Is the Web, a “wrinkle in space,” about to be flattened?

The Web is a platform allowing and encouraging:

  • Innovation and creativity
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Open-ended accessibility
  • Thriving world-wide communities
  • Somali refugees living in Seattle, WA, USA listen to the BBC in Somali

I have friends I’ve never met in person, living in countries I’ve never visited. I’ve talked with people living in a country my country was bombing. The Internet has made it practical to do business with clients anywhere.

Are you with me so far?

The Web, built on the technology of the telegraph and telephone and on the example of ocean-going ships and airplanes, is a “wrinkle in space.” It has engendered the applications we have used to reshape our view of art, science, life–and of other people. The critical characteristics leading to the Web’s ubiquitous use today are threatened.

Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and others consistently, but quietly, try to undermine the very properties of the Internet that contributed to the Web’s growth. These companies justify constricting or blocking sites like BitTorrent by describing its users as “bandwidth hogs” that slow the network for all users. It may for Comcast, because of cable technology. And it may be so, much like traffic is heavier at rush how then at other times.

Are you willing to pay an extra tax because you commute to a job at normal times? I could argue that by doing so you place a greater burden on city resources than I do (I commute on the Internet instead). Hmmmm. Now there’s a thought. But I digress.

If we allow a company to block traffic we don’t use, then we then give it the right to block or constrict sites served by its competitors or sites the government asks to have blocked. This isn’t science fiction. Recall the recent news about phone companies giving customer records to the government without warrant, much less notice to the customers.

I read this morning in the New York Times that several corporations including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and AT&T, are moving to charge users for bandwidth used, much like with cell phone plans. This is a throwback to days gone by when AOL and Compuserve had such tiered service plans. Before eBay, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

I remember when The Phone Company owned the phones. And I do mean “the Phone Company.” When I moved, I had to return the phone (and I ever only had the one), which was always black. If I wanted a second phone in, say, the bedroom, I would have to paid extra. Consider the wealth of choices of phones in 2008. Do you suppose that innovation would have occurred if the phone system hadn’t been opened up, including providing for equal access of all phone calls over phone lines?

Lest you shrug and dismiss this as only affecting people who care what size of boobs needed to crush a beer can, consider that YouTube also hosts many useful videos from knitting techniques to trailers for small theater productions.

If you’re reading this, thank the originators of the Internet. If you can read with nice formatting provided by WordPress, get involved.

Links to more reading and resources:

Wikipedia’s article includes overview, pros, cons, and links

Save the Internet is a net neutrality website


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