Thursday, June 12, 2008

the death of the internet? not damn well likely.

Some ado over the past few days about a supposedly 'leaked' plan to 'kill' the internet by 2012--effectively reducing all access to a small number of corporate websites. This would reduce the internet's role as a medium from the almost pervasive dominance it now enjoys to something more or less akin to the radio. This is made all the more unsettling by the recent news that the nation's three largest internet carriers are banning Usenet outright.

There are several problems with this hypothesis. The first and most obvious is competition. While the analogy is tenuous at best in the context of net-neutrality debates, it's a bit different here. If a coalition of internet providers collude and decide to limit access to certain websites without any due cause, then there will likely be legal problems that even the Orwellian US government will have problems allowing. The agreement between the NY AG and internet providers to ban Usenet will no doubt be challenged in court. If any such challenge succeeds, then all the better for my argument. If it fails, it will probably fail because of a 'prevailing interest' argument on the government's part to the effect that blocking access to child pornography is an overriding interest of the government's and therefore free speech takes a back seat.

If this works--which is yet to be seen--then the burden will still be on the shoulders of whichever telecommunications company decides to restrict access to certain websites.

Similarly, the fragmented nature of the internet means that there will likely be a way to access the websites anyway through more devious means (off-shore proxies). US businesses are already too invested in their online operations abroad to allow telecommunications providers to simply block access to their sites from abroad. Again, like I mentioned in my earlier posts about how the 2008 elections will turn out, I think that the commercial interests of the united states are by and large behind the internet, and this election cycle will see the election of a more liberal congress if only because commercial interests both inside and outside the U.S. are afraid of the power that the telecommunications industry has been trying to exert over the internet.

Lastly I think the 'last ditch' safety against this turn of events is a common friend: Google. Google has been buying hundreds of miles of dark fiber, and noone really knows why. I think that regardless of Google's intentions, it is in their interest and their business philosophy to keep the internet an 'open' marketplace (as evinced by their fervent opposition to Ebay's attempts to monopolize the methods of payment available for auction sellers and buyers). Similarly, if we see the ascendancy of an internet that is without the freedom of movement and information currently afforded users, Google will step up and provide an alternative platform that will allow free communication.

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