A La Carte Internet, does that mean anything to you? Is the free and open Internet a thing of the past? When I asked Benedetta to write a story up about Net neutrality, I was mostly thinking about a potential two-speed Internet. What she discovered when researching the subject was that very few people cared about this. It is as if no one cared about their own right to free speech and free enterprise. Now what is happening and was revealed by the Wall Street Journal last night, is another kind of threat, where the Internet is directly manipulated by authoritarian Governments so as to show, or rather hide, certain websites to transform the free network which we know and love into some sort of A la Carte Internet. Much more of a threat than anything we had ever imagined.
To an extent, what we are witnessing in some Middle Eastern countries and namely Egypt, where already 500 websites have been blocked, is not really new. China banned Facebook nearly 10 years ago and believe it or not, not many voices have been heard to pinpoint the fact that the largest country in the world was walling off the free Internet and at the same time, freedom of speech. Instead, we hear songs of praise for the new Chinese behemoths whereas in fact as all Chinese Internet companies are vetted by the ever more powerful government, and have been able to grow because of steps that were taken to stifle competition in the country and namely preventing American companies from stepping in (let me tell you, they are not alone).
The irony is, as Sir Tim Berners-Lee rightfully pointed out not so long ago, that these very American Internet companies — even though we love them — might also a threat to the free Internet and certainly open innovation. Not because they are “wicked”, but because they are now part of a de facto monopoly. Voices are heard here and there about dismantling Google and other companies which made the Internet what it is today, not to mention Facebook.
An A La Carte Internet means no Internet at all
To sum up, there are three major threats surrounding the preservation — not to mention further development — of the free Internet : one is the oligopoly which concentrates so much of the power of the Internet in the hands of a few businesses and is fought — somewhat clumsily most of the time — by the European Union. A second threat is made of the so-called two-speed Internet advocated by some, namely in the US but also in Europe (therefore promising a “faster Internet” which is a way of slowing down the information superhighway we have grown to love and build upon throughout the years). A third one, probably the least auspicious, is made by censorship as shown in the following WSJ piece. It is really high time that Europeans — and people around the world — wake up and read Benedetta’s article if we do not want to be imposed this A la Carte Internet because an A la Carte Internet means no Internet at all. Read more