Well, it’s finally here: World Cup 2006. Yes, that global celebration (sans the United States of America, perhaps the only nation on earth that still collectively can’t seem to appreciate this sport) of The Beautiful Game will overtake the public consciousness for roughly one month.
Tomorrow I’m watching England’s first game with my pal John and Fraser at an English pub (at 9 a.m., ungh). Personally, I’m rooting for England in this tournament, although I suspect Germany, Brazil (again) and Italy will be battling hard for this tournament as well. Don’t count out South Korea, Portugal, Argentina and Spain either; for the first time in quite some time, I’d say at least half the teams in this competition have a legitimate chance to win it all on July 9th.
NET NEUTRALITY: Some really bad news came out of the U.S. House of Representatives today – the principle of net neutrality was defeated.
Now, let me explain why this is bad for you, the user (well, primarily American internet users, although the effects of this will likely spur on Canadian high-speed ISPs to do the same at some point).
Net neutrality refers to treating all data online as equal. What this means is email, instant messages, web pages, P2P, VoIP phone calls, online video sites like YouTube.com, BitTorrent files, anything that involves transaction of data online is, under the ideology of the great Sir Tim Berners-Lee, treated as the same in terms of content demanded by a internet user. It’s all the same data, really.
High-speed telecoms in the U.S. like Verizon, AT&T (yes, that same telecom that has no problem giving ordinary Americans’ internet search habits over to the U.S. government) and BellSouth have been making economic arguments that with bandwidth demands increasing exponentially every year due to things like the proliferation of online video and other expensive services online that a kind of “toll highway” version of the internet could exist; people pay for services that are “premium” such as the internet most of us Canadian users use, like video-on-demand or quick downloads. In effect, it is a two-tier internet.
Now on the surface, this makes economic sense. Bandwidth does cost money. But, as we all know, function creep is a very sketchy thing when it comes to digital technology. Function creep refers to when a technology employed for a specific purpose ends up due to its functionality being used for purposes other than its original intent. Based on past experiences with how some companies deal with dissent online, defeating net neutrality gives license to telecoms in the U.S. to make ideological decisions based on what they think is “reasonable” in terms of access for the average user and the content they demand.
First, the issue of speedy access. Alyssa Milano (yes, the same star of Who’s The Boss, Fear and various soft-core sexploitation flicks of the early 1990’s and she dated New York Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano) actually sums up this issue quite well: if Comcast has a music service available, why, from a corporate point of view, would they ever want you to access Apple’s iTunes at the same speed when they have their own service available?
More so, if demand for “system access fees” – those same fees on your cell phone bills – are placed on internet start-ups and other small-time operations online, how many new online products do you really expect to see? Charities, for example, already have a hard enough time recouping bandwidth costs online when it comes to e-commerce functions and server demand; imagine how much harder it could be for charities to exist in the U.S. if a telecom demanded more money? Or, more unsettlingly, would a telecom do the unthinkable and potentially slow down or even block charities sites that don’t correspond to their ideology? (anti Wal-Mart sites, for example, could be hit hard if Wal-Mart, for example, refused to distribute AT&T packages in their stores unless access was limited to “specific” sites that were unfriendly to Wal-Mart)
Under the principle of two-tier internet, you can come up with a whole host of reasons why this is possible. The only start-ups that could survive are ones with either a strong base of support from the big players online, like Google or EBay (who, in fairness, lobbied very strongly against this two-tier internet), or the ones that actually are supported by telecoms, or even ones with independent support from wealthy folks or companies. In any case, average users, those ones like us who don’t have million-dollar bank accounts, will suffer.
This is a remarkably short-sighted, dangerous move on the U.S. government’s part.
Now, of course, Canadians do have options in terms of “premium” service plans already. Rogers and Bell both offer tiered packages of web access that place bandwidth caps based on your contract with them. But this is the point: there’s a choice involved, and as long as you don’t exceed your bandwidth demands per month, you can access what you want, when you want it online.
Shame on the U.S. House of Representatives. If you want to know more, go to this site.
I don’t want to turn all Bill Maher here, but this is a shocking encroachment of corporate power on individual rights online. It also makes exceedingly bad business sense; it’s a short-term, ridiculous move that will ensure more users will migrate to high-speed providers that do not make the internet a toll highway.
I’m more convinced than ever that North American internet users get the royal shaft when it comes to access. When it comes to bandwidth access arguments, it’s a dog’s breakfast; European high speed internet users have bandwidth access hundreds (and that’s not a word of a lie; Scandinavian and U.K. net users have it so good online) of times faster than North Americans and it makes good business sense. In Europe, giving customers more of what they want is the model, in North America, it’s the approach of punishing users for demanding what they want.