Dave Studies Media

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Internet in Crisis

Since that email got sent around about the Net Neutrality issue, I thought I'd take a few minutes to share my thoughts on it.

I've been following the issue for well over a year now, although I didn't understand the scope and importance of it at first. It's a complex issue, but in a nut shell, this is what it is for those unfamiliar:

The internet's always been a level playing field for everyone involved. The fact that anyone can use the internet for anything they want, without any kind of discrimination makes it an incredibly democratic tool. Whether your internet usage is limited to managing email, or you're a power user downloading 100 gigabytes of data per month, you pay the same, universal fee to do it. That's what "net neutrality" is. But now ISPs in the US and Canada are proposing that they be given permission to impose a tiered model. The best comparison is with TV packages. Just like there are multiple tiers to choose from with TV, (from cheap basic packages to expensive deluxe ones,) the telecommunications companies would like to charge consumers more to have certain privileges.

What constitutes a privilege? Pretty well anything you can think of. Downloading any media, accessing certain servers; even instant messaging could become like texting - pay for each one sent, or get a monthly plan. It certainly eliminates the potential for startup web companies, who would be muscled aside by the big kids who can afford to pay to stay on top. Discrimination is already being implemented in some private institutions. My good friend in the Computational Art program at Concordia University reports that the school throttles most downloading and uploading from/to the web, as well as video hosting sites like YouTube. This angers Media students since a lot of course material (multimedia) is only available through those channels.

In my mind this is an even more pressing issue in Canada than in the states. Rogers and Bell, and Cogeco to a lesser extent, basically have an oligopoly going on Canada's internet access. What other Canadian ISPs can you think of? They exist, but most Canadians are limited to one or two of the big three. The corporations argue that they have the consumers' best interests at heart, with the substantial increase in profit they'd be pulling in giving them the means to better serve paying customers. My little rebuttal to this is that the current capabilities of the internet are good enough for most people, and most do not take advantage of the full potential anyway. Others believe it won't matter if Net Neutrality is abolished, because startup competitors would likely start springing up to offer un-tiered access. Still, I'm not convinced that a few little startup ISPs would put much of a dent in the Rogers/Bell empire.

This is an important issue for me because, I admit it, my life is pretty heavily mediated - especially by internet access and everything that goes along with that. The forced lifestyle change I'm afraid is at hand here is so dramatic that I'd consider moving, likely out of the country, if I saw my concerns starting to become reality.

To show your support for keeping Net Neutrality in Canada, you can follow the link in my sidebar, (the neutrality banner under "Soapbox") and add your name to the petition. If you like, you can also choose a banner to stick on your blog to help spread the word.

Update:
This video is a little old now, but still relevant. Professor Andrew Clement does a good job explaining the range of negative effects that could be expected from a discriminating system.


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2 Comments:

  • Dave,

    You know that I share your urgency over these issues, and I think you've done a great job laying out some of the key issues that our internet faces in the upcoming months. We've got to get people in on it!

    I just wanted to let you know that I joined you on the soapbox today with my latest post on culturshock. I get a little fired up, but that's just testament to my investment in the debate. Check it out and let me know what you think.

    I'm hoping that we'll be able to collaborate on some initiative in the future, whether it's a lengthy post or overt action, such as calling an MP. Let me know if you've got any ideas, and keep up the good work.

    jon.

    By Blogger jon., At March 5, 2008 at 5:05 PM  

  • your original post pushed me to sign the petition at netneutrality.ca. i hope others follow suit...

    i.

    By Blogger I. Reilly, At April 10, 2008 at 8:54 AM  

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