Thursday, August 12, 2010

Danger ahead for open Internet access?

A rather scary article on the Web site IO9 suggests that the recent Google-Verizon proposal on network principles might endanger the 'neutrality' of the Internet, and affect access for all of us. Here's an excerpt.

Earlier this week Google and Verizon pledged to uphold a set of network principles that could transform the internet into a husk of its former self. Let's look down the barrel of the Googlezon future.

. . .

Google has always been a staunch supporter of net neutrality, since its income depends on people being able to access the company's services quickly online. Imagine if Verizon demanded that Google pay extra to prevent YouTube from giving you the annoying twirly circle. Google's business model would be crippled, and you would probably have to start paying for YouTube access.

But nobody has successfully implemented net neutrality laws in the US. So if Google wants to protect its business, it has to make deals with companies like Verizon. And here's where things get ugly.

The internet becomes a pay-to-play medium

The Googlezon agreement includes a section where both companies pledge to keep the "public internet" completely neutral. Verizon says it won't privilege some services over others (unless they are "special services" or "mobile services," but we'll get to that). And for its part, Google pledges that it will keep all of its services on the public internet.

But what the hell is this "public internet"? Isn't all of the internet public? Obviously there are internal business and government intranets that are private, and pay-to-play services, but the internet itself is by definition public. So why all this talk from Googlezon about how they'll keep the public internet neutral?

One simple answer, my friend: Googlezon is redefining the internet as a tiered service, like cable. And this new thing called the public internet is the lowest tier. Kind of like network television is the lowest tier in your television service options. From here on out, you will start to see the internet equivalent of cable service online: For an extra ten dollars, you can get the "movie lovers" package, where your ISP privileges Netflix and Hulu traffic, giving them to you super-fast. For another ten dollars, you can get the "concerned parent" package, which blocks peer-to-peer traffic as well as websites that they consider to be pornographic. And so on.

The "public internet" is for the poor

Pledging to keep the "public internet" neutral is great, but what happens when companies stop wanting to offer their services on it? Googlezon has the answer: In their proposal, they say that it's perfectly OK for companies and consumers to buy non-neutral, non-public "special services" online. If you're a media company that streams videogames, for example, your customers want a guarantee that the game won't stall out because of a crappy "public internet" connection. So you make your game available only to people with the special service "gamer package." Your customers pay you; you pay Googlezon; now there's a superfast connection for the privileged few with money to burn.

And what happens when news websites start delivering their pretty pictures and infographics in 3D? Verizon has already suggested 3D is a perfect "special service" to deliver in a non-neutral way. In five years, the public internet is going to look boring and obsolete. Where's the 3D? Where are all the cool games and streaming viddies? The public internet? Yeah, that's just for poor people.

But guess what's going to remain on the public net, the place where you go when you don't have money? Certainly there will be educational resources like Wikipedia. But mostly it's going to be advertisement-saturated free content from major entertainment companies. ... Put in brick-and-mortar terms: There won't be any produce markets on the public internet, but there will be plenty of liquor stores.

. . .

Googlezon could even strike a bargain with democratic political candidates to carry only their websites and block others. They could justify this by saying that people who want to get political information from conservatives can switch to another network that doesn't block them - or they can subscribe to the special "conservative service" package.

Your mobile is a battleground

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Googlezon agreement is the companies' statement that there will be no net neutrality on mobile networks. Given that mobile networks are the future of how most people will go online, this section of the agreement is the most pertinent to any prediction about how this agreement will affect the internet.

Quite simply, the Googlezon agreement means that if you access the internet via your Android phone (or other mobile device), there will be no public internet at all. Your access to the web will be determined by your carrier, who may or may not offer special services - and who may decide to block any content it likes.

There's more at the link.

The article raises many important points. I think every Internet user should read the whole thing - and that goes double for those of us (like bloggers) who use the Internet for communication with others.

(While you're there, check out the other articles on IO9. It's new to me, but looks like a very interesting and thought-provoking site. I'll be visiting it regularly, I can see that already!)


1 comment:

Miz Minka said...

So I'm paying $25 per month for the "free" public internet, but would have to pay even more to get the content I want??? That STINKS to high heaven!!!

I noticed that Hulu has switched to doling out "better" content (such as complete series vs. only 5 episodes for free) for a fee of $9.95 per month. Guess what? I'm not buying. I'm watching less.