I have to confess, Iíve sometimes lumped the net neutrality folks in with the tinfoil hat crowd. At first I wasnít convinced net neutrality was really that big of a deal, and even if it was, I generally give corporations more credit than most who comment on these issues online.
But now Iím not so sure.
With Starbuckís announcement earlier this week of a proprietary digital network available in their stores, Iím thinking it might be time to fire up my own tinfoil hat.
Donít get me wrong, I think Starbuckís network is a great offering for its customers, but it further fragments an internet that is becoming more and more limiting.
If you own an iPhone or an iPad, and especially if you develop for them, youíve already seen how limiting these platforms are. If you donít completely adhere to all of Appleís often arbitrary developer rules (and sometimes even if you do) youíll end up with an app that languishes in the wilderness because itís not allowed in the app store. As a user of these devices, obviously you can use safari to go anywhere on the web, but I can count on one hand the number of users I know who use the devices that way.
Then thereís Googleís recent loss to the telecos† collaboration with Verizon in the US on wireless internet. Sure they came out swinging in defense of an open, unbridled internet Ė but only if you stick to wired networks and donít venture out of the house onto a wireless carrier.
With Starbuckís digital network yet another huge company is limiting access to web content, this time based on physical location rather than device platform. Their new network offers a range of content supplied by their partners and tailored to your geographic location, but itís only available inside their stores.
Iím not entirely sure this is a bad thing Ė at least at this point. Apple is right when they say their apps make their devices more secure than, say, Android phones. And Starbucks offers free internet Ė which is awesome Ė so adding additional and unique content to that offering might not be anything to get upset over.
But itís certainly a trend worth watching, since I love the view from the highway, but at some point if you canít hike into the wilderness anymore weíll all regret it.