We on the margin are deeply concerned about a debate that is currently taking place in the US on the concept of “net neutrality” or to be more precise whether or not to allow the lack of it. To break the concept down to a simple level, what is basically being debated in the US corridors of power is whether US telecoms should be able to charge to guarantee delivery of particular streams of packets or information. MIT’s Technology Review puts it this way:
There is major money on the table for the winners of this debate, and the two sides are equally powerful:
On one side of the issue stand powerful Internet and software companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon. They — and others — are arguing that all bits should be equal — that a “best effort” should be made to deliver Internet information, regardless of where it comes from.
On the other side are the powerful infrastructure companies, who own the conduits through which the traffic flows, such as Comcast, Bell South, and SBC. They argue that because they own the pipes, they ought to have the right to charge companies such as Google or Apple something extra to “guarantee delivery” of their data.
This of course will affect the fundamental nature of the internet, with far reaching consequences. The potential impacts of this bill if it gets written into law are potentially quite scary. The site savetheinternet.com lists a number of possible impacts:
- Small businesses—The little guy will be left in the “slow lane” with inferior Internet service, unable to compete.
- Innovators with the next big idea—Startups and entrepreneurs will be muscled out of the marketplace by big corporations that pay Internet providers for the top spots on the Web.
- Bloggers—Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips—silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.
- Google users—Another search engine could pay dominant Internet providers like AT&T to guarantee another search engine opens faster than Google on your computer.
- Ipod listeners—A company like Comcast could slow access to iTunes, steering you to a higher-priced music service it owns.
- Online shoppers—Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than competitors with lower prices—distorting your choices as a consumer.
- Telecommuters—When Internet companies like AT&T favor their own services, you won’t be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.
- Parents and retirees—Your choices as a consumer could be controlled by your Internet provider, steering you to their preferred services for online banking, health care information, sending photos, planning vacations, etc.
- Political groups—Political organizing could be slowed by a handful of dominant Internet providers who ask advocacy groups to pay “protection money” for their Web sites and online features to work correctly.
- Nonprofits—A charity’s website could open at snail-like speeds, and online contributions could grind to a halt if nonprofits don’t pay Internet providers for access to “the fast lane.”
For those of us on the outside of the US we could find ourselves as permanant second class citizens of the web. With things we take for granted such as blogs and the ability to access the US market with the net being automatically assigned to the slow lane. Further what impact will this have on call centres and data intensive offshore businesses that currently use Voice Over IP technology (VOIP)? The demise of Net Neutrality will negate the “death of distance” that has opened many developmental opportunities in the developing world. This is one case where what happens in the US DOES directly affect us on the margins of the globalised world.
Over the course of a series of articles we will be looking at Net Neutrality and how it affects us in the Caribbean and in the wider developing world.