I recently read an advertisement in the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail placed by the Taxi Commission of Vancouver. The content took the form of a rant against the use of Uber the online taxi alternative now spreading like wildfire across cities in North America.
Regardless of efficacy and details, the intent of the tirade was the maintenance of a profitable over-priced monopoly service controlled and regulated by municipal politicians.
It seems Monopolies or Oligopolies, when tightly controlled by government, are deemed fit for the public good but when uncontrolled, suddenly change their spots and become villains of the peace.
But my rant du jour this week is not about monopolies or oligopolies, although I am sorely tempted to poke fun at the duplicity, of our thinking. Rather it is about destructive technology that is changing our way of life, leaving politicians and regulators trying to catch a train that has already left the station.
It would seem we in the Western World are about to witness the start of ‘the mother of all wars’ to be waged over regulation of the Internet. This titanic struggle has been looming ever since 9/11 but has gained immediate momentum by the introduction of Netflix and other online content that is challenging the oligopolies granted by governments to cable companies and broadcasters.
The term Net Neutrality is a bunch of gobbledygook, something that was the dream of those wonderful geeks that invented the concept of The World Wide Web. Stripped of the hyperbole, what the internet has done, has been to throw down the gauntlet to the rulers (the Elite) that the ruled, can, and will, circumvent their authority when it suits them. To the elite this is a form of anarchy.
Worse than deemed anarchy is the undeniable fact that the internet has created a system that is, for the most part, misunderstood by rulers and regulators leaving them utterly bewildered as to what to do about their loss of power and influence.
The Vancouver Taxi situation is typical. The regulators know that enterprising young millennial(s) are using the net to catch a ride close to a desired location at a fraction of the cost of a cab ride.
But what to do about it? The commission can, and does, cajole and threaten users, but without the approval of the gate-keepers (ISPs) they are powerless to stop the practice. Worse by trying to stop users they risk empowering a counter-culture that will encourage even greater usage.
This is what happened with the music recording industry, and is about to happen with online streaming. For instance users of Netflix in Canada and the UK can circumvent delays, dictated by regulators to protect their oligopolies, by using free software available on the net. Since users of these programs are not pirating signals the originator has no interest in helping the gate keepers to keep control of the situation.
This kind of practice is considered by the elite as theft or piracy that implies illegality. I am not so sure this explanation fits all the hundreds of applications that are available, nor does it explain the real reasons why regulation is deemed to be so vital.
Somehow the words quality and price are nearly always missing in the argument for greater control and outright regulation. Instead we are bombarded with Fear messaging. Fear, if we digress from the norm the sky will fall. Fear if we do not listen to the elite we will pay a terrible price. We cannot, it would seem engage in rational discussion about the internet without the introduction of fear.
The reasons for this fear mongering, is the discovery, following the tragedy of 9/11, that it is a lot easier to govern by fear than by rational debate of the issues. This is a lot like a repeat of the practice of the Catholic Church that ruled by fear of eternal damnation for nearly two thousand years. The difference, is this case, is that because of the internet the rulers are powerless to stop innovation that is driving the bus.
So war is coming and it will be long and drawn out with many battles and much confusion.