Right now the Internet service providers of this world are merely the backbone behind the movement to wire everything – they provide the cable, the DSL phone lines, the fiber optic lines, the transmitters, the receivers, the switches and the servers that enable the data to move.
The right to regulate who gets to use that network and for how much remains in the hands of governments. But now the backbone wants to become the brain.
Through a lobby group misleadingly called "Hands Off The Internet" www.handsoff.org, the ISPs – a list which includes many of the world’s largest media and communications companies – are championing a new bill that would take some regulating power away from the U.S. government and put it in the hands of ISPs.
The thing is the U.S. government isn’t actually trying to over-regulate the Internet, and has been hands off for the most part. All the Federal Communications Commission wants to do is ensure that services are priced fairly and that both website hosts and ISPs comply with federal laws – including laws that ensure freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
That hasn’t stopped the ISPs from arguing that they need deregulation in order to charge heavier users and to continue to expand their networks – although we’ve gotten this far without deregulation, and the major ISPs aren’t exactly going Enron.
Opponents of deregulation argue that ISPs could conceivably use new powers over pricing and servicing to exert more influence over the content of the Internet. For example, blogs critical of the government and the media could suddenly find themselves unable to afford Internet time, while the ISPs could decide to show favouritism to certain friendly websites.
Of course the ISPs deny this will happen, but what are they going to say? Most newspapers and news agencies also deny they have any hidden political agendas in their reporting and we all know better.
Another concern about deregulation is that this is an attempt by an increasingly concentrated core of ISPs to hog bandwidth – with the major media companies rushing to launch Internet television and telephone services, they know they’re going to need all the ’net they can get. You can only push so much data through a copper wire in any given amount of time. And while overall capacity continues to increase, a lot of that extra bandwidth is put into heavily urbanized areas where companies that own the network can get more bang for their buck.
I know what you’re saying, this is an American law and this is Canada, we’re in the clear here. But it’s still of major concern.