How Telecoms Will Kill The Internet

    December 20, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

Net neutrality is coming to an end, as an array of deep-pocketed telecom firms throw money and lobbyists at Congress in an unyielding effort to put a barely-figurative chokehold on Internet users.

Luigi: "Well everything breaks, don't it Colonel? (he breaks something on desk) Oh dear."
Dino: "Oh see, my brother's clumsy, Colonel, and when he gets unhappy he breaks things. Like say, he don't feel the army's playing fair by him, he may start breaking things, Colonel."
Colonel: "What is all this about?"
-- the Mafia puts the squeeze on the British Army, Monty Python's Flying Circus (ep8 season one)

What’s it all about? The same things it’s always been about – control and money. Those things can be neatly interchanged with lots of others. In discussing the Internet, an older reference could be to the auto industry. The Internet was supposed to put an end to buying cars at dealerships, cut costs by eliminating the middleman.

Seen that happen yet?

Today it’s about well-connected telecoms instead of well-connected car dealers, though. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, sees net neutrality threatened in a detailed post he makes recounting several ways our northern neighbors have been affected by meddling telecoms. Here’s a few snippets from his article:

Canadian cable provider Shaw now offers a premium VoIP service that promises to prioritize Internet telephony traffic for a monthly fee.

Quebec-based Videotron has expressed great hostility toward third party Internet telephony providers such as Skype, labeling them “parasitic” and foreshadowing the potential for future action.

In the U.S., at least one ISP briefly blocked competing Internet telephony traffic until the Federal Communications Commission ordered it to cease the practice. (That was Madison River in North Carolina; the FCC hit them with a $15,000 fine. – David)

earlier this summer, Telus blocked access to Voices For Change, a pro-union website.

customers of Rogers, Canada’s largest cable ISP, have speculated that the company has begun to block access to peer-to-peer services such as BitTorrent as well as the downloading of podcasts from services such as iTunes.

While Rogers initially denied the charges, it now acknowledges that it uses “traffic shaping” to prioritize certain online activity. As a result, applications that Rogers deems to be a lower priority may cease to function effectively.

Control and money. Pay those in control to give you something that you thought you were paying for already. The theme seems to be “just because you’re paying for Internet access doesn’t mean you’re paying for *Internet* *access*.

It’s not just Professor Geist seeing this happen. Doc Searls has been warning people for over a solid month about the threat, but he gives credit to a host of people, including legal expert Lawrence Lessig for starting the discussion way back in 2002.

Searls currently serves at the senior editor for Linux Journal, and on that website he posted his “Saving The Net” essay in November. He summarizes the telecom perception of the Internet in one scenario of his essay, where the telecoms win the fight (spacing added):

They see a problem with freeloaders. On the tall end of the power curve, those ‘loaders are AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other large sources of the container cargo we call “content”. Out on the long tail, the freeloaders are you and me.

The big ‘loaders have been getting a free ride for too long and are going to need to pay. The Information Highway isn’t the freaking interstate. It’s a system of private roads that needs to start charging tolls. As for the small ‘loaders, it hardly matters that they’re a boundless source of invention, innovation, vitality and new business. To the carriers, we’re all still just “consumers”. And we always will be.

Paranoid? They say it isn’t paranoia if people really are after you. BellSouth CTO William L. Smith may be threatening net neutrality:

BellSouth CTO William L. Smith told reporters that his firm should be permitted “to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.”

The Wasington Post reported on Smith’s comments; Smith also brought up the desire to charge VoIP providers for the privilege of having its service “operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.”

Ed Whitacre, CEO of of SBC-now-AT&T (again), may be threatening net neutrality:

How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. 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!

And yes, the US Government is definitely threatening net neutrality:

The legislation in question, H.R.2726, would prevent the city or any other municipality from offering “telecommunications, information, or cable services” except where private enterprises had not provided such services. Currently the ironically-named “Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act” of 2005 has been languishing in a House subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Both BellSouth and AT&T have been lobbying for a two-tiered Internet. Big online players like Google, Yahoo, AOL’s Time Warner, and tech giant Microsoft oppose them. Who wins will be important, but not nearly as important as who stands to lose.

We’ll close with how Searls suggested how a telecom-controlled future will look:

Does it matter that countless markets flourish in the wide spaces opened by agreements and protocols that thrive at the grace of carriage? Or that those markets are threatened by new limits, protections and costs imposed at the pipe level?


Thus, the Era of Net Facilitation will end. The choke points are in the pipes, the permission is coming from the lawmakers and regulators, and the choking will be done. No more free rides, folks. Time to pay. It’s called creating scarcity and charging for it. The Information Age may be here, but the Industrial Age is hardly over. In fact, there is no sign it will ever end.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.