The Bay Area Wireless Users Group, or BAWUG for short, is a group of assorted geeks
dedicated not just to setting up and publicizing open 802.11
network access points, but planning for their long-term implications. Leaders and hangers-on of the group include veterans of the local tech industry and longtime fixtures of the Berkeley
movement. The BAWUG web page lists access points throughout the Bay Area
, along with the type of access they provide and the SSIDs
Co-chief Tim Pozar started to become a media figure when he hung a repeater up on the roof of his home high up in the Twin Peaks neighborhood of SF, and put up a web page inviting the (local) world to aim antennas at it. More recently, he was quoted in the San Francisco Bay Guardian not long ago about his vision for a "neighborhood network," independent of the actual Internet, that would serve San Francisco communities without charge and connect them with one another, not necessarily (just) the Web.
Such dreams are indeed possible, and members of BAWUG are probably already writing code meant to operate independently of TCP/IP altogether and connect WiFi-enabled computers to one another without benefit of a base connection to the Internet. The more mundane dream of free Internet access may have a more limited life, however; AOL-TW has already accused customers of its cable modem service who operate open access points of violating its service agreement. It's easy to imagine things escalating to the point where ISPs advertise the trucks they drive around, searching for open relays and sending black-suited agents to pound on their doors. (Possibly not so far-fetched if you live in the UK.)
A lot of BAWUG's style and rhetoric reminds one of the spirit of the early nineties, when the Internet was underground and visionaries predicted free, world-changing access for all. Since then, peer-to-peer has contributed ideas as well as substance to some of the revolutionary rap. During an economic ebb tide, the appeal of advertising the open wireless access point you built (or found) is obvious. Who knows, maybe this time the hoi polloi will get behind it.
More info and links at the predictable www.bawug.org.