The Death of the Internet...Maybe


Written by Seun Mustapha
07 Monday 07th July 2008

“Net neutrality is a load of bollocks.” -  Niel Berkett, VIRGIN MEDIA CEO

Those of you that take an interest in serious internet business may have heard the current fracas regarding the ‘death’ of the interwebs as we know them. According to quotes from Virgin media fatcatsleaked internal reports from Telus / Verizon, and Bell Canada and this woman’s cleavage, the internet's guiding principle of net neutrality is coming to an end sometime between 2010 and 2012.

The term 'net neutrality' (NN) refers to the idea that the internet is neutral and not biased toward any particular group or organisation. Certain powers-that-be want to end all this and usher in a new era where big money calls all the shots like with old media, television, publishing and radio.

Enshrining net neutrality in law was completely rejected by the US government back in '06 when the COPE act (Communications, Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement) came into effect and it was proposed that the hundreds of privately-owned local franchise boards could be replaced with a single national system overseen by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). The argument was that this could save users money with their broadband costs as bandwidth use spirals out of control. 

With no laws in place to protect the neutrality of the internet the owners of the system will be able to bring in a cable-style subscription system. Access to a small cache of commercial sites would remain free, every other site you want to visit (such as this one) would have to be paid for seperately effectively resulting in the end of the internet as we know it. Some online theorists believe this is essentially a crude method to slowly elbow small companies out of the internet completely and onto a new internet 2, a government regulated internet where full written permission will be required for anybody wishing to set up their own website along with some hefty charges and punishment for failing to stick to the rules.

However, rumours that the original internet will be turned into a ‘mass surveillance database and marketing tool’ still sound suspiciously like the ramblings of online conspiracy theorists. So we spoke to a couple of guys that know more about this sort of thing than we do - a small website (SWO) owner and a system administrator (SA) for a massive company you have heard of and deal with everyday and asked them: "Well, is all this malarkey going to happen or not then FFS?!"

Well, is all this malarkey going to happen or not then FFS?!

SWO: It is already happening. Telus is already blocking sites that aren’t willing to sign up to the subscription package for the mobile internet.

SA: Yes, but that’s the mobile internet! Nobody really cares about the mobile internet anyway. As far as thereal internet is concerned I could set up a website from my computer right now, give you my IP address and you could connect to it from wherever you are. IP communication is designed to be a two way thing, my computer to yours. It’s not like a telephone. You can’t just start blocking everything as all the computers are directly connected. There is nothing anyone can do to totally govern the internet.


SWO: Of course there are actions the powers-that-be can take to govern the internet. Moves to charge for each and every e-mail we send are already in the pipeline. Since 03 under the pretext of ‘eliminating spam’. Microsoft have proposed charging for each and every e-mail sent (the Penny Black project). This would probably lead to the end of annoying mailing lists but would also be the end for political and activist newsletters. Even social events like Buck Foris would become impossibly expensive to organise. This is the just the beginning, the point being, eventually, that it will impossible for small businesses to compete with massive internationals on the internet just like they cannot via traditional media.

SA: Well I just can’t believe that this will ever happen. People will talk a lot of crap but that’s all it is - talk. They have been talking and talking about this for years, as you admit yourself since 03, and still nothing has happened.

SWO: Thanks to the rejection of NN there is no legal reason for the organisation(s) that own and oversee the tubes to treat all the information that passes through them equally, so why would they? The fastest speeds and highest quality of service will go to the highest bidder. It’s called ‘supply and demand’. We are just going on what these companies and their representatives themselves are openly saying and admitting.

SA: From what I can see the worldwide economy and global business is now totally and inextricably linked. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses rely on the internet and all of those businesses pay for the privilege and generate lots of income. Nobody is just going to storm in and ‘shut down’ all of these businesses or price them off the net. The knock on effect would see the world’s economy suffer and those very organisations would be among those losing out. The whole debate is pure tinfoil-hattism.

SWO: It may not happen overnight, but soon ISPs will be able to put websites that pay a premium on a ‘fast track’ service and everyone else will end up in the 'bus lane' as Niel Berkett puts it. ‘Fast track’ will simply mean their sites will continue to load as fast as they do now. Smaller sites that cannot afford this will find their sites loading more and more slowly, making them appear less professional and more difficult to use and their hits will gradually erode and they will be forced onto internet 2 - a government regulated internet that charges everyone that wants to be on it. It’s not the total death of the internet, just a much heavier regulated, more traditional style of media where the big companies hold all the cards like in every other form of media.

So what can we do about all this?

SA: Sit back in your chair and accept that this is all hot air.

SWO: There are several organisations that are attempting to stand up against this, not least Google, EBAY and lots of independent groups and organisations from the NRA to certain schools and universities. You can check out for more details. Don’t just sit there and then whine while the greatest communications tool we ever had access to gets taken away from us.

Nobody can say 100 percent one way or the other how this will pan out at this point, but you can check Google (one of the main companies campagning against this) for more details. You can mull over the list of medium to huge companies involved in the NN coalition here. Be sure to sign up while you're there or enjoy your restricted access! The final battle between censorship and doing-whatever-the-hell-you-like online approaches...maybe.

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