Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Doors slammed shut

The Internet has produced great things, things which would be impossible without having full access to its power. Access defines the internet in my mind, it is intrinsic to the web. Without it your web browser would no longer be a door to infinite possibility but rather a locked gate, with only one key: money.

While visiting Thailand, I remember connecting to the web and trying to check something on YouTube, but the government had blocked the site entirely. Aside from being an annoyance, it made me think about how fragile our links are to the wonderful world of web. There are only few channels to go through to access it. Government control is bad indeed, but control by businesses who dictate what they do by how many coins they can snatch up is just short of fascism.

Just because there is potential for profit in something, doesn't mean that something should be exploited for the sake of profits. This may seem naive, particularly to those mired in corporate greed, but naivety is a staple of the internet. The internet may not seem innocent in terms of content, but it is innocent in its nature. It is a passive entity to be use any way one chooses. So, a little naivety is warranted.

ISP pipelines are, at the moment, passive too. They freely allow unaltered information to flow to the their users. The ISPs, like any other corporation would, has seen an obvious money making tool here. The ability to squeeze the pipes, to degrade QoS to force you to find alternative sites, ones they sponsor, or to restrict access all together.

"Closing" the internet will, for lack of a better phrase, piss everyone but the ISPs off. For it to work, any noteworthy websites will have to pay a fee to the ISP for their site to freely flow through their pipes and reach an audience. The audience it reaches, the users, will also have to pay a fee to the ISP to have access to that website, and the websites will now have a better reason to also charge the users because of the money lost from them having to pay the ISP in the first place. Everything gets more expensive for everyone, but only the ISPs really gain.

As it is now, the internet is a great tool for education. Whether you're reading essays on metaphysics or watching a YouTube video on how to open a locked car with a tennis ball, there are benefits to be had. A "closed" internet would be like having library card and only having access to half a dozen classics, while having to pay premiums to get what you actually need.

Needless to say, much innovation on the net comes from user generated content. A "closed" internet would threaten this. ISPs would, of course, not only have a tight grip on what's coming to you, but also what is coming from you. If these practices of a "closed" internet take off, I can see
everything needing to be approved by the ISP. In essence would be another layer of needless censorship. Not only that, the audience of user content will be greatly reduced because only those with the same ISP would be able to view it, they may also have to pay for whatever website the content exists on.

The internet from its conception has always been a tool for information, this takes precedent over all else.


  1. Do you really think that the competition in internet today would allow the ISPs to do this without a larger sponsor, like Level 3 for example, to push it?

  2. Since ISPs are oligarchies in a lot of areas (and often times natural monopolies) there really wouldn't be much incentive for them to not charge websites for faster access. Most likely we would have different levels of pricing from different providers and in time people would figure out which provider their favorite sites were the fastest on.