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Who Built the Internet, and Is It for Sale?

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There was a time not long ago when data communication was based upon phone lines, proprietary modems, and service contracts with AT&T. Perhaps you're old enough to remember 300-baud connections or the thrill of establishing a network for your company's remote offices.

Today, of course, you can read your email, talk to your team members, participate in a Web conference, and simultaneously read this column while sipping your Mocha Grande at the corner Starbucks. In fact, my son Tobias recently did something equivalent from his portable office at his non-profit organization called HumanTranslation.org. However, instead of sitting in Starbucks conducting business, he was crouched in the ruins of the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, communicating to NGOs around the world about building an agricultural dam for the people of Siem Riep. Tobias' entire office consisted of a Sony Vaio and his Internet connection. Talk about portability!

Gimme Access!

Indeed, access to Internet bandwidth—thanks to the standardization of communications protocols, satellite communications, and the massive fiber optic networks built in the 1990s—has come to be perceived as a natural extension of the human voice by Internet trekkies around the world. But many believe that if HR 5252: The Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Efficiency Act of 2006 (COPE) becomes law, the accessibility of the Internet will be severely hampered by large network providers like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon. These concerned activists believe that a basic concept of the Internet—something called network neutrality—is being dismantled by Congress to placate communications companies that have a vested interest in controlling communications across the Internet.

Franchising the Internet

Companies such as Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and Verizon—companies that own the broadband networks—want the federal government to franchise the Internet and to permit them to operate Internet and other digital communications services as private networks. This would allow them to control, meter, and charge client corporations and individuals not only for access to the Internet, but for the amount of bandwidth that they consume, much as their predecessor organizations once controlled, metered, and charged clients for the use of private data communication facilities in the previous generation of technology.

On the surface, this seems like a reasonable and rational financial request. After all, from their perspective, these organizations built or bought the broadband network infrastructure. Why shouldn't they have a say and reap the extra profits? Why should Tobias, located in the jungles of Cambodia or Thailand, have the same bandwidth access rights to the Internet that General Motors or IBM has without paying his fair share for the network costs when he maximizes his use of his technology? Why shouldn't General Motors or IBM pay substantially more when they transmit terabytes of information around the world?

Private vs. Public

For the largest corporations using the Internet—those using virtual private network (VPN) protocols—the cost of doing business using the current telecommunications technology is already factored into their business models, and this invariably consists of contracts with the largest network providers. The benefits of having a single network provider such as AT&T or Verizon establishing the access rules and the security protocols makes tremendous sense.

But for the smaller, less financially affluent organizations, the entire business model—as applied to the Internet—is odious and fraught with problems. It is, in that context, the equivalent of "taxing the air that we breathe." From their perspective, this issue of network neutrality is a sell-out by Congress in the COPE legislation.

So what are their concerns, beyond the prospect of increased cost? In two words, censorship and competition! Let's look at their arguments and see what the concern is about.

De Facto Censorship

Today, you or I can launch a Web page from anywhere in the world and anyone else in the world—with the exception of people in China and a few other countries—can view it with a minimum of technology and an Internet connection. Once connected to the Web page, your visitor can download or (if permitted by the Webmaster) upload an unlimited amount of digital information. What that information might be is not the responsibility of the network provider, and the cost is defined by the terms that have been contracted by the consumer with the network provider. In Cambodia, this may be defined as a per-minute charge through the local Internet cafe. In the United States, it's usually defined as a monthly service charge. In some cases, as will happen soon in San Francisco and Philadelphia, even those charges might be deferred as the accessibility of wireless is provided as a free service to all.

But in the future, according to the critics of the COPE legislation, the network provider will determine who has access to your Web page or how much access will be provided. If this provider feels that you are abusing one of its rules, it will have the authority to block access to your Web page. Moreover, if your Web page becomes too popular—consuming too much bandwidth—the provideer will have the authority to restrict how much data can be transmitted between your page and your visitor's Web browser. If you want more bandwidth, you will pay for it.

Examples in the Current ISP Marketplace

Many ISP sites already control server bandwidth for clients, but few examples of this model are in the network provider space: For instance, Yahoo has a public service called GeoCities that allows its subscribers to build a Web page for free, but then charges a set amount for bandwidth consumption that exceeds a certain level.

But if you extend this same business model to the entire Internet—with the network providers controlling the bandwidth—the formula for censorship becomes ripe for abuse.

In that scenario, any popular Web site or information resource that acts as a public service can be squelched simply by dint of the popularity of its message. In the programming world, publicly supported sites like SourceForge.net might be throttled unless it contracted with the service provider for broader bandwidth services. Instead of a "free exchange" of information across the Internet, the financial model for sustaining communications on the Internet might actually hamper the growth of collaboration.

Examples of Central Censorship

Consider that Yahoo and Google are being chastised by human rights activists for providing private information about their Chinese subscribers to the Chinese government, with a result of penalizing these free-speech activists with prison sentences. Imagine a similar potential in the hands of large corporations like AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, or Verizon, bowing to political pressure to restrict access to controversial information sites or services. Sure, there may be ample reason to censor some sites that traffic in pornography. But is this authority in the purview of the network provider, a provider that might have a financial interest in controlling the content of specific users?

"It would never happen!" you might insist. But there are already well-documented cases proving that precisely this kind of censorship has occurred in Canada and the United States.

For instance, last year Canada's telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute. And just this year, Time Warner's AOL blocked all emails that mentioned www.dearaol.com, an advocacy campaign opposing the company's pay-to-send email scheme.

Stifling Competition

Who would have guessed, just a few years ago, that Voice over IP (VOIP) would be such an important factor in business and personal communications? (Well, OK! If you were reading this publication, all of you knew it was coming!) And who would have predicted that getting lost on the Internet could spawn a mega corporation like Google that would transform a Web browser into a daily business appliance?

These are just two kinds of organizations that—though providing completely different sets of services—rely heavily upon Internet neutrality: lots of Internet bandwidth, ample access, and no restrictions to content. It would arguably have been impossible to develop these services were it not for network neutrality: VOIP requires tremendous bandwidth to deliver voice communications, and Google requires open access across the network to search for content.

Yet if COPE becomes law and the giant network providers treat the Internet as a private and controlled reserve, tremendous obstacles will be placed in the path of organizations that are trying to maximize the net for the benefit of its users. And, quite frankly, these obstacles are often the competing interests of the network providers themselves.

For instance, AT&T and SBC were slow to recognize the vast potential of the private, non-commercial VOIP market. It was only after Vonage paved the way with its inexpensive consumer offering that AT&T began marketing its own competing service.

Now, ask yourself this question: Would a company like Vonage have stood a chance if AT&T controlled the Internet? What about Skype, a competitor based in England? AT&T has a long history of squelching competition. Indeed, it was precisely this anti-competitive culture within AT&T that ultimately split up the giant phone monopoly 30 years ago. Technologies like VOIP would have languished for many more years, analysts assert, had AT&T maintained its government-sanctioned control over voice communications.

Anti-Competitive Examples

"But that would never happen today!" you insist. Yet in 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service. And in Canada a big Canadian cable TV company is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers who want to use a competing Internet telephone service. If Network Neutrality is lost—auctioned off to the largest network providers as a misguided attempt at deregulation—new technological advancements will be restricted to what the network providers feel they can successfully market. As a result, many analysts believe COPE will stifle competition and destroy the basic Internet mechanisms that create innovation.

Meanwhile, the COPE legislation has very limited language regarding anti-competitive restrictions, and this lack of oversight—franchising the public Internet to the service providers themselves—does not bode well for either free market competition or open access to Internet resources for the development of new technologies. By turning over the Internet to the network providers, to control, monitor, meter, and charge for services, the legislation opens the door for these providers to make their own rules for the benefit of their own bottom lines.

Who Built the Internet?

The network providers proclaim that they built the infrastructure of the Internet, and should therefore be rewarded with the tools to control who and what is being transmitted through it. But this is exactly the point of contention.

Internet activists can justly claim that without their content, without their enthusiasm and without their entrepreneurship, the broadband networks owned by the largest corporations in the world are merely wires and boxes. Yes, these service providers should be amply rewarded for investments in infrastructure. But they should not control it.

Moreover, these activists claim, no one comes to the Internet for the wires and the boxes: They come for the content and the opportunity to collaborate. From their perspective, the network providers merely built a roadway—one that they begrudgingly built only after their other network offerings faltered. But it was the users of the Internet that actually built the value of the public network, and they bridle at the thought that AT&T or Verizon or any other large corporate entity should control it.

Back in the Jungle

Meanwhile, my son Tobias continues trekking the back roads of Cambodia with his notebook and his Internet connection. His Web site continues to attract new readers, raised a fair amount of capital for the project, and now has plans to build a collaborative network to help NGOs evaluate other worthwhile projects in developing countries. His first volunteer, from Chicago, recently joined him, and a second volunteer is creating a short film about his project. His precept is simple: A single individual, with a notebook computer, the Internet, and a strong sense of commitment, can help focus attention to the needs of the less fortunate, raise money, and deliver humanitarian services where they are needed. That's the entire focus of his HumanTranslation.Org, and he's out in the field testing this hypothesis.

When I need to speak to him in his world, the Internet is his only means of communication. But it is not a road less traveled these days. After all, it's the Internet.

Interested in This Issue?

HR 5252, as of this writing, still in committee. If you are interested in more on this topic, I suggest you look at SaveTheInternet.com or CompariTech.com.

Interested in Tobias' project? Drop him a note at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online. LP

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  

 

Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at ITincendiary.com.

 

 

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  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.