How do mesh networks and cryptocurrencies eliminate the gap in rural broadband?

Today we are going to introduce an interesting article. We know that cryptocurrency is playing its role in the vast world of the third world, and in the United States, the world is divided into several parts. The dual division of urban and rural network services exists throughout the United States. It is called the “homework gap” because it prevents children in rural areas from completing homework that requires online search, which exacerbates urban and rural equality. Here, what changes will the cryptocurrency and mesh network bring to people?

Clatskanie is a timber town located at the entrance to the Kratzkani River, about an hour from Portland. Its residents are mostly from Northern Europe and Germanic. The town is small but significant, and the birth of Raymond Carver made the town famous.

Linda DePersis is the owner of Clatskanie flowers, a flower shop in her own flower garden outside the town. The store's website shows that Depas is wearing jeans and sturdy boots, standing in a lush field with a bouquet of pale pink flowers under his arm. Above the title is "Linda is harvesting a bouquet of tulips."

Linda DePersis

When De Persis looked at her website, she was using ultra-fast internet connections – which is unimaginable for most people in rural America. In front of her farm there is a large antenna that can transmit data about two miles away to a computer repair shop in the town centre. There, a central connection point serves local mesh network users, using packets to balance usage and charging in cryptocurrency.

“We are very excited about being able to get such a fast network connection,” De Pasis said during the call. "It's very fast, we love it."

The computer repair shop is run by Althea's co-founder, Deborah Simpier. Althea promotes mesh networks by providing custom firmware running on Internet routers, and it has an experienced team to help develop new networks.

Its concept is as follows: In the daily use of the Internet, the network structure we most often encounter is a "star network", in which each end user device (also called a node) is connected to a control network. The central node for all functions, just like the wifi router in the home manages the flow of laptops, smartphones, and TVs.

But this is not the only way to organize the web. If set up properly, multiple routers can connect directly to each other and efficiently transfer data across the mesh network. This network topology can be seen in many well-designed offices where the primary router is connected to an external wired Internet and wirelessly shares the connection with multiple satellite routers distributed through the space.

In fact, Althea extends the same principles to Internet sharing services in communities with poor ISP services to help them build their own decentralized network services. This approach is designed to allow community members to pool resources and purchase commercial-grade Internet connectivity, and then distribute bandwidth over a local mesh network, which is more valuable than buying a broadband service pack separately.

Convenience doesn't stop there, users don't need to subscribe, because the payment is done directly in cryptocurrency.

“The basic concept here is that our software allows routers to pay for each other's bandwidth,” said another Althea founder, Jehan Tremback. “You can install this device with a remote WiFi antenna. It can be connected to other similar devices to form a network. You only need to put the cryptocurrency into the router and you can access the Internet. You need to pay when you use it.”

Althea's software uses micropayments to motivate and balance the data flow of the rest of the network. Each router has a wallet address that, like a pay-as-you-go phone, preloads the balance over an Ethernet network and makes a small payment to any node that forwards its Internet traffic to an external connection.

The mesh network in the town of Kratzkani currently offers 25 Internet users a much faster speed than normal services at a lower price. De Persis estimates that her Ethereum, which costs her $20 a month, can easily meet the network needs of her home. In contrast, she previously paid an additional $100 for a broadband connection, and it is often difficult to handle multiple download tasks at the same time for a normal broadband connection.

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released an interactive map of US broadband deployments showing the number of local providers that can provide network connectivity over a range of speeds. The figure below shows a filtered map with a connection speed equal to or greater than 25 Mbps, which is the minimum download speed requirement for the FCC to list a network connection as broadband since 2015. (As a benchmark, 25Mbps is the lowest speed for streaming video at 4K resolution recommended by Netflix.)

The light green shaded portion means that only one vendor can provide network services at 25Mbp download rate. From a geographical perspective, most of Oregon's rural areas are in a monopoly market – only one network provider can satisfy Netflix Minimum requirements. From a population perspective, 67% of Oregon's population has three or more suppliers to choose from for broadband services, while the other 25% have options for two.

This dual division of urban and rural network services exists throughout the United States. It is known as the "homework gap" because it prevents children in rural areas from completing homework that requires online searches, exacerbating urban-rural inequalities. There are other bad effects: In a recent video, presidential candidate Beto O Rourke said that the lack of speed means that people in rural areas in the United States can't even find a date on Tinder tonight, can't find the one that can change them. A special person of life.

01 network incentive  

The US rural area is struggling to cope with the digital divide because its demand is only a relatively small market segment, and telecom companies are reluctant to invest in the necessary infrastructure to operate there. However, collectivized Internet access may be a solution. In a poorly serviced area, investing in a commercial-grade fiber-optic connection service is more feasible than providing a moderately fast broadband package to multiple homes.

"You might think of the backbone of the Internet and think that it's big companies and governments that control them," Temberg said when talking about the major fiber-optic networks that transmit data across the United States, such as the interstate system that transmits Web traffic. “The reality is that this is the last mile of the monopoly,” he said. “Compared to dig a small hole in the country and connect the fiber to a data center, connecting the network to everyone in the city is more complicated. ""

Under Althea's model, the last mile of distribution economics was changed by social networking connections. Any router connected to the global Internet can act as a gateway node, share the network connection with other nodes in the network, and charge for data forwarding. This means that if users in a particular area can schedule a high-speed, high-bandwidth connection, then the community can be responsible for distributing between them to develop a local network infrastructure that traditional ISPs may not want to This infrastructure is installed in areas that are considered unprofitable.

At the same time, the owner of any router running Althea software can decide to run its router as an "intermediate node", providing forwarding services to nodes far away from the network at a price of a few cents per gigabyte (the forwarding) Service).

The system is designed to ensure that users get the fastest broadband service at near-optimal prices. Althea's algorithm automatically finds the best path for data to pass through the network. The benefit of the gateway and intermediate node owners is to register more users to the network, because more traffic will bring more forwarding costs; conversely, as the number of nodes in the network increases, the competition for this traffic is reduced. cost.

The result is that the broadband cost of the user's participation is based only on its actual data usage: no contract, no installation fee (except for the cost of buying an adapted router), and if there is a better service, the user can switch freely. Will not be tied to Althea's services.

As explained by Temberg and Deborah Sipel, in addition to the network software itself, Althea's innovation is to design a correct incentive system for the participants in building and governing the elastic network. Before co-founding Althea, both of them participated in mesh networks elsewhere, but saw long-term sustainability issues for volunteer-driven projects.

"Mesh networks often try to 'free as in freedom' and 'free as in beer', so they don't want to charge. "Temberg Said. "I want to maintain the same degree of centralization but earn income to keep it going," which is why we produced the Althea project and charged it in cryptocurrency."

02 public utility mode vs mesh network mode

Considering the inadequacy of traditional telecommunications models in rural America – according to a survey by Pew Research, 24% of people in rural America describe broadband as a “major issue” – you might think of legislators and regulation Will support an alternative to the existing model. Unfortunately, as critics have accused, many state legislators and the Federal Communications Commission often adopt an attitude that supports the development of the municipal network and believe that traditional telecommunications companies are the only organizations that have the right to provide network connectivity services. But this trend may be shifting, as can be seen from the number of candidates, including Beto, who have equal access to the Internet as one of the campaign topics. Vermont Governor Candidate Christine Hallquist is campaigning for a proposal that requires power companies to install fiber-optic cables in their service areas to enable access to broadband. The right to power is equal; and Senator Janice Bowling of Tennessee has been repeatedly trying to pass a bill that will allow the community to improve its network connectivity for itself.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the utility model of internet services has been very successful, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. Provider EPB, now the most popular network service provider in the US (although its network service standards are low, it is still very popular). The idea of ​​treating Internet access as a right is just like the right to use electricity and water, and it is beginning to catch on. Currently, hundreds of communities across the United States have established their own networks through some form of public network.

In light of this, Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community for Local Self-Reliance community broadband network program, expressed some questions as to whether the distributed, motivating but non-comprehensive model used by Althea is suitable. Optimize the common mode of network connectivity.

“I am mainly concerned about the possibility that their solutions will provide a full service to the community,” he said. “We didn’t see how hard it was to organize the network, and I’m not sure if the mesh is the best solution for digital infrastructure. That is, we believe in the importance of overlapping networks, and I hope this arrangement will lead to more networks. But our job is to get everyone to access the Internet and support the economic development of the entire region."

However, as Mitchell said, cross-networks can coexist, and there is no reason for mesh networks to hinder the development of more comprehensive municipal networks. They can be a valuable intermediate step that can be deployed in an agile manner when public projects are up and running.

The Althea project embodies the more public spirit of libertarianism: it hopes to reduce bureaucracy by providing self-reliance tools and empowering communities to be self-sufficient in an efficient manner. This is also an example. The cryptocurrency facilitates the real-time market for bandwidth, which makes it possible to make a system that is difficult to operate in traditional currencies. Althea's trial network is currently small, but it is a great idea that is brewing. American rural residents will benefit a lot from the mesh network, even though most of them still don't know about it.

Author: Corin Faife

Translator: Wang Zelong