J. R. Swab

Be Free Of Your ISP

Categories: [Technology]
Tags: [decentralization], [mesh networking], [ISP]

Mesh networking is the future for how we access content on the internet. What a mesh network does is take the gatekeepers out of the equation and allows anyone to hop on the network. This type of system is not new, but some people are taking this idea to the next level.

Instead of needing Comcast or another provider to allow you access to the internet you could hop on open wifi anywhere. This mixed with the Dat protocol and the Beaker browser could pave the way for a one hundred percent decentralized internet.

That tickles my nerd fancy.

While these networks exist today, we cannot yet be free of internet service providers. If you are on a mesh network that has no access to today's internet, you cannot do much of anything. While you can visit sites on the mesh network, they will not be any of the places you visit today. This is ok, and any nerd like me rarely cares about something like that as long as we can play with cool technology. The masses need Facebook, Twitter, and others like them to see any value.

This will take time and effort. Those of us that know decentralization will change the way the internet is built and used need to keep testing these ideas. We need to buy the devices that allow for mesh networking and set them up in our neighborhoods. Even if the only site we have is one explaining why all of this is important. If you are feeling generous, you can also tie in access to the traditional internet via your ISP so that the people can still read email and see the news.

With these networks being peer-to-peer it makes the internet freer, as in freedom. When we use an ISP, we almost always sign a contract full of rules no one reads. Since we are going through their gate, they have the power to kick us off the websites or to shut down our connection. This kind of thing is much more difficult on a mesh network since there is no one entry point. All nodes are the entry point.

Instead of a funnel, we get a flood.

I mentioned above that if we mix in the Dat protocol with a mesh network system, we can build an internet that is completely decentralized, peer-to-peer, and has freedom baked in. Imagine what our internet would be like if the world was made of thousands of city-based mesh networks all interconnected serving up websites built on the Dat protocol. The ability to silence a person online diminishes, and our free speech is more difficult to dampen. This is the internet I dream about, and it is now becoming a reality.

What is Mesh Networking?

A mesh network is a network topology in which each node relays data for the network. All mesh nodes cooperate in the distribution of data in the network. - infogalactic.com

A mesh network is a decentralization of the typical model. Today we connect to wifi, transmit our request to the router, the router then talks to your internet service provider. Everyone that pays Comcast has to go through their gate to view a website.

This begs to be abused, and we see that often happening in the news today. With a mesh network, there is no gatekeeper. If you are looking for a site on the mesh, your request gets bumped around until a node has the information you are looking for.

Since there is often several routes to the same content in a mesh network the chance of there not being a path is small. The only way to not get the information would be if the material were removed or the server hosting the content was offline. The bigger the mesh, the better! As more nodes join it to relay the traffic the more robust it becomes. If the original path breaks, the network will take you the next quickest way.

These types of networks can be both wired or wireless with the most common being wireless. The idea was pioneered by the military and now has reached the public sector. The cost of the equipment has gotten much cheaper over the years as is familiar with technology. Today there are devices made with the thirty-five dollar computer called the Raspberry Pi.

Catalonia has Guifi.net with over 30,000 nodes that are peer-to-peer and started when the big companies would not provide good broadband to the rural areas. Jalalabad Afghanistan has their own mesh network called FabFi which is open-source and citywide.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, Metamesh is a non-profit working to bring a free to use wireless mesh network in the city of Pittsburgh. They also create and sell devices so anyone can help strengthen the mesh.

Mesh networking is still new at this kind of scale, and most people do not understand it is an option for their city or town. Keep an eye on projects like Metamesh working to make mesh networking as comfortable as possible. It will take most of us to contribute by building or buying a device to talk to the mesh.

As we do, the network will become stronger and reach further. Even if you are the only one in your area with a node, you are at least there. All it will take is another person to learn and understand the potential for another node to appear. Then the mesh begins, and the process continues.

It is our job as the nerds to do the hard work if we want to see an internet better than we have. So let's get out there and use what we believe will save the internet.

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