Net Neutrality

Last week celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the World Wide Web, the system designed by Tim Berners-Lee to share information – but that system has is under threat.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s system to share information in an easily accessible way, using a textual language called “Hypertext”, went on to inspire the development of the webserver and the web browser and his concept of a browser that could run on any device and display pages from any webserver connected to the internet is still the cornerstone of the web today.

Of course, “any device” still needs some work although strides in responsive design are now making the need for separate, mobile friendly sites obsolete – but recently “any webserver” has been the target of governments and regimes across the planet.

While many of us are aware that some less democratic locales filter the web and internet traffic of their citizens, more and more countries are now taking the stance that the web should be controlled and only their sanitised view of the world should be delivered. One of the most recent examples of this is the blocking of four anti-Putin websites in Russia which are no longer available, further to an order to internet service providers from the prosecutor general’s office.

In the backdrop of these anti free-speech moves, it is easy for the “democratic west” to try and claim the moral high ground but recent revelations and the forced breaking of encryption systems by the U.S. and U.K. security agencies have now made the web a less attractive place for all of us.

On the web’s 25th anniversary, Sir Tim’s call for a bill of rights – part of an initiative called “The Web We Want” – requires an open, neutral web system that will not be filtered or “balkanised” – carved up by governments and commercial interests (or even governments backing their own countries commercial interests).

Commercial interests are not just those lobbied by trade departments of governments either – recent examples include companies such as Netflix – who’s movie streaming service now accounts for 30% of all internet traffic. Deals with Internet service and backbone providers (the actual data carrying network) are being created – either by media companies such as Netflix to prioritise their traffic or by the ISP’s demanding payments or subsidies to even allow the media companies traffic the same priority as other content – effectively without this “blackmail like” agreement, the ISP’s could ensure their preferred media providers traffic is delivered on time and those that will not pay are not cut off, but left with an unusable offering. Think “Buffering” on a large scale.

If net-neutrality is not preserved, your country, government and even your ISP may well determine what you will be watching and reading in future.

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