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Stuck at Home with Slow Internet, Rural Communities Turn to Mesh Networks

Millions of Americans are stuck at home, having to adapt to working, communicating, and shopping remotely. Unfortunately, many rural communities have subpar connectivity. That’s why residents in Clatskanie, Oregon, are turning to a company called Althea, which makes wireless mesh-networking hardware to provide community-wide wireless Internet access.

A diagram showing how Althea works

Althea community organizers set up access to a “backhaul,” a connection to the Internet’s backbone. Participating residents then install antennas on their houses to receive and optionally relay the signal to other homes. Here’s the twist: relayers are compensated in cryptocurrency, either Ethereum or Dai.

Community mesh networking isn’t a new idea, but the COVID-19 pandemic could help make it a more realistic possibility for rural communities around the world.

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Comments About Stuck at Home with Slow Internet, Rural Communities Turn to Mesh Networks

Notable Replies

  1. Why pay you in crypto? And a weird variant at that. Likely they’ll say convenience or something. But if they chose dollars more would do it, as users wouldn’t have the issue of having to convert it manually themselves – especially as most norms have no idea on crypto either.

    Sounds gimmicky, TBH.

  2. I’m decidedly an end user who needs to look things up even to remember the max data rates promised by the various iterations of 802.11 WiFi, so the tech behind this is fairly opaque to me. However, there’s obviously expensive hardware involved, and I wonder about who’s responsible for maintaining that in a very rural community, as well as about who’s responsible for preserving privacy with all that bandwidth sharing.

    My very uneducated guess is that Elon Musk’s gambit makes much more sense, so long as he doesn’t upset the wrong astronomer in the process of deploying all those tiny satellites into low-earth orbit. I’ve not yet seen predictions of just when his ISP will be available, how many customers it will support worldwide, and just what it will cost residential end users, however

  3. No idea, but it may be one of those things where the actual amounts are so small that micropayments don’t make sense. So if you run it through a crypto system, it can be highly automated and people tend not to take money out.

    All that said, I can’t pretend that I understand all these random cryptocurrencies that are being created.

    Again, I have no special insight here, but I would imagine that there would be some sort of legal collective that would be formed to pay for the hardware and establish responsibility for maintenance. When we lived in Seattle, we had to be part of a road association for maintenance of the road to our house and a water association for maintenance of the well that served our house and about six others. They weren’t a lot of fun, but they generally were effective for getting things done.

  4. I won’t retell my story about how it took a month to obtain internet service from Comcast in arguably the most tech-savvy corner of the planet, but let’s just agree that patching asphalt and keeping wells working to distribute potable water are a bit less daunting challenges than making sure one’s internet connection is functional, private, secure, and stable. That’s true even though I’d never attempt to patch my own driveway or do my own water tests, yet WOULD gather data to berate Comcast. The latter is true only because I have at least more than the typical end-user’s comprehension of when and why my internet connection is not what it should be. Expecting people in rural farming communities to find someone among their number to assume that challenging responsibility is a HUGE ask.

    An analogy: I had a house in a 46 home HOA-ruled community in Santa Rosa, CA. The entire subdivision disappeared in about 30-45 minutes on the night of October 8, 2017. We had elected a new HOA board (5 homeowners) about 2 months earlier. They had reasonable expectations of being forced to control “Joe Badtaste’s” desire to repaint his garage door vomit green, or to explain to “Bill Tasteless” why he couldn’t bring his entire office staff to the community swimming pool for six hour drunken parties; one of their number was the treasurer, but the community budget was entirely managed by a property management company. Overnight those five people acquired uncompensated more-than-full-time jobs, including fiduciary responsibility for a $50,000,000 reconstruction budget.

    I can’t imagine being responsible for explaining to my neighbor what cryptocurrency flow is happening on his roof, let alone why his internet connection vanished during Dancing with the Stars or his favorite tractor pull show or even the debate he stayed up until 2 am to watch on PBS or (even worse) retrieve his time shifted recording of the same on C-SPAN, let alone whether the neighborhood collective bears any liability for how his 10 year old son suddenly had access to the “dark web” or why his bank account passwords were just acquired by a beatiful but lonely 35 year old woman living in Ukraine but whose email address ends in .ru.

    I’ll wait for Elon Musk’s sky pollution for my own rural internet connection bet.

  5. This image, and the rest of the paragraph, is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. :-)

  6. I’m assuming the routers probably also double as crypto miners, with Althea getting a cut. The downside is more electricity and bandwidth consumption, but the upside is decent rural Internet access and you get a cut of the payment.

    The two “coins” used, Etherum and Dai, are both well established. Dai is what’s called a “stablecoin,” meaning it doesn’t fluctuate up and down like Bitcoin. It’s pegged to the value of the US dollar. I doubt anyone will get rich from forwarding packets, but it’s an incentive to participate in the network, and actually a pretty good use of crypto.

  7. Does anything like “Cryptocurrency For Dummies” exist? I seem to recall something called digitalcash eons ago, which I thought was an early form of cryptocurrency, and then the controversies and subsequent explosion of bitcoin. It seemed as if I blinked and a plethora of crypto appeared. Are they all a gamble?

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