Decentralised topologies and non-discriminatory protocols have been all but replaced by a recentralisation of infrastructure, as powerful corporations now gatekeep our networks. Everything might be accessible, but this access is mediated by a centralised entity. Whoever controls the data centre exercises political and economic control over communications. It’s difficult to see how we can counteract these recentralising tendencies in order to build a common core infrastructure. There are significant barriers in place. This includes the age-old problem of scaling distributed forms of organisation beyond the local. But it also includes barriers in terms of access and control of network resources. There are political and economic constraints governing the ownership and distribution of computational power, servers, bandwidth and energy. While we can access any range of software applications for free, the core network is always substantiated in property and provisioned on a scale that blocks access to all but the most powerful actors.
These centralising tendencies have also reared their head in cryptocurrencies. If Bitcoin was hailed as financially disruptive in much the way that VoIP and mesh networks were thought to be disruptive to cellular, powerful mining pools now control much of the infrastructure and rent-seeking individuals control a lion’s share of Bitcoin’s value. But we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While Bitcoin in and of itself may be problematic as an alterative currency, the underlying architecture has potentials not only for the future of money, but also for the future of networked cooperation.