"The End of the Internet" ??
Stories LIKE this have been circulating on the internet for years - they were, until now, an urban legend. But I believe their time may actually have arrived. Comments, anyone?
The End of the Internet
By Jeffrey Chester, The Nation, February 6, 2006
The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.
Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency.
According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets --corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers -- would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.
Under the plans they are considering, all of us -- from content providers to individual users -- would pay more to surf online, stream videos or even send e-mail. Industry planners are mulling new subscription plans that would further limit the online experience, establishing "platinum," "gold" and "silver" levels of Internet access that would set limits on the number of downloads, media streams or even e-mail messages that could be sent or received.
To make this pay-to-play vision a reality, phone and cable lobbyists are now engaged in a political campaign to further weaken the nation's communications policy laws. They want the federal government to permit them to operate Internet and other digital communications services as private networks, free of policy safeguards or governmental oversight. ... to subvert the Internet into a turbo-charged digital retail machine.
Senior phone executives have publicly discussed plans to begin imposing a new scheme for the delivery of Internet content ... [the] chairman and CEO of AT&T told Business Week in November, "Why should they be allowed to use my pipes? The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment, and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!"
To ward off the prospect of virtual toll booths on the information highway, some new media companies and public-interest groups are calling for new federal policies requiring "network neutrality" on the Internet. Common Cause, Amazon, Google, Free Press, Media Access Project and Consumers Union, among others, have proposed that broadband providers would be prohibited from discriminating against all forms of digital content. For example, phone or cable companies would not be allowed to slow down competing or undesirable content.
Consider what would happen if an online advertisement promoting nuclear power prominently popped up on a cable broadband page, while a competing message from an environmental group was relegated to the margins. It is possible that all forms of civic and noncommercial online programming would be pushed to the end of a commercial digital queue.
Telephone and cable giants envision a potential lucrative "triple play," as they impose near-monopoly control over the residential broadband services that send video, voice and data communications flowing into our televisions, home computers, cell phones and iPods.
Mining Your Data
At the core of the new power held by phone and cable companies are tools delivering what is known as "deep packet inspection." With these tools, AT&T and others can readily know the packets of information you are receiving online -- from e-mail, to websites, to sharing of music, video and software downloads.
These "deep packet inspection" technologies are partly designed to make sure that the Internet pipeline doesn't become so congested it chokes off the delivery of timely communications. Such products have already been sold to universities and large businesses that want to more economically manage their Internet services. They are also being used to limit some peer-to-peer downloading, especially for music.
But these tools are also being promoted as ways that companies, such as Comcast and Bell South, can simply grab greater control over the Internet. For example ... Internet technology giant Cisco urges these companies to "meter individual subscriber usage by application," as individuals' online travels are "tracked" and "integrated with billing systems." Such tracking and billing is made possible because they will know "the identity and profile of the individual subscriber," "what the subscriber is doing" and "where the subscriber resides."
Will Google, Amazon and the other companies successfully fight the plans of the Bells and cable companies? Ultimately, they are likely to cut a deal because they, too, are interested in monetizing our online activities.
Our Digital Destiny
It was [the] former FCC chairman ... who permitted phone and cable giants to have greater control over broadband. Powell and his GOP majority eliminated longstanding regulatory safeguards requiring phone companies to operate as nondiscriminatory networks (technically known as "common carriers").
He refused to require that cable companies, when providing Internet access, also operate in a similar nondiscriminatory manner ... it is government regulation of the phone lines that helped make the Internet today's vibrant, diverse and democratic medium.
But now, the phone companies are lobbying Washington to kill off what's left of "common carrier" policy. They wish to operate their Internet services as fully "private" networks [and] oppose giving local communities the right to create their own local Internet wireless or wi-fi networks.
The future of the online media in the United States will ultimately depend on whether the Bells and cable companies are allowed to determine the country's "digital destiny."
So before there are any policy decisions, a national debate should begin about how the Internet should serve the public. We must insure that phone and cable companies operate their Internet services in the public interest -- as stewards for a vital medium for free expression.
Technorati Tags: Internet, Access, Spam