Monday, June 12, 2006

Highway robbery

I've been reading about how the big US telcos are trying, and in some cases have succeeded, to make web companies pay for premium services - a kind of 'two-tier' internet - which, to put it simply, will make paying sites download faster than that of the competition.

The end result is that even if you are paying for a high-speed connection at home, you will only be able to easily access those sites willing or able to pay off the telco companies. Basically, the Internet right now is like your local high street was twenty years ago - full of character, diversity and independent businesses able to make a fair living - but if the telco boys are allowed to have their wicked way, the Internet will become the featureless, plastic facade that your high street is today - where big business dictates how and when you consume, limiting your choices to what they stock on their shelves. And if you don't take the path of least resistance and put up with your choices being limited, your journey will be made as inconvenient as possible.

I may be a bit slow off the mark here and I'm sure that all you guys in the US are properly clued up, but the Net Neutrality issue hasn't yet received mass media coverage in the UK. But we should be concerned, wherever we are in the world, because if it happens in the US then it will make waves everywhere.

How could this issue affect you? Here are a few examples:

How do you fancy paying a higher price for your music downloads? You may have little choice in the matter if your service provider has a (financial) preference for a higher-priced rival - meaning that you won't be able to access your usual supplier or that their website takes forever to load.

Do you support a charity? Might as well forget about it now; a charity is unlikely to be able to pay off dominant Internet providers for access to the 'fast lane' internet service. The website will open too slowly for most people's patience and online donations will dry up.

Do you have an online business? If so, better start thinking of a better way to make a buck. Unless you're huge, you won't be able to compete with big business. Welcome to the snail lane.

And for all you other bloggers out there, your creativity will be stymied. Fancy paying out your hard-earned cash every time you want to post? The alternative is to be relegated to the B-speed Internet stream, which will mean that every time one of your readers wants to check out your blog they will be frustrated by the time it takes for the pages to load. And yes, they will probably abandon you however great your content. Who's going to hang around?

Unfair? Hell, yeah. Smacks of extortion? I would say so.

But surely this kind of thing is illegal? The truth is that it's kind of a grey area, and frenzied lobbying from the telco fat cats, desperate to rake in bigger profits, seems to be working in their favour. The US government demonstrated exactly how much it cares for the little guy on June 8, when the House of Representatives passed the "Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006," or COPE Act (H.R. 5252) - a bill that offers no meaningful protections for Net Neutrality. An amendment offered by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), which would have instituted real Net Neutrality requirements, was defeated by intense industry lobbying.

Still not convinced? It's happening already:

In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

In 2005, Canada's telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a contentious labor dispute.

Shaw, a major Canadian cable, internet, and telephone service company, intentionally downgrades the "quality and reliability" of competing Internet-phone services that their customers might choose -- driving customers to their own phone services not through better services, but by rigging the marketplace.

In April, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned -- an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

Go to for more information and to find out how you can stop your Internet useage being compromised and controlled.

1 comment:

Manhattan Mama said...

Such a serious and good cause.

Another issue? different levels of service -- think like the post office with first and third class mail. Those who can afford "fast" downloads, like AOL, CNN, MSNBC) will pay for it. Others, like us little bloggers, may find our blogs, wikis and Web sites taking as long to download as a photo did back in the dial-up days.

The CEOS and chairmans of the big telecos are already saying they DEFINITELY will put these kind of things in motion if they get a chance.

And the U.S. House of Representatives just defeated a bill that would have stopped them. There's another in the U.S. Senate that has some life kicking in it, so it's critical for all of us to click on the link in YLM's post, sign their online petition, and support this serious and important cause.