Free Network Movement

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= We are an American student-led organization that aims to bring unfettered network access to as much of humanity as possible.



"The Free Network Movement owes an incredible debt to the Free Software Movement, and pledges them our ongoing support. It was pioneers such as Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen, and John Perry Barlow who initialized this struggle for our freedom. It is to these pioneers that we turn for inspiration and guidance. If not for early and decisive court victories won by Stallman, Moglen, and the Free Software Foundation, it is doubtful that we would today be in a position to advocate for the liberation of cyberspace.

The legacy of the Free Software Movement, however, goes beyond ideology. Open-source networking software will be integral to the development and growth of the Free Network. As such, members of the Free Network Movement are currently contributing code to the Diaspora* project.

Diaspora* will be a secure, elegant, and open-source personal web server application. It is being designed to facilitate the creation of a full featured, highly customizable, and privacy aware peer-to-peer social network. Diaspora* is currently in alpha release, and a large community of programmers has taken ownership of building this software for a new type of network. We believe that the wide release of Diaspora* will be a seminal event in the evolution of our nascent global network.

Still, Freenet’s commitment to free software goes beyond a single application. We hold that certain types of essential software should be free. The invention and improvement of the digital computer over the last sixty has given humanity the ability to reproduce some of its most valuable tools at zero marginal cost. The ethical and philosophical implications of this changing mode of events are many. The notion that we abstain from distributing useful software to those who could use it, despite the fact that it costs nothing to reproduce, is absurd not only from a theoretical standpoint, but also from the standpoint of real and applied economics." (


Three Stage Summary

Isaac Wilder:

"don't think that the intention has ever been to build from scratch. The plan is to use existing infrastructure to build a system that allows for communications that are truly peer-to-peer. This will happen in stages. Briefly:

The first stage is the emergence of cooperatives. This is just people banding together and assembling the toolkit they need to buy access from current providers at better, collective rates.

The second stage is using the exact same toolkit that enables cooperative purchasing to engage in true (seven layer) peer-to-peer networking.

The third stage is to use packet tunelling/vpn technology *inside existing infrastructure* to engage in networking that is opportunistically peer-to-peer. As more and more people engage each each other directly when they have the opportunity, the opportunities to do so will multiply. (Higher free network density means more routes, means less chance that you've got to use corporately owned infrastructure).

So, once a huge number of people are participating in the network, we have a few choices, some of which are better (from my perspective) than others. The worst-case scenario is that we don't have the activation energy to transform the political economy of our infrastructure. The medium case is that we have to raise enough money to build our own backbone in competition with existing corporate facilities. The best case, what makes the most sense to me, is that the participants in the network pool their resources and collectively purchase the existing backbone. I've got little idea how much this would cost, but I do know that humanity, collectively, must possess the resources to procure its own constructions." (Next Net, May 2011)

The Five Freedoms of a Free Network

Isaac Wilder:

"We summarize these benefits in what we call the 'five freedoms': access, transmission, storage, authentication, and consignment.

The first freedom is access - In a Free Network, constituents would pay only the actual cost of owning and operating their share of the network. Buy and power a FreedomNode, and you become part of the Free Network - contribute to your local co-op, and make the economies of scale work to your benefit. Compare this to today's environment, where network 'consumers' pay the costs of access, plus a hefty margin, in order to lease a line that is owned by a corpora- tion.

The second freedom is transmission - this is the ability to send bits from peer-to-peer without the prospect of interference, interception, or censorship. The Free Network achieves this aim through the use of cryptographic best practices, and by eliminating the network chokepoints where packet inspection is likely to occur.

The third freedom is storage - the FreedomBox allows people to run their own network services, such as social networking, telephony, and web hosting, and thereby enables them to maintain posession of those bits. Due to the fact that the FreedomBox is in the posession of its owner, gaining access to its contents would require a warrant or subpoena. This is not the case in the current network environment, where bits pertaining to our private lives are scattered and held in various data centers around the world.

The fourth freedom is authentication - people ought to be able to maintain an identity that is verified as authentic by others. This technology is called a 'Web of Trust,' and is built into the freedom-enabling software stack at a low level. Just as important, however, as the ability to present a verified identity, is the ability to present a pseudonym, or to remain anonymous entirely. The Free Network will make the authentication spectrum easily intelligible to its constituents, and clearly indicate whether a given session is onymous, pseudonymous, or anonymous.

The fifth and final freedom is consignment - the ability to perform exacting mechanisms of access control. In large part, this is about making it easy to see and manipulate individual privacy settings, yet it is also contingent upon storing one's data locally. When people own their own data, and are able to decide exactly who can access it, bit consignment becomes a willing, rather than unwitting action." (draft, September 2011)

Five Stages to the Co-owned Open Meshwork

Isaac Wilder:

"I share the "belief in the radical necessity of humanity's co-owning the physical layer. As I see it, this is the only path to freedom.

To that end, I *have* a roadmap. It has five stages, and follows hot on the tail of this preamble. I see this roadmap playing out over the span of a decade or more, but it does include actionable steps for the present day. (On our way to freedom-land, as Mahalia Jackson said).

Stage 1: The Co-op

Stage one consists of the emergence of network access cooperatives. Stage one has already begun, so instead of speaking hypothetically, I will tell you what it looks like on the ground. I'm not entirely sure of the legality, but I am sure of the justice. Here in Grinnell, IA, the Free Network Movement has built a mesh network that we call grinnellMIND. It allows us to share a single internet connection amongst many physically disparate locations. I live on Broad Street, Dylan lives on Main Street, Martin lives on Park Street, and Anna lives on East. We and many others are able to purchase Internet access cooperatively, thus driving down the amount that each of us pays. This works especially well because of the asynchronous nature of network usage - if we each bought our own connections, they would lay dormant much of the time. We imagine that some day, the entire town of Grinnell might purchase access cooperatively. That day has not yet arrived, but we think it is on its way. This struggle for collective purchasing will have to happen in many towns and cities, the world over. It will have to happen for city blocks and subdivisions, in residential towers and intentional communities. This won't be easy to accomplish, especially when telcos catch wind of what's going on. Still, the obvious economic advantage to the end user (reduced cost) makes this an easy sell to the people.

Stage 2: The Digital Village

The unseen benefit of the aforementioned co-ops is that they wrest the terminal nodes of the network away from the control of the telco/ISP hegemony. This provides for the opportunity of network applications that are truly peer-to-peer. At first, this will only be able to happen within each isolated cooperative community. Imagine that Grinnell (or some other town) makes shared use of a few pipes, whose flow of information is distributed accross the last mile via mesh. Now imagine that each node of that mesh network is a Diaspora pod running a codebase that is specifically designed for use in mesh networks (this is in development, but a ways off). People will still have to rely on the big pipes for access to the wider internet, but to pass each other messages and participate in social networking, at least within the town of Grinnell, we will have achieved a truly peer-to-peer architecture. Thus arises the digital village. What used to be just a co-op for purchasing access has suddenly become a community that is able to share information directly with one another. It takes only a little more imagination to see that Diaspora is one of many applications that could run on this architecture. I happen to believe that the social network is the network's 'killer-app,' and so I have chosen to use Diaspora as an example.

Stage 3: Towards Unity

Stages 2 and 3 are seperated here for clarity, but it seems likely that stage 3 will begin shortly after stage 2, and take place concomitantly. Stage 3 is quite simple. Using packet tunnelling (something like Freenet or TOR, to give an idea) in concert with the existing global network, we can simulate the contiguity of geographically disparate digital villages. Suddenly, people all over the world are able to share with one another directly. Specify a user@a_node@a_network and you've got a unique address for each network user. Of course, the corporate giants still own the backbone at this stage, which is why we can only say *towards* unity. No uprising until Stage 4, please.

Stage 4: A Backbone of our Own

Stage 4 is when the dream of true co-ownership becomes a reality. We are already starting in on what needs to be done here, because it's a pretty tall order, and will take some time. (You gotta do what you gotta do). In Stage 4, we replace the corporate-owned fiber backbone with a backbone of our own. We believe that this will be accomplished via either a constellation of telecommunications satellites or the construction of HF or Whitespace radios . This won't come cheap, but as Patrick was saying, the upfront cost is all that we'll ever have to pay. Satellite dishes or TV-Band towers would replace the pipes that used to come from the ISP, and their connectivity could be distributed throughout every digital village. The only cost that anyone would ever have to pay for network access would be the cost of a mesh node (could be integrated into a PC, or shareable stand alone). Not everyone will be able to afford a node, which is why the roadmap doesn't end with Stage 4.

Stage 5: A Human Right

Once the Mesh Interface for Network Devices is global, we can focus our energies towards providing a node to anyone who wants one. We believe that access to the network is a human right, and this is our vision for supplying it to all of humanity."

An appeal for cooperation

Isaac Wilder:

"A common counter-argument to this proposal is that mesh technologies don't scale beyond a few thousand nodes. Our rebuttal is that they won't have to. The federation of digital villages means that no single mesh would have to grow larger than some optimal number. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that mesh routing protocols will improve rapidly in the near future. The wide release of B.A.T.M.A.N. will provide for a significant improvement in performance of O.L.S.R. Just because something hasn't been done doesn't mean that it can't. We just need to focus our mental energies.

This roadmap comes from the work of the Free Network Movement. We are online at <>

I am a developer for Diaspora. We are online at <>

I am an ambassador for an organization called A Human Right, which is currently at work fundraising for the procurement of satellite bandwidth and equipment. We are online at <> and <>

Let me know if you are interested in collaborating on projects that further the end of network access as a human right. We are having a conference call some time next week. There is a doodle poll here if you want to vote on the time of the call: <>, and an etherpad to set the agenda, here: <>

I am happy to take a stab at any and all questions that pop up about the roadmap, though I worry about my classwork. For now, I'm a college student studying philosophy and computer science, which puts some unfortunate constraints on my time. (Not to mention the parties). So... this is our vision here at the Free Network Movement, and we think it could become a reality in the not-too-distant future. We don't yet have the expertise, resources, or manpower to bring all of this to fruition, but then... perhaps that's where you come in." (email at NextNet list, April 2011)

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