Source: wired.com. It is becoming more and more obvious that we need a more resilient internet. As Douglas Rushkoff pointed out a few years ago now (he is generally ahead of the curve): “The moment the “net neutrality” debate began was the moment the net neutrality debate was lost. For once the fate of a network – its fairness, its rule set, its capacity for social or economic reformation – is in the hands of policymakers and the corporations funding them – that network loses its power to effect change. The mere fact that lawmakers and lobbyists now control the future of the net should be enough to turn us elsewhere.”
Perhaps rather than relying on policymakers and corporations to ‘do the right thing’, we should push on ourselves with building a more resilient internet, a network which stays truer to the intentions of the originators of the internet, one which ‘routes around censorship’ and is built with net neutrality as its very foundation. And above all, one where the infrastructure itself is in the hands of the people.
In this article Primavera De Filippi concisely sets out the reasons why we need to seriously consider putting mesh networks at the heart of our strategy for an internet that can truly serve everyone.
The internet is weak, yet we keep ignoring this fact. So we see the same thing over and over again, whether it’s because of natural disasters like hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, wars like Syria and Bosnia, deliberate attempts by the government to shut down the internet (most recently in Egypt and Iran), or NSA surveillance.
After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last month, several towns were cut off from humanitarian relief because delivering that aid depends on having a reliable communication network. In a country where over 90 percent of the population has access to mobile phones, the implementation of an emergency “mesh” network could have saved lives.
Compared to the “normal” internet — which is based on a few centralized access points or internet service providers (ISPs) — mesh networks have many benefits, from architectural to political. Yet they haven’t really taken off, even though they have been around for some time. I believe it’s time to reconsider their potential, and make mesh networking a reality. Not just because of its obvious benefits, but also because it provides an internet-native model for building community and governance.
But first, the basics: An ad hoc network infrastructure that can be set up by anyone, mesh networks wirelessly connect computers and devices directly to each other without passing through any central authority or centralized organization (like a phone company or an ISP). They can automatically reconfigure themselves according to the availability and proximity of bandwidth, storage, and so on; this is what makes them resistant to disaster and other interference. Dynamic connections between nodes enable packets to use multiple routes to travel through the network, which makes these networks more robust.
Compared to more centralized network architectures, the only way to shut down a mesh network is to shut down every single node in the network.
That’s the vital feature, and what makes it stronger in some ways than the regular internet.
But mesh networks aren’t just for political upheavals or natural disasters. Many have been installed as part of humanitarian programs, aimed at helping poor neighborhoods and underserved areas. For people who can’t afford to pay for an internet connection, or don’t have access to a proper communications infrastructure, mesh networks provide the basic infrastructure for connectivity.