Net neutrality woes? This startup has a solution

Mesh networks might provide a net neutral ISP alternative after the repeal of Obama-era net neutrality law.
24 April 2018

Net neutrality is an issue we’ve been dealing with for a while now. Source: Shutterstock

Net neutrality in the US came to a dreaded end on Monday, allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to control internet traffic. But now, a Los Angeles-based startup is looking to create an independent internet as an alternative to the likes of AT&T and Comcast.

File-sharing company WeTransfer says it is partnering with a local outfit called the Community Broadband Project to create a “mesh network” – a decentralized series of wireless routers that allow customers to get online without going through an ISP.

The startup, based in Venice, California, launched the initiative in its local neighborhood in a multi-part effort to combat the effect of the repeal of the Obama-era legislation preventing ISPs from blocking, slowing down, or prioritizing internet traffic, through education and community tech activism.

“Since opening our US headquarters in Los Angeles in 2016, there has been enormous change in legislation and public conversation in the United States, on who controls the internet, how it should be accessed and monitored, and what the government and tech companies owe the public in this sphere,” Damian Bradfield, President of WeTransfer, said in a statement.

The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission in December voted 3-2 to overturn rules barring service providers from blocking, slowing access to or charging more for certain content. The repeal came into effect on Monday.

WeTransfer said it has always centered its work on providing an experience of the internet that is ethical, simple, and seamless, placing digital sustainability as a central guiding principle for the company.

“The end of net neutrality works in direct conflict with this, and inspired the company to use its platform to rally its community to action.”

The repeal prompted WeTransfer to work with Community Broadband Project, a start-up of young entrepreneurs dedicated to creating a cost-effective, fast, and neutral service, to build a new business model for local, community-owned internet service providers that offer net-neutral access.

“This partnership allows both companies to accelerate timelines to provide a net neutral ISP alternative in beta for the neighborhood as FCC legislation comes into effect.”

Mesh Networks

According to Business Insider, Mesh networks have been tools for grassroots organizations looking to shirk the influence of powerful ISPs for years. However, their use isn’t widespread although they are used in rural areas.

And while some tech companies have their own fiber and internet connections, WeTransfer’s initiative is the first to offer independent connections to households in the area.

“We were looking for a way that not only we could benefit from an internet that is net neutral, but also some degree educate people around us that there is an alternative,” Bradfield said.

“What the FCC is doing is basically taking us backward in time where the provider was basically allowed to tell you if you could access BitTorrent or Skype,” Bradfield said.

“Fundamentally we believe the power shouldn’t be with the ISPs to make those sorts of decisions.”