The Internet is at Risk
The Internet at Risk
Remember when big media controlled everything you read and watched? They'd like that control back.
Undemocratic forces are working to destroy the Internet we know and love — a magical place of dank memes and video streams, the essential backbone we use to communicate with our loved ones, our families, and our government.
If they get their way, many of our favorite websites and services will be slowed to a crawl, and we'll end up with an “Internet” that looks more like cable TV — a boring, money-making machine for telecom giants. — OpenMedia
What is Net Neutrality?
The Internet was designed for open, unrestricted access to the data we wanted to obtain. It allowed us to have free and open discussion beyond our own back yard or workplace (at least in countries where it wasn't restricted).
The Internet was designed as a neutral platform that allowed us to choose what we watched and when we watched it. Facebook and Netflix emerged in this non-restrictive environment but the new plans would never allow any realistic future competition.
Net neutrality is a simple concept that ends up being very politically complicated. It's the idea that your internet service provider (ISP) — whether that's Comcast, Verizon, or someone else — shouldn't have the ability to pick and choose which service or content you can see, or make sites pay to have their content load quickly. — Mozilla Blog
A new Mozilla poll found that the vast majority of Americans overwhelmingly support net neutrality, yet they don't trust government to ensure it.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers providing consumer connection to the Internet should treat all data on the internet the same, not giving specific advantages or penalties in access by user, content, website, platform, or application. — Mozilla
Government seems to have the ear of the huge mega-corporations, not the people they are supposed to represent. Tim Berners-Lee, known as the inventor of the Internet, describes the problem:
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.
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
You Need to Take Action
You should care because net neutrality is about way more than packets of data — it affects competition, innovation, speech online, and user choice. Losing net neutrality would ultimately mean you have fewer choices for content, applications, and services online, in ways we can't possibly imagine today. — Mozilla Blog
Since governments are listening to big media, you need to step up and take an active part if you want to see net neutrality remain.
- Take the Google pledge to support a free and open Internet.
- Open Media leads the fight to get your voice heard.
U.S. ISPs Given Right to Sell Users' Surfing Habits
Arguing that Facebook and Google were able to cull user surfing habits and sell them to advertisers, the major U.S. ISPs were able to convince government to allow them to do the same.
[L]awmakers voted to allow internet service providers to violate your privacy for their own profit. Not only have they voted to repeal a rule that protects your privacy, they are also trying to make it illegal for the Federal Communications Commission to enact other rules to protect your privacy online.
That this is not provoking greater outcry illustrates how much we've ceded any willingness to shape our technological future to for-profit companies and are allowing them to do it for us. — Bruce Schneier
First of all, the argument that ISPs are like Facebook or Google are deeply flawed.
- You pay your ISP for Internet access. Can you imagine how many users would remain with Facebook or Google if they started charging $35 per month or more?
- You can choose NOT to visit Facebook or use another search engine other than Google. Few Americans have access to even two ISPs in their city.
- Your ISP can see everything you do on the Internet, not just when you visit their site and these ISPs can do (and have already done) some very sneaky things.
Perhaps these ISPs would like to charge like Facebook and Google as well: provide all their services for FREE.
The fact that the American government has voted to remove any possibility of future privacy is very disturbing. Imagine the outcry from politicians if a private bill made any election spending illegal with similar rules preventing future repeal?
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. Third-party sites big media doesn't control will be slower. It's already happening:
- Regulators in Europe wants to tax the Internet.
- The Canadian Liberal government is considering doing the same to protect media companies that provide little in the way of original content.
- Zuckerberg's Internet.org is “a reckless violation of net neutrality”.
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.
The fight over net neutrality is starting to heat up — and the big difference between this time and 2015 is that big ISPs seem incredibly emboldened to say whatever they want without any regard for the truth. — The Verge
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 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
The plug in the wall doesn't ask what you're using it for. It simply serves electricity.
We need the Internet to be fast, cheap, neutral, and accessible everywhere. — Larry Lessig
We need electronic data to be served neutrally just as electricity is.
Big Media Wants a Two-Tiered Internet
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.
Traditional companies like Shaw and Telus now provide some time-shifting and the ability to watch when away from home on mobile devices. If they are allowed to include these services without impact on bandwidth, there is a clear conflict of interest.
The Real Reasons For Throttling
There is too much political power in the hands of a few corporations and even fewer wealthy and politically-connected individuals. Half of the world's wealth belongs to the top 1%.
Just eight individuals, all men, own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world's population. — Oxfam
Money Buys Political Power
The cost of getting elected today is immense and far beyond the ability of anyone but major corporations, unions and similar entities. This leads to control of the Internet by corporations that seek much more than a reasonable profit.
Remove the Potential for Corruption
So how do you fix this? Perhaps by limiting total annual political contributions by ANY person or entity to an amount affordable by most individuals (such as $500). With such a small ceiling, no corporation could buy political leverage with their donations.
Of course, this would cause our political system to radically change to a more grass-roots level that would allow individuals more say and bring back those that have given up on the system. Wouldn't that be an improvement?
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.
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 (probably because traditional methods dump ALL the regular TV channels into the neighbourhood regardless of whether anyone is watching or not). 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.
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.
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
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.
- Bruce Schneier's 2013 essay, Power and the Internet, speaks to this changing balance of power on the Internet.
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.
The digital downloads that accompany recent movies as an inducement to purchase the movie expire yet there is usually no 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
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.
Updated: June 24, 2017