There’s a scene in AIpocalypse in which one of the main characters is describing “the mesh”. Here’s an excerpt:

Leon hesitated, weighing the coolness impact of answering, then decided. He felt sorry for the teacher. “The Mesh was formed ten years ago by Avogadro Corp to help maintain net neutrality,” he began. 

“At the time, access to the Internet in the United States was mostly under the control of a handful of companies such as Comcast, who had their own media products they wanted to push. They saw the Internet as competing with traditional TV channels, and so they wanted to control certain types of network traffic to eliminate competition with their own services.” 

“Very good, Leon. Can you tell us what they built, and why?” 

Leon sighed when he realized the teacher wasn’t going to let him off easy. “According to Avogadro, it would have been too expensive and time consuming to build out yet another network infrastructure comparable to what the cable companies and phone companies had built last century. Instead they built MeshBoxes and gave them away. A MeshBox does two things. It’s a high speed wireless access point that allows you to connect your phone or laptop to the Internet. But that’s just what Avogadro added so that people would want them. The real purpose of a MeshBox is to form a mesh network with nearby MeshBoxes. Instead of routing data packets from a computer to a wireless router over the Comcast, the MeshBox routes the data packets over the network of MeshBoxes.” 

Leon hadn’t realized it, but sometime during his speech he had stood up, and starting walking towards the netboard at the front of the room. “The Mesh network is slower in some ways, and faster in other ways.” He started drawing on the board. “It takes about nine hundred hops to get from New York to Los Angelos purely by mesh, but only about ten hops by backbone. That’s a seven second delay by mesh, compared to a a quarter second by backbone. But the aggregate bandwidth of the mesh in the United States is approximately four thousand times the aggregate bandwidth of the backbone because there are more than twenty million MeshBoxes in the United States. More than a hundred million around the world. The mesh is bad for phone calls or interactive gaming unless you’re within about two hundred files, but great for moving files and large data sets around at any distance.” 

He paused for a moment to cross out a stylized computer on the netboard. “One of the benefits of the Mesh is that it’s completely resistant to intrusion or tampering, way more so than the Internet ever was before the Mesh. If any node goes down, it can be routed around. Even if a thousand nodes go down, it’s trivial to route around them. The MeshBoxes themselves are tamperproof – Avogadro manufactured them as a monolithic block of circuitry with algorithms implemented in hardware circuits, rather than software. So no one can maliciously alter the functionality. The traffic between boxes is encrypted. Neighboring MeshBoxes exchange statistics on each other, so if someone tries to insert something into the Mesh trying to mimic a MeshBox, the neighboring MeshBoxes can compare behavior statistics and detect the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Compared to the traditional Internet structure, the Mesh is more reliable and secure.” 

Leon looked up and realized he was standing in front of the class. On the netboard behind him he realized he had draw topology diagrams of the backbone and mesh. The entire class was staring at him. James made a “what the hell are you doing?” face at him from the back of the room. If he had a time travel machine, he’d go back and warn his earlier self to keep his damn mouth shut. 

The teacher on the other hand, was glowing, and had a broad smile on his face. “Excellent, Leon. So Avogadro was concerned about net neutrality, and created a completely neutral network infrastructure. Why do do we care about this today?”

I think the time is right for Google to do something like this. They can afford to give away 60,000 Chrome notebooks to test Chrome, and give gigabit fiber optic to 500,000 people to test high speed connectivity. If they can do that, they can easily give away a million mesh-enabled wireless access points to help ensure net neutrality.

Furthermore, Google already has a presence of some kind in many cities: whether a corporate site, a data center, or a content distribution network. In that case, mesh networking would be even more effective, since the mesh network can interconnect with Google’s backbone. Most people would be within a dozen hops of a Google backbone, keeping latency down.