network Maintenance

Since the FCC repeal of net neutrality policy in the November 2017, there has been a surge of interest across the United States in community networks, projects in which frustrated customers and citizens come together in various formations to find ways of provisioning internet for themselves. Such projects typically develop using mesh networks: a class of communications infrastructure unfolded through direct, physical, peer-to-peer links, championed for their localism, resiliency, and ability to circumvent the control of an authoritarian regime or unpopular corporate service provider. For the past two years I have conducted ethnographic fieldwork following a group of technology activists working to build an urban community mesh network in a large northeastern metropolis. Through participant observation I have attended meetings, debated project goals and guidelines, and climbed rooftops throughout the city to install and maintain the antennae that comprise this city-wide wireless network. The network spreads when interested individuals make a join request, prompting a visit to their home by volunteers who provide long range WiFi hardware, and connect it to a nearby node. During these visits, complicated social epistemologies are negotiated by which volunteers attempt to articulate the project not as a commercial commodity, but rather as a commons, the care for which all members own a shared responsibility. Distributing this labor has become a crucial concern as the resource demands of maintenance have recently surpassed those of new installations. With this talk I unpack the install kit of a typical project volunteer. Heavy spools of ethernet cable, an electric drill purchased oneself, a WiFi router paid for from project funds, a wiring kit gifted from the project founder after one’s third install, and a cart to carry it all across town: together these and other objects illustrate interwoven dynamics of voluntarism, informal policy, public/private partnerships, collective affect, and camaraderie that go in to sustaining this community infrastructure.

Daniel Greene: Turnkey Internet: Commercial Real Estate and the Maintenance of Information Infrastructure

At the physical core of the newest sectors of the economy is one of the oldest: The noble landlord. This paper maps the real estate market for globe-spanning, critical internet infrastructure: Tier 1 backbone, Internet Exchange Points, carrier hotels, and data centers. Particularly in the US, the firms building and managing this core infrastructure are not organized as traditional ‘tech’ companies, much less as utilities or nonprofits. Rather they are real estate investment trusts (REITs) backed by private equity and in search of the ideal locations on which they can grow their facilities and solicit business from major purveyors of internet traffic (e.g., telecommunications) and major content providers (e.g., the search and social media giants, but also large firms in finance and health). They see their mission--as a recent IRS ruling confirmed--as leasing a particular kind of space for a very specific class of tenants. Their competition is not Microsoft or Facebook, but other REITs who specialize in other sorts of spaces--whether that’s storage units or malls. Following the privatization of the NSFNET backbone, the firms I call ‘internet landlords’ cemented a new model of rentiership into the most important physical infrastructure of the information economy. These enigmatic figures often started their careers in commercial real estate (e.g., malls, offices), and took that business model onto the internet. Today, their renting decisions undergird the transmission, internetworking, and storage of everything from Netflix binges to medical records. In both urban and rural settings, this dynamic reshapes the physical and economic landscape of the industrial era, and traps internet infrastructure in feedback loops that jeopardize secure communications, universal service, and safe neighborhoods.

Tuesday October 8, 2019 11:45am - 12:30pm EDT
4ABC (2nd Floor)