With the exception of the 2015 Net Neutrality ruling by the FCC, the Internet has largely been left alone by the most powerful government on the planet. This “light touch” regulation has resulted in industry growth that is virtually unmatched in human history. From AOL, to DSL modems, to fiber optic cable, to 3, 4, and 5G phones, to near ubiquitous Wi-Fi, delivering the Internet to the masses is a story of ever increasing options, exponentially better speeds, and decreasing prices. The logical next step is worldwide Internet connection to everyone on the planet for free. However, the 2015 Net Neutrality ruling may have empowered the largest government in the world to slow, and possibly stop, the inevitable future of free Internet access to the world.
How Is Free Internet Access Possible?
The idea of free or low cost Internet being broadcast to the world has been in development by several people and companies for years. Internet giant Facebook has plans in the works. Google has plans as well. A little known company based in New York, called the Media Development Investment Fund, is attempting to throw their hat in the ring by creating something called the Outernet. An alternative to the Internet that’ll broadcast for free all around the world from cube satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit.
Perhaps of most interest to libertarians is Nexus Earth. Nexus is a crypto currency that has teamed up with Vector Space Systems to launch cube satellites into low Earth orbit in order to broadcast their blockchain to the world for free. The development team of Nexus sees this as a step towards a fully decentralized and free (meaning both no cost to the user and free from government censorship and control) Internet for the world.
Basically, all these organizations are attempting to beam connectivity down from the sky rather than using expensive infrastructure down on Earth. As these sky-based technologies become cheaper, and as more and more competition enter this market, it’s just a matter of time before the price is driven down to zero for anyone, anywhere to access the Internet.
Like all advancing technologies, this will not go from 0-60 overnight. There will be incremental advancements. The current problem with connecting to the Internet from the sky is that it is extremely expensive to send access to the entire Internet this way. Not only do you have to put hundreds of cube satellites in orbit to have a functioning and fast network, but you have to send data to these satellites from the ground.
Thankfully, launching these cube satellites is becoming cheaper and cheaper. It’s building the means of sending Internet data to the cube satellites that is going to be one of the biggest (non-regulatory) stumbling blocks. Until it becomes cost effective to access the entire Internet this way, companies are experimenting by only sending specific websites and applications directly to the user.
How Will Net Neutrality Stop Free Internet Access?
As we’ve heard over and over again, Net Neutrality is in place to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISP) from prioritizing data. Under this regulation, your ISP can’t decide to block you from accessing a certain website and they can’t send data from one website at faster rate than another website. The idea is to prevent censorship and to prevent an ISP from holding certain websites hostage unless they (or you) pay an extra fee.
I’m not going to get into these specific concerns here, as they’ve been addressed thoroughly elsewhere and this post is focusing on a different aspect of the debate. But if you’re interested in hearing a quick, funny take down of these concerns you can check out Why John Oliver is Wrong about Net Neutrality by Andrew Heaton via Reason TV.
If the idea of Net Neutrality is to make sure all ISP’s give full access to all of the Internet, then free Internet beaming down from satellites will be almost impossible to develop. Net Neutrality will effectively make it illegal for a company to beam free Internet down from satellites unless they can guarantee that the people receiving the Internet will get ALL of the Internet. In fact, this has already happened.
Facebook has been attempting to beam free Internet to some of the poorest regions of the world. Regions that have no access to the Internet. They are doing this by using a combination of drones and satellites to beam down a limited number of useful websites. They call it Free Basics. So is Facebook being heralded as an important leader in bringing about much needed Internet access to the third world?
They are not. According to this Guardian article, Facebook Lures Africa with Free Internet – But What is the Hidden Cost?, there is no shortage of outrage over Facebook not being able to connect the world’s poorest people to the entire Internet for free. In fact, they aren’t even allowed to offer their Free Basics program in India. From the article:
It is not the first time Facebook has faced challenges to its initiative. In India, Free Basics was effectively banned after a groundswell of support for net neutrality – a principle affirming that what you look at, who you talk to and what you read is ultimately determined by you, not a business.
That’s right. Net Neutrality was used by the Indian government as an excuse to stop their people from accessing free Internet services.
Later in the article, this tidbit also stood out:
In April, Reuters revealed that Free Basics had been blocked by Egypt’s increasingly oppressive government after Facebook refused to let it snoop on users.
Imagine that, governments are pushing back against free Internet access because it’s harder to spy on you.
The Future of Free Internet Access
Currently, all major ISP’s support Net Neutrality. Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have all issued statements of support. Yes, they do push back on some of the regulations they face from the FCC, but when it comes to delivering content to their customers, they all wholeheartedly support the idea that all ISP’s should be forced to deliver all of the Internet to their customers. If I were them, I would too!
They know more than anyone that their business model will soon be obsolete. It’s only a matter of time. Who in their right mind would deal with these companies, and pay for their services, if they could get free Internet access from satellites? It’s not just ISP’s who are scared. You’d be hard-pressed to find any Internet giant that opposes Net Neutrality. Again, I would support it too if I were in their shoes!
These businesses will be disrupted as well by free Internet access. Companies could launch their own satellites and beam down their own service for streaming TV shows and movies. Their customers wouldn’t need an ISP, they’ll just need a device that is Wi-Fi enabled. Social media sites, email companies, shopping sites, anyone could do this. And their customers wouldn’t be confined to any certain geographical region, either. The entire world would have access to their sites without having to pay for an ISP first.
This is precisely what Nexus Earth, the crypto currency I mentioned earlier, is attempting to do with their blockchain. They have the ambitious plan of giving the entire world free access to their crypto currency. No Internet connection required. Just a Wi-Fi enabled device.
As more and more companies utilize this business model, innovation will happen quickly. This will bring down costs and eventually the entire Internet will be accessible to the entire world for free.
Plenty of billionaires and billion-dollar companies stand to lose money and market share from such a truly free and open decentralized Internet. It’s no wonder they all support Net Neutrality. Think about it this way, when’s the last time a group of billionaires got together with the government to conspire to help you out at their personal expense?