Recently Sky Network Television Ltd announced their plans of partnering with some New Zealand-based ISPs to distribute content for its new service iSky free of charge ("unmetered") to their customers. Like so many things on the Internet, free is good - unless it has the potential to undermine the basic principle of equal access to information to everyone.
The following is a guest post by Ludwig Wendzich on this topic:
The great thing about the Internet is that anyone with access to the network can access any public content available through these connections. The independent content producer, the home movie dad and the giant media moguls are all on a level playing field and the consumer, you, have the option to decide which content they want to consume, as long as you have a working Internet connection and haven't run through your data cap yet.
Net neutrality is the idea that access to the Internet means access to the whole Internet at the same price. The product which telcos sell are bits, or data transfer. They can charge you a $80 for 40GB of data transfer at 256kpbs, or offer you different packages, but their product is still data transfer.
What data you choose to download is up to you. Telcos should have no business in deciding which content you should or shouldn't have access to.
Now we have to defend our rights against some New Zealand telcos placing a bias towards the consumption of certain types of content -- more specifically, a bias toward the content produced by media giants with enough cash to subsidize the cost of data transfer.
ISP Orcon announced the O-Zone where they allow free access to a number of large websites, including TVNZ. Telecom New Zealand announced their partnership with TiVO giving customers unmetered access to on demand TiVO content. And now a number of ISPs (including Vodafone, Orcon, Slingshot, farmside, Woosh and Xnet) have announced a partnership with SKY which allows SKY subscribers to have unmetered access to on demand SKY content on their computers over the Internet.
On the surface this seems like a great deal and that's exactly what the telcos want you to think. Vodafone spokesman, Paul Brislen, has said (on their company twitter account) that "this is nothing more than Sky saying 'you can watch the content you've paid for on TV or on PC' and that's it". But this simply isn't true. The distinction needs to be made between the two services:
1. Access to on demand SKY content
2. Data transfer from the telcos
Paying for content online doesn't mean you have paid for the delivery. These are separate services. When you buy a book at Amazon you still have to pay for postage. Buying a movie from iTunes doesn't mean that you no longer have to pay for the data transfer. It uses just the basic form of content - bits - to transfer this iTunes movie as downloading the same movie from torrents.
The cost of the service doesn't negate the cost of the data transfer which means that the telcos here have effectively made the iSKY service an infinitely cheaper entertainment service than anything else online (except for TVNZ on Orcon). That's because they have allowed SKYTV to pay for those data transfer charges instead of passing them on to their own customers, you.
This seems very good for us now, no data charges for TVNZ (on Orcon), no data charges for SKYTV (on selected providers) if we already subscribe to SKY, and no data charges for on demand TiVO content (on Telecom.) Not paying for something must be good, right?
That's a shortsighted view because it will lead to us ending up with the Internet being populated by the media giants, who can afford to strike these data transfer deals with the telcos to allow their content to be accessed for free. And the rest of us, who can't afford to pay for everyone else's data transfer of our content are at a huge disadvantage with consumers having to pay for something they are used to having paid on their behalf, making them less likely to access our, now more expensive, content.
When I suggested to Vodafone that they are creating an Internet that excludes the little man, they responded with "there is nothing to stop you doing any of this - that's absolutely untrue", suggesting that if I wanted to be on a level playing field with the big boys I could also strike a deal with Vodafone that would have them serve my content for free. I asked how much this would cost and it turns out that Vodafone "have no idea how much [I'd] pay - that's a commercial negotiation [I'd] have to engage in, just as Sky has."
Think for a minute what this means. New startups could not exist. Creating a new Internet web property would cost so much to the new entrant, that they would cease to exist because they do not have enough money to subsidize everyone's access to their websites.
Every single web property only exists because the Internet is a neutral platform. Anyone can put something online, and anyone else with an Internet connection, can access that content at the same cost as consuming any other content (of the same file size) on the Internet.
The great thing about the Internet is that it is neutral. Let's not give control of the Internet to the conglomerates, the media companies or even the telcos. Telcos should be bit movers, not content providers.
We protested against Section 92a (#s92a) and won. Child pornography and piracy were used as a smokescreen to confuse the issues but we saw through it. Now you are being distracted by free access to on demand video content. Just because the telcos handicap us with low data caps at ridiculous prices doesn't mean we should fall for this.
Instead, we should stand strong behind this issue, our freedom of choice, and argue that if the telcos are so interested in the customers, as Vodafone claims on their twitter account (http://twitter.com/vodafoneNZ/status/25849971917), then they would increase caps and drop prices instead of making content choices on our behalf.
Access to the whole web is being restricted (by low data caps and high prices) and telcos want you to believe you are better off because access to certain content is now free. This is simply not true and New Zealanders would be shooting themselves in the foot if they accept this as Internet will go the way of radio -- everyone will have access to the available content for free, but the available content will be severely limited to those who have the financial means to afford to distribute it.
Ludwig Wendzich is a 19 year-old web and technology enthusiast who is currently studying Design at AUT. He's been involved in the world of web design from a very young age and has been running Barcamp Auckland, a homegrown gathering of technologists from around New Zealand, since 2007. His personal website is http://ludwignz.com and you can follow him on Twitter @ludwigw.
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