A new vision for the Internet, Part 1.

It is difficult to convey how I think the Internet should change, without some basis of comparison. Instead of explaining all the small incremental changes that I think should happen, I’ll tell you some short(ish) stories instead. These stories are about people who live in the new world we can create together, a few years into the future. These stories are not intended to be apocryphal or utopian in any way — just normal people dealing with common life changes. This is the story of Marie’s big move.

Marie’s Big Move

Marie is a successful freelance journalist, with an equally successful spouse who specializes in home management. They have a couple of school age kids together. No one in the house could be considered an expert on the Internet. They just know the Internet is convenient for communications and entertainment, and they don’t think much about its inner workings. They don’t have any separate phone or cable service — those are all just data, and thus provided on the Internet. Because they live in a small European country with 100% Internet access as part of its constitution, they don’t pay any Internet bills either, except in the form of egalitarian progressive taxes for the national network. They just maintain direct network connections (and other personal ties) with immediate neighbors, using their home router. Those neighbors in turn connect to other adjacent neighbors, and so on. They all share wired connections along their fence lines, and wireless signal antennas on their roofs. They only have to pay to replace these things when they break, or when they want to upgrade to something new,  just like all their other home appliances and infrastructure. Their plumbing happens to require more frequent maintenance than their network does. They have a trusted plumbing repair service, and a trusted network repair service, stored in the family contact list.

In this small country, their national Internet services are all encrypted, and they’re so secure that everyone votes in the democratic elections online, from their home computers. Nobody in this country calls their personal pocket computers “phones” anymore — everyone knows that’s an archaic single-purpose device that doesn’t exist today.

Marie’s news agency has allowed her to work from home, over a secure connection into her editor’s office, so her house location was never a big issue for her employers. Her new work assignment has changed that, so now she must move to the United States, into Washington D.C.  Her new political visual reporting assignment requires her to live close to the U.S. capital, so that she can relay news scene visuals and audio as needed, along with her written accounts. The agency provides a camera with a wireless Internet connection for this purpose. The news agency owns a local office node, and they pay a local Washington D.C. business cooperative quarterly for unlimited uplink access. Marie never has to see or deal with the office’s wireless access bills.

Marie has found her new home in D.C.  Luckily, the home comes with an Internet router pre-installed, that is already connected to her new neighbors. The router is fast enough for her work, the kids’ homework, and home entertainment, so she doesn’t have to buy an upgrade. The previous owners have agreed to reset the router’s trust settings, and to leave the router behind and fully configured, as a condition of sale. They even threw in a 1-year home appliance warranty in with the sale contract, which covers the router, fence-mounted lines, roof-top antennas, and all the other interior lines and home appliances.  Marie and her spouse can thus leave their old router behind in their old house, for the new owners to use. They transfer their old router settings into wallet storage, and then reset the router trust settings  for the new owners, by request. The new owners change the door locks once they move in, because that’s a lot more difficult and time-sensitive than changing the home router trust settings.

During the week of move-in, Marie and her spouse meet some of their new neighbors. The new neighbors are mostly friendly, and provide a lot of helpful advice on local resources, including local online resource addresses. After meeting, Marie decides to assign most of the neighbors a “medium” trust level on the router, except for one grumpy codger who smelled of whiskey. She immediately pulls in resource link addresses from all neighbors with a “moderate” trust level or higher. A few weeks later, the grumpy neighbor saves the family kitten from running out toward the street, so Marie moves his trust level up to medium, and his resource links are copied into the home router. One of his resource links conflicts with the same links by the other neighbors (due to a typo), so it’s thrown out automatically. After several conversations at PTA meetings, a few other neighbors are later updated to a “somewhat trusted” level. The only person Marie ever assigns with “absolute trust” is her spouse. Their trust-network gradually grows as their local connections do. They maintain some trust connections with old friends from their old home.

America is a lot bigger than the European country Marie’s family is coming from. When she tries to get on an international web site that she used to watch monthly, she gets a bandwidth pre-payment warning. She never got these warnings before, because trans-national Internet connections were paid via her taxes. Her previous government also maintained local peer nodes with all the major international online services. The warning page tells her about local Internet Service Cooperatives (ISC’s) she can join, along with ratings by neighbors, ranked in order of neighbor trust levels. She thinks a moment about skipping this step, and just buying an annual “peer subscription” with the international site she was attempting to access directly. The site would pay all the bandwidth costs up to their nodes, in return for her subscription. She thinks the kids might like a cartoon serial on another international site that lacks a local node, and the subscription costs to both sites add up to more than the cooperative membership costs. Finally, she signs up with a local ISC, where her most trusted neighbors are all members.

Upon registering at the ISC, Marie immediately becomes a voting member. She gets to see the results of past votes, and biographies for the entire board of directors. Marie is happy with the cooperative’s past and current network management goals, including their low-income member subsidy policies, so she stays with them past the trial period. Her local cooperative also happens to be part of a strong national non-profit federation of cooperatives, so their trans-national connection maintenance costs are low. She pays a small membership maintenance fee every month. She also gets discounts for local “Internet Driver Club” (IDC) memberships, and chooses a club with equipment repair offices within walking distance. This comes in handy the one time her laptop breaks down. It turns out to be a corrupt memory slot, so the IDC mechanic has it working again within a couple of hours. Marie doesn’t know what memory slots are, but she’s happy that the laptop was fixed so quickly. She trusts that her IDC-approved mechanic couldn’t rip her off, at least not without being caught by the IDC’s Certification Committee. The mechanic would never risk losing IDC Certification.

Epilogue

The United States government eventually figures out that every single citizen is using the Internet, and finally decides to nationalize all national and transnational connections’ maintenance. It passes related bills unanimously, and pays for it all via egalitarian progressive taxation. The U.S. Congress forms a national Department of Communications Transport, entirely separate from MILNET. Smaller meshed networks are maintained as a matter of course by state, county, and city governments as appropriate. International links are maintained and grown on the basis of treaty agreements. Internet Service Cooperatives merge with Internet Driver Clubs, and become comprehensive non-profit Local Information Technology Cooperatives.

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