Superb has joined the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition), an organization concerned with how Internet freedom could be damaged by recent and ongoing changes in federal law. These changes – and additional bills that have been proposed – are far-reaching and threaten the Open Internet, the Web as we have come to understand it since its inception, as originally upheld by FCC mandate (and hopefully this article will not quickly become descriptive of an artifact of the past).
Specifically, the US Department of Homeland Security has been placed in charge of online Copyright protection duties. The i2Coalition believes actions at the federal level are ignoring due process. The organization and its members agree that new regulations could negatively impact not just hosting companies but their clients as well. The group disagrees with changes that make it more difficult for users to gather and exchange ideas and information online.
The i2Coalition includes numerous heavy-hitters from the “Internet infrastructure” community (those firms that form the backbone of the Web, such as registrars, sata centers, and hosts). Its members include Google, Parallels, cPanel, and a number of other high-profile infrastructure companies.
Because we are so proud of that membership and view the cause as so important I thought it would be interesting to explore what exactly the Open Internet is; then I’d like to get into why what the i2Coalition is doing could help make positive change on behalf of the hosting world and the many clients who rely on our services. This article is the first in a two-part series. This piece will focus specifically on the Open Internet.
Additionally, I’ll share perspectives from the opposite side, just so we get a balanced view on the subject.
Why the Internet is Dangerous, Perspective 1:
“I believe Internet freedom is scary. If it was a book, I would burn it. Unfortunately, it’s nonflammable. I can’t put it in my hands and set it on fire. It’s a spirit of doom. I remember when I first heard of the Internet. I shuddered. Freedom and ability of individual people to communicate openly always makes me shudder, almost like I’m going into anaphylactic shock. On that very first day when I looked around on the Web, I saw a webpage I didn’t like. I immediately grabbed my lighter and tried to torch its pages, and all I did was horribly damage the library computer I was using. They threw me out. End the Internet now!” – Bradley Battaglia, Spokane, WA, USA
Preserving the Open Internet: What is It Anyway?
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Open Internet http://www.fcc.gov/openinternet is “the Internet as we know it.” The reason the Internet is open is because the standards and protocols that are used on the Web and that make up its infrastructure are free (accessible) and open to all who want to understand and use them.
Anyone can get online and use the Web; anyone can build a website with a relatively tiny amount of money to get something up and going. Accessibility and prominence of course becomes easier with larger sums of money, but the possibilities are there for anyone to grow something online – just as they are in physical reality (where we can print just about whatever we want and hand it out around town).
Furthermore, Web traffic is treated essentially the same as it travels throughout the network. There are of course exceptions to this, such as when certain IP addresses are found to have malicious intent or when trade limitations have been placed on certain countries (such as Iraq and certain other states that can’t but SSL certificates and other pieces of core Internet functionality from the United States and certain other countries).
The philosophy behind the Open Internet is often termed “net neutrality.” The idea behind net neutrality is that a Web user (an individual sitting at a home computer, for instance, or anyone operating on a business network) can decide for themselves what they want to do. I or you or your cousin Theodore can jump online and go wherever we want, and the Web itself could care less. That’s an important part of what freedom is about, after all: living and letting live, stepping aside and letting someone repeatedly visit websites with insipidly boring and misinformation-saturated blogs by people who dropped out of high school and don’t know how to conduct research … or not.
People can also link to whatever information they like, sharing what they want. The Web, in this sense, has always been kind of a free-for-all, in a good way. The Open Internet, per the FCC, “promotes competition and enables investment and innovation.”
It’s possible via the Open Internet, virtually wherever a person is, to engage in the Web in whatever way they so choose – not just in the creation of online sites and companies but in the interaction and intercommunication that’s possible with such basic tools as email and social media. Once you’re on the Web (and of course there are charges for a home network), there are no fees to communicate with other people on the Web. You share what you want and engage as you want, no strings attached. You can post whatever you want on a site you build and make it immediately available to the public.
The FCC has not attempted to regulate the Web. The content on the Web and the applications that are used to create the content or allow Web users to share and interact with information have been allowed free reign to flourish. The rules of the Open Internet, under the auspices of the FCC, were set, per their explanation, merely “to ensure that no one—not the government and not the companies that provide broadband service—can restrict innovation on the Internet.”
Why the Internet is Dangerous, Perspective 2:
“One time I saw a cat doing something weird on a website. It was unnatural! The cat looked like it was talking. In fact, it looked – out of the corner of my eye – like it was insulting us. By ‘us’ I mean people. I’ve never liked cats. They’re dirty. They’re disgusting. They’re unwholesome. The world of the Internet is a world where cats are given far too much freedom. It’s like they’ve become our gods. Stop the Internet before the cats have completely infiltrated our churches, homes, and hair salons!”– Margaret Scopacasa, Blaine, MO, USA
Open Internet Rules, Proceedings, Considerations & Complaints
Let’s take a look at some of the specs involved with the Open Internet, as established by the FCC.
Open Internet Rules
Three core rules govern the notion of the Open Internet:
- The Web must be transparent: Disclosure is required by companies providing broadband pertaining to how their network is managed, how it performs, and its terms of commerce.
- The Web must not be blocked: A company providing broadband can’t prohibit any lawful content or service.
- The Web must not discriminate: You can’t discriminate in the manner that network traffic is transmitted to or from consumers. No content or application should be decreased in its performance or speed, for any user.
The FCC establishes these basic codes in the Open Internet Report and Order (Open Internet R&O). The R&O also mentions that broadband companies should be able to properly administer their networks to prevent such problems as spam and high- traffic users clogging the network and preventing full access to others. Rules #2 and #3 above allow system management to prevent such issues.
Specific to mobile broadband, providers are not able to prevent access to third-party applications that allow transmission of video telephony and voice, overlapping with or replacing the functions of their own applications.
Open Internet Proceedings & Consumer Rights
In 2005 the FCC presented the following consumer rights (applicable within the confines of the law):
- right to download, use, and share any online materials desired
- right to connect and use any safe and secure equipment desired
- right to fair play between providers of networks, applications, and materials.
The FCC announced in 2009 that it would start accepting ideas from citizens regarding Open Internet specifications. Following a number of information-gathering community events and additional collection of individual, external perspectives, the R&O was signed into agreement in 2010 (Dec. 21); it took full effect the following year (Nov. 20).
Open Internet Considerations
The R&O, beyond stating rules and stipulations, allows broadband firms to distribute emergency messages and to comply with the requests of legal entities – regardless if those activities run contrary to any of the three rules. The company is also allowed to take fair steps to protect intellectual property and generally prevent law-breaking.
Open Internet Complaints
Do you think a company or individual is in defiance of the rules presented in the Open Internet R&O? You can state any grievance here http://www.fcc.gov/complaints (although perhaps they will now refer you to the Department of Homeland Security to ensure your complaint isn’t due to an act of terrorism?).
The following is helpful to consider prior to contacting the FCC:
- Is your problem in reference to mobile or fixed broadband? (In other words, can you log on to your network away from your home?)
- Which of the three R&O rules (stated above) do you believe the broadband company might be breaking?
Why the Internet is Dangerous, Perspective 3:
“I saw someone curse on the Internet once. It was in a comment on YouTube. Destroy Google! Let’s all get our pitchforks and torches! Why not? If you don’t have either one, just grab a couple of objects that look somewhat scary. Let’s do this thing!”– Michael Lesser, San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
The Open Internet, as established by the FCC, is an important set of rights and responsibilities for providers and users of the Web. For American citizens, knowing our rights as they have been established in the Open Internet R&O can give us a better sense of what we’ve had so good since the Internet first went online.
The R&O has been viewed even by the federal government, until recently, as crucial to the continuation and growth of our online economy, as well as to our ability to use the Internet freely without undo interference. Our membership at Superb Internet in the i2Coalition is a statement of our belief that the Internet operates best in an environment of net neutrality, in adherence to the principles of the “Internet as we know it.”