Thursday, August 5, 2010

Don't fear the "end of the Internet as we know it"

To borrow a line from REM, it's the end of the Internet as we know it, and I feel fine.

The lead story on Huffington Post for the morning of August 5, 2010 is so breathlessly apocalyptic that it could be seen as satire if it weren’t so clearly intended to be serious.

“Don’t be evil*” proclaims the enormous headline, followed by “*unless it’s profitable,” it continues. Oh, please. This is just crazy.

The focus of this is a potential deal between Google and Verizon that would establish cable-style fee schedules to use the Internet. Josh Silver, an “information wants to be free” advocate, says “this could be the end of the Internet as we know it.”

My response: It’s about time. The Internet as we know it is full of garbage, a cesspool of bad information, lies, distortions, scams, falsehoods and just plain nonsense. A culling of this stuff has been a long time coming.

“Since its beginnings, the Net was a level playing field that allowed all content to move at the same speed, whether it's ABC News or your uncle's video blog,” Silver writes. “That's all about to change, and the result couldn't be more bleak for the future of the Internet, for television, radio and independent voices.”

He’s all worked up because the Federal Communications Commission is --at least for now -- allowing capitalism to do its thing. Instead of enforcing rules that wouldn’t allow companies to charge for certain types of Internet access, it is essentially allowing the market to set the rules. That’s how the marketplace works, but not in Silver’s Internet world.

Here’s one definition of net neutrality: Internet Service Providers and governments may not place any restrictions on content, sites, platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and no restrictions on the modes of communication allowed. One way to look at this is that it’s a special set of rules for doing business on the Internet because, well, “information wants to be free.”

Here are Huffington Post’s lead paragraphs on the story:
“Google Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. are close to finalizing a proposal for so-called "network neutrality" rules, which would dictate how broadband providers treat Internet traffic flowing over their lines, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.”

“Under the deal, ‘charges could be paid by companies, like YouTube, owned by Google, for example, to Verizon, one of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, to ensure that its content received priority as it made its way to consumers,’ the New York Times explains, noting that Internet users might eventually pay a higher price for service as a result.”
Of course, the truth is that “free” stuff is usually worth about what you pay for it. But to Silver, the idea of allowing Americans to vote with their wallets represents impending doom.

“Ending net neutrality would end the revolutionary potential that any website can act as a television or radio network. It would spell the end of our opportunity to wrest access and distribution of media content away from the handful of massive media corporations that currently control the television and radio dial.”

There are plenty of ways to address the potential issue of media monopolies (more a fear than a real issue), but enforcing “net neutrality” isn’t it.

UPDATE: Despite earlier denials, Google and Verizon went public with their plans to kill the Internet as we know it.

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