September 8, 2010

Subscribers of Anarchy

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Hello there reader.  If you’re new to this column, let me give it to you straight. I write about technology and few have said I’m good at it.  Now if that doesn’t deter you, it clearly means you’re either adventurous, geeky, or a little bit of both.  You’re my kind of crowd.  Now that we’ve siphoned off the luddites, lets get to the topic at hand.Net Neutrality: a small word followed by a big word.  This always seems to mean trouble.  Now Net Neutrality has been a pretty hot-button issue. Even Anderson Cooper felt it was important enough to talk about.  But even Anderson Cooper, who I know as “the Arctic Fox,” has no idea what Net Neutrality is.  If anything, just like every other journalist out there, he simply regurgitated the same idiotic blurb off a teleprompter.  “Net Neutrality is a policy that maintains the freedom of the Internet.”What is Net Neutrality really?  Something you don’t really bring up at cocktail hour.  Why? Because it’s a lot more complicated then simply keeping the Internet free.Freedom is a pretty nice term.  We Americans really like it.  One might say its part of our ethos.  But similarly, freedom can be overrated and,in many cases, it needs to be monitored and controlled (like Lindsay Lohan).  We don’t have the freedom to go nude in the streets, we don’t have the freedom to defraud people of money and we don’t have the freedom to yell expletives at small children.  Though some of you might find these things fun, society just doesn’t think they’re kosher.  The Internet,on the other hand, is quite a different story.  If you want to watch hardcore porn from the comfort of your computer, nobody is going to call you out on it (except your wife).  The Internet is anarchy and that’s what we love about it. So lets get back to this Net Neutrality thing.  A lot of critics say that Net Neutrality is the biggest invasion into freedom of the Internet since it’s creation.  Ironically, the one entity that is all about controlling freedom, the government, isn’t even really involved in this one.  The organization that has the ability to fundamentally change the way the Internet is delivered to you is your ISP (Internet Service Provider).  You know, those people who send you loving messages about paying your bill every month, the ones with ads with brightly colored maps covering 97% of all Americans. Yes, those guys. Net Neutrality isn’t an issue of what’s on the Internet; so don’t worry about your porn subscription.  What Net Neutrality affects is how that content is served to you.  It happens to be that the company you get Internet from probably provides television, phone and maybe even cellular service as well.  Especially in the case of AT&T and Verizon, pretty much anybody who likes money has one of those nifty triple play plans.  Now looking beyond the fact that you’re getting a pretty slick deal, you have to remember that the people you’re buying it from are pretty slick too.  They charge 15 cents to send a text message, while it probably costs them something like .00001 cents. You pay for the privilege of spreading gossip 300 characters at a time.  Similarly, the same companies are thinking you should pay more for “premium” parts of the Internet.  Addicted to YouTube?  Well, if you want to get faster streams then all you need to do is pay a bit extra.  Photo whore?  Well for just a couple of bucks, we can speed up your connection to Facebook.  From the above examples you might think, “Oh that’s not so bad.”  But consider the sinister undertones of this whole scheme. Those same guys taking your money can also intentionally slow your connection to Lolcats.  Only someone truly evil would ever want that!Though consumers on the whole may not notice if the Net Neutrality switch was flipped tomorrow, Internet entrepreneurs would.  The real fear is the ability to reach consumers is now for sale, and the next Facebook, Google, or YouTube, might never become a phenomenon because they couldn’t pay the telecom mob bosses.  What if every big company could make sure that your connection to them was ultra fast, but the connections to little companies was “dial-up” slow?  Well my column would be amazingly hard to read online, and that’d be pathetic. Net Neutrality guarantees that reading my column is safe from obscurity and will keep you surfing along with no undesired wait times.  But breaking Net Neutrality, even a little, opens the door to something that fundamentally changes how the Internet works.  I don’t know about you, but I like reading my column.  The Internet is anarchy, keep it that way.

Original Author: Rahul Kishore