How We Killed The Internet And Nobody Noticed
This post explains why the Internet is dead.
The Internet: What is it?
To understand why the Internet is dead, we have to define what “the Internet” is in the first place. If you look at the history and the origin, it is commonly understood that most of what is used now in terms of underlying protocols was paid by funds from the military think-tank DARPA. They basically gave a huge pile of money to some fine universities to design a network that is resilient and could survive a possible atomic war.
Fortunately for the world, the researchers working on the design were heavily influenced by what is now sadly called “the 60s culture”. [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_the_Dormouse_Said]There is an excellent book that everyone should read to understand the world of today.[/url] While money certainly helped, it is not the military funding that made the Internet, but the mindset that still is the heart of what has been dubbed “hacker ethics”, a term misused and misunderstood especially within Europe, where “hacking” is usually associated with criminal activities.
What “the Internet” solved was not so much building a new network from scratch, but solving a fundamental problem: The researchers were confronted with a number of existing networks with incompatible protocols for exchange of information. The idea was to design the most simple and pragmatic solution to interconnect all these independent networks and allow information exchange. That is the Internet Protocol, and the true core of “the Internet”. This simple and decentralized, ad-hoc way of addressing and routing packets gave rise to the explosion of interconnected computers. Simplified, all you had to do was to say “Hello, here I am, I know addresses X and Y, if you want to talk to them come to me”. In theory, you can still – even as an end user – get your own addresses from the so called Regional Internet Registries (RIPE, ARIN etc), whose job is to keep track of assignments. Technically, there is nothing that stops your local network from announcing it is responsible for all Google ranges. To the contrary, the protocols are designed exactly to allow that. That you are limited to one IP address at a time, and, especially in Europe, get a dynamic IP from your upstream ISP, is just a crippled remainder and partly stems from the limited amount of IP ranges possible with IPv4 and, even more, purely commercial interests. Not to speak of the perversity of 24 hour disconnects.
IPv6 overcomes some of that limitations, but it doesn’t solve the stupidity.
When I open my laptop, I see over ten different wifi access points. Say I wanted to send data to my friend in the flat next to mine. It is idiotic that nowadays, I would use the bottleneck subscriber line to my upstream ISP and my crippled upload speed and push it all the way across their infrastructure to my neighbors ISP and back to the Wifi router in reach of mine. The Internet is not meant to be used that way. Instead, all these wifi networks should be configured to talk to each other.
DE-CIX and many other Internet exchanges were basically just empty buildings. Someone put in a switch and invited people to come by and plug in their cable, and voilà, they were “on the Internet”. Today, with wireless technologies, you would not even need the buildings. In many ways, this is what [url=http://en.freifunk.net/]Freifunk[/url] is about. Nobody stops us from interconnecting independent networks and use any kind of IP addressing and routing we want to use. The Internet protocol was design exactly to do that, and only that. Imagine all the wifi access points in your neighborhood were talking to another. That’s Internet. It is incredibly stupid to waste all the infrastructure and resources and limit our upstream connections to ourselves. How cool would it be if you could benefit from the shared upstream across all these mostly idle exchange points?
Unfortunately for mankind, we cannot do that. In Germany, Freifunk cannot be used as a gateway to “the Internet” (sic!), because people don’t grasp what “the Internet” really is. Instead, we introduced rules that even make us liable for traffic passing through your machine. It is a completely arbitrary decision who define “subscribers” and “common carriers” on heterogeneous and hierarchical networks. Technically, by design, you are part of a routing network: If you don’t want to share your line, you cannot be connected.
I love [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fidonet]Fidonet[/url] and I still miss the beauty of it. Remember, among other brilliant properties, commerce was prohibited on it. How beautiful is that. Imagine an encrypted overlay network that carriers the properties of Fidonet.
Imagine you could run around in your city and the wifi router in your bag automatically peers with other compatible wifi routers and exchanges data. How awesome that would be. Remember Egypt.
The technology to rebuild the Internet, with security and crypto and all good stuff built in, is at our feet. Let us finally start using it.
The Internet is dead. Long live the Internet.
Addendum: Freifunk and Legal Aspects
The Freifunk project fails to convey that vision. It is too tangled up with issues over peering with the classical Internet. It should focus on building a proper Internet, instead of trying to connect to the skeletal vintage Internet.
If you design it in a way that all nodes automatically form an anonymous overlay with defined properties, data retention directives cannot scare it. Remember Tor is perfectly legal, and [url=http://dejure.org/gesetze/TMG/15.html]for example in Germany it is illegal to keep user identifiable data unless required for billing[/url]. Why not put public keys in the DNS? …
Birth of [url=http://www.internet4.org/]internet4.org[/url] to collect material. Dump your email address into [url=https://privacybox.de/moritz.msg]my PrivacyBox[/url] or DM me if you are interested in helping. This is not so about implementing anything but more to put the focus on important free projects in that direction and grouping interesting topics/news.
- [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_the_Dormouse_Said]John Markoff: What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry[/url]
- [url=http://www.openmeshproject.org/]Open Mesh Project[/url]
- [url=http://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox]Freedom Box[/url]