Mesh For Progress
Mesh networks + Blockchain = equitable internet access and digitalization
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Target groups

Change makers, Public figures and influencers, and Public sector officials

Observation

Changemakers etc know: a population facing "last mile" hurdles to internet connectivity shall, consequently, lag behind in digitalization. Also, history has shown that reliance on centralized internet access makes communities vulnerable to the whims of government figures, internet service providers (e.g. in the Arab Spring https://goo.gl/gbULRD ), and vulnerable to communication breakdowns during natural disasters/conflicts/etc.

Conclusion

Hybrid wireless mesh networks are a solution for cheaper, community-centric internet infrastructure and connectivity. They allow local/global internet access through peer-to-peer connections, and users can stay connected even their access to the global internet fails. However, global internet access is not free. Costs need to be shared in proportion to the usage. There's need for a transactional system that balances equitable internet access with fair play controls.

Solution

We will empower communities (e.g. in underserved areas) with internet connectivity via hybrid wireless mesh networks. To ensure fair play & reasonable use (no hogging!), a blockchain-based system can be overlaid on the mesh, to allocate credits for internet access, rewards for sharing, volunteerism, etc. Communities can share in equitable development, balanced with financial sustainability.

Key Problem

While cellular penetration is improving in MENA, internet penetration/usage in many communities lags behind. Especially in areas underserved by cellular towers or ISPs. Communities need a more decentralized, cheap/pay-as-you-go mode of internet access. To keep users honest (fair use, equitable) and the internet access financially sustainable, we need the target community to share ownership. For that, a communal payments/credits system may reside distributed (Blockchain?) on the users' devices.

Which field and which area?

Internet infrastructure, Transactional/payment systems, Community ownership, Social justice and equitable access.

Equitable access to the internet, just like access to education, healthcare, etc is essential to bridge socioeconomic gap between the haves and have-nots in MENA. KhanAcademy Arabic has only 77K subscribers!

For e.g., in Tunisia, about half the population does not have internet access. About 8+ Mil have mobile data, but many more cannot afford data and data's benefits.

Effects of the problem

When segments of the population, especially in underserved areas (e.g. slums, rural, or remote, or commercially unviable locations) get left behind, the chasm between the haves and have-nots gets wider...creating a vicious loop, and a recipe for future social unrest!

Solution

Encourage mesh networking in communities. Ensure equitable, reasonable use (no hogging of bandwidth!), freemium/pay-as-you-go usage. A system (Blockchain?) allocates credits for internet access, kudos for sharing, for positive contributions to the community through volunteerism ( includes maintenance & support of the mesh, other community initiatives). This coalesces community, ensures financial/technical sustainability of the mesh, and might even spawn a digital ecosystem around the mesh.

Additional Slide - 1

One possible way to implement this idea: 1. DAN members use their contacts to identify communities for pilot projects. 2. Demo a Portable Network Kit to such communities, enlist students and interested community members. Community fundraising, match amount from DAN. 3. Train community members, students to maintain and expand the mesh after initial setup by DAN or DAN's local volunteers. 4. See usage trends. Involve community in any decisions to overlay a ledger/Blockchain implementation.

Additional Slide - 4

Here is a success story from a community in Tunisia: "Mesh Sayada, is a collaboratively designed and built wireless network. The town of Sayada is located on the Tunisian coast, 140 kilometers from Tunis. The network serves as a platform for locally-hosted content, such as Wikipedia and Open Street Maps, and is expected to expand to include locally created content." Such a mesh has potential to provide economic value through an ecosystem that forms around it in subsequent years.

A. https://commotionwireless.net/files/posts/041814-Case-Study-Sayada.pdf

B. How a crowdfunded effort after Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico) created Portable Network Kits for mesh use. https://goo.gl/kEWMyn

Tips: 1. Involving and training students/teenagers within a community is very effective at mobilizing interest within the larger community. 2. Businesses, non-profits, and some local governments can sponsor the set up and maintenance costs. Businesses can use it as a source of goodwill/advertising.

Additional Slide - 5

Mesh networking is ripe for innovation. Look at Thread consortium ( www.threadgroup.org ), goTenna (using radio waves to send text messages in the absence of cellular towers and internet connectivity), the detailed kit construction and setup instructions from PNKgo.com etc. How about DAN adapt existing resources to Arabic language manuals, innovate further in design/protocols, and scale its use in the target countries?

Mesh networks are not just for rural or underserved areas alone. They have been used in urban communities, also - in communities that wanted to improve their resilience to unexpected connectivity outages, and wanted to democratize connectivity.

Just like the schematics of a home or a car help replicate/build it, once DAN creates a roadmap for communities to acquire, set up, and maintain their own mesh networks, the model can be replicated across multiple communities in the target countries.

The goal: Equitable connectivity for equitable growth.