The Internet has always been a great enabler of technology. In itself, it provides a platform that has changed the way we live our lives. Companies, such as Amazon and Google have become the largest corporations in the world by taking advantage of the technology and bringing the outside world to our fingertips, providing a level of convenience that few could have imagined. The Internet has also revolutionised business, it allows companies to sell produce around the world, and to collaborate as never before, whether that is designing a new product in locations across the world, or just having virtual face-to-face meetings.
Many other technologies are also built on the Internet infrastructure, including some that have the potential to change other facets of our lives by as much as the Internet itself did originally. The Internet of Things is a great example of this type of technology. By combining sensors and the computing power of the cloud, we can have a much deeper level of insight into everything from the operation of our own bodies to how we can make businesses more efficient.
The development of Internet-based technologies will be incentivised by cheap and easy access to the technology. The more potential customers available, the more incentive there is for companies to develop solutions. For example, when more people got access to broadband internet, streaming services became viable and Netflix arrived, changing the way we watch TV.
Today, there is a war developing in the US over the future of the Internet. Currently there are three separate battles being fought over access, which could see many US citizens deprived of the open Internet. Firstly, and most often discussed is net neutrality. At the moment, Internet providers are banned from discriminating against traffic from different websites, so one provider can’t offer Netflix at a different speed from Hulu. The FCC is looking to drop that restriction and allow providers to favour certain sites with higher speeds. It is rumoured a vote on net neutrality could be held as early as December.
The second issue is that the FCC has proposed abandoning the functional test implemented in 2014 that required telecom providers to ensure that services wouldn’t be degraded if copper lines were turned off. With the legislation abandoned, it means that Telcos would be able to turn off copper lines without conducting an analysis of the effects on consumers.
The third issue concerns a scheme that was introduced to ensure that low-income Americans had access to cheap Internet. The Lifeline program subsidised the cost of broadband services and guaranteed that poorer Americans would have access to the program. The proposed FCC change cuts 70% of the providers from the program, while also restricting the available budget.
These three issues could see access to fast Internet curtailed for many Americans, and in the case of net neutrality, access to any sites outwith a purchased package become restricted or too slow to be worth visiting. The US seems to be turning its back on the philosophy that made the Internet what it is, easy access to the Internet and that all sites are equal and users choose the best one, not Internet providers.
The US was the country that first saw the potential of the Internet and has owned the first wave of innovation. Now, the second wave of innovation is upon us, and opportunities are opening up for services using the IoT, such as telemedicine. Will there be the same incentive for US companies to deliver solutions when many of the people that would benefit most are effectively banned from the medium?