Posted by: Greg Miller
November 4, 2014
The internet to is way more centralized than anyone realizes. The US government and Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has temerous sway and power over the internet. With increased regulations, the infrastructure that supports the internet is increasingly monopolistic. Geeks used to set up ISPs as a hobby, and way to get a little extra income.
The internet as a result is more controlled than ever. Though, there is still bastions of freedom to be found on the internet, they are a rare breed, and on the threat of extinction. Many plans, and organizations have popped up to create a new decentralized internet that would be more resistant to censorship, or central control in any case.
Mesh networks is what many people are looking at as the solution. Mesh networks is a is a group of nodes connected and each node in the network relays data. All nodes cooperate in the distribution of data in the network. Mesh networks act in a decentralized nature, which is currently allows pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong stay connected with each other and the world. The protesters are using an app called, FireChat on their phones. This app developed by OpenGarden, communicates with other phones through bluetooth, instead of cell networks or wifi. The Hong Kong protesters have still been able to communicate, propagandize the mainland Chinese, and organize through the incredibly subversive app, despite the Chinese government shutting off wifi and cell networks.
Each person connecting to the mesh network helps relay information, allowing the network to be stronger and reach farther. This is being demonstrated in Hong Kong right now. There is a couple of cases of cities deploying city wide mesh networks, but these have been for firemen and police, exclusively.
The decentralized and shared computing aspects of mesh network, they very powerful. Like bitcoin, if one node goes down, there are 10 more to take its place. If a mesh network got set up that was for more than simple messaging, and could hold sites like marketplaces, it would be unstoppable.
Free The Network!
In another example of decentralized internets subversive political powers, VICE followed Isaac Wilder, co-founder of Free Network Foundation, as he reclaimed his “Freedom Towers” that were confiscated by the NYPD. Freedom Towers are 9 feet tall radio towers that serve as a wifi hotspot. Isaac set up several of these during the early days of Occupy Wall Street. All of these towers participated in a mesh network. They gave internet access to all the protestors which allowed them to keep the world informed about their activities, and better organize.
ProjectMeshnet.org is an organization focused on building a sustainable, decentralized, alternative internet. The project is key priority is promoting and supporting the set up of MeshLocals. MeshLocals are community based mesh networks that run with Cjdns and hope to be a part of Hyperboria. Currently, MeshLocals connect to each other over the internet, but that will change as the project grows.
While the site seems to be poorly updates, the wiki starved of decent information – their subreddits are very active. /r/darknetplan, /r/hyperboria, /r/Hocnet are all very active with most of the members running their own nodes in MeshLocal set ups around the country.
The most important factor, and the reason for many of people working towards a mesh networked future, is that mesh networks are more resistant to political oppression and sabotage. The NSA would have a much harder time spying on people. Their grand sweeping spying efforts, that targets people indiscriminately, would be impossible on a decentralized, peer to peer mesh network.
While it would be possible to hack individual nodes, it would be much harder, and a lot more work to reach the same captivity they currently have. They wouldn’t be able to the bend the arms of the companies with the law, as they did to Yahoo, and gain access to everyone’s personal information.
Where Are The Mesh Networks?
FireChat is probably the most used and important mesh network that there has ever been, but besides that most mesh network (excluding government mesh networks) have been idealists hobbyists. FireChat has a very skilled company behind it, the founder of it created BitTorrent, but most of mesh networks have been rag tag collections of euthists.
There hasn’t been too many incentives for people to be interested in mesh networks. Most people don’t care about their privacy as much as libertarians, or people of the deep web community. That is starting to change in some ways, but is still a small concern for the general public. Companies, such as OpenGarden, as well as many cellphone designers are starting to look into mesh networks. There could many more applications could result from that.
MeshLocal is a great idea, but many people don’t have the knowledge or money to do it themselves. It is a tough world financially, and even people who want to run one, don’t have the time because they need to work to pay bills. One of the reasons why bitcoin was so successful is because you could make money from it! There might be a way to use bitcoin, or an altcoin to incentivise running nodes in a mesh network, like the TorCoin project, but until then it remain a possibility, rather than a reality.