A series of tubes

It’s pretty easy to forget that the internet is actually a thing. With phrases like ‘the cloud’ and virtual this and cyber that, you can forget that it’s a set of data centres, wires, fibres, routers and switches that exist very much in the real world.

I went along to a session about net neutrality last night which was a slightly terrifying glimpse of american corporate lobbying. The talk was given by a telecoms regulator who had just had their job effectively made useless by a clever piece of lobbying by the telecoms companies. The California legislature passed SB1161, authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla which removes the ability of the regulator to do anything that affects internet providers, including monitoring their standards of service or checking that their service is robust.

The reason the telcos got this passed wasn’t that they were afraid of the Government ‘regulating the internet’, it was so that they can charge differentially for different types of content and not have the regulator kick up a fuss. The telcos want what they call a two-sided market so they can charge providers as well as people who want the content. One reason is so that they can charge people like Skype and Google for putting calls over their networks and stay competitive themselves. The other is that streaming video is taking away the market for cable television.

I didn’t know this but the UK is actually held up as a very good regulatory regime for internet providers and we have some of the cheapest and most competitive services in the world. America is already one of the slowest and most expensive places to connect to the internet in the world. From what I heard last night, it’s only going to get worse if the big telco lobbyists get their way.


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