Monopolistic internet service providers (ISP) are overselling bandwidth, while billions of people still don’t have internet access. Now, the world’s first layer-1 blockchain for bandwidth is introducing a solution to get the next billion people online. Cointelegraph talked to PKT lead developer Caleb James DeLisle about the problems with the internet industry and how to fix them.
Tell us the story behind PKT. What does a layer-1 blockchain have to do with bandwidth?
The consumer broadband market is what I would call “rigged”: It’s overpriced and it’s underpriced at the same time. The way the companies in the industry do this is with a trick called “oversubscription.” They’re selling the same internet connection over and over because they’re betting that people won’t all be using it at the same time. On its face, it might seem convenient and efficient, but this allows ISPs to charge a price that new entrants in the internet business can never possibly match because it’s literally under cost. And because this market is essentially impossible to enter, these monopolistic telecoms are able to charge just about whatever they want.
Is there really a problem with bandwidth?
Well, yes and no. Bandwidth isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that what’s being sold is not actual bandwidth but, rather, the option to use bandwidth. It’s like fractional reserve banking, but in this case, it allows them to sell at a price that nobody can beat while still screwing their customers.
You describe PKT “like Bitcoin, a decentralized cryptocurrency with no CEO, no pre-mine, and no venture capital.” Can you tell us more about the way the platform is set up and the philosophy behind it?
The vision of PKT is to decouple the technical and administrative aspects of an ISP from the boots-on-the-ground operation of the hard physical infrastructure. By doing this, the complex stuff can be run by a clever tech company like a VPN provider, while the physical infrastructure can be owned and operated by individuals, small businesses and community groups with minimal technical knowledge. I know it’s a cliché but think of PKT like Uber for your internet.
PacketCrypt is our superweapon. As long as these companies are able to oversubscribe bandwidth, they will always be able to sell under cost, crushing any attempt at fair competition. So, I invented the world’s first bandwidth-hard proof-of-work algorithm called PacketCrypt.
PacketCrypt is designed so that, to a certain extent, bandwidth can be substituted in place of CPU power when mining. This means there is now a reason for everyone to be using all of their bandwidth all of the time. And when everyone is actually using the bandwidth they pay for, this is going to force the monopolistic telecoms to start playing fair.
What are the Ethical Communication Guidelines you mention on your site?
We’re a decentralized community, and we really want to have a positive impact on society. But in the crypto space, it’s so easy for someone to accidentally get excited and start saying things that could lead to unwise investments.
So, in the PKT community, we put together the first-ever Ethical Communication Guidelines, which can help community members who are talking or writing about the project.
I feel like people who have been in crypto for a while know that you can’t predict markets. However, when a new person comes in, they might be trying to assure themselves they’ve made a good decision, or they’re just excited, and these guidelines help them understand the types of communication, which are likely to be unethical. These guidelines may also help them understand why certain types of communication are potentially problematic.
I’m really proud of these guidelines, and I’m even more proud that despite PKT being a decentralized project with no company behind it, it is still the first project to put something like this forward.
How does a community project with no central organization function, and how does it actually grow?
In the PKT project, there is an institution called the Network Steward, where 20% of every mined block goes to a wallet address managed by five unpaid volunteers, one of which is me.
The way the funds are managed is through fully transparent open calls for projects that benefit the PKT ecosystem. This enables people to apply with their ideas and seek funding.
I have seven years of experience in French and European research projects, so recognizing a good grant proposal from a poor one is one of the skills I was able to bring to the Network Steward.
One of our biggest challenges so far has been finding people who are a good fit for funding opportunities. To put that in context, the 20% of funds that go to the Network Steward are, by consensus rule, burned if they’re not used in 90 days, and to date, the Network Steward has burned more coins than it has allocated. So, open-source developers interested in some of the technologies on the roadmap should definitely apply for grant funding.
According to the PKT roadmap, the project is now in its second phase. How’s it going, and what’s in the next phases?
Most crypto projects fall into one of two classes: you have the fully decentralized community project, which doesn’t really have a roadmap, and then you have the project with a roadmap and a “core team,” which, let’s face it, these projects are relatively centralized.
PKT is unique in that it doesn’t fall into either category. You can think of the PKT roadmap as something more akin to a city plan. There are, of course, things like roads, water and electricity, which are public goods, and in the context of the PKT project, these are the open-source technologies that the Network Steward provides grants to develop.
But then there are the shops and restaurants, which really make a city what it is, and these are private enterprises. Most of the items in the PKT roadmap are being developed by private entities with specific business plans to leverage them. For an entrepreneur, the benefit of building in the PKT ecosystem is that whatever roadmap item you choose to build; it is something that will have almost guaranteed customers due to its relationships with the other parts of the PKT vision. But as an entrepreneur, you also have to move quickly because other entrepreneurs are also eyeing the roadmap for opportunities.
So far, this model has proven to work, and we currently have multiple areas of activity going on, some of which I’m quite involved in and others where I’m uninvolved. Other key areas include PKT Lightning and AnodiumVPN. PKT Pal is a community company working on some items in stage three, such as sharing WiFi with neighbors.
The feeling when a roadmap item gets checked off is rarely one of completion; it’s more like “people have been using this in production for a while now, I guess we should check that off.” There’s always more to do, always more to improve. Nonetheless, we have made steady forward progress, and I’ve even been surprised by some of the technologies, which community members have developed and which were never imagined when we formulated the roadmap.
Tell us about the people developing the PKT technology.
There is a diverse group of people and companies around the world, some of them I work very closely with, others I only talk to occasionally, and some are entirely independent. I’ve closely worked with Anode, which is developing a mobile wallet and VPN application, and PKT Pal has a hardware and software product people can buy in order to easily mine PKT and manage a wallet. Most PKT Pal’s customers are non-crypto people who want to support the PKT Network through mining. PKT Pal is also developing Bill Pay software so people can use their earnings to pay their bills.
What’s next for PKT?
What I’m personally very excited about is for PKT Pal devices to be able to provide WiFi to neighbors and then the Anode app to pick up that WiFi and use it to get people on the internet safely and securely through an Anode VPN. This is one of the goals towards which I personally am working.
There are also so many people looking at the roadmap and seeing different opportunities in it, so it’s hard for me to say what will be the next big things to emerge, or if they’re even on the roadmap at all. I am really excited to see the community continue to grow and work together to get the next billion people online.
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