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What is the future of the Internet?

Net Neutrality and Proprietary Platforms
Could proprietary platforms and devices splinter the Internet?
Could proprietary platforms and devices splinter the Internet?

A battle has been brewing over the last couple of decades. That battle is being waged by advocates for and opponents to the concept of net neutrality. Net neutrality is an umbrella term that covers many concepts. Among those is the idea that everyone should be able to access everything on the Internet equally, no matter what service they use.

Some Internet service providers (ISPs) oppose this philosophy. It gives them less control over their own services. If an ISP could strike deals with content providers, it could give preferential treatment to its partners. Let's look at an example.

You've subscribed to ISP A. This ISP has struck a deal with Web site X. Under this agreement, ISP A's customers can visit Web site X using the fastest connections in ISP A's network. Web site Y is a competitor to Web site X. As part of the deal, ISP A slows down -- or perhaps even prevents -- traffic to Web site Y. Customers will tend to visit X over Y because they can get there faster. As a result, Web site Y suffers due to low user traffic.

If we extend the example, it gets even worse. Imagine an Internet in which the sites you can visit depend entirely upon which ISP you have. In some markets, you might not even have a choice of ISP -- one company may dominate the local market. That means you're stuck with whatever access the ISP decides to grant you. That's antithetical to the spirit of net neutrality.

Proprietary platforms may also be a threat to the Internet. Devices like video game consoles, smartphones and entertainment systems are attracting developers to create Internet applications. But while these applications give devices additional functionality, they also are creating divisions on the Internet. As each platform becomes more locked down, developers have to choose which platforms to support.

Ultimately, that means that the owners of these devices will each have a different experience when accessing the Internet. If this trend continues, it may become difficult to have a meaningful conversation about the Internet -- each person's perspective will be shaped by the devices he or she uses.

It may turn out that open platforms get the most support and outlast their proprietary counterparts. But that could be a long-term outcome. For the next several years, we'll likely see more locked-down systems accessing the Internet.

How might the Internet change us?