With all of the talk about censoring the internet with things like SOPA, PIPA and now ACTA, comes the possibility of creating an entirely new free internet immune to censorship – high-altitude geostationary solar-powered dirigible wireless server drones. Already DIY drones are taking off everywhere – see this video for a good idea of how citizens can counter the increasing surveillance of the state by spying back on them. Ideally these drones would all be connected to each other in a self-healing mesh-network, should any of them fail, get lost or be “shot down” by unfriendly forces.

Now comes this news about Pirate Bay’s intent to create “Low Orbit Server Drones”:

The Pirate Bay, the file-sharing site, has, at this point, generally accepted the fact that their front-end servers are perpetually at risk of being confiscated by some government or other that they’ve ticked off with their “crazy” ideas of freedom of information. Whether or not you agree with The Pirate Bay, you can probably understand the seriousness of what they’re up against, so it’s not really that surprising that they’ve been looking for a place a bit more out of reach to stash their hardware. Their latest idea? Low Orbit Server Drones.

A Low Orbit Server Station (or LOSS), as best as we can tell, would be a small customized robotic blimp of some sort that would float “some kilometers” up in the air, keeping station with GPS. On board would be a microcomputer (TPB mentions the Raspberry Pi, a cheap ARM Linux box, as one possibility) and a radio transmitter. A ground station could talk to the blimp at 100 Mbps from up to 50 km away, acting as a remote, distributed proxy system. The idea here is that in order for anyone to raid the aerial proxies, they’d have to launch an aerial attack of some sort on the robot blimp network. As TPB puts it:

“This way our machines will have to be shut down with aeroplanes in order to shut down the system. A real act of war.”

We’re not sure about the legal aspects here, or if there are even any precedents for something like this. But, it’s certainly an interesting (and potentially incendiary) approach that The Pirate Bay is looking to take. And not just looking: this is apparently going to happen for real, and the first drone in the network will take station somewhere in international waters. Probably a good plan.



Digital Lockdown: A Way Out

December 11th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Digital Imprimatur by John Walker is what the original internet could end up looking like if cooler heads do not prevail. As Stephen Levy describes it:

Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

However, I see a way out, which I will do my best to describe below. If anyone can see a weakness in my network (or how to enhance it!), please don’t hesitate to comment below or email me. All ideas will be considered and posted with your permission. This issue is too important not to be solved.


An internet by the people for the people.

Currently the internet is very centralized. People say it isn’t, but all the main functions, the DNS servers, and the main pipes all go through major carriers and companies pipelines. The protocols for this network are governed by ICANN and soon possibly the UN itself. More and more people are getting online through large cable and telco carriers, making access all the more centralized and controlled by the biggest players. All this is adequately described in the Digital Imprimatur above. There are good and bad reasons for the lockdown, but it still will be that – a lockdown. And there is probably little any one of us can do to stop it’s inevitable occurrence.

However, what is to stop you, me or anyone else from setting up our own seperate but parallel adhoc local network in our neighborhoods?


Using very cheap off-the shelf hardware available at radio shack anyone will soon be able to build a GNU Radio that will be able to communicate with anyone else’s GNU Radio. These radios will be general purpose wireless computing devices that communicate over the open airwaves. Regulated or not, these devices will flourish underground rapidly as there power to connect and network become apparent. It’s only a matter of time before a general purpose GNU Radio ends up in the hands of anyone who wants to get one. While the internet gets more locked down, Microsoft implements strong DRM, and even more ominous lockdowns are put in place along the network itself, more and more hobbiest will be computing and communicating with these handheld units and modified laptops and other devices. The chips running from them will also be modified, cheap and out of control. Certainly they will not be as powerful as the latest Intel or AMD processors with all the DRM built into them, but they will function as general purpose devices without any of those restrictions. Their range could easily extend beyond a mile, and I also suspect you’ll start seeing people add rogue (maybe at some point illegal) solar powered repeaters and routers on mountains tops to help one community of GNU users communicate with another community.

The beauty of this idea, is it will become very popular as people quickly realize they can enjoy the benefits of the old internet once again. People will still use the old internet to do boring business transactions and access information allowed by government censors, but when people want to do what they have always done on the internet before commercial and government interests took over, they’ll switch over to the new internet.

This new internet will not be limited to GNU radios, only that the GNU radio concept will form the kernal of the infrastructure of how it will switch and route traffic from one mesh-network to another. Premium prices will be fetched for older non-DRM motherboards and processors, and a black market of non-DRM chips and motherboards will make their way into the country like the smuggling of drugs once were. It will be big business for smaller, economically disadvantaged countries and/or underground fab plants to make these devices. And while I can see that the governments will go to war against this free internet, as incredulous as that sounds, it will be unstoppable, just as drugs have been. And as the drug war is an unwinnable proposition, so will this new war against free information. It may take many years, but the old guard  the old business models are doomed to failure. This coming dark age and death of the internet as we’ve come to love it, is these behemoths making a last ditch effort to save themselves from extinction.

Another possibility is someone could create a general purpose computing emulator that would run on top of existing locked down hardware and software. This emulator would be a general purpose computer, and as such could emulate all the old programs and OS’s. Using strong encryption and other clever stealth p2p methods, a general purpose totally free internet could emerge anyway. The argument is would such a program be difficult to everyone but the hardest core nerds, and the answer is no, because the demand for its use would be too high to keep it complex for long. This demand met by eager “shit disturbing” programmers will endeavor to bring such an easy to use program to people as quickly as possible.

Another possibility is some clever combination of these two strategies. GNU radio devices connect to DRM computers accessing the internet via general purpose emulators, which in turn route their encrypted data disguised as other more harmless data, transferring it overseas to other peoples ad-hoc mesh-networks of GNU radios in their country. If this can be pulled off, then we’d have the internet back as we once knew it.

The end result is whether we go the hardware route using GNU radios, the software route using general computing emulators, or the clever combination fo the two, it’s merely an escalation between the power of control the spirit of freedom. My guess is this freedom will continue to be sustained long enough that the old models will no longer be able to maintain their existence in the face of it. Those that are left will have to accept that some of us desire to communicate freely and there is little or nothing you can do to stop us. Sure, we’ll use your internet, which I think should be called the real darknet, to do so-called “legitimate” transactions, and will use the free “lightnet” for the rest of our fun.


WiMax and 802.16

April 13th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on WiMax and 802.16)

Several companies are launching a non-profit group to promote IEEE’s new standard 802.16. I haven’t had time to catch myself up with this new standard, or its potential to democratize telecommunications, but from intial reading it looks promising. From the original story:

The standard — which the IEEE modified in January — is a wireless MAN technology that will connect 802.11 hot-spots to the Internet and provide a wireless extension to cable and DSL for last mile broadband access. 802.16 provides up to 31 miles of linear service area range and allows users connectivity without a direct line of sight to a base station. The technology also provides shared data rates up to 70Mbps, which, according to WiMax, is enough bandwidth to simultaneously support more than 60 businesses with T1-type connectivity and hundreds of homes. Many insiders argue that WiMax could pose a real threat to 3G and other wide area cellular data technologies. They claim that WiMax-powered hot spots could cheaply offer wireless broadband access to citywide areas, bringing Wi-Fi closer to cellular network levels of ubiquity.

[Update – 3/27/12 – to my knowledge any and all technologies capable of long-range wireless transmission have been squelched by big business/big government collusion. The last thing incumbents want is a free and unlicensed long-range wireless internet they don’t control. As of this writing, WiMax is the exclusive domain of large incumbent wireless providers, charging a fortune for their oligopolized access.]


The Wireless Future?

February 26th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Wireless Future?)

From Eric Schwartz:

Let me tell you how it will go:

Apple gets tired of releasing new, faster wireless hardware (AirPort, AirPort Extreme, AirPort Insane, AirPort Illegal). So they release one box, software upgradeable to use whatever new protocols and frequencies become available. As consumers clamor for more bandwidth the FCC opens up more spectrum, making the adjustable boxes more valuable.

Meanwhile the boxes are getting stronger too, able to push bits for farther distances. They’re cheap and popular enough that all of San Francisco is covered a forest of overlapping wireless. It’s time to unify them. The next software upgrade turns this collection of hub-and-spoke networks into one large mesh, letting packets bounce from one base station to another, perhaps stopping at a few laptops in between.

This giant network becomes the home to a high-bandwidth file sharing network. The RIAA and MPAA look on in horror. Thereís no ISP to go after, if they shut down one node the packets just bounce thru a different path. At least it’s just San Francisco, they think.

Brewster buys a faster Internet connection and opens it up to this giant wireless network. Everyone in SF cancels their cruddy cable and DSL service, and uses real high-speed two-way Internet connections, running their email and web servers from home, like the creators intended.

The ISPs are furious; they look for an excuse to cut off Brewster’s Internet connection. Perhaps it’s all the file sharing going on over it, or maybe someone in the mesh is distributing child porn. Whatever. They cut it off.

San Francisco revolts, pressuring their lawmakers to require ISPs give them access. Maybe it’s national; maybe it’s just for California. Whatever. The ISPs plead with the lawmakers to stop, but every congressman knows they won’t get reelected for cutting off free Internet connections. High bandwidth wireless broadcasting boxes are installed at all the ISPs, who look on in horror. At least it’s just San Francisco,î they think.

Other cities follow SF’s lead. First New York, then Boston. The same process repeats itself. It wasn’t just San Francisco, they realize.

By then it is too late. The people own the Internet now. When there is censorship, the software routes around it. As long as there is a client and a server, they can communicate. No more DMCA takedown notices, no more Carnivore boxes, no more $40/mo., no more capped upstream, no more running servers is not permitted. The Internet is remade in its original image.

Just thought I should let you know.


[Update 3/22/12 – Unfortunately this is not what happened. Carriers and other entrenched interests managed to stop this – through a combination of lobbying, law changes, license auctions, and buying out enabling technologies. The result is all broadband wireless service is owned by monopolistic forces charging exorbitant rates).


HDTV via GNU Radio

February 22nd, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on HDTV via GNU Radio)

Saw this on Slashdot:

High Definition TV has been successfully captured in its native data stream from an over the air broadcast by a software defined radio that is Free and open source from the GNU Software Defined Radio project.

This is a terrific development. As you may already know GNU Radio is a general purpose radio that is entirely open source. So not only can this device act like any other wireless device, it is not proprietary either. This means that you can capture HDTV signals with an open-source device which is not beholden to special interests and their broadcast flag which will otherwise be rammed down our throats by 2007. This is a classic example of information wanting to be free.


Does Spectrum Policy Abridge Free Speech?

January 23rd, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Does Spectrum Policy Abridge Free Speech?)

Bob “Connectivity” Frankston’s latest essay is up. In this, he asks: if spectrum allocation’s inefficiency puts the airwaves into the hands of the moneyed few, does that constitute an abridgment of speech?

It’s as if we were having a party and someone came into the room and told everyone to be quiet and gave out pieces of paper with a time and a place telling each person when and where they could talk. If there were a possibility young people would overhear you couldn’t use certain words even if there were no other venues and even if you felt the language was appropriate for them. Put that way it seems outrageous. Yet if we communicate using radio waves instead of sound waves that is precisely what the FCC is doing.

Fantastic argument. Now if only we can get the legislative and judicial branches of government to see that monied spectrum allocation is unconstitutional. Fat chance.


Utopia or Oblivion

January 19th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Utopia or Oblivion)

A reader named Chris Hagglund wrote me and had this to say:

Dear Paul:

I was reading your weblog and I found your post from Jan 6 about building a good future for our children. My perspective on the future is from a technology standpoint — basically building the systems that will enable a global democratic society/societies and guaranteeing freedom and opportunities for our children. I know there are a lot of things that need to be done, one of which is to build a ubiquitous free wireless network. I also think that for the sake of our planet we should begin using hydrogen as an energy source sooner rather than later. What do you think about these things? How do you think we can best go about building the utopian future you envision?

Dear Chris,

It’s always nice to hear from people who share my visions and concerns. I believe like Bucky Fuller, that we stand at the precipice of utopia or oblivion, there is no third way. Technologies are becoming so powerful, that we will either destroy ourselves or establish a utopian paradise. Nanotechnology alone will not be able to co-exist with us for long, unless we as a species somehow figures it all out. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to tip the scale towards utopia, except a massive shift in the way people see the world and the choices they make.

Looking at things today, there are at least a few things I hold out promise for and see as necessary to move things in a more positive direction:

1) Open Spectrum – The coming about of a ubiquitous wireless network that is entirely decentralized, ad-hoc, and open. Both you and I already understand why having an unfettered, uncontrollable, open and free network of communication and connection is the surest way to have a free society. No matter how bad it could get otherwise, when people have the ability to communicate, organize and build community without fear, the powers that be loose their power ultimately. They know this, which is why emerging technologies like 802.11 and mesh networks, the politics of spectrum, and other battles to come are so important. Much hangs in the balance. It is my hope that no matter what they do, that these technologies will be so successful and sufficiently disruptive and decentralized that there will be nothing they *can* do. It bears mentioning that ubiquitous computing combined with advance socially enabling software will likely change the balance of power and capital as we know it. See my blog entries on Capital, Power and Ecology and From Global Economy to Global Village for my views on this.

2) Obsolescence of Oil – There is great promise in alternative energy sources. They will continue to get cheaper. As more people invest, the manufacturing costs will continue to go down which in turn encourages more investment. So I not only want us to wean ourselves from oil, I’m hoping it will simply loose out in the marketplace to cheaper alternatives. This will happen eventually as we are closely approaching Hubberts Peak. The shift to a solar-hydrogen economy has the added benefit of encouragaing invesetment in space migration. The politics of oil has been brutal, and unfortunately it looks like its about to get a lot worse. The sad part is that our dependence on oil is going to not only destabilize the world politic its probably going to create a whole new generation of terrorist that will plague us for many years to come. The saddest part of this isn’t so much the terrorism, as it will be societies inappropriate response to it – more oppression, less freedom – basically a society based on tyranny and suspicion rather than openness and trust. This is why its so crucial that we have open communications and the transparency it engenders. And it would help if our foreign policies didn’t sow the seeds of terrorism in the first place!

So the real question is, will the combination of free communications and cheaper alternatives to oil kick in fast enough to turn the tide? I’m not sure, but I remain hopeful.

So in answer to your question, what can we do today? Well, we can each do our part to spread the word about these liberating technologies, and for those of us who have the skill, build and deploy these technologies as fast as possible. I’m not an engineer, so I’m doing my part, in an otherwise insanely busy life, by publishing this blog and getting people excited about the possibilities – that it’s not too late. Since we only have two choices left – utopia or oblivion, lets start building utopia right now.


Open Spectrum FAQ

January 19th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Open Spectrum FAQ)

David Weinberger has just published a great Open Spectrum FAQ:

Imagine that every American had the same access to the public airways as broadcasters do today.Imagine everyone living within reach of a radio signal had the ability to communicate with everyone else.

Imagine rather than having to worry about how much “bandwidth” is enough, everyone had unlimited access to bits so that the size of what you communicate simply didn’t matter.

You know the effect the Internet has had on how we live and work together? Multiply it by hundred.

Opening the spectrum would turn a federally-managed permissions system into an open market for ideas and creativity. The effects on our democracy and economy should not be underestimated.


Liberation Spectrum

January 16th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Liberation Spectrum)

Cort Doctorow has been a very busy guy lately, publishing his first book under the Creative Commons License. Now he presents us with a short story – an optimistic and compelling vision of a world where open spectrum reigns supreme.


The P2P Endgame

January 7th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The P2P Endgame)

I just read this on Lessig’s Blog:

As cable companies continue to increase the cost of broadband service, and as telcom monopolies are strengthened by changes in FCC policy, it is now absolutely clear what the broadband endgame will be in the US: wireless. Think of a city where every single street light is a node in a mesh (for an example, see meshnetworks), and thus where the cloud of the internet sits on the street like the fog in San Francisco. For almost nothing, cities could provide IP light, as cities provide street lights. Neutral, end-to-end, fast, and cheap.

Lets hope Lessig is right. I’m dubious. The telecoms will use their power to prevent local governments from installing free wireless, claiming it’s unfair competition, socialism, etc. Ironic isn’t it? It’s OK when the government protects them, but “socialism” or “anti-competitive” when it protects us. It has become obvious to me that the telecoms, with their dying business model, are pulling out all the reguatory stops to maintain their monopolies, even if it means stopping the promise of an open wireless era from ever happening. Imagine if special interests in the early 20th century were successful in stopping the automobile. Lets hope FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in deregulating telecom to the monopolies advantage, applies the same philosophical de-licensing of more spectrum. That will be the day, no, seriously. If you believe the U.S. has ever had anything close to a free-market, I have some freedom fries to sell you. Just look at these telecom deals as collusion-as-usual between big government and big business. And its going to get worse before it gets better. Lets not forget, it was the crown-granted monopoly given to the East-Indian Dutch Trading Company that ultimately led to the American Revolution.

The Endgame (as I see it):

Until the ever evolving tinkering going on by smart people makes the world a better place, the corporations will work day and night to control the government and use it to keep the rest of us in line, through torture and violence if necessary. This means no due process, no checks and balances, death by decree. This may seem like bad news, but there is a silver lining to all of this. They are desperate. People do not take kindly to such brutal repression. Those in charge may think they are winning the game, but they are loosing the playing field. They are grabbing things from their last bag of tricks.

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers”, Princess Leia, Star Wars.

For a moment, imagine you were in their shoes. If you were truly secure in your power, would you resort to ever more desperate measures to hold onto it? Think about it. Since it is the system at large, the growing and evolving world that has become the threat, ever more desperate (and futile) means will be made by those in power to stop it. We are likely to see an acceleration of new draconian “laws” and measures passed against the will of the populace or passed in the darkness of night. You can forget about the Constitution. They will own the government, the airwaves and the press. They will lie with impunity. They will do absolutely everything in their power to maintain and grow that power at all cost. Witness the increasing number of “back room” deals already happening between big industry insiders and the government agencies charged with “regulating them”. This is called Regulatory Capture and it is in full swing. There will soon come a turning point, probably sometime in the next 10 years or so, when most people will see the jig is up, the game is rigged and the fix is in. They will realize they’ve been duped and they will either be really pissed off or see it as a tremendous opportunity to start turning things around.

Just to be clear, between now and then, this new corporate elite will use the strong arm of their illegitimate “laws” to maintain their ongoing theft of humanity. As long you depend on them you will feel the pain of this betrayal. The solution will require you to break free of them completely. The big question is this: will the P2P genie now out of the bottle, successful facilitate a global-wide shift in power away from centralized players to everyone else? I believe the answer is yes. I believe this is the question and struggle of our age and we will be remembered for the decisions we make today.

That is the reason why they are trying to stop P2P and other liberating technologies, not for any bullshit reasons like intellectual property, economic growth or national security. They want to stop p2p, because it’s the very thing that will end their monopoly on power forever. Since the transition to these new technologies is inevitable short of total species annihilation, the question is how to transition to this new era as peacefully and harmoniously as possible? Most of us discussing these issues know the answer – trust in the power of the common man, woman, and child. Know that overwhelmingly most people want to do good. Far more harm has come from “leaders” than from anyone else. Most people everywhere want peace, that is the future that beckons us. P2P brings the power to all the people, making it damn near impossible for there to be a monopolization of power ever again. From that time forward things like personal reputation and integrity will matter far more than money and power does today.

Feudalism, and in this case neofeudalism, which they are so desperately trying to impliment, is a dead-end for humanity, and I mean dead end. Without a free and open economy and culture, advances will stop, and we loose our adaptability in the fitness landscape, and thus our survival advantage in the face of the critical challenges that lie ahead. In my very strong opinion, this issue of centralized versus decentralized power is the existential issue of our time. That is why I blog about decentralization and P2P so much, and why it’s so critical we win this. I believe we can, because it is humanity itself, all of us that are fighting for our survival.