I try to present technology issues in a way that people can easily understand them.
America, Europe, and much of the free world has demonstrated time and time again that both diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of society. We see it in the workplace, our school system, and most social organizations. Big business is often under the microscope on who they hire, fire, or promote. Social organizations are no longer considered credible if they have even the slightest hint that any group of people are excluded, including those which were traditionally all male or all female. Our world seems to have evolved into a one-size-fits-all mentality in every area except for one. The internet has almost no diversification and can only be accessed through a very small group of service providers. This has been fairly stable since the inception of the World Wide Web, but somehow it has been allowed to continue unchallenged.
So Many Users, So Few Access Points
If you do a simple search, you’ll discover lists that appear to say differently, but when you start to dig into them, you’ll quickly realize that the same companies own most of the ISP’s but have multiple strategic business units. As an example, AT&T has at least four separate listings, but in reality it’s all run by one corporate strategy, so it’s basically a single entity. The same holds true for many other global telecommunication companies. Another thing you will notice when doing your search is that a high percentage of the global control is held by the United States Department of Defense; in fact it’s the top provider across the world. In America, the DoD controls a staggering 17.5% of the total after you add up their listings. If you need to check for yourself, visit www.whoisthisip.com and come to your own conclusions.
This information is publicly available but it never seems to be the focus for research or articles. Concerns are raised regularly about platforms such as Facebook or Twitter and search engine giants such as Google or Bing, but it rarely goes back to the root problem. Internet Service Providers need resources that platforms do not. Some things such as data warehouses are common across both groups, however other things such as backbone connections are exclusive to the ISP’s. Some of the very large companies need to provide multiple data warehouses, software packages, and other technologies to ensure every customer is getting access and at the correct speed. While Google and Bing are only focused on pure data, the ISP’s are handling the infrastructure, maintenance, and the almost constant impact of new technology. All of these factors combined usually deter any new entrant into the market.
Barriers to Entry
It’s extremely expensive to start a new ISP and quite difficult. In the United States, the volume of paperwork, permitting, and other investments are enormous. The existing companies also aren’t likely to sit by idly and watch as another entrant tries to take their business away. Some small company leaders have been interviewed over the years and cite the legal expenses in battling the internet giants were by far the biggest start-up expense and the time involved almost makes it unworthy to try. In a scenario that seems reminiscent of the battle between the railroad lines in America, those who own the fiber and cables are not willing to share their resources and literally force a potential new entrant to build their own infrastructure one city at a time. Add this fact to the fact that many local governments have long-term deals or regulations that guarantee bottlenecks to anyone attempting a start-up.
And while these agreements seem to be effective for the users, they are not reliable. Most of the time, the largest complaints come from consumers that are unhappy with speed or other details around their service. They do have access, but would like it to be better. Yet as we’ve seen time and time again, the infrastructure is fragile and can be disrupted significantly by major weather patterns, conflict or war, and by government censorship. The single or limited access points are a recipe for disaster in the times when internet service is critical. Even wireless networks fail when widespread problems occur due to severed connections or towers being damaged. Up until recently, there hasn’t been a solution presented that could legitimately correct this issue. Even though mankind has become dependent on the internet, we still are forced to pay for something which is only good for part of the time.
Mesh Networks Simplified
The solution for this can be found by turning our attention to mesh networks. Mesh networks do not rely on a limited number of access points. They function using the culmination of thousands of individual nodes that are directly connected to one another. Imagine every household with a dual band router, but with one band having its only function to connect with other routers in its vicinity and capable of transmitting data along that link, wirelessly. This type of hardware would be what we call a node. As the number of nodes in an area grows, the coverage improves, and the speed increases. In the event of an issue, such as a storm, the data is rerouted seamlessly without any issue. This description is the “mesh” understanding of the terminology. There is no failure point as long as there is one router within the range of another and until every router is off-line, access will be available. An example of this can be found in most major businesses and their internal wireless networks. A handful of wired internet access points are often place around the campus in an interlaced fashion so that no matter where an employee moves within the coverage area, they are on-line.
The simplicity and low cost of this plan is probably why we’ll never see it developed on a global scale. Also because once it’s up and running, no company would be able to send consumers an invoice for services, since the consumers themselves would be managing and owning everything. The cost of building and maintaining a network of this nature would be minimal and diversified among every household that wished to participate. This would also offer a level of true information decentralizing that has never occurred before. No government body would be able to censor the information and without a singular access point, no one could spy on the individual consumer. It would be one way for humankind to achieve a truly free internet that is safer, more private, and with an access level that could reach even the most remote households.
Drawbacks and Conclusion
There are of course some drawbacks to a mesh network, but only when viewing the potential using today’s technology. If the idea ever gained real traction we’d expect to see a rapid investment in hardware to correct certain things. One area that would be problematic is speed. Mesh networks would be slower due to the number of connections it took to reach an individual. Anyone far away from a wired node would see poor download and upload speeds. Also there are potential security risks and the possibility of hacking to think about. We could expect equipment upgrades that should be able to overcome these issues should the idea be implemented on a large scale. This is just one of many potential solutions being developed across the world to ensure a future where the everyday person can have complete freedom of information at their fingertips without the need for anyone to approve it or send them a bill.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 14, 2018:
Very interesting. Thanks Ralph.