A worldwide net neutrality conspiracy theory runs into trouble
This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.
The flamboyant online activist group from Belgium, I Power, has been drawing a lot of attention for its recent video (above) proclaiming a worldwide conspiracy that would end the Internet as we know it.
The video, ‘2012: The Year the Internet Ends,’ has been watched nearly 1.5 million times since it was posted on YouTube June 1. In it, the group says over ominous music that it has high-level sources at significant Internet service providers around the globe who have revealed that they are jointly planning to unveil a new subscription-based pricing model in 2012. Under the plan, the group says, ISP users would get access to a few basic websites and be forced to pay extra to go anywhere else on the Internet.
I Power is using the plan to advocate for network neutrality -- rules to prevent Internet providers from discriminating against individual websites.
But there’s a major problem with I Power’s theory. If you’re going to have a worldwide conspiracy, then it would seem vital to include the world’s wealthiest country. And in the United States, the plan I Power is talking about would violate federal rules.
When it comes to how ISPs run their networks, ‘there are evil things happening,’ said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for advocacy group and net neutrality supporter Public Knowledge. ‘This just isn’t one of them.’
In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission issued a policy statement (PDF download) containing four principles for Internet access. The first one states that ‘consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.’
In simpler terms, it means ...
... that ISPs can’t block you from visiting any legal site. The exceptions are for blocking illegal content, such as three ISPs just agreed to do for child pornography.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean ISPs can’t slow access to certain sites. And that’s where the current debate over net neutrality has been raging in Washington (the White House opposes such restrictions).
Some lawmakers, public interest groups and Internet companies, including Google, want the FCC or Congress to add a fifth principle preventing discrimination against specific websites. They fear that Internet service providers will try to force websites to pay for faster delivery to customers. The sites that don’t would get stuck in the slow lane of the Internet superhighway.
‘The four principles address blocking pretty clearly,’ said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, another public interest group pushing for net neutrality rules. ‘But they don’t necessarily address degradation or discrimination.’
That’s evident in the dispute going on now with Comcast, which is accused of blocking access by some customers to the BitTorrent file-sharing program. The FCC is investigating. But it’s interesting to note Comcast’s defense so far. The company denies it was blocking access to BitTorrent (because that’s clearly not allowed under the FCC’s rules). Instead, Comcast said, it was only slowing the access.
Reese Leysen, a spokesman for I Power, told me that he wasn’t aware of the FCC rules and that his group wasn’t sure exactly how the ISPs planned to pull off the alleged new subscription-based model.
‘We don’t know the specifics ourselves yet, but we’re definitely working to find it out,’ he said. ‘Let’s hope the FCC would stop that sort of thing in the U.S.’
The video quickly shot up the rankings on Digg, but also sparked a lot of comments critical of the plot and the unnamed sourcing. Based on those responses, Digg now warns that the video may be inaccurate.
Net neutrality advocates in Washington, who are extremely fearful of what the cable and phone companies may be planning, still expressed doubts about I Power’s allegations. ‘Do they also think that Fidel Castro killed John Kennedy?’ Brodsky wondered.
I Power posted a new video Sunday saying it had confirmation of the 2012 plan from sources inside two Canadian telecommunications companies, Bell Canada and Telus. But those claims are somewhat flimsy. I Power links to a Telus Web page listing dozens of websites that users can only access on a ‘pay-per-use’ basis. But following the link backward to Telus’ wireless web offerings, you find that the company has two Web packages -- one with unlimited web surfing and one where you pay 5 cents every time you visit any site. And obviously, Canada is not part of the United States.
I Power is known for outrageous activities. Earlier this year, the group drew more attention when one of its members, Tania Derveaux, posted a nearly naked picture of herself and offered to ‘make love with every virgin who defends the Internet’ by supporting Net Neutrality.
But Leysen said the Internet conspiracy video was not a stunt.
‘Sometimes we do stunts to get people’s attention. But when we do a stunt ... it always has a humorous part,’ he said. ‘In this case, we’re not doing that at all.’
We may have to wait until 2012 to find out for sure.
-- Jim Puzzanghera
Puzzanghera, a Times staff writer, covers tech and media policy from Washington