Egypt demonstrates why the Internet is unreliable

On Thursday, January 27th at 22:34 UTC (about 4:30 PM, NY time) Egypt cut off outside access to the internet.  According to Renesys:

At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers.

Go and read the entire article.  Notice how the government asked and the ISP corporations complied.  This is in response to massive riots and uprisings in Cairo and other cities which may topple the government.   Think that the internet and new media alone can keep our government honest and doing the people’s work?  Think again.  Net Neutrality is a pipe dream and would do nothing to stop this type of censorship regardless.

A free press is one of the critical legs of our democracy.  Traditional broadcasting and media have been decimated in the last 15 years.  They are not without fault, cutting staff, politically slanted reporting, and profit-taking has done their part.  Fortunately, while staff have disappeared, the infrastructure (networks, transmitters, printing presses) remains in place.  They need to be revitalized and utilized.  There is a trend that I and others have noticed where small operators, perhaps one or two stations at most, are providing excellent service to their respective communities and running circles around other, group-owned stations in the same market.

Net Non-Neutrality


Internet Neutrality has become a big topic among some groups.  The fear is that some ISPs will filter internet users’ content, arbitrarily excluding whatever items they want without explanation or disclosure.   The temptation is too great for some ISPs (Verizon, Comcast, ATT, et. al.) not to block certain IP addresses, say for example, that of a competitor.

This amounts to corporate censorship.  If I have a Verizon account and I want to research other telephone companies, will I get accurate results?  What about some potential regulation change that the company didn’t want to have Congress pass?  How about adverse rulings about Verizon from the state public service commission?

In light of the NBC/Universal – Comcast deal announced last week, those concerns appear to carry even more weight.  If the internet is going to replace radio, TV, and newspapers as some suggest, access must be unfettered.  Any member of the public should be able to search through any ISP’s infrastructure and find all relevant data.

There have been FCC hearings on the matter, there is a NPRM,  a web site has been set up, and there is a wikipedia entry.  Recently, senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have come out against the idea of Net Neutrality, although I cannot imagine why.

I decided to do a little experiment myself.  At my official job, we have to ISPs, each on a separate T-1 line.  The first ISP is a local company, Best Web.  The other ISP is Verizon.  On the Best Web circuit, I did a Google search for some innocuous term, with safe search turned off.  I then used the same search terms on the Verizon circuit.  I was surprised to see different results for each search.  I did specific searches for items based on a geographical location, e.g. “widgets, Washington DC.”  In each case, the Verizon search results were missing some of the pages that the Best Web search results had.  This is going through Google.  I have Verizon at home also and noted the same differences there.

By this relatively brief research, it would seem that Verizon is filtering out some pages they don’t like.  It is difficult to say why, and if I didn’t go through the trouble of changing ISPs and repeating the search, I would have never known about it.  Clearly, most people don’t understand:

This is already happening!

This is one of the key problems with the “internet” future.  Access to data can be very easily controlled by programming firewalls and gateways at the IPS’s data center.  Users searching for items will never know what they are missing.  Having a diverse broadcasting industry has fostered freedom of the press and advanced our democracy.  Loosing that will put us on a slippery road to Corporatocracy if we are not already there.