The BoingBoingers are running at top speed trying to bring light, or more accurately TCP/IP data access, to the darkness of refugees fleeing New Orleans. Now, much as I respect the BB team and the brilliance of Cory Doctorow, this is not terribly smart. There is already an outfit that specialises in bringing communications technology to the victims of natural disaster, war, and comparable apocalyptic horsemen. Not many people know about it, and so it deserves some buzz.
The people I'm on about are Telecoms Sans Frontieres, TSF, an organisation of volunteer techies modelled on MSF, RSF and such, who can be found on the internet right here. International HQ is at Pau in southwestern France. Their skills and equipment include the gamut from setting up and repairing GSM cellular networks, operating satellite access and also satellite backhaul systems, right down to in-extremis HF radio. They even have their own comsats, four birds one of which is currently on the Equator pretty much due south of NO. Another advantage of theirs are their partnerships with industry majors - Vodafone, Alcatel, France Telecom, Cable & Wireless, Inmarsat, SFR and AT&T.
Now, there's no mention of Katrina on their site, but a colleague spoke to them an hour ago and they are indeed on their way with satellite and cellular equipment. Their team in Nicaragua, which was helping with recovery from an earlier hurricane, is moving there, as is another party from France. Rather than reinventing the wheel and helping to add to the inevitable feeding frenzy of uncoordinated activity and duplication, why not send TSF money or, if you like, kit? Or - if you have the skills - get in touch with them. It's not that one lot of geeks are better than another, to paraphrase Lloyd George, but that one chief geek is better than two.
You can donate here.