It’s the classic battle of big vs small, the single user vs the large company, grassroots vs the global corporate world, David vs Goliath; you get the idea. What’s interesting about this isn’t necessarily the issue at hand, but more that we have never had so many legislative checks in place to prevent this as we do now.
What on earth am I talking about? Well, to some extent, it’s the Internet, and to some extent it’s not. The Internet angle on this is that never before have so many people been able to reach so many other people in such a short period of time. This, among other things, means that ideas travel very fast. The concept of “information wants to be free” has never been more to the point than now. What I’m trying to describe isn’t unique for the world of Internet, there are other angles, but it’s very present and obvious when we talk about the Internet.
The very same companies that earns billions of dollars due to the very existence of Internet are also the same companies that seem most afraid of it. They’re afraid of it because they cannot control it, yet. If they could, they would. And they may very well end up tightening their grip to the point where even the politicians with their heads up their creative loophole will wake up and realize something isn’t quite right (maybe only due to the fact that people aren’t voting for them). The companies are Music Record companies, TV & Broadcasting companies, Telcos/Internet Service Providers, and the Hybrid companies like Google, Apple, and M. There are of course the odd hugely successful Internet players like Facebook too.
This is not a post about a global conspiracy, they’re too big to do anything about 🙂 This is a post about some things that don’t smell right.. and we’re all helping to stockpile the bad smelling goo.
[highlight]Record companies[/highlight]. For years, the Record companies have attempted to fight pirate copies of their products, and when the opportunity to see the light appeared, they tried even harder to put the brake on the inevitable. The first attempts at online media services were laughed at, it was almost impossible to get Record companies (and artists) to agree that online distribution was the way to go. When given the chance to actually make money on people downloading “MP3”, they actually seemed scared. Why? Millions of people were already doing it illegally, why wouldn’t they let people who wanted to pay for the music they downloaded get high-grade digital copies? Then they said it wouldn’t work. And when services like iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify actually did manage to prove the concept, the Record companies were already way behind in seeing the light. The music industry used to be a very slow and monolithic structure. All of a sudden, digital media and the Internet provided fast-as-light distribution and publishing of known and unknown artists. The point of the matter is that you don’t need a Record company to do it anymore. Sure, you need marketing, but the Record companies aren’t all that good at providing a unique value for the artists (not that they suck any more than any other form of advertising, but the consumers are so fed up with marketing that they aren’t paying as much attention anymore). So now the Record companies are throwing themselves at the opportunity to prove how “hi-tech” they are, and even the most stubborn corner of the music industry is trying to figure out a way to get onto Spotify, etc. Accessibility prevails. I’d put money on the fact that a lot of this would never have happened (at least not as fast as it did) if the not-so-legal digital distribution of music hadn’t become a serious (financial) issue for these people.
[highlight]TV & Broadcasting companies[/highlight]. These guys used to control, more or less, what you could get out of your viewing pleasures from your TV or Home Cinema equipment, or even at the Cinemas. Cable companies are still, in 2011, forcing us to buy their packaging of channels, and should you run across one that actually lets you pick each individual channel you actually want, it’s usually at a premium price. During the days of VHS (which is another example of how bad quality can prevail over a good idea like Betamax given enough politics and money), each viewing of a tape would degrade the quality of even purchased movies, not to mention rentals. The answer, we were told, was to be DVD; the answer to the DVD problems was to be HD-DVD or BluRay. When digital terrestrial and HD broadcasting began, we could once again witness the companies in charge setting the rules. Given the ability to actually send HQ and HD content, many channels (such as Disney Channel) chose to still compress their programming (or allowing it to be by their distribution partners) into a smear of artefacts with no apparent improvement over that previously used. If you want HD content, you have to pay a premium fee for it in most cases. Now we’re beginning to see something interesting happening even in this corner of the media industry. If someone puts their mind to it, you can pretty much get what you want when you want it, via the Internet. Broadcast TV is a dying concept as far as I’m concerned. These guys missed the boat a long time ago, and they’re struggling to catch up. We need public service broadcasting, and that may very well be what slows down the demise of “TV” as we know it.
[highlight]Telcos and ISPs[/highlight]. Telcos is an interesting subject. These Telecommunication companies are in many parts of the world still a monopoly. In deregulated markets, the previously state/government operated Telco is still a strong player, often enjoying advantages for which groundwork was laid down during their monopoly era. Regardless of geography, many if not all Telcos play a serious role in Internet infra-structure. Many of them are also ISPs. These guys have managed to create their own nightmare, and now they want us to accept their change of heart without a fight. First they want as many of us as possible to get upgraded either to optical fiber or mobile broadband, because it’s a lot cheaper for them than to provide access over traditional copper. Most fixed consumer end-points on the Internet are still copper, but very soon it all ends up on some optical distribution backbone. We all want Internet connectivity, and before long, it’ll be a severe handicap in some areas if you don’t have it. So the Telcos and ISPs are making some serious money on us. Sure, it’s an expensive infra-structure to maintain, and many upstarts take a long time to getting out of red fiscal numbers. Mass is the key of course. So now that billions people all over the world are using the Internet, provided by some Telco or ISP, services like Skype and other IP-telephony/VOIP providers should be doing even better, right? Only, the Telcos and ISPs have all of a sudden realized they may loose a big part of their telephony customers if consumers and companies can start using free or low-cost telephony via OTHER services than their own. So they begin limiting how you can use their services. All with the good memory of our beloved politicians.
[highlight]Afterwords.[/highlight] So why am I whining about something that you and probably everyone else already knows and obviously accepts? Well, because I don’t like it.
I don’t like the fact that we have tens of thousands of politicians in the EU, the US, and elsewhere with their sole job function being to keep an eye on deregulation and monopolies. People in the US often boldly states that monopolies is a thing of the past (yeah, like when AT&T was chunked into smaller and regionalized monopolies), the EU brags about the “free market”, “consumer protection”, and their big no-no to “trade obstacles”, and so on. Ever heard of companies like Google and Microsoft? Can you say Monopoly? I won’t mention Apple here, because I believe in free will, and the right to disagree with my opinion. And quite frankly, Apple users have chosen to become Apple users.
(Google is so clever that they managed to create a free OS based on many concepts already developed by the Linux crowd, they call it Android. Then they managed to get cell phone hardware manufacturers to provide the hardware for the OS, which is highly geared towards using Google’s services; which means Google can continue to do what they’ve always been doing, selling targeted ad content.)
What’s next? Will the Telcos/ISPs start telling you that you can’t set-up web servers or e-mail servers because they also provide those services? That’s what they’re doing with voice communications in case you didn’t read my ramblings above. They provide Internet data access, but you can’t use it to encapsulate “voice talk” like Skype or VOIP. You’re paying for the right to transfer data. Skype is data. VOIP is data. The politicians are either too stupid or too blind to do anything about this.
Many parts of society is having a hard time keeping up. It’s not just the companies I’ve talked about above that are running around in circles. Legislation in many countries forbid you to steal a box of cookies from a store (it’s called “theft”), but there’s no penalty whatsoever for companies or individuals who “accidentally” mis-configure an e-mail server that spews out a hundred thousand spam e-mail messages, as long as you can claim it wasn’t intentional. And the answer given from many politicians when you ask them why there’s no legislation in place for something as crucial as configuring Internet infra-structure is “We believe the market should regulate this.”
We are, of course, at a new set of crossroads every day. With “old style business” giving way for “new style business” in many areas, and a new generation of consumers and users of the Internet pushing the on-button of their new Internet gadget. They will, given enough momentum, have something to say about this, but many choices won’t be theirs to make. Just as we have left many parts of our planet in a chaotic mess for them to untangle, we have also shifted a big part of tomorrow’s Information Technology roadmap in a direction that is not easily undone.
If you manage to stay cool and hold on to your panties, ignoring three point five out of every four IT hypes, you may actually be in a position to choose the ones that appeal to you, after thinking about it; or you can go with the sheep, it’s a lot easier.
How about a nice game of Globopoly? Wake up and smell the maple nut crunch.