opinion


The Internet: should we keep freedom of expression alive and well?

Net neutrality 1

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Dean Anthony Gratton gives his views on the Internet’s role as a free-for-all platform, and argues that despite some inevitable downsides it should remain so.  

The Internet is an open and free platform. You can find anything and everything on the Internet, but not everyone is entirely happy with this kind of open freedom – some countries even inhibit access to selected content. Similarly, for those who have children, access can also be inhibited, so long as you’re au fait with the configuration and set-up of ‘parental control’ schemes offered by most service providers with their hubs or routers.

Unrated, uncensored and widely available

Nevertheless, there is an open abundance of macabre, illicit, sexual and ‘miscellaneous’ content; enough to satisfy the oddest of audiences – even a man from South Yorkshire and his Shetland Pony! With this in mind, and compounded by such shocking reality, I could have downloaded a video showing someone being beheaded. Likewise, access to content of a sexual nature is also indeed plentiful.

I also have access to a wealth of sites offering me the ability to download copyrighted content despite my service provider, in their best efforts, attempting to bar these. I found I could even download several of my books in digital format – to think of all that work, sweat, blood and tears opened up for generic consumption is quite depressing. If you access a site that has been barred, you’ll typically receive a notice informing you that it’s been blocked and explaining why.

The Internet, as a utility

Perhaps it’s the rebel in me, but I find myself wanting the Internet to remain an open and free platform, despite the awful content and the potential for digital theft. Let’s not forget, it’s a wonderful resource for all sorts of tips, ticks and life hacks. I mean, if there’s something I’m not sure about – you know, something DIY-esque around the home, I can usually find a YouTube video offering a how-to guide. Likewise, if I want to know more about Windows 10 Technical Preview and its new feature set, there’s bound to be someone who has made a video or has provided an online review, often with screenshots. The Internet is also the ultimate dictionary and thesaurus for any would-be writer and an incredible resource for any wannabe Steven Spielberg – it’s all there!

The Internet is something that nowadays most of us take for granted – it’s become a constant within the home, business and even on the move, just like the availability of water, gas and electricity. In fact, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has proposed a set of rules, which would, in essence, preserve the Internet, as a free, open platform. What’s more, its Chairman, Tom Wheeler, would very much like to regard the Internet as a utility and, as such, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would become public utilities and subject to the same regulations that are imposed upon gas, water and electricity.

Treating data equally

Evidentially, net neutrality advocators consider Wheeler’s proposition as a move that will enforce regulations on ISPs who allegedly accept ‘paid for’ traffic prioritisation from online services, such as Netflix, Hulu and many others. However, Wheeler’s proposal is not limited to ISPs and extends to the likes of wireless carriers who ‘unfairly’ provide certain advantages to service providers, so the proposal would equally curb the offer of paid for data prioritisation.

In the UK, I recall in early 2000s or so that certain mobile network operators inhibited Skype use across their cell networks, obliging the caller to use their existing subscription package. Nowadays, with cellular subscriptions so readily available and often ‘unlimited’ calls, text and data usage, it seems very much a free for all, much to the mobile operators dismay. You know, that overcrowded, oversubscribed, inadequate infrastructure thing: I’m sure I have already touched upon that issue?

Equal rights for data

Net neutrality is all about ensuring that data traffic across the immense network that is the Internet, be largely akin to freedom of speech. It argues that data should be treated equally irrespective of what’s ‘inside’ and no longer should ISPs, wireless carriers or any other prejudice police its data. Just don’t tell Brussels, since I’m sure the European Commission will undoubtedly define some kind of ‘data rights’ act! We are already reading stories about the American NSA and how they ‘bully’ the likes of Google to reveal certain types of traffic and searches. Similarly, there are other stories about emails being reviewed using certain tools that scan for particular words and so on.

But I digress: my focus is solely about the freedom of the Internet, so I ask just one question, “Should the Internet be policed and controlled by our respective governments?” Let me be first to answer. Despite the content I have been privy to and my own copyrighted material being flouted and available to all, my answer is “No!” The Internet should remain an open and free platform, along with free expression. It should not be inhibited, controlled or policed by any government that is likely to have its own insidious agenda!

Until next time…

I might revisit the Internet of Things (IoT), thing again next month. I want to, if you like, review where we have come in the last nine months or so especially with the recent announcement from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and its new v4.2 release, which is very much geared around the IoT. Perhaps I’m a little premature, as the telecoms industry is renowned for moving at a snail’s pace, but the hype continues to race on at an unfathomable speed. I also want to extend an invitation to all of you working within the industry and claiming to be shaping the future of the IoT to drop me an email (email address below). I want to know your story.

So, this is where an IoT craving, seeking a comprehensive definition, Dr G signs off.

Dean Anthony GrattonDr Dean Anthony Gratton is a bestselling author and columnist, and has worked extensively within the wireless communications R&D industry. His wireless research work has been patented. You can contact Dean at telecoms@deangratton.com and follow him on Twitter (@grattonboy) to enjoy his risqué humour, witty shenanigans, social media and technology-related tweets. You can also read more about his work at deangratton.com.


2 comments

  1. Dean Anthony Gratton 27/02/2015 @ 9:49 am

    Update: “”FCC approves net neutrality in landmark decision, broadband to be reclassified as a public utility”

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