Bitcoin

Bitcoin-Inspired Project Launched to Decentralize the Internet

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Isokivi / Wikimedia

Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer cryptocurrency is taking the conventional financial system by storm. The Bitcoin boom has inspired developers to explore additional applications of the same fundamental protocols. Ambitious Bitcloud developers are asking, why not the use the same tools to decentralize the Internet?

BBC News quotes the project's anonymous founders issuing this call to arms:

If you're interested in privacy, security, ending internet censorship, decentralising the internet and creating a new mesh network to replace the internet, then you should join or support this project.

The advantages of a Bitcloud network are many. Bitcloud's decentralized structure would allow users to sidestep National Security Agency (NSA) snoops. While natural disasters and wars threaten a centralized structure, a decentralized structure would mean the Internet is more likely to remain intact.

How does it work? Under the current system, consumers are dependent on concentrated Internet Service Providers, businesses like Comcast and AT&T, that offer Internet access. Just as Bitcoin removes financial intermediaries from the system, Bitcloud hopes to displace intermediary ISPs. While ISPs are at risk of interference, a decentralized system is irrepressible. Shutting down a decentralized internet would require targeting and destroying each individual node.

Bitcoin requires miners who contribute computing power to process transactions. Similarly, Bitcloud rewards users for contributing bandwidth. Basically, ISPs would be replaced by individuals whose computers "would perform tasks such as storing, routing and providing bandwidth, in return for payment."

Some tech intellectuals have called for a decentralized Internet structure, or mesh networks, in the past. Primavera De Filippi, a Harvard research fellow of distributed online architectures, argues that beyond the "obvious benefits" like NSA-resistance and enhanced reliability, it provides some interesting cultural benefits. "What's really revolutionary about mesh networking isn't the novel use of technology. It's the fact that it provides a means for people to self-organize into communities and share resources amongst themselves: Mesh networks are operated by the community, for the community. Especially because the internet has become essential to our everyday life" she wrote in Wired.

According to BBC News, Bitcloud developers hope Bitcloud will ultimately supplant the Internet. De Filippi, on the other hand, thinks mesh-networks would make a good supplementary tool.

But either way, BitCloud is a revolutionary project with global reach. It would provide users with more reliable Internet, handicap government surveillance, and maybe even save lives.

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  1. How does it work? Under the current system, consumers are dependent on concentrated Internet Service Providers, businesses like Comcast and AT&T, that offer Internet access. Just as Bitcoin removes financial intermediaries from the system, Bitcloud hopes to displace intermediary ISPs. While ISPs are at risk of interference, a decentralized system is irrepressible. Shutting down a decentralized internet would require targeting and destroying each individual node.

    Bitcoin requires miners who contribute computing power to process transactions. Similarly, Bitcloud rewards users for contributing bandwidth.

    This is interesting, but frustratingly vague. Are we talking about decentralizing the physical network itself, or the processing of data upon it?

    BitTorrent, for instance as a “decentralized” way of sharing files. But yet people were arrested/fined for activities using that methodology. The physical connection still goes through an internet “provider” which has a physical connection to a backbone.

    If we’re talking about eliminating the backbones, that’s not going to be easy, fun or reliable. More data needed…

    Traditionally, true mesh networks require a certain proximity of a node to a neighbor. Technologically entirely possible, but practically shaky.

    1. I would think, without having done any of the math, that it is really hard to hide the signal without a lot of noise. If you watch an episode of Girls on Netflix every night at 7:00 but today you want to watch something else, its gotta be hard to hide the fact that you’re sucking several gig over your pipe.

      1. sucking several gig over your pipe.

        Phrasing… phrasing…

        Reading the wired article which provides more meat and potatoes on the technical details, it appears they are in fact talking about replacement of the physical internet with an actual mesh network.

        Mesh networks, once established have a robust feature in their redundancy, the problem is reaching every remote corner with reliable connectivity.

        Too many media articles talk about the social aspects of the mesh network, which are easily understood by reporters. But they’re very difficult to deploy over wide areas, and keep them working.

        The complexity to set up, manage, and maintain a mesh network is one obstacle to their widespread deployment. Getting a mesh network to work properly can be harder than it seems, especially when it comes to latency. Although the technology is there, routing protocols are currently unable to scale over a few hundred nodes and network coverage is constrained by the limited range of wireless user devices.

    2. This is interesting, but frustratingly vague. Are we talking about decentralizing the physical network itself, or the processing of data upon it?

      Physical network. In dense cities each wifi node would have dozens or hundreds of other nodes within range. Bingo, you have a web with no central ISP. Of course, there’s a speed penalty when you use a bunch of nodes. Good algorithms should be able to find nearly optimal paths through the mesh, though. The tricky part is connecting the cities. If wifi ranges increase enough and infill becomes widespread, you could have a solution. New England, Europe, and parts of Asia might already be able to support this. Of course if you live in Bumfuck, OH, you’re going to be tied to an ISP for awhile.

      1. Physical network. In dense cities each wifi node would have dozens or hundreds of other nodes within range. Bingo, you have a web with no central ISP.

        You have no central ISP if only the people within the mesh nodes wish to communicate with eachother. As you point out, the moment you want to reach out to, say, Chile or Hong Kong, or even the next town over, a pipe has to exist somewhere, because with current technology and geography, we can’t achieve a mesh dense enough for coverage.

        I believe that new protocols and routing can fix the issues that are present with high-node networks. It’s covering spaces where there simply are no nodes allowing users to get from A to B.

  2. Who pays to maintain all that cable, switching etc? If the suggestion is that the internet simply becomes one giant ad hoc network, it sounds slow and difficult to troubleshoot. Not to mention passing the buck for maintenance.

    1. Right now, most people talking about mesh networks are talking about wireless, because once you put a cable in the ground, whoops, you’ve got, as you say, the issue of troubleshooting and maintenance. And that’s where centralized ISPs come in.

      Always keep your eye out for the choke point. Because the NSA is, and that’s where they focus their attack.

      1. Because the NSA is, and that’s where they focus their attack.

        You know this would be a really good way of catching and watching the NSA…

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