The Internet: The New Oil

oilnet.jpgNet neutrality. You may have heard that term mentioned a few times lately on the internet. Sounds way too boring though right? Yep – I too was one of those people. Until I recently stumbled upon a website devoted to this subject. Let me tell you. This could affect every one of you that are using the internet right now. Even me. In a really BAD way… ready for a shocker?

Remember using the internet about 10 years ago? Remember using a modem and how ridiculously slow it was? Thought those days were gone?

Well imagine.All your favorite smaller websites (like the onion.com, flikr, LifeHacker etc) all suddenly being moved back to this slow speed, yet the websites for the big major online players, like Yahoo, Google, Amazon, ESPN, eBay, et al, are as fast as ever. Very annoying huh? Worst still, imagine your favorite smaller websites gradually disappearing all together.

But why would that happen? Because companies (and governments) are greedy. And because the internet is like the new oil. Everyone is trying to get their piece of it, eventually trying to own it all, and the distribution of it. The internet is the future. TV is the past. Look at the amazing growth of online advertising. And take a look at Google’s recent crazy high $500 share price. But why would you want to ‘own’ the internet and its networks? Well, if you owned the internet, not only could you try and control which websites existed on it, but you could control the access speed to the websites on it. But how and why? Because you could charge the big website players big big bucks for being able to continue to allow visitors to access all these ‘I can’t imagine life without them’ type of websites at speeds that currently exist today.

Imagine.Google or whoever (who claim to be in favor of net neutrality by the way) become ‘owners’ of the internet, and send all bloggers an email saying that if they want to continue to let their blog visitors use the ‘fast’ internet version of their blog, that they are going to have to pay $100 bucks a month. Bang goes millions of blogs who can’t afford to pay this, probably even this one (nah, I would pay $200 a month!).  Online freedom of speech takes a serious hit. Not good right?

Imagine.All those little entrepreneurial online stores currently making big bucks? They wouldn’t be able to afford the high speed ’rent’, so the big internet shopping powerhouses like Amazon would monopolize, therefore be able to charge higher prices. Not good for us.

Imagine. Starbucks just started giving free wireless access in their coffee shops. Sounds great until they start charging websites to be ‘featured’ on their websites, and blocking all websites who chose not to pay their ‘membership’ fee. Sounds conspiracy theory-like right? Hopefully I won’t have to ever say ‘sorry, but i told you so’….

This could seriously happen folks.And its already beginning to happen – ISPs are beginning to serve up different websites ‘unfairly’. For example, Comcast recently tried to block their users access to file sharing sites, thus saving them ‘unnecessary bandwidth’ costs. Real Comcast employee quote here - ”We have to make sure they don’t sit on our network and chew up our capacity. We need to pay for the pipe.”

And only 4 days ago, Virgin Media officially said ‘b#llocks to net neutrality’ – which is worrying when you consider a large portion of the UK is on this ISP. What happens if Virgin started charging the big websites this high speed access fee? The big ones would have no choice to accept, if other ones also did. The ones who can’t afford it would start to lose out, because no one wants to go back to dial up days and visit websites that take an eternity to load in comparison to the fast ones. Thus meaning less ‘accessable’ choice for the online consumer. There is even a whole website geared towards exposing Virgin Media’s sinister plans. This is no late April fools day joke, I promise.

So what can you do? For starters, you can gain even further awareness by visiting the ‘Save the Internet‘ Net Neutrality website, and start lobbying your local government to continue to support their current ‘net neutrality’ efforts. And what else? Stop using ISPs who are starting to show non-net neutral practices, like Virgin Media and Comcast.

And I will leave you with one last ‘worrying’ comment: Contrary to popular myth, no one actually currently ‘owns’ the internet now, or ever has done. Not the U.S. government. Not Google. No one. Just a matter of time? I think its going to get ugly… and soon. Still, at least most of the internet ‘pipeline’ doesn’t exist in the middle east, like a lot of the oil pipeline does. We all know who tried to gain control of that… (insert conspiracy theory here).

*net neutrality rant over*

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