In 1995 I wrote a column about what was then something new for most people: the Web. At the time, Internet culture evangelists were in agreement that the Web would never, ever be commercialized. It would become the new Utopia and people assumed the Web was the cyber equivalent of Haight-Asbury, the nexus of the “Summer of Love”. I am opposed to carriers having their finger on the button that controls what content we can and can’t access. Take a good look at what these companies really want: to take us back over a decade to a time where we didn’t have the access and control over information we do now. They long for the old days when the only real freedom of choice we had was whether to get popcorn or chips during the commercial break. Text

That San Francisco “Mecca” is now more about tourism than about love, and the Web has changed as well. I noted back then that the only thing stopping developers from building virtual strip malls on every node was the inability (at the time) to make money from it. I’m not saying I’m glad of being right in this case; quite the opposite in fact.

Net neutrality boils down to those companies who have developed and maintained the Internet backbone and infrastructure, wanting those who use it to deliver content to pay them for it, much like truckers do on toll highways. Those who won’t pay could have their content blocked or relegated to slower connections.

Thus, carriers such as Shaw or Bell would have control of information on the Web. One of the foundations on which the Web has developed — freedom of information — would then be at risk. Do you want a handful of corporations to have influence over the information which you rely on to make a decision? Will freedom of information only be extended to those who can pay for the liberty? What about all the start-up sites and companies that don’t have deep pockets, without which the Web wouldn’t have come as far as it has in the last decade?

Let’s keep the Internet as an alternative to, and not a reflection of, the real world. We’ve had thousands of years to get the latter right and still can’t. Let’s at least give the Web more then 10 years before we screw it up, too.

Essentially, what the major carriers on both sides of the border want is to turn the Web into cable TV. The Web is farther from cable than Pluto is from Earth. One is interactive and the other is not. One allows anyone to generate content and the other limits that power and influence to a privileged few.

On the whole, television tells you what to think. The Net challenges you to think for yourself. Information via the Web can come from many sources and you have to be thinking deeper than what vowel to buy from Pat Sajak in order to get anything worthwhile out of the experience.

I’m not opposed entirely to those who have built and maintained the Web’s infrastructure getting some amount of monetary support from companies such as Vonage, Google or Yahoo, which have used it to make billions.

I am, however, totally opposed to carriers having their finger on the button that controls what content we can and can’t access. Take a good look at what these companies really want: to take us back over a decade to a time where we didn’t have the access and control over information we do now. They long for the old days when the only real freedom of choice we had was whether to get popcorn or chips during the commercial break.

While it’s true that the prime motivator here is money, it may also concern these corporations to see the public thinking all on its own.

I’m reminded of an old “Wizard of Id” cartoon in which the king is informed the peasants are revolting, to which he replies: “They certainly are!”

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— Ducharme is editor of PCWorld.ca. Contact him at editor@pcworld.ca.



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