Stage 1: The Co-op
Stage one consists of the emergence of network access cooperatives. Stage one has already begun, so instead of speaking hypothetically, I will tell you what it looks like on the ground. I'm not entirely sure of the legality, but I am sure of the justice. Here in Grinnell, IA, the Free Network Movement has built a mesh network that we call grinnellMIND. It allows us to share a single internet connection amongst many physically disparate locations. I live on Broad Street, Dylan lives on Main Street, Martin lives on Park Street, and Anna lives on East. We and many others are able to purchase Internet access cooperatively, thus driving down the amount that each of us pays. This works especially well because of the asynchronous nature of network usage - if we each bought our own connections, they would lay dormant much of the time. We imagine that some day, the entire town of Grinnell might purchase access cooperatively. That day has not yet arrived, but we think it is on its way. This struggle for collective purchasing will have to happen in many towns and cities, the world over. It will have to happen for city blocks and subdivisions, in residential towers and intentional communities. This won't be easy to accomplish, especially when telcos catch wind of what's going on. Still, the obvious economic advantage to the end user (reduced cost) makes this an easy sell to the people.
Stage 2: The Digital Village
The unseen benefit of the aforementioned co-ops is that they wrest the terminal nodes of the network away from the control of the telco/ISP hegemony. This provides for the opportunity of network applications that are truly peer-to-peer. At first, this will only be able to happen within each isolated cooperative community. Imagine that Grinnell (or some other town) makes shared use of a few pipes, whose flow of information is distributed accross the last mile via mesh. Now imagine that each node of that mesh network is a Diaspora pod running a codebase that is specifically designed for use in mesh networks (this is in development, but a ways off). People will still have to rely on the big pipes for access to the wider internet, but to pass each other messages and participate in social networking, at least within the town of Grinnell, we will have achieved a truly peer-to-peer architecture. Thus arises the digital village. What used to be just a co-op for purchasing access has suddenly become a community that is able to share information directly with one another. It takes only a little more imagination to see that Diaspora is one of many applications that could run on this architecture. I happen to believe that the social network is the network's 'killer-app,' and so I have chosen to use Diaspora as an example.
Stage 3: Towards Unity
Stages 2 and 3 are separated here for clarity, but it seems likely that stage 3 will begin shortly after stage 2, and take place concomitantly. Stage 3 is quite simple. Using packet tunneling (something like Freenet or TOR, to give an idea) in concert with the existing global network, we can simulate the contiguity of geographically disparate digital villages. Suddenly, people all over the world are able to share with one another directly. Specify a [email protected][email protected]_network and you've got a unique address for each network user. Of course, the corporate giants still own the backbone at this stage, which is why we can only say *towards* unity. No uprising until Stage 4, please.
Stage 4: A Backbone of our Own
Stage 4 is when the dream of true co-ownership becomes a reality. We are already starting in on what needs to be done here, because it's a pretty tall order, and will take some time. (You gotta do what you gotta do). In Stage 4, we replace investor-owned fiber backbones with user-owned backbones.
This won't come cheap, but freedom is never free. It will take time, attention, energy, and materials. Community owned fiber networks, funded by real-estate loans from member-owned credit unions can be built. Some creative sofware developers in a city can develop an open-source precision farming system, and provide support and maintenance, in exchange for having some of those farmers using it to run a tiling machine plow across the prairies, burying 100 gigabit capable fiber bundles from Denver to Chicago.
Satellite dishes or TV-Band towers could replace the pipes that used to come from the ISP, and their connectivity could be distributed throughout every digital village. The only cost that anyone would ever have to pay for network access would be the cost of a mesh node (could be integrated into a PC, or shareable stand alone). Not everyone will be able to afford a node, which is why the roadmap doesn't end with
Stage 5: A Human Right
Once the Mesh Interface for Network Devices is global, we can focus our energies towards providing a node to anyone who wants one. We believe that access to the network is a human right, and this is our vision for supplying it to all of humanity.
We must be able to articulate what the basic human right for network access is. How many bits per second, and what is the acceptable latency? The existing commercial network could easily carry several megabits in the framing overhead of 10 gigabit networks. Having thousands of free network users who report outages as they happen becomes the world's most effective and advanced method for providing reliable zero-downtime business class network service.
Businesses which do not see the long-term people, planet, and profits benefit of unfiltered (but bandwidth limited) freedom network access will be out of business in 25 years.