Flipping the Internet upside-down.

The Internet is currently distributed and dictated from the top down. We can create a new, more democratic, more bottom-up Internet, that will be better for people.

I think most big decisions are better made on the basis of bottom-up, democratic voting principles. For that reason, I’ve recently started to see the Internet as fundamentally flawed. This flaw is not in the design, but in the implementation — the steps it has taken between the lab and the “open” market. I see the current Internet as an institutional, top-down, dictatorial development, that has enabled (yet so far suppressed) distributed deployment. It started with large Military and University institutions, with the intent of better distributing reporting mechanisms, for transfer back to a central authority: DARPA. The inter-institutional mesh they designed had an amazingly robust design for war-crisis routing, but it tended to devolve into a more vulnerable hub-and-spoke distribution within each institution.

The grant of Internet technology to private industry followed a similar pattern. All roads onto this new civilian network lead through our existing regional communications market operators: the “Baby Bell” telecom incumbents. Even the secondary commercial channel goes through an existing central-broadcast incumbency: the local television cable operators. Both institutions follow the same hub-and-spoke distribution model within their “last mile.” The core hub represents the authority, the incumbents, while the spoke ends represent us, the little people — the “subscribers.” There is currently no such thing as an eCitizen — we can’t even vote on our Internet connections! We’re all just “subscribers” paying for a “service,” no matter how few providers actually exist, no matter how powerless we are against them.

What we need now is a new, bottom-up, “first mile” version of the Internet. This new vision for the Internet can exploit these existing institutions, yet it does not require any of them. I think we can build something even better than Network Neutrality into this new design. Instead, we can build a people-centered network. The only prejudices we should have to deal with on this network are our own.

Continue reading “Flipping the Internet upside-down.”