Meshnet: A Decentralized Internet Solution

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Meshnets are a way to decentralize Internet control and put it in the hands of the people. Here’s Detroit’s handle on this and where meshnet is going.

Centralized structures of power are how most people have organized themselves since the rise of the first city-states.

Before the Enlightenment period, it was widely held that authority came down from the divines to an emperor and so on through a feudalistic hierarchy. Egyptian pharaohs embodied the Sun God Ra as his avatar here on earth.

Heredity of rulership passed through blood alone, at least until tragedy struck the head family and a new clan took its place. To maintain the paradigm, the families would, of course, claim themselves as the true descendants of whoever the first ruling body was.

As long as the priesthood did not object, not much trouble would come of it.

While most civilizations that are remembered today practiced something akin to totalitarian control over its subjects, there were outliers of a drastically smaller size which popped up here and there throughout time.

Athens had direct democracy for a time where every free Athenian male could vote on policy. The Roman Republic lasted for a little under 500 years. Now, these and other systems were subject to corruption, but the effort and legacy left are important.

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Today we have multiple institutions adapted to exploit and expand. Internet Service Providers are such institutions and follow a centralized leadership scheme.

Their power structure is reflected in their connection apparatus in which bandwidth flows from a single source downward to their customers’ modems and routers.

How Meshnet Changes The Game

The primary attribute which separates a meshnet from a traditional ISP is that a meshnet is a completely wireless network of local computers that make use of decent-sized Wi-Fi antennae to transmit information.

ISPs make limited use of Wi-Fi, but rely on wired connections for the bulk of their Internet access. When something interferes with a wire, a connection is completely lost.

Meshnet works through the mass deployment of Wi-Fi antennae throughout an area and connecting them to each other to form the network. Let’s suppose there are 32 antennae across an area.

When a user connects to meshnet Antenna number 14, the user receives Internet access. Let’s say lightning strikes Antenna 14, blowing up a good chunk of the block it’s located at. Also, let’s say some debris catches wind and knock out Antennae 18, 12, and 15.

Since all the antennae are connected together under the umbrella of the meshnet, the user automatically connects to Antenna 21 and continues to receive Internet access.

With this, the user doesn’t have to worry about the chaos happening all around him because he still gets to stay up late and read articles on the web like this one.

Well, that’s not exactly 100% true. Meshnet setups still require at least one node to be wired to the Internet. If Antenna 11 is the only node with Internet access and gets hit by a stray seagull that was traveling at Mach 2, Internet access will not work.

There is still good news, though. The local network itself still communicates with all the nodes inside itself.

For instance, let’s say User A needs to chat with User B and they both have devices that connect to the network.

Even if the Internet itself shuts off, the most massive DDOS in history perpetrated by Lizard Squad that just kills the entire Internet, the bandwidth produced by the Wi-Fi antennae is still being produced and channeled properly. As long as this is the case, User A can message User B across the local meshnet network.

Detroit’s Unusual Position

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Centralized structures of power are how most people have organized themselves since the rise of the first city-states.

Detroit was once the automobile industry capital of the world. When jobs started declining for overseas outsourced solutions, investment dried up and it left the city in shambles.

While there have been recovery efforts, there is still a long way to go for Detroit to reclaim its former glory. Notably, there is a sizable portion of the inhabitants that lack Internet access at their homes.

Dark fiber still exists underground buried in Detroit infrastructure. It was installed long ago but never made use of until now. Detroit Community Technology Project and others like them help set up the foundation for meshnet technology to cover areas that mainstream ISPs have forgotten about.

As decentralized technology like this spreads from the ground up, more challenges to massive concentrations of power will multiply. Similar projects such such as have been implemented in the past.

Numerous connections increase resilience and open-source software increases security. These are just facts.

Incentives for Change

Many people fear change. Upending the status quo can be a painful experience full of risk and danger.

Yet if the reward is tempting enough and there is no threat of immediate physical destruction, a few early adopters just might take a chance.

Althea is a company that wants to compete with the big-name ISPs through the use of meshnet technology, cryptocurrrency, and smart contracts. Their testing is already underway and it’s set up like this:

  1. A user loads their device with blockchain tokens to pay for access to the Internet.
  2. Multiple rooftop antennae transmit information back and forth, thus creating the meshnet. They earn blockchain tokens and compete with each other for the best service.
  3. Local uplinks provide the door to proper Internet use. These also earn tokens in competition with other uplinks in the area.

You can read their white paper here.

In theory, this should not only help to break up the stagnant monopolies that drag down innovation, but also provide a more secure and neutral way to the world wide web. VPN tunnels included.

First Steps

Detroit is not the only city to take Internet decentralization into its own hands. Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and many others not on the east coast but around the world are coming forward and opening their doors to meshnet ideas and practices.

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