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Why open Internet infrastructure projects are important

By pranshu in Internet
Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 02:25:46 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

I'm a participant in Consume, a project to create a freely accessible, ubiquitous, user owned, wireless network infrastructure.

This project and other similar ones[1] have the potential to ultimately change the topography of the net. The principle behind the project is that high speed Internet access should be availible and free (in every sense).

The Internet has led to a phenomenal explosion of communication and collaboration, the communication has been surprisingly open. Many of us, given the opportunity, have freely shared our knowledge and skills. Thanks to this we now have vast amounts of useful information at our fingertips and an extremely powerful range of open source software. This attitude of sharing created a lot of idealism which fuelled the early development and growth of the Internet. I first got Internet access at University in 1992 - IRC, MUDs and Usenet presented amazing new ways to interact with people (especially alt.flame and Genocide MUD). It was exciting not only because of what you could do but because of the way people did it. Never before has a mass communication medium been so acessible.

In the early days of the Internet it was in mostly underneath the radar; large corporations and goverments realised neither the opportunity nor the threat. Now that the potential offered by the net is up there large and blinking the immediate instinct seems to be to exert control and profits. Witness Carnivore; The slow or non existent roll-out of broadband access; The fact that companies with innovative new access products have decided to maximise profits rather than making their product widely availible.

I'm not pining for the academic text only net - mass adoption of the Internet is necessary for it to progress to the next level, but now that it is so popular a struggle is underway between keeping it open and exerting control over it. Signs of this struggle are the battles over file trading programs like Napster and the emergence of networks like freenet.

It's not simply the political implications but also the economics of the situation. Affordable high speed Internet access is scarce in the best of situations, for those living outside of major Metropolis' or in less developed countries prospects are bleak . The current financial woes in the Telco marketplace are not going to accelerate things.

As individuals we are currently unable to truly 'buy' internet access but have to lease it from vairious intermediaries. This is ironic since individuals are the ones who create most of the compelling content online. The technology exists for us to be able to purchase equipment and connect to others. We just need to get it together, build the network and make it availible.

When I discovered the Consume project via Slashdot I'd just moved to London, gotten married and started a new job - I did not have a lot of time to spare on extra curricular activities. Consume was too intriguing to ignore. It combined a lot of interesting things- it was open, it was a peer-to-peer networking model, it was wireless, it was free. I had to jump in.

Project status

  • 7 live nodes, 150 potential nodes.
  • A good grasp of the technical issues.
  • A good grasp of the legal and regulatory issues.
  • Free BSD 'do-it yerself' instructions - in alpha (cvs.consume.net-software).
  • Lots of contact made with vendors, sponsors & organisations who want to work with the project.

What we're doing

  • Encouraging more participation!
  • Trying to communicate more with other similar projects.
  • Figuring out Routing issues.
  • Looking at Software development issues.
  • Creating a standard set-ups for all OSes.
  • Getting transit providers to peer with us.
  • Trying to get some 'seed' nodes set-up with IP transit, to accelerate uptake.

I feel that free Internet access is as important as free software, this essay exists to inform more people about the project and to encourage involvement. This is an exciting, rewarding and just plain cool project to work on.

Simon Anderson

Wall Street Journal
slashdot.org article
Slashdot again...
www.guardianunlimite d.co.uk
wired article

[1] Other Projects
Seattle wireless net
SF Lan


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Slashdot
o ZDNet
o Consume
o companies
o Salon.com
o Wall Street Journal
o slashdot.o rg article
o Slashdot again...
o wired article
o ntk.net
o Seattle wireless net
o SF Lan
o Elektrosmo g
o Wlan.org
o Also by pranshu

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Why open Internet infrastructure projects are important | 5 comments (5 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
A couple of questions. (4.20 / 5) (#1)
by Christopher Thomas on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 01:03:46 PM EST

Leaving aside complex questions like the assignment of IPs, DNS entries, etc. within this space, there are a couple of fundamental questions I have about this infrastructure:

  • How well does it scale to high-bandwidth?
    The project description mentions standard consumer-level wireless nodes routing through PC-class hardware. This will work fine with a few thousand users, but not with a few million. As the network grows, more expensive backbone hardware will be needed, which will take corporate investment... which brings you back to the original problem of corporate involvement.

  • How on earth do you sort out routing?
    Each subnet would presumably claim its own chunk of IP space, and would know the subnet ranges of neighbouring networks... but how do you route to a subnet that's 20 hops away? Send packets through all of your neighbours to find the correct one? That's the Godzillagram problem. You'd need some central authority to distribute routing table fragments, or else you'd need to route everything through a well-defined backbone; both of these fall back to the corporate involvement problem. Alternatively, you could get all subnets to share routing information with their neighbours and slowly build full router tables at each node... but a full routing table for IPV6 is *huge*, and sifting through the table would probably bog down a PC (there are fast ways to do it, but they generally require enough RAM to store the whole table while you munch it).

This is a beautiful idea, and I hope that it succeeds; it just seems to me that you'll be in for some serious growing pains as you get larger.

Problems we'd like to have (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by pranshu on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 01:17:30 PM EST

Heh. I'd love it if we were at the stage where we were running into scalability issues. I agree there are lots of technical issues.

Some comments:
Backbone Links
The wireless nature of the project allowing multiple routes means that MAN links should largely become redundant but there will definately be a need for some kind of backbone to inter city/ internationally. Hopefully we'll get big enough so that the organisations with the backbone links will want to peer with us. Typically the area where there is the most control and frustration is at the local loop level.

This is not my area. I know there was talk of using tunnels quite extensively. I hope one of the other guys will answer you.

[ Parent ]
There's always problems with this idea... (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by Midnight Ryder on Tue Dec 19, 2000 at 01:58:20 PM EST

I've always had some fundamental debates with this sort of idea. One of the concepts has alway been to be able to step away from govornment monitoring (now with a name - Carnivore) and legistation. However, I've never understood why people can't see the reality of that particular problem...

If the govornment wants to monitor traffic, it's going to have an easy time doing it. You still have to get onto a backbone somewhere, and those points are bottlenecks where nice little black boxes can be put. Of course, that doesn't monitor stuff within the clusters of people using the network for P2P type stuff, but that's also easily remidied.

As for legistation, well, the larger the networks get, the more likely they are to fall under goverment suspicion, and legislation. It will happen if they get large enough.

The fact that companies with innovative new access products have decided to maximise profits rather than making their product widely availible.

You bet your ass they are going to maximize profits!!! In fact, if they didn't I'd be damned worried! Profit = Research, Jobs, Equiptment for impmentation, etc. I get real tired of hearing people talking about companies maximizing thier profits as a bad things - it's not. it's a friggin' social and economic responsibility of a company as an employer to make money, and make lots of it. Yes, some go overboard - but, you know what, considering what it's going to take to get some of the small towns out here in Kansas broadband access, it's a good thing that ISDN and DSL cost money - the infrastructure has to expand, and that requires money, and more people to install and maintain equitpment! </RANT>

On the positive side - really, this is what the Internet should be in many ways. I love the concept. I've been watching the development of things like this since L0pht was talking about doing it. It really feels right, and the time is getting close for technologies like this to really take off.

Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr

Owner / President

MidnightRyder.Com - game developer, among other things

Maximising profits (none / 0) (#4)
by pranshu on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 06:48:41 AM EST

Some companies do things which are interesting and creative and the profits come. My issue with Terabeam is not really their maximising profits but rather their keeping such a tight hold on their products. The business model of them setting up as a service provider just makes no sense to me. I think their must be some reasons for this other than profits, maybe the technology doesn't do as quit what they say it does.

[ Parent ]
It gets weird (3.00 / 2) (#5)
by titus-g on Wed Dec 20, 2000 at 06:53:04 PM EST

An article referencing an article on slashdot referencing one I posted on technocrat.net

Should have just posted it here first and simplified the whole matter, well except you did a way better job than I ever would have :)

Nice to see the web in action though.

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --

Why open Internet infrastructure projects are important | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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