As of June 2012, 2.4 billion people, 34.3% of humanity, are connected to the Internet. Spreading this access to every human being who wants it is one of the most important enabling factors in creating a truly advanced civilization. If current growth continues, this will happen around 2025. With universal Internet access, all the know-how of the human race will be at the fingertips of the individual, empowering them to make well-informed decisions on the things that are important to them. Specifically, Internet access enables —
- Online education of an extremely high quality
- Pandemic preparedness and well-organized disaster response. With wireless Internet, people on the ground in disaster zones can give an accurate, up-to-the-minute picture of where relief is needed.
- People can find out best practises for agriculture and get free seeds, so that they can grow as much food as they need.
- People can download designs for machines and electronic devices and then digitally fabricate them. This will allow just about anyone to make just about anything without reliance on the monetary economy.
- People have access to open design projects, and the projects themselves draw on a greater pool of intelligence. This accelerates software development, hardware development, scientific research and other areas.
- Telemedicine — people with Internet access can get accurate diagnostic information, they can remotely talk to a doctor, and can even undergo surgery via remote-controlled robots.
- Cultural enrichment — the individual now has access to most of the creative works of humanity: the great music, literature, and film of the world, as well as the emerging fast-paced internet culture.
Therefore, there is a clear need to create a free wireless Internet network that covers every inch of land.
The only way this is likely to happen is local fabrication. Fab labs have already been used to build web servers and wireless transmitters. A dual approach of spreading fabrication technologies to build many small wireless transmitters, and building extremely long-range wireless transmitters, would perhaps be best.
Free Internet access could be made available to all by networking wireless devices together to form a decentralized web, where packets of data automatically route themselves through a mesh of phones, laptops, and wireless transmitters. Every device simultaneously sends, receives and routes data.
Because such a network relies on no Internet Service Providers, it is free for the user. It cannot be disabled by authoritarian regimes, shut down by the failure of a hub, or eavesdropped on by malicious parties.
The current Internet structure has elements of a decentralized web, but open-source efforts to fully decentralize it are well underway. Decentralized mesh networks have already been implemented successfully in several local areas, such as Melbourne and New York.
Mesh networks are free and, as such, are of no commercial interest. All development therefore has been done by open source software and other not-for-profit groups, such as Netsukuku, afrimesh and many others. Chambana is one well-funded, well-organized group working on what these networks, which they call "device-as-infrastructure" networks. Their project, Commotion Wireless, will allow the creation of networks based on mobile devices. Once established, these networks can be accessed by anyone, even if they have not installed the software, and can use antennae to hop over long-distances.
Because of the shared nature of open-source software, only a single solution is needed; once one reliable open-source program or mesh networking is created, it can be replicated the world over for free. It is therefore quite likely that mesh networks will suddenly spread explosively.
It is possible to network phones and laptops together to create a decentralized web, but extra routers will add bandwidth and allow access in more sparsely populated areas. It is likely that the next generation of Internet access will be a combination of networked devices, long-range transmitters and other technologies. (If space launches become cheaper, will be an important part of the puzzle.)
Several projects are providing open-source hardware to allow people to create free, decentralized Internet networks. Green WiFi, for instance, is a set of open-source solar-powered wireless routers that can be left on rooftops and run autonomously off the grid, without the need to be connected to either a power supply or a cable. Fab-Fi is a set of open-source hardware designed by a Fab Lab in Afghanistan. It combines mesh networking and long-range transmitters. The MyOpenRouter project has completed several open-source designs for wireless routers.
- The Next Net, an essay by Douglas Rushkoff on decentralized Internet technologies
- A list of mesh network initiatives
In a society developed on these lines, the voluntary associations which already now begin to cover all the fields of human activity would take a still greater extension so as to substitute themselves for the state in all its functions. They would represent an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees, local, regional, national and international temporary or more or less permanent - for all possible purposes: production, consumption and exchange, communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defence of the territory, and so on; and, on the other side, for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and sociable needs. Moreover, such a society would represent nothing immutable. — Peter Kropotkin
Group action just got easier. In the context of our historical generation, this is the big deal. This isn't just a new way of broadcasting information. It isn't just a new way of having two-way conversations. It actually engages groups. In this medium freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are all now the same freedom. And that capability, the spread of that capability, is the big deal. — Clay Shirky
Here comes everybody! — James Joyce
Internet access is also a key enabling factor in the formation of spontaneous, Kropotkinesque, collaborative social groups, which some people have cleverly called 'adhocracies'. Spontaneous collaboration for mutual benefit has always been a part of mammalian politics. Until the Internet, though, these groups were not able to collaborate beyond a few miles, and were difficult to form. There was never a really effective way for people to find collaborators and form these groups. These spontaneous collaborative groups were therefore severely limited in what they could do. People could form co-ops to organize trade, to protect their neighbourhood from criminals, or certain other tasks, but these groups could not manufacture sophisticated technology, provide medical care with all the concomitant pharmaceuticals, devices and training, or do other tasks of high complexity. So these tasks had to be left to businesses and the state, entities that have scarcity inherent in their operation. This has historically been a significant cause of scarcity, but the Internet is changing the game, allowing adhocracies to perform more and more complex tasks. This wiki explores what could happen if this were extended (as suggested in the quote from Kropotkin above) to all human activities and needs.
That the invention of writing and the dawn of civilisation happened at the same time in ancient Sumeria was no coincidence. Writing allowed people to store and transfer information in a way had been impossible before, and this enabled larger and more complex social units than the tribes that had existed up until then. In exactly that way, the Internet enables faster, more focused communication, annihilates more time and space, and thus enables new social units. Specifically, it enables spontaneous cooperation across continents and oceans, to the mutual benefit of those involved. This is a new social structure that can help people solve their problems and empower them to sculpt their world.