The Feudal Net

Net neu·tral·i·ty

The principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. (source- google search)

Have you ever tried to access wifi at the airport only to find that despite not being able to connect, certain sites still load? Or how about when you’re out with friends, on the job, or running errands? Some sites load promptly and others occupy your vision with that dreaded searching swirl, only moments later to say an error has occurred. Even at home I experience this from time to time.

With an unlimited data plan, I wondered why this was the case, and a quick search revealed that despite this unlimited plan, mobile companies can choose to throttle access at a certain point. T- Mobile for example, has their limit at 32GB, and AT&T or Verizon at 22GB. After this point then, why is it that certain sites prevail over others?

Just as with the way top search results on your search engines are controlled via the input of advertising dollars and deals, the sites that make it through the throttle cut off are owned by larger companies that have financial leverage to cut deals with mobile companies. It’s another game of Monopoly where big companies pass Go, little companies are trapped in Jail until they eventually fall out or break free, and us, the rest of the players, have forgotten that it’s our hand that holds the get out of jail free card.

Despite the 2015 legislation that Obama rolled out to protect net neutrality, I think experience tells a different story. And how much will change if Trump’s chosen chairman of the FCC*, Agit Pai, goes ahead and repeals the current legislation that holds ISPs* to whatever net neutrality does exist?

I’ve learned to expect the discovery of limitations in supposedly open services but these controls still constantly manage to surprise. With so little competition between internet giants and mobile providers and a statistically passive approach as our own watch dogs- I wonder if we will see change in the near future. As far as my own research, there’s no future tech. that presents a solution here, so these solutions are left to imagination. Combined with a few alternatives that have been put forward, I do see light at the end of this fiber optic tunnel.

From municipal internet such as that in Chattanooga, TN to an open access fibre network in Amsterdam, there is a movement to alternatives, but not without feuds breaking loose between municipalities and ISPs. Lawsuits and bureaucracy can aid but also stagnate technological developments, and big companies will always fight to retain control that lends to their financial gain. Armed with more lawyers, they are also more nimble and innovative than any bureaucracy.

I can imagine a not so far future where code is common language, where a communications network has spread further than ever,  and where we can take ISP into our own hands, directly run and protected though our own computer systems. With the groundwork laid why not create an independent net, free from the motives of profit and free from big brother government.

What we used to store in the home is now stored online with little safeguards. Information that we used to read at the library is now on the internet, but the way search engines currently work limits and to some extent sensors our choice of books; leaving some that we may have selected on page two to infinity to collect dust. These choices presented to us  play a heavy part in the information we consume, the biases we form and in the opinion we develop that builds our future selves.

While an international WWW NGO may face some of the same bureaucratic issues as private companies and public governments, maybe the assistance of an AI interface could relieve some of these pressures and develop a secure and neutral WWW.

I also like the idea of us, the users, as citizens of the net. Netizens of sorts and protectors of net neutrality with the assistance of a future AI…

What are your thoughts on the future of the net?

*Federal Communications Commission
*ISPs- Internet Service Providers

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