Having spent three decades on the Internet as a nerdy youngster, a telco manager and then a CDN company founder, I realised that today we are about to lose our global Internet and re-enter the age of national networks that we seemed to leave behind in 80s. What happened to the worldwide web of our youthood and why should we stay vocal to keep its freedom and comfort? Let’s have a look at the Internet evolution together and try to understand what we can do.
The Internet as a Product of Globalisation
The Internet has become one of the first exclusively global products of the new globalized world. The globality, the chance to stay connected to information or people from any country on the network, was the power that helped the Internet to go viral. National computer networks, like Minitel covering all France, that existed before 90s lost that battle to the Internet because it was global.
The Rise of Open Source
Freedom of the Internet gave birth to the philosophy of open source software, when everyone could contribute and benefit from the contributions made by others. Giant IT companies realized the threat coming from the open source ideology and even tried to use anti-communist propaganda to compromise it. With time their rhetorics changed, however, this struggle never stopped. Probably this is it, what lies behind Microsoft’s purchase of Github, the key infrastructure element used by many open source contributors.
The Uncensored Epoch of 90s
In its early years the Internet was a free space with almost zero state regulation. The users enjoyed the good and the bad of this ‘informational Klondike’, expressing politically incorrect ideas, sharing copyrighted content without royalty payments, and watching uncensored adult videos. The state officials demonstrated no interest in controlling this mess. China stood aside from the common trend as it took steps to control Internet usage. In 1998 the Communist Party of China announced the launch of its Golden Shield Project, also known as ‘the Great Firewall of China’, preventing its citizens from accessing porn hubs and other ineligible information.
Early 2000s: The Age of Net Neutrality
For the rest of the world the freedom of the Internet was not so much of a concern. Moreover, in 2003 Net Neutrality concept born in the US prescribed equal treatment to all the data on the Internet, adjusting the telegraphy rules that existed in the XIX century to modern challenges. For example, back then, it was forbidden to prioritize the delivery of telegraphic messages based on their addressees and content. In early 2000s, a very similar ‘code of transmission’ was developed for Internet data.
Late 2000s: Anti-Piracy Movement
The growing number of Internet users made major market players take this large audience into account. Restricting access to certain types of content and information became unavoidable. Thus, the right holders of the premium music content were the first to start the notorious war against Internet piracy. In 2006–2007 the Internet buzzed around the AllofMP3.com scandal, a Russia-based website that was the second popular music resource after Apple iTunes with 5x lower pricing for users. The closing of AllofMP3.com in 2007 set a new milestone in the history of anti-piracy movement.
2010s: Neighbours of The Global Village Closing Doors
In 2000s the Internet was global, and everyone followed the same rules of the game, uninterrupted by any governmental regulations, with rare exceptions. Since then the pendulum of globalisation has swung back to the ideology of locality. The global village seems to be falling to local pieces. It’s not just about the Internet. We are witnessing a new wave of customs restrictions, fees and sanctions between several blocks of countries. The world has become multi-polar, and every “pole” of it has started applying its legislation to its part of the Internet, sometimes forgetting that the worldwide web also exists beyond national borders. Will the global Internet, once opened to everyone, fall victim to deglobalisation?
The US after Non Net Neutrality
It may look as fantastic as Apocalypse, however, the Internet may literally disappear as a global thing downgrading to local branches functioning in accordance to newly established local laws. The bad news is that these laws have already become effective. Thus, the US officially switched from net neutrality to non net neutrality to please their telecommunications lobby. Now American ISPs can compete not just for the best quality of their services but also for the top content acquiring content generators (for example, Comcast have already bought NBC and is about to purchase Fox, and Yahoo is now a Verizon company). The result might be disappointing for end users, as the American part of the Internet can end up falling to 3–4 pieces in accordance with the number of major providers. If this trend persists, two Americans connected to different ISPs won’t be able to exchange video files anymore. Non net neutrality looked good to companies but appeared to be not that good for end users.
The EU after GDPR
What about Europe? Well, we have no doubt that the European Commission meant better privacy for EU citizens when they introduced GDPR. Every person residing in the European union should get control on their data — doesn’t it sound great? Yes, but to certain extent, as EU-based individuals now don’t just own their PPI, but also the preferences they set. The representatives of any digital service should be able to delete or make available this information to its owner at anytime. Many businesses choose to reduce the number and the volume of user preferences they store — isn’t it the end of personalisation that we have just welcomed? Can a Big Data project be legal in today’s EU? Will there be many entrepreneurs eager to start new projects with so many compliance restrictions at the start and so high potential money risks related to GDPR infringements? Many startups, formally not compliant with GDPR, have already chosen geofencing for EU to avoid the related issues. So the new standards of privacy obviously have the dark side. More privacy leads to more isolation. There’s one more concern related to simple IP-based geoblocking. What if a traveling EU citizen signs up on a new cool service or downloads a useful app developed by a local non-compliant vendor? Will this result in more ‘unaware, but guilty’ cases? Will the Internet remain a good environment to start new projects?
Russia after Yarovaya law
Back in 2016 LinkedIn was blocked in Russia as this social network was unable to guarantee that ‘the personal information of Russian citizens will be stored on the territory of the Russian Federation’ (and probably there’s no company that can 100% guarantee this in today’s cloud-based Internet where data backups are stored in multiple data centers). Starting from July 2018 all the internet companies in Russia should record and store nearly every ‘virtual step’ of their users on the Internet. Storing great volumes of data, mostly useless and almost never touched, will result in higher expenses, not even mentioning negative environmental impact. According to the pessimistic forecasts, Internet access pricing will rocket for the local users, and content providers will avoid placing servers in Russia (many of them used to do so to easily serve the users based in EU and CIS countries).
Will the future look dark?
Non net neutrality, GDPR and Yarovaya law, like the great firewall of China, have marked the beginning of a new era of multiple ‘local Internets’ with local regulation. It may sound good to local governments and business elites due to better control over what’s happening within the national or regional borders. However, this conservative approach looks like a slogan ‘let’s ride our domestic horses’ sounding weird in the world that has already invented autonomous cars. With the loss of our global Internet we’ll lose not just abstract globality, we’ll also lose compatibility that is always lost with isolation. For the users it will result in poor quality of service and unfriendly attitude. For the IT community it will mean slower progress in both technology and business development. We may just hope that the world leaders will get back to constructive dialogue and have many of the new laws reasonably amended with the help of technical advisors, IT activists and passionate users of the global Internet.
Yaroslav Gorodetsky, CDNvideo CEO