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FCC the net
There has been outrage following the announcement that the FCC are considering introducing internet ‘fast lanes,’ a move which violates the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally, and distinctly opposes the promises Obama made when he was a presidential candidate. Could this be the end of the open and equal internet as we know it? If access and speed come under the control of the highest bidder, can we guarantee free speech and continued innovation? Without neutrality, large organisations and government have the power to control what you see, how you see it and how fast it arrives to you.
Netflix have a large stake in the net neutrality argument, as the content provider commands an especially large share of user bandwidth in the US. They have recently reached a deal with Comcast for improved internet speeds, ensuring a smooth stream of House of Cards for avid fans. But, by requiring content providers to pay premiums for internet fast-lanes, ISPs are creating an unlevel playing field that will discourage smaller and emerging content-creators. For those companies that do pay ISPs for faster connection speeds, the premium price for their content is more likely to fuel piracy, ultimately hurting content creators just as much as users.
In the dark underbelly of the internet, a potential successor to the black-market website Silk Road has emerged from the Toronto Bitcoin hackathon. The website has been renamed ‘OpenBazaar’ from the not-entirely-innocent-sounding ‘DarkMarket’, and intends to provide an anonymous, decentralised platform for illicit trading using the anonymous bitcoin currency, completely bypassing the established trading laws and taxes imposed by global governments and financial institutions. Unlike Silk Road, which came to a dramatic end after its owner was arrested in 2013, OpenBazaar is published on Github as open-source and built around a fully peer-to-peer architecture that is similar to BitTorrent distribution, meaning there is no central part of the marketplace or singular weakness for authorities to take down.
The creators, Cody Wilson and Amir Taaki, have a history of attempting to subvert and disrupt established institutions. Wilson became notorious in 2013 as the creator of the world’s first functioning 3d-printed firearm, while both are working on Dark Wallet, an ultra-anonymous digital wallet app.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (better known as MIT) has announced an initiative to give every undergraduate $100 worth of bitcoin. The idea originates from two students who state that: “Giving students access to cryptocurrencies is analogous to providing them with internet access at the dawn of the internet era.” Encouraging the use of bitcoin in one of the most concentrated communities of coders and engineers in the world may help build a legitimate infrastructure for the alternative currency.
Organisations remain extremely sceptical about bitcoin, concerned about the legitimacy and longevity of the cryptocurrency and its ongoing use by illicit enterprises (particularly after the dramatic implosion of the largest bitcoin exchange, Mt.Gox). But with the support of MIT (and Yelp) we may finally see it break into the mainstream.
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