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It’s About Access

If you have a few minutes today, watch this. Oh, watch it anyway. And share it.

It won a Webby, the equivalent of the Oscar for the web world. And I have to admit that at the end, I cried. Seriously.

Like those in the satirical episode, I don’t live in the wildest woolliest of backwoods. I could throw a rock over a hill and hit Intel and some of the largest tech companies in the world in the Silicon Forest, yet I’m stuck on crap Internet access with speeds at about 1 megabyte on a good day. Trust me, I live on the Internet and there are good days and bad when your Internet is running through a phone line, and that phone line isn’t very stable.

I’ve traveled to and lived in places where I would write my articles in a text editor for this site and wait days for access to the Internet and WordPress. Traveling on the road full-time since 1996, an acoustic coupler and 300 feet of phone cord was our earliest connection to the outside world. I have literally hung out a window and hold a WIFI antenna at the end of my out stretched hand in the pouring rain to pick up a signal somewhere on the block. That was downtown San Francisco only a few years ago, supposedly one of the first cities in the world to experiment with city-wide free Internet access, another of the great pipe dreams.

What Happened to an Open and Free Internet?

The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.
Arthur C. Clarke, Writer, Engineer, Humanist

Save the Internet poster by Crowdtilt.As described in my article on Russia’s new blogger’s law that is threatening the freedom and lives of bloggers within their borders, many countries around the world have signed net neutrality laws protecting their citizen’s access to the Internet without corporate greed restricting it.

You’d think we’d learn from their example.

The United States thinks it is the super power of the world, so far ahead of everyone, but it isn’t. It is falling behind. Way behind.

The Netherlands, Brazil, Italy, France, Slovenia, Israel, Chile, France, and many countries in the EU all have net neutrality laws in place, some of them for many year.

The United Kingdom’s high-speed broadband access initiative is to provide broadband access universal and affordable across the entire country by 2015. The main focus was to bring Internet access to rural areas as well as metro.

Singapore has one of the most progressive Internet access systems with a residential wired broadband penetration rate at 104% as of December 2011. It was the first country to offer an interactive information service to the public with photographic images. In 2006, they introduced a program for free wireless access in high-traffic human access areas including metro areas. In 2010, they began an extensive roll-out for ultra-high speed fiber optic networks across the country, with the goal of making it one of the best wired countries in the world.

One Internet Service provider is offering a plan of 1Gbps for just under USD $40 a month. I’m paying $60 a month for 1.2Mbps with no television, nothing fancy, just horrible static land line access.

A global report on fiber optic bandwidth growth in 2012 found that the 2015 goal expands beyond the UK to the world. The State of Broadband 2013 (PDF) study reported the top countries are Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark, France, Korea, Norway, and Iceland, with the UK at number 10, Canada at 12, Hong Kong at 16, and the United States at 20 with only 28% broadband penetration. In mobile broadband penetration worldwide, Singapore, Japan, Finland, Korea, and others listed above fill the top slots with the United States at number 9.

Looking at the chart for the percentage of individuals using the Internet worldwide, representing their country, the United States isn’t even in the top 20. At the end of this month the 2013 numbers are expected. Do you think the US will show improvement?

If we lose the battle for net neutrality and let corporations, with inalienable rights as a human being given them by the Supreme Court, win, you will be paying more for more limited access, and leaving more and more of our citizens offline.

Chart on Percentage of Individuals using the Internet worldwide in 2012 - IS Preview UK.

According to a UK government report on broadband access in 2012. “A rise in broadband penetration of 10% can lead to a 0.9%-1.5% boost in GDP per capita.” In the 2013 report:

The report also estimates that there are currently 200 million fewer women online than men (i.e. 1.3 billion women vs 1.5 billion men) and warns that the gap could grow to 350 million within the next three years if action is not taken. Women were also on average 21% less likely to own a mobile phone.

Research highlighted in the report also claims that, in developing countries, every 10% increase in access to broadband translates to a 1.38% growth in a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As a result it suggests that bringing an additional 600 million women and girls online could boost global GDP by as much as US$18 billion.

The Reddit Blog advises that we need to insist that the FCC reclassify Internet Service Providers as “Title II common carriers,” explaining:

We must ensure that our representatives know how important the open Internet is, and that we demand nothing less that real Net Neutrality by having the FCC reclassify Internet Service Providers as Title II common carriers. What is a common carrier? A common carrier is a company “forced to offer service indiscriminately and on general terms.” Common carriers cannot engage in “individualized bargaining.” if we as society believe there should be basic and open access to certain entities — telephone lines, trains, etc. — then how can that NOT extend to the Internet?

Insight Community - Declaration of Internet Freedom poster.The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) explains:

What does it mean for our free speech rights?

The Internet is the greatest medium for communication, expression, and organization the world has ever seen. The openness and equality protected by net neutrality rules have allowed the Internet to thrive, becoming a global “free market” of ideas. Among other things, open Internet rules have provided a platform that allows minority voices to be heard in an increasingly mainstream media environment, musicians to be heard without the support of expensive record labels, lesser-known candidates to compete in elections without the support of massive donors, and allows political activists to more effectively mobilize. Without net neutrality protections, these voices could be slowed or buried.

Net neutrality also has serious implications for Americans’ ability to access news and information. In most markets, consumers have very few options for legitimate high-speed broadband service, of the quality and speed we increasingly need to access the most innovative and important content online. If one of those providers starts degrading service or charging for a fast lane, consumers cannot vote with their feet and discipline anti-competitive behavior. And manipulations of online content are not always easily detectable; content could be delayed or distorted in important but subtle ways. This lack of competition gives these high-speed gatekeepers an uncomfortable amount of control over Americans’ access to news and information. They increasingly have the ability to influence the public debate and weaken our democracy through the manipulation of internet traffic.

I know this isn’t a place where I step up on a soap box often, but this is serious. My research research and articles on the Russia Blogger’s Law and our discussions on the subject in my WordPress class makes me feel for these poor people, having such rules in place to penalize their rights to have their say. Russia makes sense. It has a long history of brutal oppression of its citizens. When the walls came tumbling down and Russia crushed under its own weight, I’m sure we all breathed a sigh of relief and hope for the future of a safe and healthy future of its people. Today, after surviving a tiny crack of freedom, I see their door closing.

Am I seeing our door closing, too? We’ve lost many of our rights to do and say what we wish without persecution within the US borders. We’re now losing the dream of freedom to access libraries, databases, news, educational materials, entertainment, friends, family, all for the price of admission.

What Can We Do to Stop This?

It makes sense to be against corporate control of Internet access. Seems like anyone with the intelligence of a bug could figure this out. Yet, we’ve lost in the courts so far, so what can we do.

Google Fiber has an idea they are calling “the last mile.” The last mile concept is about what company controls your access to the Internet, the one you pay.

The “last mile” has some companies signing huge peering agreements to make sure their content gets to you as it should. Netflix was among the more notable companies who felt coerced to sign an agreement with Comcast to make sure their streaming media got to you and I quickly and efficiently. Paying for that courtesy is not something Fiber wants anyone to deal with.

Fiber is encouraging services, like Netflix, to house their servers with Google’s, which they’re referring to a ‘colocation’. Saying it’s mutually beneficial (a Netflix-esque company gets their media streamed to us, and Google saves money in trafficking it because it comes from their house), Fiber is aiming to stop the “last mile” debate in its tracks…by not playing the fast-lane, slow-lane game the FCC is currently entertaining…

A few days ago the web host NeoCities slowed access to FCC sites in an attempt to let them know what it is like to ride in the slow lane, and released the code to Open Source so other developers could take similar action.

On May 7, 2014, major Internet and technology companies signed a letter to the FCC in support of a free and open Internet. Signatures included Amazon, Dropbox, Ebay, Foursquare, Google, Facebook, Kickstarter, linkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Tumblr, Stackexchange, Twitter, and others, including Automattic and

Letter to the FCC on behalf of web and tech companies for a free and open Internet.

These are small actions by the few to protect citizen rights to the Internet, but what can we as individuals do?

As with everything, it begins at home.

  1. Tell everyone, via social media, over dinner conversations with family and friends, everyone about this issue. Explain what it really means. Watch the video at the top of this article with them, and have that discussion.
  2. Ask them to share their opinion with the world. Talking about a subject has changed the world, and the more talking about it intelligently and passionately, mountains might move.
  3. Contact your government representatives, local and state. Tell them that they have to put an end to this and not give the Internet over to corporate control. Senator Al Franken stood up on the Senate floor to speak for us, so make your government representatives stand, too. Call, write, email, nag, hold a sign up. Take action.
  4. Write to the FCC. Send a letter or email to the FCC to let them know your viewpoint, clarifying whether or not you support their current proposal, which many don’t.
    Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street SW, Washington D.C. 20554
  5. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers and media. Tell local television and radio stations to report on this serious attack to our ability to access their services on the web.
  6. Call the FCC and tell them to “reclassify Internet Service Providers as Title Two Common Carriers” as described by Reddit’s instructions.
  7. Own or represent an organization? Sign the Declaration of Internet Freedom.
  8. Want to sign a petition? Go to one or more of the following:
  9. Blog. While you still have relatively inexpensive access to the web, use it. Tell the world your story. Tell people about how life was before the Internet, and how much your life has changed by its access. Encourage others to take action. Have your say on this very important point.

We made the Internet ours. We claimed it, cultivated it, abused it, used it. There would be no WordPress, no Reddit, no Facebook, no Twitter, none of this innovaction of communication would exist if we didn’t have the space in which to expand our minds and dreams. There would be no sharing of pictures of baseball games and holiday vacations with grandparents on the other side of the globe. No brightening your day with a lolcat from I Can Has Cheezburger.

As for WordPress, think of a time when the concept of Open Source was still new, and the story of how WordPress came to exist.

In January 2003, Matt Mullenweg asked a question about what a perfect web publishing platform should look like because the one he was using wasn’t it. From Houston, Texas, to the United Kingdom, Mike Little read his words and thought that he could help do something about it. He responded and eleven years later, WordPress represents 22% of the web worldwide.

More information on net neutrality.

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  1. Posted May 24, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for pulling all this information together, Lorelle. I’ll educate myself further on the topic and take action.

    • Posted May 24, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      Always glad to help. This is such a serious issue, I’m ashamed of the media for ignoring this issue.

      • Posted May 24, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps they’re guaranteed a free ride in the fast lane.

      • Posted May 24, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        LOL! Yeah, don’t think so.

        Honestly, I don’t think there is enough doom and gloom and blood for the media to get behind this and really understand the bigger picture. They are as much a part of this as anyone.

        I wonder about the battle in other countries that passed this law years ago. Wonder what they went through, and what we can learn from them?

      • Posted May 25, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        I wonder as well. What I DO know is that history (good and bad) repeats itself. Just as this country is crashing and burning (on so many fronts, it is downright scary–primarily by being run by the biggest bidders and deepest wallets), it will once again rise, but not by magic. It is an information revolution and just because it doesn’t seem tangible doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

        To spin another metaphor, just like an air-borne virus, it will not differentiate between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ entities but will affect us ALL in a dramatic way.

  2. Ramona Fletcher
    Posted May 24, 2014 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Tough battle



  3. Posted May 25, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    This issue is HUGE. Thanks so much for tackling putting this together for us.

    • Posted May 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, timethief. It is a huge issue. With your help spreading the word, hopefully people will step up. Thanks!

  4. Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    This issue connects the world, and we should protect it. The idea of the Net as some global village green may be a failed experiment. We chose the latter and now the voices of those corporations are drowning out those of the regular citizens.

  5. Tree
    Posted July 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Variations in the Key of Tree and commented:
    This is 30 minutes well spent.

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