With the invention of the printing press, thousands of people around the world were suddenly able to share their views with each other in a way that was inaccessible in times when specialist book writers, mostly the clergy, controlled all the information. As costs involved in printing on quality paper with quality inks spiralled, large publishers began taking away control over the independent presses and replacing them with content they produced in-house.
When the boffins in California first built upon Doug Engelbart’s vision of the future, in which a network of computers around the world would be interconnected, to exchange information, their lofty goals were dependant upon one very important principal. That there would be no difference in the kind of connection private individuals use to receive and transmit on that network to those of the connections used by giant corporations and government agencies. A level playing field, where Joe Blog’s blog has, theoretically at least, just as much chance of becoming a popular destination site as any produced by those of large commercial concerns.
That principal of network neutrality is under threat. The telecommunications companies who’s networks we pay to have installed in our homes and offices, want to syphon off sections of the network and give priority to companies they have content partnerships with – to the detriment, if not the complete removal of content from anyone else.
Anyone who has used BitTorrent or other Peer to Peer clients recently will be all too aware of the packet shaping which is slowing down these platforms because of pressure on the ISPs from organisations like the RIAA and other anti-piracy groups, who feel that the legitimate use of these platforms is outweighed by their use for illegal means.
Now, and for the last few years in fact, AT&T and other large American telcos, with subsidiaries in nations around the world, are using their huge influence with lobbyists in Washington, to persuade congress to overturn the net neutrality bill in favour of allowing them greater control over the content which flows over their fiber optic infrastructure. They want, for example, to be able to offer connection packages to customers which will only allow a tiered access to certain sites. They also want to charge the bigger internet companies a premium for delivering their content to customers who want to continue accessing the internet as it is today.
Imagine, for example, that wordpress.com struck up a deal with, let’s say, Yahoo!. Yahoo!, as a larger entity strikes up a deal with AT&T to carry all of it’s partner content. So, you continue being able to read this blog and the millions of others on wordpress.com and everyone is happy, right? Wrong. Because, on the other side of the pond, here in the UK, my Internet Service Provider is in competition with AT&T – and they don’t have a deal with Yahoo! in regard to the wordpress partnership. So while you can perfectly well read other wordpress sites, my ISP won’t allow me access to wordpress without upping the cost of my connection tariff to cover the price they are being charged by AT&T to enable non-partner content across their network.
Extrapolate that out across millions of web sites, thousands of law-suites and an endless ocean of piss and tears for ordinary stuck in the middle people like me and you and you’re somewhere close to seeing why it’s important for each and every one of us to call our political representatives and alert them to the issue and our concerns about it.
In the UK you can find your MP’s contact information here…
Ask your MP to look into any deals which may have been struck up between the government and companies like Virgin Media and BT, for example, in regard to this. Also, in the UK, bare in mind a recent development which saw Virgin Media (formerly NTL) strike up a deal with a company called Phorm who, given access by Virgin to your personal information, plan on infiltrating your net traffic to plant targeting advertisements in your browser and elsewhere. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/18/technology/18target.html?ei=5088&en=507e2b685f0bcc6d&ex=1360990800&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&pagewanted=all
Virgin Media, by the way, were once in negotiations with the Carlyle Group over a possible take over. The Carlyle group is the company who’s board is referred to as the ex-presidents club, because it counts among it’s number John Major, former British PM and George Bush senior – who was at a meeting of the Carlyle Group on the morning of September 11 with Bin Laden’s brother. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/02/business/media/02virgin.html