Should service providers be allowed to alter your web pages? The issue came up yet again when Toronto-based Rogers decided to insert messages containing sales messages in web pages they display on their customer’s browsers.
"We are concerned about these reports," Google said in an emailed statement to the Toronto Star.
"As a general principle, we believe that maintaining the Internet as a neutral platform means that carriers shouldn’t be able to interfere with Web content without users’ permission," the Google statement said. "We are in the process of contacting the relevant parties to bring this to a quick resolution."
Without a doubt, this is the sort of issue that begs for politicians to ensure there is network neutrality.
If service providers are allowed to display messages in web browsers, there are virtually unlimited things they can do to destroy other businesses. They could for example only show messages on Google search pages thereby giving users the incentive to switch search engines.
They could reformat pages in such a way that they look unattractive. An example is this graphic which shows Google’s home page adorned with an ugly message that has to be a turnoff to users.
This sort of activity by service providers is obviously one of the reasons that Google is bidding on 700 MHz spectrum and is further at odds with service providers.
One has to wonder if Google has to purchase spectrum and fiber in every country to ensure they can get their services to customers without interference.
And perhaps this is the most important point of all.
If the practice of altering web pages is not halted, a serious question needs to be raised. Can you start a successful internet business without interference from the service providers who you rely on to get your pages and other content to customers?
While a single uninvited message displayed by Rogers on web pages is not an issue to worry about yet, it can easily lead to disruption of web pages at the discretion of service providers.
Although I generally shy away from discussing religion and politics in this blog, imagine a service provider blocking web pages discussing religions that company heads do not approve of. Imagine a service provider looking to boost the chances of Democrats by blocking Republican websites.
Perhaps block is a strong word. What if they just slowed the sites so they were unusable? What if they displayed ugly messages at the top of them to discourage visiting of these sites?
These are very serious issues and as time goes on, service providers will feel more emboldened if there is not strong language coming from the US and the UN that blocking internet access will not be tolerated.
I realize this has serious repercussions for other countries – especially those with governments that currently block access to some sites but it seems to, me unfettered internet access is a right all human beings should have. The general news stations, sites and newspapers spends countless hours covering celebrities, sports figures and other topics which pale in comparison to the importance of this issue. Wouldn’t it be great if one or more of these networks devoted serious airtime to ensure Internet access remains available to all without interference from governments or service providers?
Perhaps we need a sexy moniker to get the news organizations all excited. If this is what it takes, let’s call this latest threat Net Neutrality 2.0.