The Personal Telco Project is a Portland-based all-volunteer non-profit that operates free wifi hotspots, accessible at numerous locations throughout Portland and nearby.
Personal Telco was originally conceived in the early 2000s as a wireless network for the city, which could operate independent of other networks (such as the internet) in addition to providing access to them. Portlanders participating in the network would connect directly to one another via wireless network connections, which would enable local file sharing, local web sites, etc. Internet access was one of many features that the network would provide.
As demand for Internet access grew, Personal Telco's focus shifted to providing internet access. They installed some large and high profile wifi nodes, notably Pioneer Square Park and one in North Portland that was funded by a $15,000 grant from Meyer Memorial Trust. In addition, they encourage others to share their home and business internet connections using the network name (wifi SSID) "www.personaltelco.net"; using this name consistently has established a recognizable brand name for Portlanders looking for free internet access. In some cases, Personal Telco will supply wireless equipment to people willing to volunteer their connections for this purpose.
During Personal Telco's time, similar projects have been attempted in Portland.
Former Commissioner Erik Sten drew national attention for his view that the Internet should be viewed as a public utility, like roads or the water system, rather than a mere business interest. attempted, in 1999, to block Comcast from offering Internet service in Portland without opening its lines to competition by other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) (as telephone companies offering high-speed Internet have always been required to do).
The City of Portland attempted a large-scale city wireless network, with corporate partner MetroFi; this project was a failure. More recently, Clear has started offering paid WiMax access in Portland.
Some Personal Telco nodes in public spaces are complemented with free computers from Free Geek.
For comparison, the city of Glasgow, Kentucky has offered inexpensive Internet connectivity as a public utility since the 1990s.