Christmas is coming, and Julian Assange (Leaker in Chief at Wikileaks) has given freedom of speech campaigners an early present, as well as a big fat turkey for the US Government.
There are a number of implications beyond the immediate impact of this release of information. What started me off thinking was the confluence of three mostly unrelated events. Last Friday, Julian Assange gave a web chat via The Guardian’s website. It was a bit of a shambles, due to so many people logging on and posting comments, and so it ended up being postings of random comments from readers/fans/nutjobs with little feedback from JA himself. The second was a debate held a week or so ago about the ISPs being able to prioritise bandwidth for fee-paying customers (e.g. people like Sky or the BBC), which goes against the basic tenets of how the internet was constructed – i.e. all packets all treated equally with no deference or preference given based on originator or destination. Finally, the Government has announced that superfast broadband (ie 25mbs +) will be rolled out nationwide by 2015.
All three of these issues roll into a sort of messy conversation regarding digital democracy. The internet is to my mind one of the key upholders of democracy in the world. It allows the dissemination of information quickly, and allows knowledge to be exposed to those without it. With reference to Sir Francis Bacon, (English author, courtier and philosopher 1561 – 1626) Knowledge is Power. Evidence of this is the unseemly scramble by the US State Department to tighten up its security and have shamefaced meetings all over the world with allies it has been a bit rude about, but also the Chinese Government’s apparent attempt to take Google down with DDOS attacks and just blocking companies it doesn’t like at the great firewall of China.
Many countries treat internet connectivity as a right, either explicitly or implicitly similar to other utilities. This is a good thing for the above reason alone. It’s also a good reason for the provision of Public Services, and HM Government is to be applauded for trying to get UK citizens connected, whatever mechanics and arguments underneath. The implication of ISPs having packets rated on the ability to pay is to mess with the rights of the collective populace to have an open and free internet. I’m not normally an advocate of collectivism, but in the case of the internet, I’m a fully paid up member. These sort of controls are not a million miles away from the sorts of steps the Chinese Government has undertaken (ie WE decide what you can and cannot see) and potential endpoint for this is quite unpleasant.
Public provision of services via the internet is, as discussed on this blog before, allowing the cuts of the CSR to be softened, and driving innovation by reducing the transaction cost of service provision. To enable this, people need connectivity, and requires internet access to be free and open. Bridging the digital divide will be slowed by corporations buying up ‘outside lane’ connectivity, meaning that ‘inside lane’ services such as Public provision will be detrimentally affected, damaging the ability of people to use them, reducing the likely take up, meaning people will go back to their old ways of service take up, forcing up costs.
The security and sanctity of the internet is a conversation that should be had, and it needs to be pressed home that the implications of doing the opposite has damaging implications beyond me getting my iPlayer feed a bit quicker. Rubbish connections = rubbish service provision and that is not somewhere we need to go