Internet neutrality and the chaos that is

Over the past five years, the issue behind Internet neutrality has been the control of content. Net neutrality is not that complex of a topic, it’s just that the Internet is complex – not just in infrastructure but also from a philosophical standpoint. As with all other media, people are trying their hardest to get money from the Internet, but that is easier said than done. Right now, there is the fear that phone and cable companies will soon be in a position to control the information and content available on the Internet in Canada. Groups such as fear that Canada’s Internet service providers (ISPs) will start to deviate away from net neutrality, a system where the network provider’s only job is to blindly move the data and Internet users are free to use any equipment, content, application or service on a non-discriminatory basis. Many telecommunication companies are seeing this method as economically unfeasible, with the most common scenarios for the future having these companies charging content providers for bandwidth.

So, they want to control the monolithic void of chaos that is the Internet. That’s where the topic tends to go over my head. I can never fathom what the Internet would look like physically. Because every time I do, I imagine something really messy – something resembling a planetary atmosphere, holding an impossible amount of shit together. Essentially, I think of Katamari Damacy: giant balls of information gathered together through gradual hard work inspired by boredom and/or chemical imbalance. Once you take every aspect of the Internet into account, it becomes intimidating.

The Opte Project, headed by philanthropist Barrett Lyon, was started with the goal of accurately visually portraying what the Internet would look like. At this point, what they’ve conceived looks like a cross between a snow flake and a nervous system clusterfuck. Neither comparison does it for me, as the Opte Project seem to be focusing on the connective nature of the Internet instead of its more chaotic consciousness. The Internet is free to cater to any obsession, curiosity, fetish, theory, and fantasy imaginable. In other words, if it exists then you can find it having sex on the Internet.

What makes the Internet seem more contained and controllable as opposed to omnipresent is the fact that it’s still a limited medium, bound by things like being solely accessible through computers well as phones, iPods, Mp3 players, gaming consoles, hand-held gaming consoles, and the like. The point is that the Internet has a conceivable “end” or limit to what it can be, but that is merely an illusion. The Internet is not a snow flake, a nervous system, nor a colossal planetary structure made from junk e-mails and unread blog posts. The Internet is both seemingly boundless and limited in nature – if there was any way to actually visually represent the Internet, it would most accurately resemble fiery pits of the Inferno. A miserable abyss where the topic of ethical alignment (Google has an “evil scale” for foreign censorship) is constantly under interrogation – preferably with a car battery to the nuts.

So allow me to be your Virgil, as I guide you through issue of net neutrality. At its core, the issue is about the future of the Internet and whether it’ll be another TV, with various cable networks, or a free land that is ultimately indifferent to content providers whether they be peddling up-to-date news coverage, stock tips, or bestiality.

Into the Inferno

Large portions of the Internet go unused and, frankly, most have devolved into information junk yards: all the forgotten Nexopia pages of yesteryear, joke Plenty-of-Fish profiles for your cat, or the dreaded unanswered Craigslist rant you posted when you where drunk. However, there is still quality to be had, as the Internet bleeds content at a quicker and more consistent rate than all other visual or print media. The Web is a massive world where any consumer can buy, download, or create anything their sick and twisted minds can come up with. This leads to anywhere in the range of transcendental creative gold to morally-raped soul violence (see for examples of these extremes). For all the brilliance and mind-numbing shit the Internet holds, it still is a level playing field thanks to the notion of Net neutrality. The problem is that it’s not much more than that.

In reality (IRL), at least within Canada, net neutrality is more or less an interpretation of older rules for other forms of telecommunication under the principle of “common carriage,” prohibiting “unjust discrimination” and interference with content by telecommunications carriers. In Canada, there is no actual law or bill currently in place to protect net neutrality.

There is nothing in place to prevent ISP’s from creating multi-tiered networks of various speeds and quality. These ISP’s are free to prioritize content from soulless corporations, those with enough cash to pay for it, over the petty independent (poor) content producer – or so the legend goes. However, such a scenario can seem rather hyperbolic – it’s not like large scale Internet companies are cutting deals with network providers, or any other forms of evil, in the heart of the Silicon Valley...

Don’t Be Evil

Look the beast in the face: Google. Most Internet companies have a code of ethics that they’re governed by to a varied degree. As (arguably) the Internet’s most famous company, Google goes out of its way to appear not evil. Not exactly good, angelic, divine, or great, just not evil.

The phrase “Don’t Be Evil” coined by Gmail engineer Paul Buchheit, has been Google’s unofficial motto for the past ten years and their competitors' official punching bag for the past five. No where in their official corporate philosophy does it say “don’t be evil.” The closest thing written in it is the wishful statement “You can make money without doing evil.”

The first assassination attempt on the philosophy happened in 2006 after the launch of in China and the subsequent censorship of content in that country. Steve Jobs – at the beginning of this year, after the world breathed a collective “what the fuck?” (WTF) to the iPad – gave a mild, public rant about how the mantra is bullshit. This was directly around the time when Google was releasing the Nexus One Android-phone, which put them in position to fuck with Overlord Jobs’ realm of a near smartphone-monopoly.

The current policy proposal recently put forth by both Verizon and Google has now brought the company an onslaught of criticism, now from the defenders of net neutrality. Essentially, the proposal would grant companies the ability to pay for faster service and delivery of data, thus creating a “fast lane” for the companies loading larger amounts of data through wireless networks. Wireless carriers would be allowed to play favorites and route traffic however they want, as long as they gave full transparency to what they were up to.

Controlling the Chaos

In the defense of Google, it’s a business, not a mythical channeler of all the Internet. It is not above the law in any country it does business with – so the issue with China is understandable to a degree. You could even say that the issue with the Verizon has been blown out of proportion. Really, the two companies say they respect net neutrality and the supports FCC’s right to fine companies that don’t abide by it. However, there is another loophole found in within the proposal allowing for “differentiated managed services.” Although no guidelines are provided for what warrants as one of these “services,” they nonetheless would be exempt from the neutrality given to other traffic. There is also the fear of little symptoms popping up for wireless users – such as Yahoo e-mail and Hotmail loading slower than Gmail, or Yahoo and Bing searches taking longer than Google searches.

The coalition group referred to it as a deal that “puts the company in bed with the devil.” The main consensus from the opponents is that the proposal would eventually lead to other ISP’s gaining the ability to discriminate against their competition in favour of their own search engines, wireless phone services, and video streaming services.

Eternally Bounded

The end of net neutrality means that the boundless landscape of choices that you take for granted in the ethical nightmare that is the Internet begin to evaporate – as the biggest players are able to pay for priority handling, shutting out competitors and choking out threats.

Currently in Canada, there is an influx of Internet providers lobbying the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to halt all forms of legislation that might apply network neutrality principles to Canadian law. Most of the Canada’s providers are government-funded and have retained basically-protected monopolies over the Internet’s physical architecture and would hypothetically lose revenue from Law enforced neutrality.

For the most part, the Internet, even with all of its evils and airborne waves, is still limited. Entire parts of the globe don’t have electricity, let alone web access. However, on the other side of that argument, it is all over the most densely populated areas of the Earth, like a data bukkake. It is also a hellish underworld filled with communities of anonymous users to whom bigotry and hate-speech is equal to breathing. The Internet gives its users the opportunity to do close to anything they want, even if what they want isn’t accepted by society. Ultimately, that's where the need to control the Internet becomes apparent: something that's difficult to argue since that's also its appeal. It's another world that caters to the wants of the consumer – not the corporation.

//Sam MacDonald
Features Editor

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: