This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the September 2005 issue of Popular Science magazine and involves outdated technologies and services. For current advice, check our regularly updated story about where to find free WiFi.

When Tony Guagliardo moved to Manhattan’s East Fourth Street, he didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood. Then one day, while trying to get wireless Internet in his apartment, he noticed an open WiFi network named Neighbornode. He chose it, launched his browser, and a message board popped up welcoming him to the Fourth Street Avenue B Node. The network had been set up by a local resident who wanted to share his Internet connection. Soon, Tony’s neighbors were using it to discuss local restaurants, a community art project, and even the block’s homeless guy, Eddie.

  • Dept: Tech Lesson
  • Tech: community Internet
  • Cost: $60 plus monthly cost of internet access
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: practical | | | | | popcorn (Editor’s note: 2/5)

The Fourth Street hotspot is part of a communal wireless project called Neighbornode, started by then New York University grad student John Geraci as a way to add a community-building aspect to the common practice of using a neighbor’s WiFi network to get online. Anyone with a broadband connection can start a Neighbornode. When someone uses the node to access the web, he is first directed to a home page with a message board, classified section and photo page to help locals recognize one another. (You can use a second router to maintain a private and secure WiFi network for your home.) New York City currently has 18 such hotspots, and eight other nodes have appeared in such remote areas as Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Launch a node in your ‘hood with the steps below.

Make your own Neighbornode

Some ISPs consider sharing your internet connection to be a violation of your terms of service, so give yours a call before setting up a community hotspot. Also, typical WiFi range is about 150 feet, so if you have a big block, consider using an external antenna, such as those available from RadioLabs (from $100) to boost your signal up to 300 feet. Or check out to build your own.

1. Purchase a Linksys WRT54G or WRT54GS Wireless Broadband Router (around $60 in most stores), and set it up according to the Linksys instructions.

2. Email to request the special Neighbornode firmware.

3. Access your router setup by typing into the address line of your browser (leave the username blank and type admin for the password).

4. Navigate to the Administration tab and click Upgrade Firmware. Browse to the location where you saved the Neighbornode firmware, and click Upgrade.

5. Connect to the network and configure the Neighbornode as prompted. Now let your neighbors know it’s there!