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To Kill An Internet…

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The concept of consequences associated with an Internet that is not neutral has been scattered and nebulous, difficult for the layman (and, unfortunately, Congressman) to understand why it matters, and proof of concept has been rare or insignificant. Thanks to the Pirate Bay and a Swedish ISP, that proof of concept may be before us.

To Kill An Internet...
Blocking Internet Access For Others

Though the Russian website allofmp3.com is legal under Swedish law, an ISP named Perspektiv Bredband, based on a somewhat arbitrary moral conviction, blocked its subscribers from accessing the site. This move cheesed off (herringed off?) Swedish torrent search engine the Pirate Bay so much that they blocked Perspectiv subscribers from accessing their own site.

And so, you have an access war because neither side is neutral. In the end, Perspectiv customers suffer most by having what they can view limited because of two companies and their grudges.

This has been one of the main arguments about what could happen, the slippery slope Net Neutrality proponents have feared and the telcom industry has discounted for lack of proof.

There have been similar discussions, based on Google’s support of Net Neutrality and easy ability to set up its own ISP, that if a company like AT&T or Bellsouth cordoned off faster speeds for the highest bidder (which they’ve publicly admitted to desiring), say Yahoo, then Google could block off AT&T subscribers in protest.

While free-market loyalists argue that this is a situation that is self-correcting – AT&T changes its policy eventually due to loss of subscribers – the Internet surfing public suffers while it works itself out.

(The same case has been made for globalization: though the middle class diminishes and jobs are lost in the interim, eventually, perhaps even a hundred years later, the problem self-corrects. Thus, a certain level of poverty and despair is acceptable until the long-range goal is met. People suffer, the rich get richer and the powerful acquire more power.)

“One can only imagine the broader network neutrality impact if everyone erected blockades to settle digital disputes,” writes a TechDirt blogger (Karl). “AT&T bans Google video to hinder U-Verse competition, Google bans AT&T DSL customers in kind, and pretty soon the Internet is little more than a cratered out highway, riddled by vendettas.”

“[I]n this case the consumer is caught in the middle,” says Wired.com blogger Scott Gilbertson. “Now not only can Perspektiv Broadband users not access allofmp3, but now they can’t access TPB either.

“The end result could be: enough Perspektiv users complain and company gets rid of its blocking software. But even if the outcome does go the way TPB seems to want it to, the burden of boycott is not on Perspektiv directly, but rather its customer base, the individual user.”

Or in an extreme case, entire organizations can campaign against a website operator or blogger based on fundamental disagreement about what is said there. Ask the controversial writer for thebestpageintheuniverse.net, who is the target of a group of mothers for his edgy and offensive viewpoints, and is also blocked by Websense. Though their displeasure with the content is understandable, denying free speech is a chilling proposition.

Network Neutrality legislation, at its heart, would seek to prevent these situations so all could enjoy the Internet as they see fit, without subjective moral enforcers moving beyond a virtual picket line to an outright roadblock.

Beyond that, and much more lucrative for cable and telecoms, is that no solid protection of Net Neutrality allows access providers to carve out a path for the consumer to follow. Not only is that path inherently costly for the consumer, but trying to exit the path is even more so.

To imagine this in terms of sidewalks, visit Bob Frankston.

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