Amazon. Google. Facebook. You can’t overstate the impact of the internet on our lives, but we take for granted that much of it is controlled by corporate giants. These Silicon Valley companies say they’re making the world a better place, and to a large degree, that’s what they do — their services allow us to communicate more easily than ever before.
Problems arise when their corporate interests do not align with our interests, such as when Google and Facebook censor their social networks, or when Photobucket removes millions of images from forums and blogs. Today, the internet is controlled by a few oligarchs. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Picture a Longhorn sitting in a dorm room. He or she wants to create a personal blog on their computer, or perhaps run an application that does so, but that’s not possible without going through an intermediary like Blogger or Tumblr. That’s because the internet of 2017 is fundamentally broken, a victim of its own massive success.
On the internet, all computers require an identifier called an IP address, just as buildings require street addresses. The current
version of the internet protocol, IPv4, ran out of spare North American addresses in 2015. The only reason the internet hasn’t imploded is because we can share the same address across many different computers. The catch is that you can only connect to a computer that has its own unique IP address.
As a result, the internet is divided into two groups: publishers and consumers. Publishers, such as Google and Facebook, control their own IP addresses. Consumers, such as students on their laptops on UT Wi-Fi, are forced to share.
Consumers such as us can connect to publishers, but we can’t connect to each other. So when our Longhorn wants to launch their website, they need to make use of third-party publishers such as Amazon Web Services. Meanwhile, Amazon could choose at any time to take down or alter content it doesn’t like.
Fortunately, there’s a fix in the works — an entirely new internet under construction. IPv6 will replace IPv4 and create trillions upon trillions of new addresses. That’s more than enough for every device to have one and for everyone to become an internet publisher.
Internet service providers such as much-maligned Comcast are already leading the way with IPv6 deployment, but there’s one noticeable holdout: UT. “As of now, UT does not implement (IPv6) and nothing official regarding … has been released regarding its use in the future,” said Information Technology Services in an email statement.
IPv6 is not just about IP addresses — it’s about free speech. Longhorns should be able to run websites from their dorm rooms, not rely upon corporations that already control too much of the World Wide Web. UT must lead the charge for a more efficient, more innovative and freer internet.
Young is a computer science senior from Bakersfield, California. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @OldRyanYoung.