Pando

Open Garden raises $10.8M to build a "Second Internet" -- for the people, by the people

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 18, 2014

From The News Desk

Open Garden has raised $10.8 million to create the next Internet. And as crazy as that sounds, thanks to the success of its FireChat peer-to-peer messaging service, it might just work.

Instead of sending messages through an Internet connection or cellphone network, FireChat uses the Bluetooth and WiFi radios on every smartphone to create its own "mesh network," which can then transfer data between the networks' members without requiring any external infrastructure.

FireChat rose to fame earlier this year when pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong used it to communicate. The application was said to have been downloaded by more than 100,000 people in just 24 hours because they feared the Chinese government might shut down the cell network. (The protestors were speaking out against the perceived rigging of Hong Kong's 2017 election.)

The service can already be used to send text messages and photos between users; Open Garden plans to improve it to allow the transfer of videos, audio files, "and much more," according to International Business Times. It's effectively creating a next-generation, peer-to-peer Internet.

That second Internet, or Internet Two or whatever it will be called, is likely to become increasingly popular in the coming years. Countries around the world have started to restrict Internet freedoms, whether it's through laws requiring companies to keep data on domestic servers or via the imprisonment of people who use the Internet to share information the government doesn't want them to share.

Other countries simply block access to certain services whenever they wish to silence their citizens. Turkey did that earlier this year because its Prime Minister wanted to save face before the country's elections, Thailand's military banned Facebook to contain "unrest," and Iraq blocked access to websites to "prevent extremists from building support through the Web."

People need tools to communicate when their governments wipe out cellphone networks, block access to certain websites, or take the entire country offline. FireChat and other mesh networks provide those tools, and so long as people can download it before the infrastructure allowing them to do so is blocked, it could help preserve tech's promise of open communication.

Governments and corporations alike are trying to destroy the Internet as we know it. FireChat, and services like it, provide the opportunity to create a new kind of Internet outside their control. That might seem ridiculous here in the United States, but in places where losing access to the Internet can prevent important news from spreading, it's a welcome development.