The End Of The Internet?
Did the shock headline get your attention? Good. That course in sensationalist tabloid writing was money well spent, then!
Do you remember a few years back, during the dot-com boom, British Telecom claimed that they held the patent for hyperlink technology? Well, there was a massive furore over how they planned to exploit the patent, with some pundits speculating that BT might levy a cost per link to website owners.
It sounds ludicrous in hindsight, but it amounted to little. However, had it been in any way enforcable, it would have potentially wiped out the Internet as we know it today.
The Latest Threat To The Internet
It was Brian Clark’s post, The Four Horsemen of the Internet Apocalypse that reminded me of the latest threat to the development of the Web.
Essentially the claim is that some of the large telecoms companies in America could use their stranglehold of the market to begin charging for data-based services. It is being argued that this effective ‘taxing’ of websites will benefit the large corporations that can afford to pay for this type of service at the expense of smaller businesses who cannot.
In America, the very suggestion is causing outrage and rightly so. A move of this nature would put many small-time operators out of business, and would stifle the countless communities of Internet users across the globe. The concept of ‘net neutrality’ has been raised to describe the situation and what people stand to lose:
Net neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With net neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data ??? not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.
I’ve been working with the Internet for over 10 years now, and I have always regarded it as the ultimate democratic platform. People can choose exactly what they want to read, see or listen to. Websites flourish when they meet or exceed the expectations of their users and online communities have helped people and even saved lives.
Of course, all of this depends upon the ethical behaviour of those companies who control the infrastructure that the Internet runs on. The providers are the least visible part of the Internet experience, but arguably the most essential. Without them, the Internet becomes disconnected.
A Storm In A Teacup?
Like the BT cost-per-hyperlink controversy, I hope that the issue disappears quietly into Internet folklore. However, I’m not sure that this is likely. As Doc Searls wrote in his “Saving The Net” article, “The carriers have been lobbying Congress for control of the Net since Bush the Elder was in office.”
Are they likely to stop now? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing’s for sure, there’s a growing concern about the matter in the US and with groups like Save The Internet springing up to lobby in opposition, the beginnings of a resistance movement are brewing!
What these moves will mean for the rest of the world and we people in Northern Ireland is still unclear, so watch this space.