What if Verizon succeeds in killing the Internet?
What if Verizon succeeds in killing the Internet?
By Paul Venezia
Created 2013-09-23 03:00AM
I've posted countless essays over the years on the importance of Net neutrality  and how big ISPs are trying to turn the Internet into a pay-per-view system , rather than the open-access system it was always intended to be. I've written open letters to federal legislators ; remarked on the various games being played by AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and the like; and cheered Google Fiber  for demonstrating that the big ISPs are full of nonsense  when they claim their backs are against the wall in terms of broadband speeds and reach.
And now, Verizon is claiming it has free speech rights to limit and block content flowing from the Internet to its customers . That stance is so ridiculous that the lawyers responsible for cooking up that one should either be canonized or jettisoned into space. I'm not sure which.
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However, this is happening. Verizon is making a big push to begin actively blocking content and competition from its network. This is a bald-faced attack on the Internet in general. It's abhorrent.
But what happens if Verizon wins? What happens if Verizon establishes a precedent for censorship?
Many in the free-market camp will say that customers unhappy with Verizon's service can simply take their computers and go to another provider. Ah, if it were only that simple. If there were any kind of actual competition in broadband service in the United States, we wouldn't be in this position to begin with. The market would take care of these kinds of transgressions naturally.
However, this is not the case, and the vast number of markets that have no real competition will be faced with a choice between a neutered Internet and no Internet at all. "But you can go wireless!" they say. Sure, for vastly overcharged subscriptions and minuscule data plans. Oh, and Verizon is in that market too.
In essence, if Verizon has its way, it will follow its own lead in onerous pricing on low-bandwidth wireless plans and will map that onerous pricing directly to the wired world. If you think that $20-per-month 1GB data plan on your iPad is bad, wait until it's $80 a month for 2GB via your DSL circuit. Oh, and Verizon is going to go ahead and block Netflix and YouTube unless you pony up another $20 a month. Coming close to your limit? Sorry, no more Internet for you until next month, or you can pay $20 per gigabyte to get you through.
To put this in simple terms, if you upgraded to iOS 7  the other day, you ate through roughly 720MB of data. Throw in a few Windows or OS X updates, and poof goes your data for the month. Hey, at least you can always access Verizon's site to view your usage and pay through the nose so that you can answer email and do your online banking. But even if you buy extra bandwidth for the month, you can't access your favorite news site or forum, because Verizon has decided you shouldn't. Huzzah.
Another blow to the "competition" argument is the fact that the ISPs have no real reason to provide any advantages over their "competition" where there is an actual choice in provider. If you only have two players in a market, both can abuse their customers to the point where those customers leave for the competitor, knowing that because the service and pricing aren't substantially different on the other side of the fence, those users will be just as disillusioned with their new provider. Perhaps those switchers will even be disgusted enough to switch again, or at least the number of users flowing between the two "choices" will be about even.
Of course, Verizon and others complain bitterly about how costly it was to build their networks and how they can't be asked to provide suitable bandwidth because they're losing their shirts on infrastructure costs. Naturally, they don't talk much about the billions in funds that the U.S. taxpayers gave them to build those very same networks.
The biggest error in technology and communication in recent memory is the failure of the U.S. government to classify Internet service providers as common carriers. Without that distinction, all manner of corporate malfeasance is possible because there are no regulations in place to ensure that monopolistic practices are curtailed, or that what should clearly be open and unfettered communication channels are indeed kept free from censorship and collusion.
It's not just in the United States -- Netflix considers Canada to have "third-world" Internet service , to the point it's "almost a human rights violation." This is a direct result of the same lack of oversight coupled with predatory actions by a handful of companies. These companies have maneuvered themselves into an enviable position from a shareholder point of view, but a terrible position for their customers. Very few other industries can outright extort their own customers with little to no fear of losing market share. This is the whole point of preventing monopolies.
Everyone's Internet access hangs in the balance
If Verizon wins, the citizens lose, no matter who they are bound to for Internet access. With the Internet playing such a key role in our daily lives, this is not just a matter of the loss or cost of entertainment. A decision for Verizon would mean a hugely significant reduction in the flow of information, of communication, of what should be codified as a constitutional right.
Whether Verizon wins or loses, my hope is that we will begin to see clear and unconstrained Internet access as a public service, a constitutional right, a given -- that we will someday be able to enjoy the pricing, speed, and availability of Internet access enjoyed by Romania or South Korea. It's obvious that we cannot count on the big ISPs to bring us there without placing strong controls on their behavior. It bothers me to no small degree that so much time and energy is being spent fighting this ridiculous battle when we could be using those resources to actually move the conversation forward. It's like most of us are trying to talk about improving self-driving cars while a group of morons are interjecting with a debate about how stagecoaches are really the way to go.
The difference is that if Verizon wins, it will take us much longer to get there because the wheels will eventually come off the bus as customers inevitably revolt. If Verizon loses, U.S. broadband may be freed of its shackles sooner because a tide of common sense may appear and Verizon's absurd behavior will be abolished by law.
Call me an optimist, but I believe it will happen. It's just a matter of how long and how painful it will be.
This story, "What if Verizon succeeds in killing the Internet? ," was originally published at InfoWorld.com . Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog  at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter .
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Source URL (retrieved on 2013-09-29 11:20AM): http://www.infoworld.com/d/data-center/what-if-verizon-succeeds-in-killing-the-internet-227175