Internet ramblings, revisited.

I have written about my opinion on the role of internet service providers and their network providers. With everyone having a blog in Europe concerned with the Jyllands-Posten crisis, I’ll beg to differ, refrain from providing a fragmented opinion piece (covering this issue in one weblog entry, or five for that matter, is not really doing it justice in my opinion), and I will, instead, revisit the much more seemingly boring and innocuous topic of internet access. Here we go.


Recently, AT&T and Verizon, faced with diminshing profits, reiterated their intention to create a two-tier internet where not just the end-user pays, but also corporations reaching customers through the ‘broadband’ trunk networks connecting regional internet hubs, pay as well for this access. As corporations are more likely to accept higher costs/(your favourite data unit here), that would indeed create a two-tier internet and, in my opinion, seriously harm the global internet ecosystem, esp. with regards to technological innovation, equal access to information, for smaller, innovative corporations and perhaps even free speech.

Today, Vint Cerf, co-designer of the TCP/IP protocol and one of the ‘net’s fathers, condemned these proposals and asked, if that’s what it takes, for legislation to stop network providers from proceeding with any such plans. Needless to say, I agree with him completely. As the internet becomes increasingly useful, network providers services, esp. the global ones, should fall under a legislative framework that ensures that a ‘public utility’ such as the internet is adequately, accessible, protected, robust etc. It’s not as if they don’t make enough money as it is. Everyone is already paying for access fees. ISPs do, local network providers do. By the Megabyte. As it always has been. As most traffic crosses global backbones, companies such as AT&T already get a fair amount of money for their services. What’s all this about then?

Well, I guess the VoIP boom, online gaming, file sharing, ubiquity of broadband connections and high costs of keeping up to speed with the requirements by researching or getting newer modems, routers, fibres etc., makes it increasingly expensive for these companies to keep making profits and meeting demands. So who’s able to pay for this? Consumers won’t, that’s for sure. Corporations making money off the net can. The paradox is that everyone already pays. And as we can’t raise prices, an oligopoly such as this can just agree to place tolls. Bus ‘tolls’ to access parts of the internet, either by end-users or providers is as ridiculous a proposition as AT&T chairman and chief executive’s Ed Whitacre statement to the Financial Times:

“I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network – obviously not the piece for the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in internet access fees, but for accessing the so-called internet cloud.”

Internet cloud. Go figure. Sadly, I guess it is one of those cases where legislation might be the only way to maintain sanity, and the net as a good, fair, innovative, and free, semi-chaotic space for interaction.

In related news, in several parts of the world, municipal free internet access is becoming reality. Well, for starters there are several places in the United States where that’s the case. In London, it has long been the case that the probability of someone living within range, with an open Wifi network that you could use and access the net for free would be high. Maybe because they were incompetent and completely ignored the fact that you could close it, or because they chose to leave it open for others to access the ‘net through their connection. And with the advent of 4 and 8Mbit ADSL connections in the UK these past few years, it was nothing but a treat. In Athens, the AWMN provided the platform for an interesting, community-based but largely useless, experiment. Other parts of Hellas had similar networks. In neighbouring F.Y.R.o.Macedonia, plans are underway for country-wide internet access (sure it’s a small country, but it’s still quite impressive). Today I found out [in hellenic] about FON, a project originating in Spain that aims to create a bottom-up network of users sharing their connections, with a prospect for getting money out of services by those that are not part of the network (i.e. those that do not provide network services themselves). I find the idea good, but not really well-thought out. It’s the details that matter and this one seems largely crude. For starters it’s up to the ISP to limit what you do with your connection — especially making money off it. Then it’s about what one can do with your connection and who is responsible in the end if a crime, or civil violation occurs through the internet. Is it the person using the service? In theory it should be, but why isn’t the individual paying for internet access and then opening it up to the world not responsible for doing so? And who can tell if that same person does not use her participation to the FON network and the possibility of someone else accessing the internet through her connection, to cover her illegal activities online? FON tries to deal with this by asking you to ‘contact your ISP’, but obviously they don’t know how clueless ISP employees are, at least in this country.

What’s good? Well, for starters it’s the prospect of having a global community based, cheap or free (read about it for more information) network of hotspots. I am not sure about how the company behind this is going to make money or keep maintaining the network services they will offer. (authentication etc.)Second, if you are in the US or Europe, you can get a Linksys router loaded with FON software for only €25. Not bad, although the router is not that new, and if you have an adequately fast broadband connection you might be interested. Unfortunately, it would be hard to provide decent wireless access with the miserable 384/128Kbit connections most common in Hellas. They are not really broadband, now, are they?

To end this posting, I read that by late December 2005, there were about 150K ADSL users in Hellas. That’s about three times as many as there were at the beginning of 2005, according to adslgr.com, but still pretty far from where it should be. And broadband is still the most expensive and least performing of that of any European country. Sad.

Update: Corrected the origin of the FON Project after Antonio informed me of my mistake (thank you!). I had confused the nationality of its founder, who is Argentinian, with the origin of the project itself.

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4 Responses to “Internet ramblings, revisited.”

  1. Antonio says:

    FON is a project originated in Spain. The mistake came from the guy who is from Argentina although he is living in Spain since some time. He founded Jazztel, left it on bankrupcy and founded FON to repeat the trick. There has been and there is a huge controversy surrounding FON. The question, as you perfectly state, is, the way FON is going to make money. And here comes the trick, Bills (one kind of FON users) will pay for getting wi-fi connection while Linus (another kind of FON users) will provide this connection in exchange for wi-fi connection wherever they go.
    The way I see it is Bills pay 40 € to FON, Linus pay 40 € to their ISP’s and FON does not provide almost anything, only some basic infrastructure under old wi-fii routers. It is also funny to see that relevant bloggers in Spain support this idea but digging on FON you may notice that some of them belong to FON advisory board. And to complete the equation, Google plus eBay plus Skype recently announced that they were going to invest 18 million € on FON. IMHO, I do not know for what and why. Knowing how most of these businesses work in Mediterranean area, I guess the reason but will see. One thing is for sure, there is going to be news on next months on these so we are not going to be bored for some time.
    PS: Just now I am paying 34,74 VAT included for a 2 Mbit ADSL connection, 300 Kbps upload with national calls included. And for a bit more, you may get 4 Mbps or 20 Mbps depending on the city and area you live. Regards.

  2. Antonio says:

    Martin’s blog in English:
    http://english.martinvarsavsky.net/

  3. cosmix says:

    Hey Antonio.

    Thank you very much for correcting me, with regards to where FON originates from. I was indeed confused by the fact that the guy was Argentinian.

    Interesting. The value for money you get is quite good, compared to that in Hellas. But compare this to what you can get with €30 in parts of France (24Mbits/1Mbit, free calls to landlines in France, TV) or the UK (£24, 24Mbits/1.3Mbit), and you’ll see that even that price is not as great as it could have been.

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