Bickering in the US over who controls the web

Anyone with half an eye on the internet news on the other side of the pond might have noticed a debate which has been trundling on for a while which relates to control of the web.

Net neutrality – which has in typically American style, been dubbed “The First Amendment of the Internet”: is the idea that Internet Service Providers – mainly the telecoms companies – should give equal preference to all types of traffic on their networks; an idea which, America being America would be supported by legislation.

The fear is that big telecoms companies will gain a stranglehold on the networks that essentially carry the internet, and use that power to choke off traffic from rival organisations. Well, that’s the more conspiracy-based version – the alternative is that the Telco’s make themselves a lot of extra cash by charging a lot more for certain, more popular services.

Opponents of net neutrality, on the other hand, warn that legislation restricting how providers control their networks would put them off investing in the expansion and improvement of their networks, at a time when expansion and improvement of internet connectivity is a hot issue.

The search giant Google, who already have the biggest slice of the pie in terms of search activity (quoted at anywhere from 60% to 90% in the US and UK respectively), has been a very vocal supporter of net neutrality. This, like a lot of Google’s actions, in one light makes them look very open and egalitarian; and taken another way starts to look slightly more like blatant manoeuvring. Surely net neutrality is pretty much in Google’s interests.

A new study, which seems to be pretty much gunning for Google, has said: “They want to remove access control from carriers and they’ve been very smart about it. Google wants to be the source of information and have everyone go through them. Pretty much a ‘all roads go through Google’,”

The report also points to Google’s support for use of unlicensed broadcasting spectrum in the US for wireless data transfer, commenting that Google “wants to be able to provide services like on-demand video, which carriers are making big money off, but not pay to deliver those services using carriers’ infrastructures. Meanwhile carriers have invested heavily to provide those types of services.”

It all starts to sound a bit conspiracy theory (“Google is trying to take over the world”), until you spot the fact that Google has now done a U-Turn and approached ISPs with an idea it’s calling “Open Edge”, which suggests placing Google servers directly within the network of service providers – effectively creating a fast lane for its own content. Hmm, maybe it IS trying to take over the web.

Thank goodness we don’t have all this fuss here in the UK. While net neutrality has been discussed here, competition in UK markets makes the whole debate largely irrelevant, because of the customer’s ability to ‘vote with their feet’. Any provider who thinks it might be a good idea to exert too much control over net traffic might very quickly find themselves lacking in the customer department; meaning that the government and Ofcom can simply sit back and let the market sort it out.

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