Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

The Internet is at Risk

Two-Tiered Internet | Data Caps | Censorship | Digital Rights | How This Affects You

The Internet at Risk

Remember when big media controlled everything you read and watched? They'd like that control back.

The Internet opened the avenue for all of us to have a free and open discussion that moved beyond our back yard or workplace (at least in countries where it wasn't restricted). This allowed entities like Facebook and Netflix to emerge. The new plans would never allow any realistic future competition.

Google asks people to pledge to support a free and open Internet.

"Over the past 12 months, I've become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity," [Tim Berners-Lee] said in a statement issued from London.

He cited compromised personal data; fake news that he says has "spread like wildfire"; and the lack of regulation in political advertising, which he says threatens democracy. — OpenMedia

Government Wants to Watch What You Watch

Large scale spying on ordinary citizens and opposition to encryption are two of the ways government has turned a basically free and open Internet into a data-collection nightmare where both government and corporations cry foul when you try to block these attempts.

[The British Investigatory Powers Bill] adds new surveillance powers including rules that force internet providers to keep complete records of every website that all of their customers visit. Those will be available to a wide range of agencies, which includes the Department for Work and Pensions as well as the Food Standards Agency.. — Independent

Of course, the politicians are exempt.

Big Media Wants to Control What You See and Watch

Now big media wants to make it a two-tiered system with emphasis on their products. Sites big media doesn't control will be slower. It's already happening:

If people were getting what they want on cable TV, Netflix wouldn't be a threat.

Instead, big media would rather tax your choice of Netflix, slow down your connection to Netflix or simply not provide access at all.

Retain a Free & Open Internet

2017 is shaping up to be the most treacherous year yet for Canada's Internet freedom. Police are already piling on the pressure for new laws to force you to reveal all of your digital passwords. Telecom giants are jacking up the price of Internet at 5 times the rate of inflation, and Big Media wants to use the upcoming copyright review to turn our Internet into Cable TV 2.0. — OpenMedia

Retain the current open Internet we currently experience and have taken for granted since we began to use it.

Net Neutrality -- Illustration by Electronic Frontier Foundation Senior Designer Hugh D'Andrade.

Net neutrality means that all data is treated equally — all sites and services on the Internet have an equal footing.

No site is artificially slowed or sped up. There is no fast lane for privileged services.

A Simple Illustration

We need the Internet to be fast, cheap, neutral, and accessible everywhere. — Larry Lessig

Larry likened Net neutrality to electricity. The plug in the wall doesn't ask what you're using it for. It simply serves electricity. What we need is electronic data to served just as electricity is.

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Big Media Wants a Two-Tiered Internet

The Internet cable-ized -- click for larger image.

Big media desires to create a two-tiered Internet, ending Net neutrality. They want to monetize the Internet — bring the cable TV pricing concept to Internet access.

Imagine having to pay more to get “premium” access (usable speeds) for YouTube, Netflix, Skype, gaming or social media sites. The image to the right shows one possible scenario.

Conflicts of Interest

Besides providing Internet access, ISP companies like Shaw, Telus, Bell, Rogers and ComCast produce content that has to compete with other services on the Web.

For example, Netflix competes directly with their cable TV content. These ISPs began forcing subscribers to pay more or experience a slowdown due to throttling of their Internet services.

This self-serving reaction indicates why providing Internet services while providing competing content creates a conflicted monopoly and is not in the best interest of the customer.

Technical Reasons Cited

The big media companies often cite technical reasons for throttling competing services:

Netflix…often makes up as much as a third of all [I]nternet data usage. Where other video sites like YouTube try to optimise their content, Netflix will generally use as much of the pipe as it can: if there's lots of bandwidth going, it'll send UltraHD. Only if the pipe's slow will it compress and optimise. — The Guardian, May 14, 2014

Instead of throttling services, these companies need to invest in a bigger pipeline and probably provide more of what people want than trying to force people to consume what they're currently offering.

Even with time-shifting technologies like PVR, scheduled broadcasts cannot compete with being able to choose what you want when you want it that streaming provides.

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More Bandwidth Possible and Affordable

Increased bandwidth is not only possible, but affordable. What's missing is the incentive for those controlling access.

Data Download Caps

Data caps have appeared in Canada over the last few years. These are seldom found outside of Canada except on cellular networks.

Telus is now charging for “excess” bandwidth, something they said they'd never do when Shaw began the practice several years ago. They cite increased cost in providing Internet services.

More Bandwidth Possible and Affordable

Like the new fees for receiving a paper bill and fees for plastic shopping bags, data caps have nothing to do with real costs and everything to do with increasing profitability.

A CRTC look at cost and accessibility noted that Internet fees in Canada have increased at five times the rate of inflation. While paying some of the highest rates in the world, Canadians also suffer from some of the poorest service. Upload speeds vary greatly across the country at a time when uploading information became almost as important as downloading it.

TV Viewers Face No Bandwidth Caps

I find it interesting that the same companies that charge higher access fees for high-bandwidth Internet users have never taken similar steps to meter TV services. Telus (and other Internet providers that also sell TV services) have begun to add Internet overage charges.

You can watch TV all day without surcharges, but not Internet content even though both are using the same pipeline. The only difference is that the Internet provides choice — something that isn't profitable to existing entertainment structures.

CRTC: Internet a Basic Service

The CRTC has reclassified Internet as a basic service. This will change the subsidies offered from supporting copper-based telephone services (POTS) to supporting Internet access, including Internet-based phone service (VOIP) like Shaw and Skype provide.

Many Canadians no longer have a home phone, depending upon cellular phones and Skype-like services.

Netflix Threatens Profitability

Netflix threatens their TV subscriber base because it lacks viewable content unless you're a news or sports junkie. Fixed timetables cannot compete with watching what you want when you want to watch it.

The CRTC (Canada's FCC) has required an affordable TV subscription option costing no more than $25 per month. Since then these companies have used hidden fees and other tricks to increase their billing rates.

Canadian Internet Tax Proposed

The Liberal government is also strongly considering adding an Internet tax to help offset the declining revenues faced by Shaw, Rogers and Telus as their viewership rates decline and to support Canadian content.

Sounds a lot like subsidizing the buggy whip industry to me. We cannot afford to prop up a dying industry.

Canadians strongly oppose such a tax. It will also add to the 20% of Canadians that cannot afford Internet or TV services.

If the content produced was quality, it wouldn't need a subsidy. An example is the worldwide distribution of BBC products at a premium.

TV Viewers Pay Less for Unlimited Data

Telus offers “unlimited” downloads for an additional $30 per month ($15 per month if you subscribe to their TV service). With bundling discounts already available, this demonstrates that TV alternatives are their true target for limiting downloads.

TV Sports Subsidies and Content Rules

Of course, legislating Canadian content and regional requirements has upped the cost of TV services and providers have to find profitability somewhere.

Unfortunately, the CRTC fails to see that both TV and Internet traffic are in the same pipeline but face different rules.

TV viewers don't have any say in available content other than in picking bundles. All TV subscribers heavily subsidize the cost of sports programing. Costs are hidden within the basic cable rates. Canadian TV service providers must offer channels either individually or in packages of up to 10 channels and the affordable TV package.

Older Canadians will remember that TSN started off as a premium channel at $29.95 per month. Rather than let it fail, the CRTC rolled it into the standard TV packages resulting in a monthly fee increases of $1 for everyone — whether they wanted TSN or not.

Community Broadband

With the help of local governments there are movements in Canada to bring faster, cheaper Internet to your community.

There are already Canadian success stories in cities including Coquitlam, BC where residents on the network are able to access unlimited 10 Mbps Internet for an incredibly low fee of $20 per month.

Banned in Rural U.S.

Several U.S. rural communities decided to take matters into their own hands and built community broadband in areas the big ISPs refused to service. The response? The ISPs lobbied to ban community broadband in 19 U.S. states, calling it “unfair competition.”

Remember, this was to provide broadband service in areas the commercial operators said was unprofitable. The goal is to protect huge profits by limiting bandwidth and competition.

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Censorship — Who's Protecting Whom?

What you place on your website may not be acceptable everywhere. You may have to deal with a different points of view or perhaps justify your site's content if it is deemed to violate legislation — even outside your own country.

The U.S. Communications Decency Act had the stated purpose of “protecting children” but there is a danger that it (and similar legislation) will be misused. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been used to stop people from repairing their own equipment rather than simply to prevent the copying of music and movies for which it was created. The Volkswagen cover up was possible because of the Digital Millennium Act.

Given the information released by Snowden, this concern is justified.

Misuse of Censorship

It is not unusual to want to restrict the use of information that you deem inappropriate. Allowing alternative viewpoints provides for healthy discussion provided the topic is acceptable and appropriate for the audience.

Onlinecensorship.org seeks to encourage social media companies to operate with greater transparency and accountability toward their users as they make decisions that regulate speech. We're collecting reports from users in an effort to shine a light on what content is taken down, why companies make certain decisions about content, and how content takedowns are affecting communities of users around the world. — Onlinecensorship.org

Who's Watching the Watchers?

The problem comes when you try to decide who's view is going to be available and who make the decision about what is acceptable. In some cases this is purely a matter of law. In others, the definitions are either so vague as to be meaningless or the interpretations have allowed leeway that may never have been intended.

One measurement is what is "acceptable in the community." This is (or can be) subjective and may not be an accurate tool. Some groups are more vocal than others and some have more influence than their actual numbers may justify.

The ITC Threat

There are many countries that already restrict Internet access to their citizens and want to have even more control.

Some governments attempted to do this at a series of closed-door meetings of the ITC (an obscure United Nations agency that develops voluntary standards for international phone networks and communications satellites) held in December 2012 in Dubai.

The Internet Society, a non-profit organization, was one of the few representatives at the World Conference on International Telecommunications not tied to a national government.

SOPA & PIPA

The SOPA and PIPA bills threatened due process and freedom on the Internet. Do we really want to censor like China so that Hollywood can get even richer?

We already see ridiculous take-down orders generated by computer algorithms that don't even get checked by human eyes before they are issued.

…[T]he DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. It would also make unauthorized web streaming of copyrighted content a felony with a possible penalty up to five years in prison. — SOPA
…[T]he DoJ would be allowed to demand that search engines, social networking sites and domain name services block access to the targeted site. In some cases, action could be taken to block sites without first allowing the alleged infringer to defend themselves in court. — PIPA

The Internet goes on Strike has links to additional information including an SOPA infographic.

Tools to Protect Children

There are tools that you can use to protect your children.

SafeSurf is a rating system that makes the Internet safe for your children without censorship. My site was originally rated by SafeSurf but I have since removed the coding although the content is still meets the standards for those ratings.

Probably an even more effective way would be to limit “adult entertainment” sites to something like a .XXX domain which would be relatively easy to block at your router. However, like spam and fraud, international enforcement would probably be an issue.

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Digital Rights Management

Digital rights management has become much more important as music, movies, etc. have moved from physical media like CDs and DVDs (which had their own battles with DRM) to MP3s and Netflix. As a result companies with these sorts of products have become much more aggressive in pursuing protective technologies.

Unfortunately, this trend is often one-sided.

DRM has been used to keep secret the failures of companies by using it to prosecute those that would reveal shortcomings, vulnerabilities or outright fraud (such as the Volkswagen emissions scam).

We cannot afford to continue to allow companies to threaten our security in order to save face when they fail. One example is the W3C DRM policy which needs review. Our browsers have become integrated into areas like medical devices and lives could depend upon revealing vulnerabilities and exploits, yet DRM has been used to keep these secret.

DRM Enhances Profitability at Your Expense

Unfortunately, this trend is often one-sided. Your privacy is ignored and your ability to control your own information is sacrificed in the pursuit of this goal.

Unlike a physical book or music CD you are often restricted in your use of digital media including your ability to lend or sell it.

New Technology Requires Re-Purchase

You are paying for the content, yet DRM ensures that the consumer pays over and over for the same product simply because technology changes. You may own the DVD but can't legally copy it to view on your iPad. You may own the LP but need to re-purchase the CD. If you scratch the DVD, you can't get a replacement or exchange.

I find it particularly appaling that the digital downloads that accompany recent movies expire yet continue to advertise the fact as an inducement to purchase the movie (usually without any clear notice of expiry on the cover).

Corporate Rights Trump Individual Rights

Legislation enhances the protection for media giants, often overshadowing the rights of both creators (such as writers, musicians, artists, etc.) and end users.

Digital Restrictions Management is the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media. This concentrates control over production and distribution of media, giving DRM peddlers the power to carry out massive digital book burnings and conduct large scale surveillance over people's media viewing habits. — Defective by Design

Learn More

More about DRM and related issues:

  • Defective by Design is a grass roots organization working together to eliminate DRM as a threat to innovation in media, the privacy of readers, and freedom for computer users.
  • DRM Repeat offenders include technologies like Microsoft's Silverlight (used by Netflix) and Amazon's Kindle.
  • The Free Software Foundation is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom and to defend the rights of all free software users.

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www.RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/internet-at-risk.html
Updated: February 13, 2017

Join the Battle for the Net while you still can. Team Cable is spending millions to destroy net neutrality. Stop them.

How This Affects You

A Guide to the Open Internet shows how you could soon be paying more for access to high-bandwidth services like gaming sites, Netflix and YouTube if these companies succeed in removing Net neutrality.

ISPs want to monetize the Internet (image from “A Guide to the Open Internet”).

An Open Internet Promotes Innovation

Most of today's big Internet companies wouldn't exist today without a free and open Internet. Startups are in no position to compete with established Fortune 500 companies for limited bandwidth.

These YouTube videos examine how you'll be affected:

Learn More

More about Net neutrality:

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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