An email to my friends

Friends,

  I am sure you have already done some reading, but I want to ask you to try to spend some time learning about Net Neutrality [1][8]. I feel that it is going to be a huge issue for us soon and we all have to be prepared. The impact could be staggering and the results will be painful.

  We need to start understanding the broader impact of an imbalanced internet on our social lives. Education, healthcare, science, communities, etc. We need to do this as a community and as individuals.

  Will the internet continue to be an open space, or will it become a walled garden, available only to those who can afford to pay premiums?

  Traffic shaping has already taken hold in Canada [2] with 2 of our major ISPs limiting all encrypted traffic. That means everything from secure email to credit card processing forms are incredibly slow. Is this just a test of the ISPs capabilities to shape and censor? What will they apply rules to next?

  A neutral net does not mean a wild west. Laws still exist and law enforcement will continue to, through sopenas and proper means, monitor traffic when appropriate. The right of law enforcement to do this with proper legal approval is important and recognized.

  What does an imbalanced internet look like in the future? It’s hard to say exactly, but there are a few things we do know.

  Most large internet service providers come from incumbent industries such as Telecom or Cable TV. These large companies have been good and reasonably efficient at rolling out infrastructure, but they have also been birthed in the womb of government protection, artificial market dominance and a market segment that has an inelastic demand for their services.

    Why does that matter? Well, it’s a fair bet that if it hasn’t already happened, high speed internet subscriber rates will soon start levelling off. As markets like Canada, the US and the UK see this peaking of subscribers, these incumbent companies will begin to look for ways to meet revenue growth projections. We’ve already seen what this can do here in Canada, it’s happened with our national cellular phone providers.

  The incumbents will try to generate more profit from each of us individually because they can no longer simply bring in new subscribers. How will this happen?

    You may need to buy a “Video Downloading Package” that allows you to download video off the net. This could cost 2$, or it could cost 20$. What happens if you don’t pay? You can only download video provided by your ISP, and it will most likely have advertising added on to it by them.

Perhaps you send a lot of emails? Perhaps it is time for you to upgrade to the 4$ emailing package that gives you priority email, rather than the 30 minute wait that the ISP will impose as a “network balancing queue”. Of course, sending emails through outside providers such as GMail will require the 5$ emailing package. Of course, this is done to protect you from viruses and all sorts of other things.

    What happens to the next startup that competes with an ISP’s own ambitions? YouTube was breaking all the rules for content creation and delivery and was competing directly with Cable TV and some of the existing for-pay internet-tv options offered by ISPs. Will the next YouTube be affected by “traffic shaping” ?

    In 2005, a large Canadian ISP decided to block a series of pro-union websites during a labour dispute [3] and it affected the dissemination of free speech dramatically for several days.

    What would happen if your ISP did a deal with a national chain of petfood stores called MegaPets, Inc.? The next time you do a good search for “pet nutrition” it may seem curious that the top result is for MegaPets, Inc., but the site contains no useful or relevant content. You may also find MegaPets, Inc when searching for “dog breeders” or “clownfish”.

  Are these scenarios possible? While some may be driven by fear, some of these are real and have happened, or take place to this day.

  What can you do?

  We can’t be guided by fear, but the following suggestions do contain some potentially uncomfortable steps. Consider each one carefully in your own context:

  * ISPs monitor traffic and keep extensive logs. This means that when you download a bittorrent of the latest movie or TV show, you are making yourself a target for SLAPPs [4][5]. Consider halting such downloads for now. Already, several Canadian ISPs actively send warning letters to their users who download bittorrents.

  * Start to consider how a neutral net has changed your life, provided an income to you or has allowed you to contribute to your local community. These are all important economic factors that governments need to consider.

    * There are millions of legitimate  BitTorrents out there [6]. Have you been trying to download them, but are finding your ISP is slowing them down to unusable speeds. Are they doing this unadvertised? Take personal notes or blog about these slowdowns.

    * Are you having trouble downloading Podcasts or other legitimate audio? [7] Be sure to take notes or blog about how this has affected you. It’s important to keep a public record.

* Looking for photos or stock art to use on your blog or elsewhere? Consider using Flickr to find Creative Commons licensed photos rather than things like Google Image Search. ISPs will be able to mine their logs in order to paint you as a serial offender against copyright.

We don’t know how far all of this will go, but we also know that things are starting to change. Many of the questions that remain are very personal. How does this affect you? What economic and social role do you envision for your country and the world? What impact as a neutral net had on you?

No matter how you feel, I am asking you to take this seriously. Net Neutrality needs to become coffee shop conversation and you need to be prepared to educate people on what it means to you, and in turn, what it might mean to them.

Yours Faithfully,

Jevon

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality
[2] http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/1859/125/
[3] http://thetyee.ca/News/2005/08/04/TelusCensor/
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SLAPP
[5] http://neutrality.ca/
[6] http://www.vuze.com/app
[7] http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=239295&tstart=0Â Â
[8] http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/why_net_neutrality_matters.html