The Tor Project is considering paying operators to host exit relays in efforts to increase the speed and security of its global anonymity network.
Under early consideration is a suggestion by Tor founder Rodger Dingledine that operators receive $100 a month to cover bandwidth costs.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) has already donated an undisclosed amount of funds over 12 months to provide for at least 125 fast exit relays which would provide extra capacity for Tor users.
Exit relays are the last nodes within the global anonymity network. The Tor network becomes faster and generally more diverse as more nodes are added.
Anyone can establish an exit node by volunteering their bandwidth resources.
The burgeoning initative marks a change of stance by Dingledine who for years had declined to pay for exit relays, citing concerns it could reduce the diversityof the network.
"We've lined up our first funder BBG, and they're excited to have us start as soon as we can," Dingledine wrote on the Tor mailing list.
The backflip came about because exit node diversity was low: most Tor users choose one of just five of the fastest exit relays about a third of the time, from a pool of about 50 relays.
"Since extra capacity is clearly good for performance, and since we're not doing particularly well at diversity with the current approach, we're going to try [the] experiment," he said.
Performance of the network had steadily improved, however, thanks in part to better load balancing to larger relays and a healthier bandwidth to user ratio.
Dingledine suggested paid exit relays should have at least 100Mbit links and that organisations with large capacity networks and legal prowess be considered alongside smaller operators.
The legal muscle was necessary because of the potential for exit relays to funnel illicit traffic.
Dingledine posited other proposals to Tor users regarding the move. For example, it may turn exit relays into telcos, allow the network to operate in new legal juristictions, and require a committee of fast relay operators to decide where funding should be directed.
Yet he warned that the Tor Project must not become "addicted to external funding".
"So long as everybody is running an exit relay because they want to save the world, I think we should be fine," he said.
Tor relay operators, and interested internet providers were encouraged to join the discussion on the mailing list and Tor Project blog.