The World Wide Web was always intended to be free, inclusive and equal. For the ultimate proof of this, one only need to look at what Tim Berners-Lee, the “inventor” of the Internet, said when marking the Web’s 25th birthday earlier this year:
"The web can be made to work with any type of information, on any device, with any software, in any language. You can link to any piece of information. You don't need to ask for permission. What you create is limited only by your imagination."
Unfortunately, external forces (usually governments, cynics might say) often seem to conspire to introduce increasing regulation to something that was always intended, by its very nature, to be unregulated.
The continuous run of privacy scandals throughout the past year go to illustrate this fact, but so too does the on-going argument about net neutrality.
In case you didn’t know, net neutrality refers to the basic principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Companies should not be able to flex their financial muscles and have their traffic prioritized.
If companies (or governments) are able to do this, it essentially turns the open Internet into a closed system, something it was never intended to be.
At the time of writing, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is debating net neutrality.
The FCC is currently consulting on proposals that would allow some commercial data prioritization deals between Internet Service Providers and Web content firms. The same proposals would make it unlawful for ISPs to block access to specific sites, preventing them from (effectively) becoming curators of the Web.
Earlier versions of these FCC proposals were rejected back in January, and the new revised versions are now open for public comment.
Major Internet firms, including Amazon and Google, form part of the “Internet Association,” which is doing all it can to place these plans under scrutiny. The association has publicly called for “equal traffic rules,” and pointed out that the Internet should never become a “pay for priority” platform.
This issue should resonate with every IT professional and Internet user. The open source nature of the Internet should never be allowed to become something that’s tweaked and controlled to please the highest bidder. Obviously the widespread use of cloud and streaming content service has put pressure on ISPs to maintain performance, but surely the answer is to continually upgrade infrastructure to cope with the demand, rather than profit from selling off the bandwidth that’s there?
Whatever happens, the technical community is watching closely, and everyone is surely hoping that net neutrality is maintained to the best degree possible. Tim Berners-Lee especially must be hoping that his world-changing creation isn’t about to be turned into a corporate monster.