Dec 13, 2013
‘Mesh’ Your Way to a Safer Internet
Posted on Aug 22, 2013
Alternate Internet services that cost little and can protect against government surveillance are popping up in places where digital activists are building networks with rooftop Wi-Fi antennas.
Clive Thompson reports in Mother Jones:
The networks are made possible by what’s known as the “last mile”—connections between the computer in your home and the physical array of fiber optic Internet, telephone and TV cables that make up the backbone of the Internet. That’s where commercial Internet service providers come in, and where mesh pioneers create their own access.
Benefits of meshed networks are cultural as well as practical. “It changes attitudes,” Bonicioli says. “People start sharing a lot. They start getting to know someone next door—they find the same interests; they find someone to go out and talk with.” Furthermore, enclosed networks are virtually inaccessible to government snoopers. “When you run your own network,” Bonicioli explains, “nobody can shut it down.”
Some mesh networks are huge. The Spanish network Guifi is the world’s largest mesh, with more than 21,000 members. And they’re almost always cheap. In Kansas City, the Free Network Foundation is wiring neighborhoods where the average household income is $10,000 per year. “When people see the price they get from the mesh,” FNF cofounder Isaac Wilder says, “they’re like, ‘Ten bucks a month? Oh, shit, I’ll pay that!’”
Mesh networks promise digital solutions to political problems as well. Then-President Hosni Mubarak famously ordered state-controlled ISPs to shut down Egypt’s Internet for days. And in China, the “Great Firewall” prevents citizens from accessing pro-democracy sites. In countries where the authorities want to suppress political opposition, these networks offer a way for dissidents to communicate with one another.
Mesh Wi-Fi ranges are modest at present. Communication is mostly limited to within neighborhoods or cities, but there are means of extending reach, including high-floating balloons and mobile hot spots. The holy grail, of course, is creating a global network.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
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