The Tool

The Internet is the tool of the revolution.  It is a tool for changing the structure of power from one in which power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people to one in which political power is more equally distributed to every citizen of planet Earth.

The equipment that makes the Internet work is called routers.  All of the information that is sent through the Internet, whether it is text, music, video, or images, is broken into packets.  Each packet contains the address of the source computer and the address of the destination computer.

It is the job of the routers to read the address of the destination computer from each packet, and to send those packets in the shortest path through the network that will get them to their destination as quickly as possible.  As each packet arrives at its destination, a signal is sent to the originating computer to acknowledge that the packet was received.

The set of rules that determines in detail how this happens is called the Internet Protocol.  The version of this protocol that is still most widely used is version four, or IPv4.  In IPv4, each address is written with a string of 32 zeros and ones, or 32 bits.  There are over four billion unique ways to arrange a string of 32 zeros and ones, which sounds like a lot, but is inadequate considering that there are now over seven billion people on planet Earth.

A new set of rules, IPv6, has been developed that uses 128 bits for each address.  This means there are over four billion times four billion times four billion times four billion unique addresses in IPv6.  This should be enough for the forseeable future.

Has your Internet provider given you an IPv6 address yet?

With an IPv6 address, your computer would have a unique, permanent IP address instead of a temporary one.  This would make your computer a first class citizen on the Internet.  It is difficult to imagine all of the possibilities that will emerge with IPv6 software plus applications such as voice and video conferencing running on your own smartphone, virtual reality headset, home security system, personal robotic assistant, or whatever it may be.  Some of those devices might be futuristic, but IPv6 is a well established standard, and has already been installed on billions of devices, possibly including the one you are using to read this.

In addition to IPv6, another way to upgrade the Internet is to add storage to routers.  This way, copies of popular content can be stored locally, or closer to the user.  Since popular content is accessed repeatedly, having copies in nearby cache, or storage, is a more efficient way of delivering it to the user instead of going through multiple routers to the original source each time for the same content.

This might run into conflict with copyright laws.  Provisions in new trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, might place even more restrictions on such copying.  The ultimate solution would be to create a public fund to pay for bulk licensing agreements for creative content.  The authors, artists, composers, musicians and so on would be paid for their work, and the users, from the richest to the poorest, could enjoy the content without paying a fee per use, and without being subjected to advertising for access. The Internet would work more efficiently by having copies of the most popular content stored as close to the users as possible, which is especially important for people in the most remote locations who have the slowest connections to the Internet.

Speaking of connections to the Internet, even though the highest speed connections are with fiber optic cable, most of us connect our devices to the Internet wirelessly, very frequently through WiFi routers.  One problem with WiFi is that the frequencies of the radio spectrum that have been assigned to it are the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) and the 5.8 GHz bands. These are microwave frequencies, and do not penetrate walls or trees very well.

Slower frequency, longer wavelength bands of the radio spectrum, such as 700 MHz, are much better able to penetrate walls and trees.  These longer wavelength bands of the radio spectrum are usually controlled by broadcast radio and TV companies.  There is a technology called whitespace WiFi that tries to use the narrow bands that separate the channels of the radio and TV broadcasters, but this is underdeveloped, partly because of resistance by the incumbent "owners" of that spectrum.  The word "owners" is in quotes because radio spectrum is a public resource.

Wait a minute, though.  It is possible to enjoy live streaming audio and video over the Internet.  Why not allow the manufacturers of WiFi routers to use all of that long wavelength spectrum, that has a range of miles instead of a few hundred feet, and tell the radio and TV broadcasters to start sending their content over the Internet with IP multicasting?

It is also possible to build WiFi routers that contain multiple radios that can operate at different frequencies at the same time.  With additional advanced technologies such as beamforming, which can direct the radio signal towards a specific user, and such as digital signal processing that can actually use the interference between different signals to enhance the specific signal that is directed towards a specific user, there could be WiFi routers that could serve thousands of users within a range of miles.  If we put more than one radio in our smartphones, we could support mesh wireless networking that would extend the range of the connections even more miles.  So, we could get the rest of humanity connected to the Internet with fewer additional miles of fiber optic cable, and with fewer launches of satellites, or balloons, or drones, or whatever.

There is one more important point to make about the Internet and the routers that make it work.  Putting packet sniffing technology, and backdoors, and other ways of inspecting what is being sent through the Internet, even if it is under the orders of national security officers, is a bad idea.  It slows down the transmission of information, and actually makes things less secure.

The only thing routers should do is get the packets from the sender to the destination as quickly and reliably as possible.  One way to make sure of this is to insist that the routing software be open source.  This means that the software instructions would be published on the Internet, and there would be inspections to make sure that this was the software that actually was installed in the routers.

What about the terrorists?  Let me ask this.  What about the thousands of children around the world who die every day from malnutrition and other easily preventable causes?  If there were good Internet connections into the communities where those children live, and we could actually see their faces instead of the faces of the politicians, maybe there would be fewer of us living and dying each day with such terrible unmet needs.

The Internet is going to form the basis of our civilization for years to come, if there is a future for human civilization.  The way the Internet works is important.  In fact, this is something that should be taught in our schools so that children have a clear understanding of how the Internet works at as early an age as possible.

Such awesome technology should be used to do something awesome.  How about organizing a global referendum to approve a plan for worldwide demilitarization that is based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter?  That would be awesome.

What do you think?  What can you do?  Can you share this article with someone else? If you know someone who would like to be added to the Global Citizens Database, can you do that for them?

John Kintree
November 6, 2016