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By Joanna Slusarewicz

How mesh networking fuels global protest

Over the years, many have noted the influence that social media have had on uprisings worldwide by facilitating greater communication and mobility for protesters.

In light of the new role of social media, many world governments have begun to limit access to sites that promote collaboration and organization amongst citizens. However, the 2014 Hong Kong protests demonstrated the ability of municipality-wide mesh networks to increase the access of the public to cheap, unrestricted internet. The ability of the networks to bypass the government's firewall demonstrates their potential to power protests locally and globally. [1]

As social media emerges as a tool to fuel revolution, one of the greatest obstacles protesters face is not an effective way to communicate, but limited access to these means. In countries like China, governments block access to sites like Facebook that may enable communication between protesters, because regimes understand the power of unification to enable change.

Unluckily for demonstrators, the basic construction of many country's internet infrastructure leaves connections open to bureaucratic tampering. Since traditional internet relies on wiring and physical connectivity constructed by large service providers, it is relatively painless for large governments to control internet traffic flow. China's "Great Firewall" is a direct result of this centralization of internet service. [2]

The idea of mesh networking mitigates this challenge. Since mesh networking functions by dispersing the range of a single access point over a large area by broadcasting the same internet to other routers, all that is necessary to fuel an entire protest is a single satellite connection. [3]

The Hong Kong protests proved the true value of mesh networks. [4] In a nation traditionally plagued by censorship and restriction, protesters used the app "FireChat" to communicate freely with a single connection. "FireChat" worked as a mesh network, enabling users within range to communicate with a single internet connection-a connection that could be neither monitored nor tampered with by the Chinese government.

The delocalized nature of mesh networking not only allowed for greater ease of access to communication networks, but also enabled greater user privacy. Thousands of individuals operating under one connection are able to cloak themselves in their sheer numbers, and in a nation with harsh punishments for subverting government authority, anonymity can provide the lifeblood that keeps a revolution alive and its participants safe from retribution. [5]

Currently, there exist a few challenges to the broader implementation of mesh networking worldwide: the broadband necessary is great and the initial investment costs are high. But as research continues, these challenges appear increasingly surmountable.

The potential impact that mesh networking could have to fuel future protests is undeniable. As the method proves to be the most efficient and economical way to provide internet to third-world areas due to their lack of infrastructure, a broader availability of the technology will bring freer internet to larger areas. [6] The future impacts of technology can be unpredictable, especially in the area of communication, but the demonstrated capabilities of mesh networking suggest that our tomorrow may be filled with significantly greater freedom of expression, for every global citizen.

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