The US doesn't mind dealing in irony, it seems. While many criticize the country for its aggressive internet surveillance, it's also pledging millions of dollars towards mesh networks in Cuba and Tunisia that help dissidents avoid online snooping. As with earlier efforts, these automatic, ad hoc grids aren't connected to the internet; they exist to help locals communicate without fear that the government will watch or block what they're doing. They're not completely spy-proof, but they're designed from the start with secure services in mind.
The newer networks are beneficial outside of political discussions, too. Sayada, Tunisia's recently launched grid offers maps, free books and Wikipedia collections in both Arabic and French. And since meshes don't have major points of failure that can take everything down, they're more likely to stay alive during natural disasters than either cellular networks or internet access. The foreign network funding may still be contradictory in light of what the US does at home, but it's hard to dispute the networks' value -- whether or not their users are facing persecution.
[Image credit: Sayada Tunisie, Flickr]