Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Internet, Open and Uncapturable

"The Internet, Open and Uncapturable" five words that describe one of the core beliefs of Internet NZ, a society of which I am a member. I had cause to think tonight about the meaning of these words and why they are important.

What do they mean?

Different people place different meanings on this, but to me it means
  • When I buy Internet service, I am buying Internet Protocol (IP) transit, not just email through my ISP's server and not just HTTP transit. As long as it is for legal purposes, what I do with that IP is my business.
  • Provided I conform to the technical requirements of IP (v4 or v6), I can communicate using my preferred communication mechanisms with anyone else on the Internet I choose to communicate with provided only that they wish to communicate with me in that way.
  • This means I am not forced to use technologies preferred by my ISP or some government department. If I choose to use http over an obscure port, which I use for administering my server through its control panel, my packets should be carried and delivered with the same availability as someone whose packets are TCP/IP port 80.
  • Equally if I choose to use xyz/IP, my packets should be carried and delivered with the same availability as someone whose packets are TCP/IP or UDP/IP

Why is it important?

  • "Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form." -- Bill of Rights (1990) section 14.
  • Governments have proved poor judges of what new technologies and business models will succeed and which will fail. Back in the pre-Lange days, New Zealand's highly regulated economy was described by John Ruck(1) as "the nearest thing to the old East Germany that the Western world ever produced." In those days it was illegal to offer anything like the Internet in New Zealand. To protect NZPO, the state owned ancestor of Telecom, it was illegal for anyone else to carry third party data over telephone lines and NZPO didn't choose to offer a service like this(2). The worst thing about the over regulated environment was the way that NZ business creativity was wasted finding ways around regulations when it should have been spent innovating and improving their businesses.
  • Many of the larger ISPs and backbone transit providers have other businesses and might choose to resume the 199x/200x practice of crippling internet access to support their other business interests. It's not that long ago that rumours abounded that Skype was being throttled by an ISP owned by a telco and I read very recently an overseas report that Skype is being throttled in their country by local ISPs who were also telephone companies
  • There is also the risk that ISPs will enter into commercial deals to favour access to content from some providers over others. As a hypothetical example, Sella has acquired the former website names of Zillion, T&E, Sell me free and probably others and seems to be aggressively trying to challenge Trade Me. Without an open and uncapturable internet it is possible that one or more ISPs could see a business opportunity and approach the corporate owners of one or both of these companies and try to do a deal where in return for payment they would favour access to that company's site over the other. Ultimately this would be to the disadvantage of ordinary citizens as the winner in that competition would not be the one with the best service and price/quality trade-off but the one who paid the most to the telcos ... and ultimately those charges would be passed on to the consumer.
(1) From "The Cross-Leased Chardonnay Cellphone Paradise" 1996 by John Ruck. The quote is possibly from the forward in which case it was by Austin Mitchell, author of "The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise" 1972.
(2) To be fair, while the Internet existed, popular services like the web were still a few years away.

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