The End of The Internet...
As We Know It
By Phil Braham
The Internet as we know it is doomed. The forum where alternative, unorthodox and potentially dangerous ideas can be freely discussed is unlikely to be around for much longer.
One of the huge advantages of the Internet is its anarchic nature: anyone with something to say can say it to anyone with a computer and a phone line. Ideas that previously were held only by isolated pockets of individuals can now be consolidated - the old 'divide and rule' method of killing off unapproved ideas is beginning to crumble. Alternative ideas about medicine, physics, extraterrestals and even more bizarre attitudes can be freely discussed. Big business and governments are fighting back, however. Their vehicle is the new Internet - Internet II and the way they will get it accepted is to use techniques that have worked since the time of the Roman Emperors.
Video and live sport on demand, on-line shopping, download the latest CDs, play virtual reality games against opponents anywhere in the world. Is this what you want from the internet? Well, within a few years you may get it courtesy of cable and Internet II. However, if you want to visit the alt.conspiracy newsgroup or read about alternative cancer treatments on www.livelinks/sumeria you may be disappointed.
At present, the internet is owned by no individual person or corporation. It is a simply a series of wires connected together such that anyone with the correct resources can attach to it. Most people access the internet by modems connected through ISPs (Internet Service Providers). These ISPs vary from small one-man-and-a-computer operations, to multi-million dollar corporations such as America On Line (AOL) and Compuserve. However, even the big players are subject to the same rules as the small concerns. Any ISP can host web sites and news groups which are then available to all. If your ISP doesn't provide access to a particular newsgroup, you can change your ISP.
The Internet, in its current form, will be unable to satisfy the demand for the next generation of applications. A new, more efficient protocol is required - one specifically designed with cable in mind. Thus Internet II is being planned. When you hook up to Ted Turner's Time Warner video, Rupert Murdoch's Foxtel or any of the independent cable providers - who take their feed off the main suppliers - you will be offered video on demand and other enticers via Internet II. Internet II, however, will be owned and operated by a few large corporations. There is no room for the independent ISP here - the cable companies put the system in and they will be unwilling to let other people muscle in on their act.
Time Warner, for example, is developing a system called the Pegasus Program. This is to be developed in two phases:
Phase 1.0: Broadcast Applications, in which the architecture shall support the delivery of broadcast analog and broadcast digital programs and, in conjunction with real-time, two-way data communications, support the broadcast downloading of interactive applications to the set-top terminal; and
Phase 2.0: On-Demand Applications, in which the architecture shall support all capabilities of Phase 1, plus on-demand applications and services requiring a high-bandwidth, dedicated, video stream.
The specifications for Pegasus, and other similar systems, allow for the seamless interface to the Internet. However, if cable is being supplied by a handful of providers, what happens to the numerous ISPs? And if there are no independent ISPs, who will host the newsgroups and web pages? Well, no doubt the new providers will have provision to host newsgroups and for individuals and companies to create their own web sites, although no major corporation will be willing to host newsgroups or web sites that could contain contentious material. Users will be able to access sites hosted by the small number of ISPs left in areas where cable is not available, and no doubt companies will set up specifically to host web pages and news groups that are not allowed on the major systems. But then how long before protocols are introduced that will not allow access outside the main cable system? There are a number of reasons that could be given for justifying this: it will allow faster access, it will allow propriety protocols to be used and it will prevent children accidentally coming across pornographic or other 'undesirable' material. Of course, it will also prevent adults from accessing 'undesirable' material.
We have seen numerous instances of technology that is diverse in its early stages but then narrows down to a single option, eventually controlled by a few major corporations. Examples of this are the automobile, which in its early stages had a range of different motive powers (steam, battery, internal combustion) , 3 or 4 wheels, tiller or wheel steering etc, but then only one type survived ("You can have any colour you want as long as it's black"). The early stages of the computer industry reflect this as well: for example the Amiga was a better designed system then the IBM PC which is now prevalent. What survives is not necessarily the best. In the case of the Internet, governments and many organisations view the Internet as a thorn in the side, and although the advantages of the Internet are obvious to them, they would like nothing better than to see the whole network controlled by bodies who would toe a line amenable to the government.
If you think there will be public outcry against the taking over of the internet by a few corporations, than history tends to show otherwise. With a choice between the anarchic Internet I and an Internet II offering live sports, videos and, no doubt, live sex, the public will be spurred into new heights of apathy.

A Rebuttal by James Neff

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