Net Neutrality

Post ImageI haven’t said much about so-called “network neutrality” yet, but I do think it is a very important issue. I don’t pretend to know all about it, but I have read enough to form some opinions. First off, here’s how the term is defined at Wikipedia:

Network neutrality is a proposed principle of network regulation. It asserts that, in order to promote innovation, network service providers such as telephone and cable internet companies should not be permitted to dictate how those networks are used (ie. not permitted to ban certain types of programs, or to ban certain types of devices connecting to the network).

Currently, this is a big political issue in the United States, but I am not sure if it has received much attention elsewhere. A draft bill scheduled to be voted on tomorrow will be revised to ensure that the FCC has tools at its disposal to address violations. This is the main idea behind the bill, at least as I understand it:

The draft bill says broadband providers must provide connectivity speeds “at least equal to the speed and quality of service” that the operator offers for its own content or that of its affiliates, and “make available the same bandwidth” to everyone.

I encourage you to read the article linked to above (at CNET as it contains some background information in addition to the current happenings.

I was a little torn between whether or not network neutrality is a good idea or not. My gut feeling and initial reactions were that net neutrality is vital for the future of the Internet, and it must be protected. As I thought about it a little more, I turned to economics, and thus my secondary thoughts were that the market should decide how these services are charged for and offered. Upon still further consideration, I feel that net neutrality is important and we should all ensure the Internet remains neutral.

There are too many “ifs” associated with a network that might become tiered or fragmented in some way – who knows what the providers might do. The last thing I would want as a business consumer is to have different Internet access, whether in performance or throughput or bandwidth, than a larger company simply because the Internet providers can squeeze large sums of money out of them.

One of the great things about the Internet is that it is open and available to everyone (I realize there are people who cannot yet afford access, or areas for which access is unavailable, but as a blanket statement, the Internet is pretty open). I think it’s important we keep it that way, so I hope laws concerning network neutrality are ratified in the United States, and eventually, elsewhere.

Teaching Kids About Cyber Security

Post ImageFor all the fuss about hackers and spam and viruses and all the other malicious entities that exist in the digital world, there is very little done about education. It makes sense to teach kids about ethics and cyber security in an attempt to reduce viruses and exploits doesn’t it? I think it does! Looks like the United States is taking the lead:

A group of students at Rome Catholic School are learning how to become the future defenders of cyberspace through a pilot program that officials say is the first of its kind in the country. The program teaches students about data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.

Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal considerations in cyber security.

I wish I could have taken a class like that in high school! Would have been much more interesting and relevant than some of the other stuff I had to take. Sure beats typing! And the content is useful on a day-to-day basis too, as our world becomes increasingly more digital. My only concern is that teachers won’t be qualified to teach such a course! Apparently they have a special training week for instructors.

Read: Wired News

Wireless Cities

Post ImageTime for an update on wireless everywhere! Unfortunately Edmonton isn’t much closer to being covered in wonderful wireless Internet access, but many other cities are. What was once a side project in a few townships has become a big deal for some major locales:

Vendors that build and manage wireless networks report unprecedented municipal interest over the last couple of years, with requests for proposals streaming out of city halls everywhere.

“Overall, I’d say it’s very active,” said Lee Tsao, director of the global solutions group for Pronto Networks, a wireless provisioning company in Pleasanton, California. “In the last four months, we’ve signed up about 10 cities.” Todd Myers, founder and vice president of corporate development for AirPath Wireless, a provisioning firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts, put it more simply: “We’re swamped. There are just so many RFPs out now.”

Some of the newer technology like WiMax has been slow out of the gate, so most of the cities pursuing wireless networks are building so-called “mesh networks”, which essentially consist of daisy-chained Wi-Fi antennas. Apparently it’s pretty cost effective.

Wireless networks in cities show no sign of slowing down either:

In late September, research firm forecast that U.S. cities and counties will spend nearly $700 million over the next three years to build municipal wireless broadband networks.

Municipal wireless has also finally received support from politicians and lawmakers, notably FTC member Jon Leibowitz who “enorsed the concept of municipal broadband networks, comparing them to public schools and libraries.” (For a PDF of his endorsement, click here.)

Bring on the wireless cities!

Read: Wired

Why the USA needs to cede control of the Internet

Post ImageThere is a potentially major split brewing over control of the Internet, and it has been coming for quite some time. Declan McCullagh has written a great article explaining the problem and what it could mean, so I suggest reading that for some background before you continue with this post. In a nutshell though, the US currently has complete control over the Internet’s root servers and a growing number of countries don’t like it – they think control should be given to an international body like the United Nations. I agree.

Whatever role the United States played in the creation of the Internet doesn’t really matter anymore. The fact that the US Department of Defense created ARPANET which became the Internet we know and love today is irrelevant. What matters most of all is that the Internet has become a truly global network, and it needs to remain that way if we want to continue reaping its benefits.

All we need to do is think about all of the ways in which we use the Internet, and how they would be changed or affected if a split occurred. Things like sending email, or instant messages. Sharing pictures with friends and family around the world. Buying and selling things locally and abroad. Sharing information with others and learning about far away places without the local spin. All of these things would be affected if a major split occurs. All of these things would be affected if the Bush government continues to express arrogance and jealously guard its control of the Internet’s root servers, and the countries that disagree and want more control decide to create their own, incompatible root servers. It could be disastrous.

Even though I support the UN taking over control, I know it isn’t perfect. Scandals like the oil for food program cast a dark light across the organization. At the same time though, I truly believe problems like the oil for food pogram in Iraq would have happened anyway, with or without the UN. And I would point to the many successes of the organization as proof that a UN-run Internet would be better in the long run than a US-run Internet. At they very least, there would be almost no chance of a split occurring.

Many people will be quick to point out that the US has done nothing wrong thus far, and has done a fairly good job of running the Internet – and that’s true. However, the US is very quickly becoming a smaller and smaller part of the Internet as countries around the world bring their vast populations online. They deserve a voice and a hand in how the Internet is governed.

We need to ensure that the Internet continues to function for all citizens of the world, and that is why the USA needs to cede control of the Internet to an international organization.