In my Jan. 2009 column I encouraged readers to make opening the media in Canada their 2010 resolution. I asserted that 2010 would be a pivotal year for communities working to open communication in Canada and beyond. And so here we are in 2011, and it appears that indeed there is a growing community focused on openness, the open Internet at its core.
For example, Over 22,000 people and counting have signed the Stop The Meter petition, demonstrating widespread discontent with big telecom companies who are attempting to hogtie competing indie Internet service providers (ISPs) and make the Internet much more expensive to use.
Add to this the global movement to defend the open platform of information that is Wikileaks, and many other initiatives like the Mozilla Drumbeat project, and we can see a community gathering in favour of open communication, both domestically and internationally. While there's more work to be done in coalescing this community under a common frame, progress is being made.
Upping the price of being online
While the open media community will likely continue to gain momentum, I believe that this year innovation will take on an increasingly central role in defining the future of communications, and society in general.
Here's the situation:
1. Big Internet service providers (Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Videotron) plan to make Internet access more expensive by imposing usage-based billing (charging per byte). According to StopUBB.ca, this could cost Internet users $60 more per month starting this year. Indie ISP competitors to the big providers may also be forced to pass on this extra fee to their customers.
2. Many of these same providers continue to slow access to innovative online content and services. Most recently, Rogers customers reported problems accessing content after the company experimented with its traffic-slowing technology.
3. Major Internet service providers are investing in and experimenting with a new more controlled version of the Internet, delivered through TV and mobile devises. Bell is making access to dominant services like Facebook free on some smart phone packages while other small online services will come at a cost to users.
What this amounts to is a campaign to make the Internet more expensive and circumscribed while providers experiment with their "managed" TV/mobile Internet services. This is pure discrimination against the open Internet. The market is being structured so that either way, the big telecom companies win. They either successfully corral us into their TV version of the Internet, make the Internet more expensive and restricted, or both.
In its attempt to limit competition from the open Internet, Shaw is even calling for online video services like Netflix and GoogleTV to be subject to CRTC broadcast content regulations.
What does this have to do with innovation?
The main challenge with initiatives designed to preserve and build on the open Internet is that people take the Internet for granted. There is a real possibility that most Canadians will not realize that the open Internet is slowly being swept away from them. This is where online innovators play an essential role.
Big telecom companies will make deals with Facebook and other big players so that you'll find them on your Internet TV. However, you might have trouble finding the small independent online services like those that carry this column or the new crowd-sourced journalism project OpenFile, CBC Radio 3, and innovative services like Hootsuite. These projects and numerous others rely on the open platform that is the Internet to affordably experiment and reach audiences on a level playing field with other larger, more established players. It is no coincidence that these are the same projects inching in on the content and services offered by big telecom companies.
Innovation takes center stage
Canadians need to understand the value of online innovation. Innovators in Canada need to be, well, more innovative. They need to reach more people and more effectively demonstrate the importance of the open accessible Internet. They need to be de facto champions of openness -- just as many of their predecessors have been.
Canadians will step up to defend the open Internet more whole-heartedly when its value is more clearly demonstrated. Online innovators and the community that support them need to capture more audience from big media. Not only will this chip away at the profits and control wielded by big telecom companies, it will also make it much harder for these companies to discriminate against the open Internet.
If Canadians en mass are more deeply engaged by, and fall in love with innovative online services and content, they will be better equipped to defend the open Internet when needed. More importantly, Canadians will actually notice that "Internet" services provided on TV don't include their favorite online services.
Innovation isn't just an awesome thing to do; it has, and will increasingly continue to play an essential role in ensuring that the revolution unfolding in communication continues. Let's show what we can do with this collaborative tool we call the Internet.
Read more: Science + Tech