Ignorance and Internet Bliss

Intelligent networks threaten the future of the internet

| April 20, 2006

The biggest threat to the internet today is intelligence. This is not to say that telecommunication companies are stupid. In fact, they might not be stupid enough. Companies like AOL and AT&T are trying to create an intelligent network that discriminates between different types of information and customers. Internet gurus such as Vinton Cerf, who helped develop the internet as the co-designer of the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), believes that these efforts put the internet at serious risk. The only way to preserve the web as a catalyst for innovation is to create a network that doesn't discriminate. In other words, a stupid network.

'Net neutrality,' according to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, 'is the concept that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal, and non-discriminatory access to all the internet has to offer.' In some ways, that is what we have right now. The internet is a way of sending bits of information from one computer to another. Under the principals of net neutrality, it doesn't matter how important these bits are, all information is going to be sent at the same speed. David Isenberg, author of the prophetic 1997 paper 'The Rise of the Stupid Network,' calls this a 'Stupid Network' because the network doesn't know what the information is or who is sending it.

An intelligent network, on the other hand, is based on assumptions and preferences. The best example right now is AOL's proposed system of 'CertifiedEmail.' If AOL has its way, customers will be given the 'option' to pay a fee in order to ensure delivery of their emails. AOL's network would then discriminate between paying and non-paying customers, starving out the non-paying customers with undeliverable messages and wait times. There already have been abuses that demonstrate the dangers of the intelligent network. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital freedom advocacy group, accused AOL of censorship when it failed to deliver emails containing links to www.dearaol.com, a website critical of AOL's 'CertifiedEmail' plans.

The big telecom companies argue that they have the right to charge customers for internet services. According to this logic, the telecoms already have made a significant investment in wiring the country, so they should be able to charge for usage like email. Internet experts like Bruce Kushnick call this argument disingenuous. According to Kushnick's organization Tele Truth, the major telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T agreed in the 1990s 'to rewire ALL of America with fiber optic wiring, replacing the 100-year-old copper wire.' In exchange, the telecoms were paid $200 billion in taxpayer money. The money was paid, but the telecoms never delivered on their promises.

Meanwhile, the United States continues to fall behind in broadband. The International Telecommunication Union ranks the United States 16th in terms of broadband penetration. Countries like Japan and Korea have faster internet connections at cheaper prices, while the telecommunications companies stifle innovation with efforts to protect their national hegemony. Vinton Cerf, widely considered one of the founding fathers of the internet, believes that the discriminatory policies of intelligent networks are a huge threat to the future of the internet. According to Cerf, 'Nothing less than the future of the Internet is at stake'

Go there >> The End of the Internet? Net Neutrality Threatened by Cable, Telecom Interests

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