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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Beginning of the End of the Internet?

The title really isn't hyperbole. Oh, sure, something like the Internet will go on, but it will be a less innovative, less flexible, less exciting, less useful network than we enjoy today.

Rather than recapping all of the details myself, I'd encourage you to read Scott Kurtz's post today on Net Neutrality at PVP. (I'd encourage you to read the comic everyday, too, but that's beside the point.) More details and information are available at Save the Internet and isen.blog. Wikipedia has a great overview of the entire issue.

To imagine what kind of Internet we could be heading toward, it's only necessary to think back to about 1990. At that time, the Internet proper was pretty much limited to schools and government agencies. For the relatively few private individuals going online, access was a hodgepodge. AOL customers couldn't talk to Compuserve customers who couldn't talk to Prodigy customers etc etc. Now, replace AOL, Compuserve, and Prodigy with AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon (to choose just three possible examples), and you could be looking at the Internet in 2010.

Finally, I recommend signing the petition at Save the Internet. I'm not usually a big petition guy, but I think this is one that's worth supporting. If you're at a loss for words, my comments are below:
The longterm viability of the Internet depends on the unhindered exchange of information.

Although the telecom companies are presenting the "tiered" internet as a way to provide preference to certain companies, it seems inevitable that preferences for some will lead to discrimination against others.

If the NRA or ACLU choose not to pay the extortionistic data "protection" fees, will left- or right-leaning corporations give their traffic the service it deserves?

Will cable or phone companies be willing to provide fair access to new companies that offer potentially competing services, such as YouTube.com or Skype.com? It seems unlikely.

In fact, the Internet needs more neutrality, not less.

Companies like Google already pay for the bandwidth that they use. Customers already pay for the bandwidth they use. Should either party be forced to pay twice?

Please act to protect consumers and innovative technology companies rather than the vested interests of the telecom companies.
Take a few minutes to think about what kind of internet you want to use for the next few decades.

Remember: It's easier to prevent bad laws than to fix them later.

10 Comments:

Blogger Armand said...

In turn, Ryan, may I suggest a visit to http://www.wired.com/news/wireservice/0,70895-0.html?tw=rss.technology . This is a very even-handed account that will perhaps surprise you. Or, you might go to any of Martin Geddes's posts on the topic at telepocalypse.net. We should also look at the current situation before saying "Remember: It's easier to prevent bad laws than to fix them later." Net Neutrality "laws" don't exist yet (although the FCC has administrative leeway to enforce Net Neutrality and has done so). Allowing the Congress to legislate a business model for the internet would be a bad precedent, and it would be tough to fix later.

5/15/2006 3:10 PM  
Blogger lessgov said...

Yeah, the Internet as we know it will completely change. Google might have to pay more!!! Look, Google supports net neutrality legislation for the same reason it supports tyranny in China. Both make money for Google. And so they pretend tyranny doesn't exist in China, but rather exists in America vis a vis Telecom companies. Unfortunately, if Google gets its way, then we will be left with permanent governmental regulation of the Internet. Talk about the beginning of the end.

5/15/2006 9:52 PM  
Blogger watcher said...

As the amount of data transferred over the Internet increases, especially data that requires high speed and high reliability (video, VoIP, etc.) someone will have to foot the bill for the improvements needed to infrastructure. If the companies flooding the net with this data don't help foot the bill, the ISPs' subscribers will be paying the full amount. This isn't telcoms vs. consumers. Its corporations vs. corporations, and both sides just want to maximize their profits. Well, if one set of corporations or another is just going to get rich off of the outcome of this issue, I'd prefer to be whichever side DOESN'T require me to give control of the Internet over to government regulators.

5/15/2006 10:49 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

See my response in today's post.

5/15/2006 11:02 PM  
Anonymous Net Chick said...

What is the point here? The first sentence of a proposed bill says “To promote open broadband networks, foster electronic commerce, and safeguard consumer access to online content and services.” How will this FURTHER promote open networks? We currently have open broadband networks. Why is this bill necessary? As for electronic commerce, again, don’t we already have this? Regulation is part of every commerce network ranging from Bank of America to Ebay and Amazon. Why is further regulation needed in this area?

5/16/2006 7:07 PM  
Anonymous PghPiratesFan said...

I think this IS more a question of profit than anything - competing video, VoIP, and email services that one side has and the other side wants. Let them slug it out without Congressional 'help'. (Lessgov - I hadn't made the Google/China connection, which raises an entirely separate set of questions. Great point, and a little frightening!)

5/16/2006 7:14 PM  
Anonymous MRT said...

This issue is not about those of us that use the internet. It is all about companies competing in the internet like it has been since it was created. If certain companies want to spend money to provide better services they should be allowed. This freedom is why the internet has been such an innovative and important piece of technology. Government innvolvement would only stifle this.

5/17/2006 7:18 PM  
Blogger stevens33 said...

I think concerns of returning to 1990 AOL are a little much. The real impetus behind NN talk is over tiered-access. That would be more like most content providers going at a normal speed and some at a higher speed. Pay more, get more. Not really the apocalypse.

5/17/2006 8:07 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Government involvement hasn't significantly stifled the Internet thus far.

If there were a guarantee that when ContentCompanyA (CCA) paid 25% more money to BandwidthProviderB (BPB) than ContentCompanyC (CCC) BPB would increase their total bandwidth by a similar amount, that would be an improvement. At least as likely, though, is a scenario in which CCC has proportionately less bandwidth available to them.

Besides, it's possible to purchase more bandwidth (and therefore better service) now.

Another consideration, though, is that the line between internet companies and users is blurring. Increasingly, we're all producers. The only real distinction is how much revenue your content generates.

5/17/2006 8:10 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

It's really not just a question of paying more to get more. That's how it works now.

I can imagine tiering resulting in "strategic partnerships" between companies using "in kind" payments. Essentially trading higher-tiered services with eachother and locking out competitors.

Remember: the other part of a truly free market is that there's no requirement to provide service to those you don't want to.

I increasingly think the real reason bandwidth companies are pushing for this is that it puts them back in control. Most of these companies are identical to or descended from the big 20th century media companies.

For most of the past century, the content distributors were the arbiters of consumption, determining what was worthy of notice. On the Internet, there are few barriers to creators, and consumers are the ones who decide what they want to see.

A tiered Internet would provide a way to reintroduce an element of control and approval.

It's not about money, it's about information, and it's not about choice, it's about control.

5/17/2006 8:30 PM  

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