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Science Sunday: With Liberty and Internet Access for All

I believe in the internet.  I mean, obviously it exists, that’s not the issue.  I believe that unfettered access to different people and ideas is the best defense against tyranny, whether governmental or the thought policing that religions engage in.  I believe that access to a global commerce network allows people to engage in business ventures that would be untenable at local interest rates and also allows people to move away from an exclusively cash based economy, which is good because that sucks.* I believe access to the arts of many cultures on demand just makes this world a better place.

As always, feel free to disagree on any or all specific point, but internet access is important.  The UN has declared blocking access to the internet a human rights violation, because it’s that important.

I said all that because I recently became aware that the open wireless movement exists. (I realize I am way behind on the news here, but hey, I was living in East Africa when this was formed.)  The sole point being to open private wireless networks to any public that might need them, and also maybe make it common for people to use others’ networks so that maybe the police won’t just assume that the owner of a network is responsible for downloads of child pornography and just show up with a SWAT team.  I support this movement.  I so completely support this.  In some places, though not others, it’s actually illegal to use other people’s networks without explicit permission, and in most cases people just password protect their networks.  It is so very very convenient to have internet access wherever and whenever.  I realize the American Dream is to have your own stuff and never share, but I also deeply believe we should be trying to build a better American Dream than that. I, like most people I know, have at times depended on the kindness, or at least negligence, of strangers to get online, so I really should be willing to pay that forward. Besides, I own 3 internet enabled devices currently plus a few more that I could theoretically fix.  Assuming I have a 100 Mbit/s connection from my ISP (because 100 is an easy number to work with, I don’t actually know what I get currently), if I am downloading as much as I can on all 3 devices each one is still getting ~33 Mbit/s, which is more than enough to keep me happy. That’s easily enough to torrent most things really fast and stream media in high enough definition for my purposes. Since odds are that I am not going to be downloading constantly on all 3 devices all the time–if nothing else, I am not always either awake or home–I might as well share.  If I do have important internetting that requires a lot of bandwidth, it’s not like I can’t temporarily make my network completely private again.

Now I am not actually opening my wireless right now, because I am subleasing an apartment at the moment and I don’t control the router.  I’m not about to just open my network willy nilly here, I would absolutely want total control of the router.  I would want my network partitioned into guest and personal blocks such that never the twain shall meet.   This isn’t just for security reasons, though that’s a big part of it, but so that I can be sure that I have sufficient capacity to meet my needs at all times on the off chance that a bunch of college students (in my experience, the most likely people to abuse free network access, and really, why shouldn’t they?  It’s not like they have a lot of money to buy their own access, and they may have crushing student loan debt on top of not having a lot of money) start camping on my doorstep.

Granted, I know my way around router configurations reasonably well, so I could partition my network both for guests and my personal use, but generally when trying to get something commonly accepted it needs to be both easy and inexpensive. (Unless it’s golf, for some weird reason.)  Fortunately we have the Electronic Frontier Foundation working on open source firmware that will, we hope, make it easy for people to partition their networks into public and private blocks and this will, they claim, work on some inexpensive hardware.  This firmware will supposedly be released in the middle of this month.  I am very excited to see this.

Onward!  To a more connected and generous world!

*At least, it sucks if the only way you can get cash is to go into the nearest town that is large enough to even have a bank, and then pray that at least one of the maybe three ATMs is both working and actually has money in it that day, because when you rely on cash and cash only, and the only reliable way to get cash is to stand in lines at the bank, those lines can take 4 hours or more.  Sure, some people prefer to use only cash, and in developed countries, this is not an inconvenience, and I totally respect people making their own choices about how to manage their finances, but I love not having to rely on cash.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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