Thursday, January 14, 2010

Savita Bhabi, Google, China and India: impact on Net Neutrality

Media and Digerati are abuzz about Google’s spat with Chinese authority over web censorship and Google’s threat to pull out of China. Reuters reports “The press is abuzz this morning over the news that Google (GOOG) could pull out of China over a hacking attempt. The Wall Street Journal explains that the large-scale cyber attack “has been under way for weeks.” The paper continues, “Google said it suffered a ‘highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China’ in mid-December, which it said resulted in ‘the theft of intellectual property.’

While this is happening, the media and bloggers in India are also abuzz on censorship in their backyard: banning online cartoon series, Savita Bhabhi, depicting a sexy sari-clad “porn star” by the Indian Government. The series is now hosted from overseas online on kirtu.com.
Mitra Kalita’s Wall Street Journal article “Savita Bhabhi: A (Sex) Symbol of Free Speech?” illustrates the subtleties in the censorship by China and the random censorship practiced in India.

While google’s threat to withdraw from China may just be posturing, it certainly brings to mind Net Neutrality. The technologist in me has begun musing about Net Neutrality this for a while.

The principle says that that if a given user pays for a certain level of Internet access, and another user pays for a given level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at the subscribed level of access.
There is no direct correlation between censorship and Net Neutrality. However, if the net is not neutral, it will preclude censorship in many forms:

* It will be easier for governments and others to target individual ISPs and Net Service providers, block content or degrade network performance
* Corporations and organizations are increasingly using open internet backbone for corporate needs including data and voice communication requirements. In a scenario of non-net-neutrality, if a company, say XYZ Corp uses a certain service provider and that ISP or service provider is targeted by censors in a country where XYC Corp operates, their communication backbone would suffer, leading to business disruption. This disruption would not have anything to do with what XYC Corp did but more because they contracted with a certain Internet Service provider!

Proponents and opponents of Net Neutrality, and corporate users should closely observe the Net censorship by governments, especially in China and India, emerging global economies.