I was a relatively early user of the internet. I can recall clearly in 1994 when I managed to get a browser to work and marvelled at how a page containing information in the South Pole appeared somewhat slowly via modem on my computer screen. Things have not been the same ever since.
The philosophy of the internet always appealed. It was meant to be open, completely indifferent to wealth and class and was intended to provide infrastructure which all people could use. Its freedom and the lack of censorship meant that a free flow of ideas and debate could occur.
Those principles have been jealously protected. For instance net neutrality, the idea that all data should be treated equally, has been a recent issue. This Wikipedia article on net neutrality summarises the thinking that went behind the process. For instance:
According to Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney, all content must be treated the same and must move at the same speed in order for net neutrality to be true. They say that it is this simple but brilliant end-to-end aspect that has allowed the Internet to act as a powerful force for economic and social good.
Another important principle is that of the open internet. Again from the above article:
The idea of an open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies. This often includes ideas such as net neutrality, open standards, transparency, lack of Internet censorship, and low barriers to entry. The concept of the open Internet is sometimes expressed as an expectation of decentralized technological power, and is seen by some as closely related to open-source software.
In New Zealand there is an attempt to reduce the openness of the local internet by some of the big Telcos and media companies threatening to take Callplus (owner of Slingshot and Orcon) to court to try and prevent its offering to consumers of Global Mode. This allows individuals to select for instance a US based IP address. An individual’s Netflix account for instance would then be populated with about ten times as much to watch including importantly for politicos the American version of House of Cards as they could access from the local Netflix service. This would hurt the likes of Sky TV’s bottom line because it has paid for the rights to show this series locally.
The parties seeking to stop Callplus are Spark (owner of Lightbox), MediaWorks, Sky TV and TVNZ.
I get the feeling that they are trying to hold back the tide. The problem with data is that the internet is extremely capable at delivering it anywhere in the world and why a local ticket clicker should be able to profit from local broadcasting of the data is difficult to justify. And even if Callplus backs down there are a multitude of products such as HideMyAss that will provide an American IP address for a very modest price.
NBR’s Chris Keal has written a number of articles on this issue and thinks that Callplus have a sound legal position.
CallPlus took legal advice from Lowndes Jordan principal Rick Shera before it launched Global Mode and before it made it open to all customers. Mr Shera likens accessing Netflix from New Zealand to parallel importing and says Global Mode is in accordance with the Fair Trading Act, Copyright Act and other laws. Chapman Tripp partner Justin Graham leans in the same direction.
“I’d expect to see increasing activity in this kind of space. It is consistent with New Zealand’s policy on intellectual property, parallel importing and geographical restrictions, namely that geographical restrictions are not consumer-friendly and New Zealand consumers should be able to access copyright content in a competitive and cost-effective environment,” Mr Graham told NBR.
In general terms major media corporations pressuring an internet provider to reduce what it offers on the basis that their bottom line otherwise suffers really rankles. I hope Callplus wins.