Internets: Division through location, langauge

Network Neutrality advocates promote the web as the largest source of free information and argue it must remain that way. Promoting network neutrality in 2007, now President Obama stated, “one of the best things about the Internet … is that there is this incredible equality there.” (CNET) But just how “equal” is the Internet?

I recently posted on CNN blocking international viewers from watching the American Presidential Inauguration. This is not an isolated example. Thus living outside, I cannot use Hulu, Pandora, Amazon UnBox, a long list of US radio stations, and many other services. Similarly, outside of the UK I cannot watch BBC content on the new iPlayer. Outside of the US or Japan anyone can purchase a stream to watch MLB Baseball games live, but within these two countries they will not take your money. In some cases, the division is intentional: as more and more of the “free” web content is ad-supported, providers are looking to restrict it to targeted markets. In other cases, intelectual property law prevents providers from showing content abroad.

iTunes provides an illustrative example. Apple operates a different store for every country. A song released in one country may not be available in another. Likewise iTunes can charge different prices in different locations for the same content. The first restriction may be demanded by content providers; the second is simply in iTunes best interest. Unless a user has a credit card (or gift card) from another location, he/she is barred from entering another country’s store. Even then the iTunes Terms of Service expressly forbid access to the service outside of one’s country and warn that violation could result in account termination, although I have not heard of this ever happening.

Users in different locations have access to different content and services. Google and other reflect this distinction by running different crawlers in different countries. Thus an identical search on,, or will produce different results. redirects users to one of the other countries site’s based on the users IP Address. This is a numeric identifier that identifies each computer on the Internet. In the same manner that phone location can be faked (see NPR story), so can one’s IP address; however, this is not something the average user usually can do.

Through this technological division and lingual divisions (to be discussed in the future) users are left with access to differing pieces of the Internet (even when wishing to pay for content). Thus it the Internet fractures into many internets.

This entry was posted in copy protection, Japan, law, search engines, tv. Bookmark the permalink.

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