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Our Internet, Up for Grabs

The Nation: The End of the Internet? The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

The modest hyperbole in this commentary should not distract you from its essential truth: The cable and phone companies are truly out to turn the Net into their own collection of walled gardens. They have purchased a compliant Congress, and the more centralized the Net becomes, the easier it will be for the Bush administration’s domestic spies and other controlling types to keep tabs on everything we do.

The technology industry, which should be fighting this tooth and nail, is divided. Cisco is on the side of the cable and phone companies with the products it sells, but Google and other companies recognize the threat. Unfortunately, the tech companies are basically incompetent at the lobbying game the telecoms play so well.

Why is this an issue for citizen media? Here’s just one reason: If the small fry — you and me — in the media sphere are relegated to a distant second place in delivery of content, we are essentially frozen out. In an era where digital video is at least as important a medium as text, this is crucial to recognize.

The mass media have almost totally failed to cover this issue at all, and no wonder. (The Washington Post has been doing the best work lately, but it, too, was late in understanding what was at stake.)

The future is being written by lobbyists and CEOs who believe the Internet is theirs, not ours. If they get away with this, we are in deep, deep trouble.

(Note: I am on the U.S. advisory board of FON, a collaborative Wi-Fi hotspot company.)

6 Comments on “Our Internet, Up for Grabs”

  1. #1 mickx
    on Feb 4th, 2006 at 9:57 am

    Is there a possibility to develop a parallel, or a serie of smaller parallel networks based on Wi-Fi or Wi-Max router relays, as already exists in some cities?

    A citizen P2P network, just to keep going the most important feature of Internet: uncensored and fast information especially from witnesses and home videos of significant local events?

    A kind of networked Samizdat in the face of a totalitarian market?

    After all, as we know from the Soviet Union, the more centralised the controls, the more credible the non official information.

  2. #2 eldon
    on Feb 4th, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    What can citizens do about this?

    – Contact our local congresspeople and complain?
    – Wait for the EFF to file a lawsuit or two?
    – Lay our own cable (illegaly)?

    If no decision’s been made, then there’s still time to act, right?

  3. #3 Dan Gillmor
    on Feb 4th, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    Mickx, the telecom companies are likely to go after P2P in this new regime, especially as they make deals with Hollywood for “preferred” content.

    Eldon, yes, write your member of Congress. Call, too. But letters seem to have the most impact. I’d also consider supporting organizations, like EFF and Public Knowledge that are fighting for our rights on this.

  4. #4 Eric Dauster
    on Feb 4th, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    It’s just a matter of time before there are multiple
    “internet-like” networks –and my guess is they will be offered nearly free of charge to draw people in, and then will incent people to stay behind the walls of this garden for services, shopping, etc.

    I pay $50 a month for my DSL, which is 40.05 reasons for carriers to not to go to a $9.95 a month walled-in private network, but a company like Disney could offer a safe, protected internet’ish broadband “experience”, and many people would be happy with the limited functionality — especially when it comes with a $500 a year savings.

  5. #5 mickx
    on Feb 6th, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for answering. You are right of course, P2P is already under attack from many sides. But so was Samizdat (far away and almost forgotten to-day) Of course as Eric said, most people will prefer benign, low price services run by powerful companies.

    But will it be possible to stop P2P, or will it go underground, thus leaving the emperor naked for growing numbers to see?

    FON just gor 18 million Euros from risk capital companies. It is just the type of P2P network that, at some point, could become a parallel internet. In theory it could even work completely detached from Internet, albeit at a much more limited flowrate, than the existing broadband network with its huge nodes.

    But wasn´t the samizdat network which could not even make use of photocopy machines also very weak? Compare this with what anyone can do to-day with home writing of DVDs.

    The point I am trying to make is that, in the end, the centralized power of a totalitarian state (The URSS) had to give up because people, even within the systhem, has ceased to believe in it. Forbidding access to simple photocopying machines had something to do with it.

    Cultural creatives are supposed to represent around 28% of the population. Will they accept such excessive controls or will they quitely build their own blogs, local meetings, CD and DVD samizdats, Wi-Max lans etc.?
    You don’t need much power to run wikis, the open source is there to stay, and if both are made illegal it will only make them more attractive.

  6. #6 ACMEBoston » Blog Archive » Online Conversations about Web’s Future
    on Jun 10th, 2006 at 10:41 am

    […] On the Center for Citizen Media blog, Founder Dan Gillmor responds to Jeff Chester's February 1st "(web only)" article for the Nation about the Communications Giants' threats to Net Neutrality: […]