More than a third of rural Americans (37%) don't have broadband Internet at home, according to Pew Research. Even where broadband is available, it tends to be slower. Coronavirus aggravates the problem as millions of workers and students suddenly need to work or study from home.
The Ethereum Althea project is feeding Internet connections in a new way. Use cryptocurrency as a payment method for Internet connections generated by community-powered mesh networks. Network devices accept ether payments (quotation ETH) or DAI, and the company is considering adding more cryptocurrencies in the future.
The digital divide
Even before this crisis, Internet access was a problem for many around the world, in what has become known as the "digital divide". Coronavirus has made matters worse, leading to rapid and often difficult changes and making people even more dependent on the Internet.
"Right now we are mainly working on expanding our networks," said Althea co-founder Deborah Simpier. "This crisis will worsen in the coming months [in the United States], so it's important to start now," he said in a recent call to the community, inviting volunteers to build more networks.
Althea is starting to spread, with networks of various sizes up and running in Tacoma, Washington; Denver, Colorado; and Abuja, Nigeria. And they are planning to expand to Haiti, Ghana, North Carolina and Philadelphia.
It is not only the United States that benefits from this technology during the crisis. Under the leadership of the small business owner Yakubu Yakubu (known as "Yakk Yakk"), the Abuja network (capital of Nigeria) offers the Internet to more than 20 people who had no Internet connections at home before Althea (even if they had slow mobile connections ).
The antennas that transmit the connection, called "relays", are distributed in several houses in the neighborhood. If someone is close enough to one of these relays, they can use it to connect to the Internet. Cryptocurrency comes into play here, as other group members connect to a user's relay and pay it in DAI for his service.
Simpier claims that the Althea network is more flexible than that provided by most Internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable. Althea mesh networks are "often" less expensive, and generally much more practical than building a full-blown radio tower, Simpier says.
“The centrally held infrastructure economy requires thousands of dollars in initial and long-term costs. With decentralization, many people can contribute to capex to build and grow the network and benefit from the revenue generated, "he said.
Simpier said that this flexibility is suitable for this crisis, as people need internet connections right now to work or study. It is not acceptable to wait for giant and expensive radio towers to be built. The goal right now is to understand how to create these networks in just two weeks to deal with the crisis.