4/9/08

The Politics of The Web

Illinois Senator Barack Obama, presidential candidate, spoke at Google in November of 2007. In his speech, he spoke about freedom of speech, and how internet service providers (ISPs) play into this:

Part of the reason why I'm able to type a post and have it on this web page is because of the current state of the web: it is neutral. In recent years, many ISPs are trying to change it, by tiering the web. “High volume” sites like YouTube and Google would cost more for faster access to the site. This is a scary, future.

Comcast is already managing the internet in scary ways ways; according to
ArsTechnica, the FCC is looking into Comcast's practice of “throttling” the speed of peer to peer downloads on a client called BitTorrent. As with most P2P networks, there's always the possibility of copyrighted content being on the service, but many services and sites turn to BitTorrent to cut down on bandwidth costs. If the ability to share content, legal or illegal, is hindered at all, freedom of speech is out the window.

The internet is also the new newspaper. Content is now dynamic and always updated. If access to political blogs like the Huffington Post or the Drudge Report, is hindered again, there is a serious first amendment issue at hand here.

Let me say it again:
the net is the new newspaper. That's partly true. It's also the net's newspaper: controlled by the crowd. Digg, as I've mentioned before on this blog, is a site with content submitted by users, voted and promoted by users. Jay Adelson, cofounder of Digg, in an interview with All Things Digital, says that news gathering services are reactive to Digg: and more and more the users are influencing the content editorial services are providing. It also has influenced that dynamic and fast-updating sites: you'll notice on New York Times that the sites have little indicator as to when they were last updated. This has happened in the last year, year and a half at the most. CNN and pretty much any big news services is doing it.

A prime example of the crowd controlling the content is when Digg got served with a cease and desist when a
code that allows HD-DVD (Hey! I've talked about that before, too!) content to be “unlocked” and saved primarily for backup purposes (though, it's always possible that it could have been used for redistribution) was posted on the site. Digg, initially listening to the demands, pulled the content. This created a literal revolt: there was a full day where all content was promoted to the front page was the code, including a song dedicated to the code. Digg “reversed” its decision to pull the content, and life went on.

Cable television is often thought to be an open soap box where anyone can put whatever content they want on television, this isn't true. Al-Jazeera launched an English version of their channel early last year, or late two years ago, and has been picked up by few cable services, but they're streaming on the web. That is the freedom of the internet that everyone has a right to.

In many locations, one big company like Comcast is the sole ISP for customers, and if practices like throttling web traffic continues, it creates an interesting paradigm. As traffic keeps getting shaped and essentially slowed down, where are customers going to go from the sole ISP? Nowhere.

But what about the politics of the web, specifically the presidential campaign?

From the video at the top of the page, the internet is a space where Obama is commited to maintaining the neutrality of the web. According to CNET[
link], this is something he is comitted to in his first year of office.

Hillary Clinton is in
favor of it, but has not divulged in details.

John McCain, on the other hand, feels
differently: "When you control the pipe you should be able to get profit from your investment.” The problem with controlling the “pipe” is again hindering the ability for voices to be heard. If I have to pay to keep a website's servers running, I should expect everyone out there trying to access my content to be able to access it at the same speed. If I have advertisers on the site, the advertisers expect “visibility” at the same speed.

The future of the web is uncertain in the way it's handeled by the ISPs, because many will take cheap internet access in exchange for freedom of speech and freedom of access. We need legislation passed in order to keep that freedom safe.

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