Monday, March 12, 2007

Thoughts on Net Neutrality

While perusing Amber's blog, I came across this article by Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press. It examines and discusses some Government documents that suggest the Tories have few objections to giving ISPs more control of the Net.

If you are unfamiliar with the issue of Network Neutrality, which I have mentioned briefly on this blog once or twice before, here's the rundown:

As long as the world wide web has existed, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have provided equal, unbiased access to all content. However, over time we have seen that certain web-based phenomena have been very successful. (Read: Google) So naturally, big telecom companies feel like they deserve a piece of the pie. (That pie isn't an easy number to pin down, but Google bought YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars - so you get the idea. They're rich.) The telecommunications guys in both Canada and the US have been pushing to be given more control of the Net. If this control was given to them, they could do just about anything they want. They could say to Yahoo, "Hey, if you pay us so much we'll make sure all Yahoo pages and queries load faster and more reliably than anything from Google." That probably wouldn't happen because Google would be able to offer more money than Yahoo for this service, which means bad things for Yahoo. So this example illustrates two problems already: the little guys will be muscled aside by the bigger players, and the rest of us effectively have one less option to choose from.

You might be wondering why an ISP would choose to give preference to anyone. Well, surprise surprise, it's the same old culprit that's always at the bottom of everything: money. Twelve years ago, internet users weren't creating a fraction of the content we are now, and all the mp3s and podcasts and online game data we're throwing around these days is eating up a lot more bandwidth - and thus it's become much more costly to keep us happy. Narrowing our options cuts their costs a lot.

In the article I linked above, it points out some of the groups such changes would affect:

Googlers and Startups, as I already explained. (Muscling out startups is particularly upsetting. YouTube marked such significant changes in media and their influence on society - because of hard work and proverbial elbow grease. You can't go from zero to hero in a non-neutral internet.)

The rest I'm just going to copy and paste because I'm lazy.

iPod listeners - Companies could slow access to iTunes, steering you to higher-priced music services that they own.

Online shoppers - Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than their competitors with lower prices.

Small businesses - When Internet service providers favour their own services, you won't be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.

Bloggers - Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips, silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.

I also read someplace that ISPs could start applying new fees to companies like Microsoft, (for Messenger, possibly) that would drive them to start applying new fees to us. Paying for every instant message sent, for example. (Similar to the current situation with text messaging on mobiles.) I haven't exactly been keeping track, but I'm sure the number of IMs I've sent number in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Something like this would be devastating.

Why would the Canadian government allow this? (Especially when the US has already passed over this issue and declared the web a neutral playing field indefinitely.) The most likely answer is that the telecom industry in Canada is far more concentrated than it is in the US, with Bell and Rogers being the two big kids on the block. I've never accessed the internet through any other provider, and I don't believe I know anyone who has either. (In contrast, the American ISPs are more numerous.) Since Bell and Rogers are so huge, they're pretty important to the economy, and according to that article, the Tories feel it's in their best interest to appease them.

Normally I'm fairly apathetic to political issues, but this one has really grabbed my attention. I've always thought I'd like to remain in Canada, aside from possibly spending brief periods in other parts of the world for the sake of experience. That said, if even a few of these things start happening, it would give me very good reason to consider leaving Canada for someplace with more democratic access to the world wide web and all its utilities. (Call me a Geek all you want, but I was practically coddled on the good ol' fashioned world wide web, and that's that.)

If you'd like to learn more or help me do something about it, follow the banner link in my sidebar ( and sign the petition. There's also a lot more information there. They suggest writing to your local MP to say that you support Net Neutrality, which I'm strongly considering doing. (Possibly to David Sweet for Hamilton, and another to the Guelph guy, whoever it is.)

Mirrored from Amber's blog: Interview with Prof. Andrew Clement of U of T; more of an explanation:

Also, this is an older episode of my favourite podcast, Ask a Ninja, in which they endorse Neutrality and explain it (albeit from an out-of-date, American perspective) in fairly every day language:

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At 10:38 AM, Anonymous HandsOff43 said...

Hi Dave,

Have there been problems with ISPs blocking access before? The Net Neutrality argument is nothing more than a scare tactic.

I work with Hands off the Internet, a coalition opposing net neutrality. Here is a great video that breaks the net neutrality debate into simple terms for your readers.

Have a good day.

At 8:20 AM, Blogger paul said...

I'm inclined to believe that the whole net neutrality is just hype. The general public / internet public or whatever are infamous for blowing up the smallest of issues. You might say, but net neutrality isn't a small issue!

I would have to disagree. The way the free market works, there will *always* be a 'neutral net' service provider. They will be able to cash in easily on people that don't want ISPs to interfere with their internet use - think organic food.

There's a huge amount of people willing to pay premium for food that hasn't been doused in pesticides or GM'd and a neutral ISP would be similar in this regard. Also, in terms of bandwidth, you mentioned that usage has increased substantially, HOWEVER, the price of bandwidth and serverspace has gone down a huge amount. Email storage for example, while not bandwidth percé demonstrates how costs have decreased. Hotmail @ 2megs of space a few years ago, compared with 2800+ megs on Gmail today.

I'm not sure if I would go as far as contacting an MP on the issue, to me, something like university tuition would be a better thing for them to spend their resources on, in my opinion.

Regardless, it's still quite an interesting issue, unique in the fact that is purely in the realm of the internet.


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