Why I started DataRoads.Org, and ThePoint.com Challenge.

Why I started DataRoads.Org

As with most truly new endeavors, this one took a path that no one could predict or intend. I really thought there would already be something like this out there, somewhere. I was surprised the DataRoads.Org domain name was even available. Even after setting up this web site, I thought all that we would have to do is promote existing network standards for deployment by land and home owners, making the Data Roads Foundation more like an Auto Club and less like a civil engineering firm.

In fact, I thought I already knew of a couple Data Roads routing software candidates, via my research for the NELA-ISC.Net project. The main projects I had in mind were CUWiN and PERM, both wireless mesh projects of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Unfortunately, most of the updates and action on these projects seem to have ended in 2008, due to students graduating, and Ph.D. candidates finishing their theses. They are two great open source projects to work from, but thorough research made it obvious that I would be fairly alone in updating them to the latest hardware. It also seemed like these projects were limited to small communities in scope, because of the use of IPv4 addressing. ICANN is running out of IPv4 numbers this year, because they are insufficient for seamless global routing compared to IPv6.

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Power over DataRoads: Energy competition through microgrids.

Recent developments in small renewable power sources (like solar and small wind), as well as infrastructure destruction during recent tragedies (like Hurricane Katrina), have led some brilliant minds to rethinking the way we distribute and manufacture electrical power. Many of these studies all lead to the same conclusion: data networks allow us to carry enough information about diverse power sources and uses, so that they can be efficiently coordinated at small scale, over a simple grid of neighbor-to-neighbor transmission lines. These small power grids are generally called microgrids. These “smart power” grid networks function at fairly low data bandwidth, so smart grids can be built on top of (or to extend) normal network data lines.

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Flipping the Internet upside-down, visually.

I’ve rarely been accused of being too terse, or not technical enough. In the interest of brevity and clarity, I have created a visual representation of how it looks to flip the Internet upside-down, as suggested solely via text in an earlier post.

Internet flip, illustrated.

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Connection Rights and a First-Sale Doctrine for Broadband

These legislative propositions came to me as ideas that would ease Data Road equipment deployment in the future, but I think they could have a good (but more subtle) effect on their own, and with Network Neutrality legislation in general. Let me know if you agree.

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When global agreements aren’t necessary.

I want to eliminate the need for ICANN — the group that decides all the Internet names! Did that get your attention? That’s good, but please note that I would like to have ICANN around for a very long time. The operative word in that first sentence is ‘need.’ I want to eliminate the need for ICANN, in the same way I want to eliminate the need for any world atlas when I’m only travelling just a few blocks away. While an atlas may be detailed enough to be useful for such a short trip, it’s definitely more cumbersome than necessary. I don’t even need to know the name of the city I’m in, if I’m only travelling along 1 street, just 2 blocks to the south. I could change city borders during that trip, and I wouldn’t need to realize it, unless there happened to be a wall at the city border line. In that strange case, the wall should have a plaque or guard that tells me about the city border. I don’t need the atlas if I can just read the plaque when I get there.

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Collective network ownership, a check on power mongers.

I read the news too often. I say that because it’s too often depressing, which is not healthy for me. The prime example I have at the moment is this news from various sites, best summarized at BroadbandReports.com: the government is outsourcing Fourth Amendment violations to private industry. Some of the facts discussed here were not new to me, such as the old partnership between NSA and AT&T, as revealed by a courageous whistle-blower in San Francisco, Mark Klein. Inquiries over projects related to the NSA codename ECHELON have been public since 2000. Our defenders at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are still fighting for our rights to privacy from these corporate-government collaborative invasions.

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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.

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