For privacy-minded types and people in repressed parts of the world, Tor is a valuable tool. The anonymity-enabling onion routing service does have a few drawbacks, however, including its sometimes sub-optimal connection speeds. Tor's browsing speeds have gotten noticeably better over recent months and years, and the poor connections may disappear completely if a proposal that's currently under consideration is adopted: actually paying people and organizations with fast connections to act as a Tor exit relay.
The proposal was actually put forth by Tor founder Rodger Dingledine, who has been vociferously against paid relays for years. He recently dove into Tor data, however, and found that Tor clients -- which randomly connect to available exit relays -- connect to the five fastest available servers about a quarter of the time thanks to Tor's built-in load balancing. More capable connections get more Tor client attention, which makes sense from a congestion standpoint, but Dingledine worries that it could adversely affect the diversity of the overall Tor network.
Dingledine suggests that by offering to pay a monthly fee to hosts who operate a high speed exit relay, more people may be inclined to offer their connection for Tor use. The more speedy relays there are, the more diversified the load balancing becomes, making the overall Tor use experience that much faster and more diverse.
Of course, the plan will only work if it attracts people and organizations with high speed connections: to that end, Dingledine suggests offering $100/mo. to folks who can supply speeds of at least 100Mbps. (Other rates will also be considered.) To people who think the figure seems high, Dingledine offers the following:
We should keep in mind that the primary cost of running an exit relay is effort, not dollars: it takes dedication to find an ISP who will host it, and to hold that ISP's hand when an abuse complaint arrives. Or said another way, hosting costs are in many cases not the biggest barrier to running an exit relay.
The Tor Project has already lined up a backer for paid relays; the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the group behind the Voice of America website, has agreed to fund 125-plus fast exit relays over the next year once the details are hammered out. Dingledine warns that Tor can't become dependent on paid exit relays to the point that it crumbles if funding is yanked, however.