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The web’s new walls

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on October 25, 2010

Adapted from an economist article by the same name.

Internet is now evolving into plural internets. As divergent forces tug at the internet,it is in danger of losing its universality and splintering into separate digital domains.

The internet is as much a trade pact as an invention. A network of networks, it has grown at an astonishing rate over the past 15 years because the bigger it got, the more it made sense for other networks to connect to it. Its open standards made interconnections cheap and easy, dissolving boundaries between existing academic, corporate and consumer networks. Just as free trade agreements increases size of the market and boosts gains from trade, so did the internet lead to greater gains from the exchange of data, and allowed innovation to flourish. But now the internet is so large and so widely used that countries and companies and network operators want to wall bits of it off, or make parts of it work in different ways to promote their commercial interests.

WWW is for Walled wide web.

There are three sets of walls being built. The first one is national. China’s “great wirewall” already imposes tight controls on internet links with the rest of the world, monitoring traffic and making many sites or services unavailable. Governments are tightening controls on what people can see and do on the internet.

Second, companies are exerting greater control by building “walled gardens”. Facebook has its own closed internal email system. Google has built a suite of integrated weg based services. Users of Apple mobile devices have tightly defined Apple services which do not talk to devices and services beyond Apple ambit. Apple is the gatekeeper to users right and priviledges on mobiles and internet.

Thirdly, there are concerns that telecom operators looking for new sources of revenue are striking deals with content providers that favour specific websites to show up in a violation of net neutrality. This could be a serious dampener to innovation on the open internet.

Thus the incentives that used to favour greater interconnection now point the other way. While the WWW is not certainly dead as many critics comment too far, the net is looking some or lot of its openness and universality.

The walled approach is not always bad as proven by Apple, whose harvests from its walled garden have enabled it to provide services and devices that delight its customers, who may be happy to trade a little openness for greater security or ease of use; if not, they can go elsewhere. However, restrictions imposed by governments are more troubling, and harder to deal with.Governments inclined to censor might be swayed by arguments that focus on the economic benefits of openness. For Instance, China could be reminded how much more its scientists could achieve if they had unfettered access to information.

Operators on the other hand who fragment the internet by erecting new road-blocks or toll booths stand to lose customers to rival firms. The live case here is Android which has gained in dominance over Apple basis its “openness” and “innovation”.

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Tiered Internet Services versus Net Neutrality: Notes from the Google Verizon Chapter (Part I)

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 21, 2010

Continued from an earlier post on Net Neutrality

Google: a $120 billion public colossus with 20,000 employees with a moto “Do no Evil”. To quote Brin and Page in their IPO document in 2004, “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.”The idea was to build “a company that is trustworthy and interested in the public good. We believe a well-functioning society should have abundant, free and unbiased access to high quality information. Google therefore has a responsibility to the world.”

Tiered Internet services: Evil Deal or Pragmatic Compromise? (Tiered Internet services are an antithesis of Net Neutrality)

Google Followers, Critics, Enthusiasts and the denizens of a free world Internet were thus jolted when Google(along with Verizon) brought out a proposal to FCC on Net Neutraility. To many it was “an abuse”. For years, Google has been the single largest — and loudest — proponent of net neutrality among any private company- the basic principle that broadband companies shouldn’t play favorites with Web content — their own or others’ — for payment. Idealogy apart, it’s not hard to see why. The company’s entire business model — it earns 95% of its revenue from search ads — depends on users being able to access Google.com on the Internet for free.

The idea of net neutrality has generally been opposed by the big broadband providers who, after all, invested mightily to build the hardware backbone of the Internet. Why should Google be allowed to stream YouTube videos for free to millions when we built the infrastructure, the providers ask? Also a tiered service helps in terms of differentiating services from a consumer perspective. The analogy here is that of premium HDTV services versus “Plain Vanilla” satellite TV services.

The Germination of the Thought: Tiered Internet (Courtesy Android)

Google and Verizon have coordinated on many launches around the Android – mostly featured on Moto and HTC devices. With some heavy duty marketing by Verizon and courtesy its lineage to open source, the popularity of Android has shot through the roof. The proof of the pudding is in the Android market shares (14% gained in a year’s time) and the fact that Android is selling 200K phones per day, outselling iPhone by a distance.

In terms of ideologies, Google was the proponent of Open Internet and Verizon was backing the Tiered Internet structure. It was when Google and Verizon started discussing common grounds between each of their interests, that the thought and the proposal of (possible) regulation of wireless internet came into being. What helped this marriage was the animosity both these corporations shared with AT&T.

to be continued

Net Neutrality (Part I): Of the past and future in Net Neutrality

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on August 15, 2010

Net Neutrality is a taken-for-granted thing in the internet that we live in. The concept of free, open and equal internet as it exists today may be under some threat if the advances of giants such as Google and Verizon are to be believed. In some sense, Google is finally beginning to violate its “Do no Evil” corporate policy for commercial and financial purposes.

Essentially Net neutrality refers to the network agnostic behavior towards internet traffic, content, platforms, websites and more. There has been a section of companies that have wanted to differentiate internet services such that some of the free behavior is tweaked in favor of their benefits. For instance, these Telcos/ISPs want the right for companies to pay a premium to have their content delivered faster than rival content, or to establish new layer of faster internet on which to serve paying, premium services. That would leave non-commercial sites on a poorer, slower web where they would find it harder to attract readers – changing the democratic nature of the internet. It would also mean poorer users, or those in the developing world, would find it harder to access the “full” internet experience. That in principal is violtaion of net neutrality.

Companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast have been planning to introduce tiered, prioritized and premium services. This in principal is against the Democratic DNA of the internet and has been thumbed down by several high profile Tech gurus including Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the Internet.

Berners-Lee has said: “Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies can control what I access for commercial reasons. In China, companies could control what users access for political reasons. Freedom of connection with any application to any party is the fundamental social basis of the internet.”

The debate around net Neutrality is not new and has intermittently been popping in and around. In the US, coverage has centered around the Federal Communications Commission which upheld a complaint against ComCast for illegally restricting paying web users from using file-sharing services. In the UK, “traffic shaping” can similarly be seen as a precursor to wider tiers of internet use with ISPs commonly demoting and even blocking P2P traffic, for example. ISPs in the UK have also indicated they are concerned about services that put pressure on their networks like the BBC’s video traffic, which may lead to them charging.

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