21 December 2010

Net Neutrality! ... Not ...

Today, the US's Federal Communications Commission, which (cough) "regulates" telephone, television and some other communications media, decided on a set of regulations that pretend to adhere to "net neutrality" (Internet service providers have to be neutral regarding the source, content and destination of Internet traffic) but in fact undermine it. Most dramatically, ISPs will be able to treat wired and wireless Internet differently; landline service providers are supposed to maintain neutrality, but wireless companies can impose restrictions on the rapidly growing wireless segment. Apps and services can be blocked on iPhones and similar devices. In addition, the ISPs aren't prevented from creating "fast lanes" for their own content or for content providers that can pay for them (which they've been eager to do). The landline ISPs can also introduce tiered pricing based on how much broadband you use, and block programs that they claim cause network congestion. Basically, they can separate the Internet into (so to speak) a zippy private corporate wholesale system, and a slower retail market for customers like you and me and the small startup companies that provide most of the innovations in Internet services. (Unfortunately I'm depending on media reports of the decision; I've been unable to download the ruling from the FCC itself....)

The US already has distinctly mediocre Internet service. According to Speedtest.net, Gizmodo, cnetTechKnowTimes and other sources, the US ranks only around 30th in Internet speeds, with speeds lagging at anywhere from 1/4th to 1/12th of the top-ranked countries, depending on which figures you use. Many parts of the country still make do with the dialup modem service; some still have nothing!  Now it looks like we'll be even less well served by the major ISPs than we already were.

None of this bodes well for the increasing use of the Internet for all forms of telecommunications -- the Web, music, TV, voice, etc. I'm not myself a huge eater of bandwidth, although my usage has certainly edged upward, particularly after I cancelled my cable TV service some months ago and now watch my 1-2 hours a week online. But I have plenty of friends who might as well live and die on broadband. And virtual worlds like Second Life don't do well on slow connections.

Botgirl Questi recently commented on the stagnation of virtual world growth, arguing for the importance of browser-based access, and suggesting that
OpenSim Hypergrid technology (or something like it) is the way ahead for those of us who want to continue to push forward the old-school Full Monty experience. An integrated system of grids owned by small businesses, non-profits and private individuals will not have the kind of financial pressures that necessitate the kind of growth that investors in venture-backed companies demand.
Botgirl ought to be right. Along with browser-based access, there should be access through mobile apps. But under this ruling, one has to wonder how well small businesses, non-profits and private individuals, or for that matter Linden Labs, will be able to provide access of any sort to the worlds they create, or whether they'll simply get pushed aside. As the behemoth telecommunications corporations make the world safer for themselves, I have to question whether the "small fish" really won't have the sort of financial pressures she speaks of. I suspect the opposite is coming true.

1 comment:

  1. You are right, and what burns more is that we have already paid, and continue to pay, these broadband providers for upgraded networks since 1997 when we gave them several billion dollars to lay fiber in by 2002. They took the money and did nothing, either in infrastructure nor keeping current their own routers and switches.

    It is a shame the way we have allowed these robber-barons to reduce capacity and capability while they whine and bullsh*t about "their" networks, at the same time pimping and pushing media delivery... if you look at these facts you can see the drift; this is a setup for a net as chained and flattened as what is delivered today by the same media companies.

    This is nothing less than a slow-motion land grab for the "territory" known as the internet.

    The FCC is bought and sold, in pocket and in thrall to the Media Barons and the MAFIAA. More attempts to lobotomize the net into a "media content delivery system" akin to cutting all the legs off a horse so that it can make a nice footrest.