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Net Neutrality

--This is an old post that didn't travel over into this blog: originally posted 27 Nov. 2006--

To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to this issue before; probably because, as Danah of apophenia notes, I didn't (don't?) really understand what it's about. Which I should, shame on me.

Anyway, she wondered how to make the issue more relevant to Mr. Joe Smith out there, and one of the commenters came up with this example which hit me... well the comments page is not displaying, so I'll say what I can remember: something about wanting to phone for your local pizza delivery store and being told that you'll have to wait two minutes to be connected to your local pizza store, but can get connected immediately to Pizza Big Brand if you want.

Another analogy might be: imagine a highway with many cars, at rush hour everyone goes slower, but everyone can use it in the same manner. The highway operator charges everyone a flat rate to use the road. Then one car who has paid for 'priority routes' (or something) comes along, preceded by escort cars that force everyone to clear one lane to let this car speed by, meaning everyone else will go slower.

You can also see a short informative film on YouTube

Part 2 also available
As someone in the film says, the telecoms operators say: 'We built the cables, so we can charge what we want.', but they are just piggybacking on a whole social-technological system that has been delivered to them for free. Rather like colonials fencing out a piece of prairie and then forcing the original inhabitants to pay for the new-found 'safety'.

Another reason I didn't pay too much attention was that it is happening in America, therefore not obviously directly related to me here in Malaysia. But of course that is wrong, I think that most net traffic originates from and/or goes through the USA; and if the American telecoms start charging different rates for using the same cable, at no extra cost to the themselves (what a rip-off), you can be sure others will start too.

Part of this goes back to the retreat of the government from guaranteeing the provision of public goods, and the patently wrong belief that private companies will be able to provide these. Joel Bakan wrote an excellent book about corporations - comparing them to psychopaths, his main point is that they are legally constituted 'persons' whose sole aim is to make as much profits for themselves, regardless of the impact on others. In fact, they are obliged to do so. One example he uses is of big car companies in the 30's in America buying up tram and bus companies in order to get rid of them and reduce the competition to the car company: it is logical behaviour for a company - as it can improve their sales. For society it makes no sense, which is why we need a government to regulate free markets.

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