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With the end of net-neutrality, some people have started to fear that IT providers will have unprecedented control on what we would like to experience from the internet. Some have started to rethink their relationship with the ISPs or those that monopolize access to the web. One of these ideas is that of a mesh network.
When we access the internet, we first go through an ISP, either via broadband, landline or fiber optics and our ISP then connects us to the top-level internet exchanges. The ISP acts as the gatekeeper to the different points on the web.
Mesh network, on the other hand, is decentralized and doesn't need to go through a central point but rather, connect devices directly to one another by automatically reconfiguring depending on the availability and nearness of bandwidth and storage. This means that they are more resistant to interference and other disturbances that can plague those that go through ISPs as bringing them down will need the shutting down of every node in the network. As nodes are set up that connects to other wireless routers, they create a network that is different from the internet as we commonly understand it.
Mesh networks have been set up like that of a community in Spain whose network, the Guifi.net, grew from a single node in 2004 to some 30,000 by 2016.
There is also Red Hook in the Brooklyn neighborhood which was set up after Hurricane Sandy brought down the internet and cell phone networks. FEMA installed a satellite internet connection which then spread the internet via the mesh.
There are also organizations that offer guides and resource in setting up mesh wireless networks like NYC Mesh and LibreMesh.
Mesh wireless “occupies a place in the public imagination that may not always sync up with the boring reality,” says Dan Phiffer, a well-known coder and free Internet advocate in an email to Inverse.
Most mesh internet however still depend on the traditional ISP to connect to the web, and decentralization, although more resistant to interference, does slow down the connection. Also, the cost of the nodes and maintenance can also be high. “Each supernode costs about $5,000 to install and $1,000 per month to maintain,” Hall tells Inverse.
Combining mesh technology and direct access to an internet exchange seems to be the better alternative.