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What if … government responses to Internet challenges undermine people’s fundamental rights?

Shutting down the Internet Shutdowns – How to Crowdsource Your Way Out

Internet shutdowns by governments have become routine. Got an election coming? Shut down the network to stop people organising. Annoyed by minorities demanding language or education rights? Shut down their region and arrest anyone who complains. Worried that students may cheat on exams? Shut down the mobile network so they can’t “phone a friend”.

But it turns out that many countries have large diasporas: nationals who moved abroad to work. These people earn good money and like to keep in touch with home. What do they hate most? Internet shutdowns.

So when the government of Edonnia leaned on telecoms providers to cut off the Internet before a recent election, the two-million Edonnians working overseas swung into action. Crowdfunding via social networks abroad, Edonnian migrants pooled their wages to buy satellite time for friends and family back home.

Back in Edonnia, heads of families asked younger relatives to unlock or “jailbrake” everyone’s phones so they could be used on any network. Community broadband groups coalesced with social and religious gatherings to spread know-how and local-connectivity resilience. When the inevitable shutdown began, people hooked up to satellite through hundreds of local nodes, with the main costs covered by family and friends abroad.

Back online, the people condemned the attempted shutdown, and warned the government: “If you want the remittances to keep coming from abroad, keep the Internet switched on”. Within hours, the shutdown ended with the government claiming a “technical issue” had been responsible. But the message is clear. Now, not just the technology, but also the people will route around network failures.

This story shows us how the Internet might evolve. But the path we take is up to us.

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