From The Commons
So, what does the FNF actually do?
- Right now, our main focus is gearing up for the deployment of a demonstration and community laboratory computer network in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Planning is well underway, and we aim to deploy key elements this spring and summer. In the past, we supported Occupy encampments around the world with technologies that helped them communicate in a cooperative, consensus-driven way, even under extremely hostile conditions. In general, we design, implement, deploy and talk about all sorts of network tech that can be used to build freer networks.
What has the FNF been up to since the days of Occupy Wall Street?
- We've put hundreds of hours into building what we call “FreedomCenter” In essence, it's a solution for enterprise data ownership/digital self-determination. Most development project would just use IaaS/cloud tools, but we think that, in the long run, we'll be much better served by the flexibility and security of running our own systems. FreedomCenter powers our web properties, but more importantly, it powers our lab, which offers a continuous build, integration, and radio runtime testing environment. The idea is to ultimately offer this infrastructure to the wider world of network hackers. We're opening it now to a few trusted parties, but we don't think it will be ready for the general hacker public until the spring.
What are all these “Freedom” projects, like FreedomLink, FreedomTower, and FreedomNode?
- FreedomLink and FreedomTower are network appliances. FreedomLink is designed to anchor a regional network coop, and FreedomTower to anchor a neighborhood one. The regional network would be made up of neighborhood networks, linked together. Mostly, these projects consist of the integration of existing tools into a tested and turnkey suite. The other project of note is the FreedomNode, which would anchor a home/business/building network. One of the key ideas of the whole project is that we can implement transparent crypto on the node, so that all traffic is encrypted end-to-end.
What’s so wrong with today’s network?
- Don’t get us wrong – we love the Internet. That’s why we don’t want to see it taken over by profit-motivated corporate interests. The Internet is more than just the web – despite what the web giants would have you believe. Every day, more and more people use facilities that they don’t own to store their data in repositories they don’t control. We see a better way: we’d like to see folks maintain ownership of their data, and use cooperatively owned and run infrastructure to share with whomever they wish.
Isn’t what you’re talking about illegal?
- Not in the least! Networks that are owned by their users are subject to the same rules and regulations as networks that are owned by for-profit operators. The laws regarding data networks, radio transmission, and privacy can be fairly opaque at times, and so the FNF sees public education on relevant jurisprudence as part of its core mission.
How are you funded?
- Between June 2011 and December 31st, 2012, the FNF took in a total of $24,394.72, and spent a total of $18,987.71.
- A large share of the FNF's income came from a $10,000 award at the Contact Conference, a summit on using technology for social change, in October 2011, and from a $5,000 grant in October 2102 from the Jerry Greenfield and Elizabeth Skarie Foundation. The remainder was made up of individual donations, many from monthly contributors.
- We have been supported in-kind by the Sarapis Foundation, lghtsrc.org, and the New York City General Assembly. We’re now working on building a membership-base that will allow us to continue our work long-term – you can join by going here.
- A complete account of the FNF's financial data may be found on the Commons.
What would my contribution go towards?
- At this point, our main operational expenditure is the cost of colocation for our servers. We pay about $424 each month. At present, the FNF is all-volunteer. We’d love to be able to pay our staff something so that they can devote more time to our important work, and less time to making ends meet. We would also love to have a travel budget, so that we can attend more conferences, meet more innovators, and reach a larger audience.
Can mesh networking truly scale? Is it a potential replacement to traditional network configurations?
- It's all in the details. There are limitations to mobile ad-hoc - this is what most folks understand "mesh" to mean: that the nodes can move around. Free networks are much bigger than mesh, though - they can be implement in fiber, copper, fixed wireless, or mobile ad-hoc. It is a matter much more of political economy than of technology. So, the solution is simply not to try to make mobile ad-hoc scale. Isolate link-dynamic media access domains into pockets of managable size, and join those pockets together with more static links. In this way you can scale, still offer a mobile experience, and use whatever technology is most appropriate for the geography.
- DNS is something of a separate question, but we see no reason why a distributed naming scheme shouldn't come to prominence in the next few years. There are several in the works. The general idea here is to use a DHT for discovery of names that are self-authenticating and globally unique, but ugly (like BTC addresses), then, once you've discovered the machine-readable name for the resource in question, simply give it a pet name, like we used to do on AIM.
- There are certainly challenges ahead, but our vision is well within the realm of technical feasibility. There are already sizable cooperative networks in Spain Athens, Berlin, Kabul, Nairobi and a host of other cities. These last-mile networks can be connected securely using tunneling while research continues into low-cost, long-haul communications platforms.
What is your vision for the future of mesh networking?
- The upper and lower layers of the networking stack needs to be decentralized at the same time. Material decentralization is contingent on logical decentralization. That is why projects like tent.io, Freedombox, sneer, et cetera are so important. If the logical flows remain centralized, we will not be able to take advantage of the efficiencies of local routing, not mention still being spied on by purveyors of 'false p2p' (G+ and FB being prime examples). In general, We are not building a network with no choke points - be they material or logical. It starts with the individual, and grows from there: the individual organizes the neighborhood, the neighborhood organizes the city, and so on and so forth, until you arrive at a global network that is owned and operated by every one and no one, for the good of us all. This is not going to happen overnight: it will be gradual, and from the inside. It is already happening, and we view its continuation and evolution as inevitable.
How can I help if I’m not technical?
- HACK WITH US -- Having spent the last year building a world-class playground for network hackers, we could not be more excited about the prospect of having the wider community of researchers make use of our resources. If you are interested in working in, on, or around FreedomCenter, please don't hesitate to be in touch.
- KEEP THE LIGHTS ON -- The blinking lights, that is. Keeping all of our systems online and available for the world to use takes money. Becoming a member of the FNF not only helps us pay our bills, but it helps us grow and plan in a way that is sustainable. You can sign up on our website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- CHANGE THE GAME -- Making a donation to the FNF is making an investment in our collective future. We use our funds to get tools built -- tools that are useful in fight for freedom in the online sphere. We welcome gifts of any size, and are happy to work with donors to see that funds are directed towards and activity of their choosing. In addition to accepting Federal Reserve Notes through our website, the FNF is thrilled to accept Bitcoins. Our Bitcoin address is 18S8ugWEuWLbMP9DBpBdDk9SN6CiRxZB8S.
- GIVE IN KIND -- If you've got a resource, chances are we could put it to good use. Roof space, office space, old computers, shop tools, AV gear, an old car, books -- whatever you've got. Our main offices are in Kansas City and Austin, but we've also got contingents operating in Boston, New York, and the Bay Area. If you think you've got something that could be of use, let's talk.
- BE A PART OF IT -- The world can be daunting, and our needs go far beyond the material. More than anything, the moral and spiritual support of community is what sustains us. Our [Discuss] list is the center of our community, and we hope you'll consider being a part of the conversation.
What are some good resources to get me started?
- We usually find ourselves recommending Wireless Networking in the Developing World to those that would like to learn about the technical aspects of what we do. For a compelling treatment of the political economy of networks try The Wealth of Networks. If you want a textbook treatment of networks in general, and you’re willing to pay, we recommend Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach. If you’re not looking to pay, wikibooks has two relevant texts: Communications Networks and the narrower Computer Networks.
How long until the network is free?
- It’s hard to say. Things are moving very quickly, and yet the scope of our work is practically beyond comprehension. All we can really tell you is this: we will keep working even after a ubiquitous civil network exists to serve the public good. The struggle for greater freedom and greater sovereignty on the net is not new, and will continue for some time. We try to take the long view whenever possible, in contrast to for-profit actors who feel compelled to focus on short-term gains. Sustainability is a central part of our operating philosophy, and so we plan not just for months and years of work, but for decades. One thing is for sure – it’ll go a lot faster if we work together.