These days, one of the first things governments do when confronted by protesters is to cut Internet service. While this effectively cuts off many, if not most users, determined dissidents find ways to connect. The Net was, after all, designed to work around inactive nodes and be robust even under difficult conditions.
Wireless plays a vital role in routing the Net around official channels, often providing a lifeline out of the country for many protest movements. So says a recent article in the Economist. The article notes:
Conventional radio … cannot, unfortunately, transmit video or web pages. But a group called Access, based in New York, is trying to overcome that. To help democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa get online, it is equipping a network of ham-radio operators with special modems that convert digital computer data into analogue radio signals that their equipment can cope with. These signals are then broadcast from operator to operator until they reach a network member in an area where the internet functions. This operator reconverts the signal into computer-readable data and then e-mails or posts the information online.
Sounds a lot like what hams do in an emergency, doesn’t it?
We don’t normally think of our activities as revolutionary, but they certainly can be. Ham radio can be empowering in more ways than one.