Network Neutrality - Dark Times
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While our current system is working well, it seems that not everyone is as happy as we thought. The ISPs appear to want a little more.
For many years ISPs have provided their own Internet services as well as providing the connection. AOL has its search system, Instant Messenger client, and even mandated the use of its own browser for a time (although it was only Internet Explorer wearing a pretty costume). And many other companies have partnerships with content providers. In the UK where I live, British Telecom (BT) is in partnership with Yahoo, and while none of its features are forced on us, there is a clear bias for BT to promote Yahoo content.
Now the ISPs are calling the current system "unfair." They say "what they [content providers] would like to do is use my pipes free" (a direct quote from Edward Whitacre, CEO of Split Banc Corp -- the group that now owns the large American ISP AT&T). And in a recent report, Jupiter Research has concluded that a two-tier Internet may be introduced in the UK, with ISPs unable to resist the temptation of charging for access at both ends. And here I was thanking my lucky starts that this would only affect the US!
What does this mean? Well they are effectively saying that they want anyone transmitting data along their cables to be charged. It seems a fair enough claim on first sight, but when you look deeper, you see that it simply wouldn't work. The proposed model where fee payers can achieve higher bandwidth rates through an ISP's system is going to be achieved by simply restricting normal traffic to lower speeds. They aren't creating a new higher tier for paying customers, they are forcing anyone not paying onto a lower tier than we have now.
This has large Internet companies like Google and Microsoft worried. Almost all of Google's revenues come form ad generation through their search engine, with their other projects just there to help draw users in. If they were forced to run at slower speeds, even Google's light page template with no glossy adds or banners would be affected. And what about all this splendor we are used to? What about the 24/7 streaming video, the Internet radio, the endless pictures and guides, blogs and tutorials, reviews, forums, chat rooms and Instant Messaging with far off friends?
What of Wikipedia? They as a charitable body have no "income" as such, just donations and sponsorship to keep them and their servers running. How will they be able to pay fees to allow people to access their site? How would wikis be able to exist at all if people could never get to them easily to edit and contribute?
To this generation the Internet is the fount of all knowledge, even if that knowledge may be flawed, corrupt, or just plain useless. We have it all at our fingertips, and we like it that way.
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