Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's Net Neutrality, and WHY you should care

Inquiring minds want to know why internet techies are concerned about a court judgement handed down yesterday, reported in the Los Angeles Times, Business Section article by Michael Heltzik titled Net neutrality is dead. Bow to Comcast and Verizon, your overlords.
"The Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit thoroughly eviscerated the Federal Communications Commission's latest lame attempt to prevent Internet service providers from playing favorites among websites--awarding faster speeds to sites that pay a special fee, for example, or slowing or blocking sites and services that compete with favored affiliates." [Emphasis added.]
Our friends at WikiPedia have posted "Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication"

The Court of Appeals for the D. C. circuit ruling yesterday knocks down this neutrality guideline, paving the way for a deep-pocketed website to pay ISP (Internet Service Providers) to "fast lane" access to said deep-pocketed website and block access to competitors.
This ruling has sparked heated discussion. Ol' Myrt here doesn't really hang out with a lot of techie folks, but on Facebook I discovered guru (and RootsWeb founder) Brian Wolf Leverich explains matters from a "genealogy category" point of view: 
"There is absolutely nothing to prevent, say, Comcast from blocking FamilySearch for all its customers if Ancestry would pay for it.

Or to charge their customers more for "enh
anced Internet access" that lets you go to FamilySearch. Literally, there may be a "FamilySearch channel" like HBO that you pay an $20/month on top of your base Internet bill to access." [Used by permission.]
Brian goes on to describe a fictitious scenario awhere Linkpendium, or any other genealogy site could effectively pay off major internet service providers so ordinary folks like you and Ol' Myrt here could only get to his site  and not even "see" a competitor's website. See his original Facebook post located here. [The following text is used by permission.]
"This isn't going to end life as we know it, but the death of Net Neutrality is a terrible thing. This *radically* changes how the Net has worked for more than 30 years.

What does the loss of Net Neutrality mean? This is a facetious, I'm kidding, I AM KIDDING, example. REALLY, I AM KIDDING. But on with the example:

Suppose Linkpendium wanted to steal all of Cyndislist's traffic. For the past 30 years, we would have had to produce more compelling content than her, and the users would have to choose.

But not now.

I can go to AT&T and Verizon and Comcast, whip out my checkbook, and offer to pay those guys to block Cyndi from [...] their customers. And they can take my money and, for all intents and purposes, disconnect Cyndi from the Internet. Nobody who had DSL or FIOS or Comcast would ever be able to see Cyndislist again -- only Linkpendium.

Now that's a double joke because Cyndi is a very, very old friend of Karen and mine and we're all too small to play these games, but that's not true for everyone. Suppose Ancestry thought FamilySearch was hurting their business, or MyHeritage: they can pay to prevent consumers from reaching those sites.
[Emphasis added]

This is very, very bad because Internet access is almost a monopoly -- most people do not have more than a couple of alternative choices of broadband ISPs, so you can't just go buy connectivity from a different one if you can't get FamilySearch or MyHeritage through your current ISP.

I am really stunned by this court decision. For years, New York RoadRunner subscribers couldn't see some genealogy content, and would complain to me about it. 
That was back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 
But wait.
Isn't this the 21st century?
You'd think we'd do better about not letting monopolies control things without regulation. It may just be they have more "pull" on capital hill and with the courts.
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

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  1. This is really scary. If the concepts of neutrality and fairness are abandoned then there are a lot of greedy companies that would take advantage of it - I can guarantee that. I have witnessed a US telecom provider trying to extort money from a company who intended to provide a profitable service on their network.

  2. Here's where we can sign the petition:

  3. Thanks Pat. Since the Internet is a world resource then this affects folks outside of the US too. I'm therefore signing it as a "foreigner" by specifying "UK" for the zip code.