Saturday, April 22, 2006

Canada and Net Neutrality

So there's a big hubbub going on in the United States about whether phone companies have the right to charge companies like Amazon and Google extra to ensure that traffic to their websites gets through and that they get the bandwidth they need for adequate performance. Link.

This is a monumentally stupid idea, of course, but it's also a wonderful example of how you can tell when an industry becomes harmful, when it would rather fight to keep control of its old business models to the detriment of consumers, like the music industry has been trying to do. Phone companies in the US are also pushing for laws in state legislatures to outlaw municipal wireless projects, including the emergency network that was set up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and is proving to be a wonderful addition to the quality of life in the city. BellSouth even withdrew a donation after the city announced its free WiFi plan: Link.
Hours after New Orleans officials announced Tuesday that they would deploy a city-owned, wireless Internet network in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, regional phone giant BellSouth Corp. withdrew an offer to donate one of its damaged buildings that would have housed new police headquarters, city officials said yesterday.

According to the officials, the head of BellSouth's Louisiana operations, Bill Oliver, angrily rescinded the offer of the building in a conversation with New Orleans homeland security director Terry Ebbert, who oversees the roughly 1,650-member police force.

City officials said BellSouth was upset about the plan to bring high-speed Internet access for free to homes and businesses to help stimulate resettlement and relocation to the devastated city. Around the country, large telephone companies have aggressively lobbied against localities launching their own Internet networks, arguing that they amount to taxpayer-funded competition. Some states have laws prohibiting them.
So where does all this leave Canadian consumers? The CRTC is, fortunately, generally responsible to Canadian citizens (I nearly typed 'consumer' there but figured I deserved more respect than that.) Will our access to American websites be subject to a toll to the US backbone providers? NAFTA has some pretty nasty provisions against interfering with US companies' ability to be as useless and dangerous as they wanna be.

I'm envisioning a massive fibre pipeline going from the Silicon Valley up to British Columbia where all this contraband internet traffic can reach the free world. Given the amount of spying the US is doing using AT&T and other phone networks there's another appealing aspect to this idea.

Phone companies have a particular kind of memory disorder that allows them to forget that all this infrastructure they so kindly built up was done under the protection of legal monopolies. Now if they want to compete in an ostensibly free market, it's only sensible for them to be divested of the infrastructure that government mandated them to create. Not that the concept of 'public good' carries much weight in the US anymore as Roosevelt's memory slips further and further away and Americans start to believe that their standard of living was a bounty from God.

Update: Here's a video that explains the issue very well: Link.
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