Save The Internet

OK, I know a number of my regular readers will probably already know about this and will be able to talk about it more knowledgeably, so, first, look at the Save The Internet site, which is all about Net Neutrality. And then – is this something that’s only going to be a problem in the states or will this affect us in the UK too; and if it doesn’t affect us, are UK service providers likely to go the same way too?

Because I suppose if that is what happens, we can wave goodbye to the blogosphere and all the community and debate and interesting little corners that goes with that. If the internet were to basically consist only of Facebook and Google and Gmail and other big websites… what would be the point of that? Blogs would go back to being email circulars and I’m sorry but I don’t think I’m arrogant enough to spam peoples’ inboxes daily with my vague, half-formed thoughts and wonderings, and I don’t suppose many people are, and further more, I check blogs at my own pace and time and if they were just disappearing into my inbox I wouldn’t bother reading at all, probably. Webcomics would just disappear – Jeph from QC and Randall Monroe from XKCD may be able to earn a living from XKCD and Questionable Content but that’s because currently, running a site isn’t that expensive in the scheme of things. They won’t have the economic clout to guarantee service of a reasonable speed for users to view their comics, and that’ll be that, won’t it?

Or perhaps I’m missing the point. How worried should we be?

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4 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Internet, World

4 responses to “Save The Internet

  1. Well, it could be argued that allowing website providers to subsidise the cost of improving networks to give access to their services could lead for better network quality for all, but I personally believe that a non-neutral internet would, as you pointed out, push the little people such as self hosted blogs (like yourself) and web comics off of the internet.

    It would also lead to a situation where, thanks to the need to get good QoS, web application developers such as myself would be more likely to resort to cloud based hosting like Amazon’s and Google’s. I have my own objection to such services, but discussing them would mean sidetracking.

    Net neutrality is a complex and difficult issue. Many people believe in idealistic viewpoints with religious zeal. I would argue that google’s latest moves are just an attempt to force an end to the debate once and for all.

  2. Not very.

    That is to say, yes, there are some concerns about the use of traffic shaping and throttling techniques and their actual implementation would be catastrophic. However, what you have to understand is this: to implement this requires consensus amongst service providers who own the hardware and attempting it will become exceptionally unpopular.

    Around a year-two years ago BT were planning on trialling a system called Phorm which used deep packet inspection to work out what you were doing with your internet browsing so that you could be targeted for behavioural ads. I have some concerns about governments doing this but for private companies to try to ram unsuitable products down my throat because I searched for “cars” is a little excessive, so I (and various other) web users blocked the entire BT customer base from our servers. A notable member of that group was Amazon who said they would not block customers but deliberately not co-operate with the technology. Phorm is now dead.

    The great firewall of China is another attempt to curtail the internet that doesn’t work. A check against my server logs some years ago saw many requests from china asking for some odd resource which when I googled it turned out to be an alias for a proxy (I connect through you because you’re not blocked and you (in free land) go to something that is blocked on my behalf and send it back to me) script that sympathetic web hosts (probably chinese) living outside of china were running.

    Have you ever heard of the tor project? http://www.torproject.org/

    There are many other possible ways to circumnavigate controls depending on how they are implemented. Did you know, for example, that some people use alternative DNS roots because they want extra domain names not available in the current system? .com only means .com because everyone agreed it – I can make .com from here appear as .com.external should I want to, or redirect it to somewhere stupid, like back to the requesting computer.

    But you also have to remember, as people forget when discussing “tech”, that the internet is a lot more than personal users writing blogs, or even facebook and google. Companies use the internet to send information between sites across the world; banks use it for transactions. Academics use it for research networks (how would JANET, a nonprofit that runs the UK Higher Education Network Infrastructure justify traffic shaping as a non-profit without breaking the innocent-until-proven-guilty tenet that seems to be going missing these days).

    The internet, by design (originally ARPAnet), was meant to be distributed and survive nuclear war. As such, the internet will survive companies and/or governments trying to monopolise it. The result might mean the internet is less usable by non-techies for a while and parts of it you like may be lost, but these will re-emerge in what reforms.

  3. Surely Phorm is more of a privacy issue than one of net neutrality. What they did was seriously questionable, though on the surface blocking a whole ISP worth of users because you disagree with their provider’s actions is about as dodgy anyway.

    The great firewall of china is wrong on so many more levels than net neutrality. It is used to give unfair preference to Chinese competitors, but then it’s also purposed with political censorship and misinformation.

    And yes, there are ways around firewalls, just as their are ways to reconfigure DNS and decentralise the internet more than it currently is. Let’s not forget that things like central DNS authorities and default routes exist for good reasons, though. We need these organisations, and we do need to be able to trust them.

    All that aside, unless you need to circumvent actual blocking rather than just second rate service, alternate methods of making requests such as HTTP proxies are completely useless since they generally belong to penniless volunteers and fall squarely in the “second rate” category themselves.

  4. I’d say Phorm was a 50/50 issue. Yes, it was mostly privacy, but deep packet inspection could be used as a QoS filter. How far fetched does it sound to have BSkyB pay for any news article containing themselves to load faster, whether or not it be on a competitor’s site? Likewise, any mp3/video traffic-matching signatures not from an approved host would be slowed to a snail’s pace as assumed to be copyright-infringing…

    Now, I do agree with you that most bypass utilities are second-rate because they involve penniless volunteers. Tor is pretty slow; I don’t bother with proxies myself but again the speed of the links does slow things down.

    As for DNS, yes, for the internet as we know it to continue, we need the DNS root servers as they are now and we need the default routes in place so we can get to them.

    However, imagine if somebody tried to introduce throttling/Great Firewall like functionality on a corporate rather than state-sponsored basis. Then any other company or individual could set up their own ISP with all the necessary services minus throttling. If it came to it, groups of ISPs could resist throttling of traffic. It depends on how deep a level this throttling is going to happen as to what countermeasures work best, but the point is, by design the internet will simply evolve to counter throttling. It might be that the outcome of that is a slower internet for people who wish to use unthrottled internet, I don’t know, but I do know most control measures out there can be resisted.

    Of course, I still see no reason not to voice my support for net neutrality on the principal that any attempt to divide up the internet as is will likely cause much disruption for internet usage and much inconvenience whilst a anti-movement is set up.

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