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Ignorance and Internet Bliss

Posted in the database on Monday, April 24th, 2006 @ 16:00:52 MST (1431 views)
by Bennett Gordon    Utne.com  

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Intelligent networks threaten the future of the internet

The biggest threat to the internet today is intelligence. This is not to say that telecommunication companies are stupid. In fact, they might not be stupid enough. Companies like AOL and AT&T are trying to create an intelligent network that discriminates between different types of information and customers. Internet gurus such as Vinton Cerf, who helped develop the internet as the co-designer of the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), believes that these efforts put the internet at serious risk. The only way to preserve the web as a catalyst for innovation is to create a network that doesn't discriminate. In other words, a stupid network.

"Net neutrality," according to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, "is the concept that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal, and non-discriminatory access to all the internet has to offer." In some ways, that is what we have right now. The internet is a way of sending bits of information from one computer to another. Under the principals of net neutrality, it doesn't matter how important these bits are, all information is going to be sent at the same speed. David Isenberg, author of the prophetic 1997 paper "The Rise of the Stupid Network," calls this a "Stupid Network" because the network doesn't know what the information is or who is sending it.

An intelligent network, on the other hand, is based on assumptions and preferences. The best example right now is AOL's proposed system of "CertifiedEmail." If AOL has its way, customers will be given the "option" to pay a fee in order to ensure delivery of their emails. AOL's network would then discriminate between paying and non-paying customers, starving out the non-paying customers with undeliverable messages and wait times. There already have been abuses that demonstrate the dangers of the intelligent network. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital freedom advocacy group, accused AOL of censorship when it failed to deliver emails containing links to www.dearaol.com, a website critical of AOL's "CertifiedEmail" plans.

The big telecom companies argue that they have the right to charge customers for internet services. According to this logic, the telecoms already have made a significant investment in wiring the country, so they should be able to charge for usage like email. Internet experts like Bruce Kushnick call this argument disingenuous. According to Kushnick's organization Tele Truth, the major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T agreed in the 1990s "to rewire ALL of America with fiber optic wiring, replacing the 100-year-old copper wire." In exchange, the telecoms were paid $200 billion in taxpayer money. The money was paid, but the telecoms never delivered on their promises.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to fall behind in broadband. The International Telecommunication Union ranks the United States 16th in terms of broadband penetration. Countries like Japan and Korea have faster internet connections at cheaper prices, while the telecommunications companies stifle innovation with efforts to protect their national hegemony. Vinton Cerf, widely considered one of the founding fathers of the internet, believes that the discriminatory policies of intelligent networks are a huge threat to the future of the internet. According to Cerf, "Nothing less than the future of the Internet is at stake"

Go there >> The End of the Internet? Net Neutrality Threatened by Cable, Telecom Interests

Go there too >> 'Father of the Internet' Asks for Network Neutrality

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Congress Is Giving Away the Internet, and You Won't Like Who Gets It

By Art Brodsky
TPM Cafe

Congress is going to hand the operation of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Democrats are helping. It's a shame.

Don’t look now, but the House Commerce Committee next Wednesday is likely to vote to turn control of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and what’s left of the telecommunications industry. It will be one of those stories the MSM writes about as “little noticed” because they haven’t covered it.

On the surface, it may seem a stretch to think that those companies could control the great, wide, infinite Internet. After all, the incredible diversity of the Net allowed everything -- Web sites and services of all kinds to exist in perfect harmony. What’s more, they were all delivered to your screen without any interference by the companies that carried the bits to and fro. Until recently, they had to. It was the law. The telephone companies, which carried all of the Web traffic until relatively recently, had to treat all of their calls alike without giving any Web site or service favored treatment over another.

The result was today’s Internet, which developed as a result of billions of dollars of investments, from the largest Internet company that spent millions on software and networking, to the one person with a blog who spent a few hundred dollars on a laptop. The Internet grew into a universal public resource because the telephone and cable companies simply transported the bits.

Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the high-speed Internet services offered by the cable and telephone companies didn’t fall under that law, the Communications Act. Out the window went the law that treated everyone equally. Now, with broadband, we are in a new game without rules.

Telephone and cable companies own 98% of the high-speed broadband networks the public uses to go online for reading news, shopping, listening to music, posting videos or any of the thousands of other uses developed for the Internet. But that isn’t enough. They want to control what you read, see or hear online. The companies say that they will create premium lanes on the Internet for higher fees, and give preferential access to their own services and those who can afford extra charges. The rest of us will be left to use an inferior version of the Internet.

Admittedly, it hasn’t become a problem yet. But to think it won’t become one is to ignore 100 years of history of anti-competitive behavior by the phone companies. And it was a mere six weeks or so from the time the FCC issued its ill-fated decision to the time when Ed Whitacre, the CEO of (then-SBC) now AT&T issued his famous manifesto attacking Google and other Web sites for “using my pipes (for) free.” They don’t, by the way.

Here’s the inside baseball: A couple of weeks ago, a courageous band of legislators tried to stop the madness in Subcommittee. Ed Markey, Rick Boucher, Anna Eshoo and Jay Inslee proposed some good language to protect the Internet. For their troubles, they just got four more votes, other than theirs. Just three Democrats, other than the sponsors, voted for it. Only one Republican voted for it. When we talk about special interest giveaways, this one will be at the top of the list. And we won’t have only Republicans to blame.