Rushkoff: abandon internet, build its successor

Paul Raven @ 05-01-2011

Over at Shareable, Doug Rushkoff crystallises a bunch of post-Wikileaks thoughts that have been knocking around in my head into one (fairly) coherent statement:

… the Internet was never truly free, bottom-up, decentralized, or chaotic. Yes, it may have been designed with many nodes and redundancies for it to withstand a nuclear attack, but it has always been absolutely controlled by central authorities. From its Domain Name Servers to its IP addresses, the Internet depends on highly centralized mechanisms to send our packets from one place to another.

The ease with which a Senator can make a phone call to have a website such as Wikileaks yanked from the net mirrors the ease with which an entire top-level domain, like say .ir, can be excised. And no, even if some smart people jot down the numeric ip addresses of the websites they want to see before the names are yanked, offending addresses can still be blocked by any number of cooperating government and corporate trunks, relays, and ISPs. That’s why ministers in China finally concluded (in cables released by Wikileaks, no less) that the Internet was “no threat.”

I’m not trying to be a downer here, or knock the possibilities for networking. I just want to smash the fiction that the Internet is some sort of uncontrollable, decentralized free-for-all, so that we can get on with the business of creating something else that is.

That “something else” is basically a peer-to-peer network similar to the existing internet, but one that is completely unreliant on corporate/gubernatorial/non-commons infrastructure like optical fibre. Rushkoff is honest enough to admit he doesn’t have the answers, but he’s surely asking the right questions:

Shall we use telephony, ham radio, or some other part of the spectrum? Do we organize overlapping meshes of WiMax? Do we ask George Soros for some money? MacArthur Foundation? Do we even need or want them or money at all? How might the funding of our network by a central bank issued currency, or a private foundation, or a public university, bias the very architecture we are trying to build? Who gets the ability to govern or limit what may spread over our network, if anyone? Should there be ways for us to transact?

To make the sorts of choices that might actually yield our next and truly decentralized network, we must take a good look at the highly centralized real world in which we live – as well as how it got that way. Only by understanding its principles, reckoning with the forces at play, and accepting the battles we have already lost, might we begin to forge ahead to create new forms that exist beyond any authority’s ability to grant them protection.

I’m no network engineer, but I’m pretty sure that an ad-hoc and rhizomatic peer-to-peer network based on some cableless connection like wi-fi is possible, at least in theory. Anyone in the audience able to tell me why I’m wrong? Or, better still, how we can build it?


Rumours of the internet’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Paul Raven @ 19-10-2009

Internet - serious business.Hey, have you heard? The internet’s goose is pretty much cooked, as far as Nemertes Research are concerned, thanks to exponential traffic increases running up against linear infrastructure investment – and net neutrality legislation will be the nails in the coffin lid.

The thing is, there isn’t a whole lot of factual data to back up the assertion, which has been made (and debunked) numerous times since the rise of video streaming services like YouTube. Ars Technica has a good takedown:

What’s most odd about Johnson’s argument about network neutrality is that she admits that this is default network behavior right now. And while she frets about the huge growth of Internet traffic, the reality is that the growth rates have been much faster in the past (doubling every year or faster)—and the Internet abides! As for ISPs not having the money to invest in enough infrastructure to keep up with demand, well… just take a look at ISP balance sheets. Tremendous profits are being made now, even as cable operators roll out DOCSIS 3.0 tech and boost download speeds to 50Mbps or 100Mbps.

In the end, the song remains the same: of course the Internet has issues, but some kind of network-killing “exaflood” hasn’t materialized in two years and doesn’t look about to wreak devastation on the Internet in the near future. What we have instead is declining traffic growth rates in mature markets, and big boosts to access line capacity (for Verizon and the cable operators, at least), plenty of bandwidth in the core—all on a network that has generally been neutral for decades.

So there’s probably very little to worry about… except perhaps where Nemertes’ research funding originates from.


On the internet, no one knows you’re a p2p packet

Paul Raven @ 06-05-2008

Tangled web of power cablesThe net neutrality debate rolls on, with little easy access to untainted fact for us, the end-users. While the record industry understandably wants peer-to-peer file-sharing brought to an end because it’s chewing the hell out of their previously lucrative business-model, ISPs have a different argument – they say it’s choking the net to beyond capacity.

Of course, they’re not willing to show us their calculations by way of proof, and all the other reports into the matter seem to come with the tang of dishonesty or the smell of FUD and vested interests. Perhaps they’re telling the truth, and traffic-shaping really is a necessity … but I’m fond of documentary evidence, myself. [image by jef safi]

Perhaps improving the infrastructure would be a better long-term plan, if the web really is running at capacity. But we can pretty much rest assured that those plans to deliver broadband over power lines aren’t going to bear any fruit