Net Neutrality – USA’s Version of the GFW – Death of Freedom and Information

If you can understand the title you can probably guess where this article is going.  This is both my personal and professional opinion on a blindingly, obvious and simple issue that only benefits extremely large and powerful organizations and individuals.

What is really happening in a one-liner is the US is implementing it’s own Great Firewall Policy to rival and surpass China’s by far in terms of surveillance and censorship.

This is really a no-argument, argument the latest move in the US to get rid of Net Neutrality legally gives the ISPs the right to block, filter, throttle and censor content for any reason.  Obviously the primary and initial reasons will be for business and competitive reasons, this means if your ISP has an issue with Google you could have issues reaching Google services.  It could be if your healthcare provider is suing your ISP or vice versa that you’ll have trouble accessing their website.  It could be that your less than mainstream news sources are competing or disliked by management at your local ISP and you won’t be able to visit anymore.

Some of the first to be impacted may be services like Netflix, Hulu etc which most local cable or telco companies have lost a lot of revenue to.

But it can become so much more than this, access to certain banking portals, including cryptocurrency could be restricted.  In fact another huge implication is that if a US government agency orders an ISP to block access to content, both the government and ISP would be legally absolved.

Since the majority of internet traffic still transits the US and a huge number of services are hosted there, the impact is really the whole internet.

However, we can already see legal challenges on the way.  If they are successful then things will continue as normal but if they are not successful, the internet could enter a dark age.

In fact this should be interpreted more as the USA’s version of the Great Firewall masked as a good thing with ill-intentions that will harm virtually all people and businesses.

I don’t believe we will see massive changes overnight, the system will be implemented gradually to reduce the blowback.

With this insecurity there is also the chance that this could backfire and could create an alternative internet or secondary network that operates independently out of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America.  There is simply too much at stake to risk the USA Great Firewall from impacting business and freedom of access and information.  There is also the unintended risk that the USA could be isolating itself if other countries develop countermeasures.

Can VPN’s help get around this throttling?  Yes, and no as now the ISPs could legally block or throttle access to VPN providers’ websites, service or even the protocols themselves.  There is very little that can be done against these measures, it depends how the USA’s firewall is implemented though.  It may be possible to use a variety of protocols and proxy your traffic through hundreds of thousands of IPs collectively to try to avoid blockages and throttling, but it all depends on how aggressive their policies are.  Only the stakeholders who have unleashed this policy know what they really intend to achieve but it certainly isn’t of any benefit to us.

From my standpoint there is no benefit from me as an internet user or business person in having a censored, throttled and firewalled internet.

All speculation aside, it would be wise for both users and businesses to hedge and place their business IT assets overseas at least in backup or secondary mode.  this is the best way to insure against the risk that your business could be severely impacted or inaccessible due to the USA GFW 5.0 as I dub it.  Certainly Asia and Europe are locations that look attractive.  One of the top destinations in Asia to me would be Hong Kong’s internet, in fact I predict Hong Kong and other areas will see a surge in demand as a result of the current firewall policy in the US.

NCIX Declares Bankruptcy – My 15 Year Story of a 20 Year Journey For Netlink Computer

NCIX began as a typical player in the booming 1997 computer hardware era and quickly grew to rival and arguably best all competition in Canada as one of the largest computer hardware companies while other competitors went out of business in a segment many felt was unsustainable.

For me the story started around 2002 when I was still in post secondary at BCIT but as I began writing this I couldn’t help by deviate from back in 1997 when I was 13 and was excited to get my first computed which would be the one that would set me on the path to the IT industry from a very young age.

Going Off Track – My Computer History

I used to go to the famous area of Richmond on Bridgeport Road where all the computer stores were, of course there were areas in Broadway in Vancouver too.   My first computer that I remember proudly as a Pentium 75Mhz with 8MB of RAM and a large 1GB HDD made by IPC (a local Vancouver manufacturer) ironically from a place in Whiterock (they had the best deal I knew of at the time).  The second computer I owned came from this area of Richmond (the name of the retailer eludes me but I believe there is now a textile or paint supplier in the same building!).  In Richmond I remember Cici from Canada Computer aka cancomputer.com who went out of business around 2004-2005 (a different company than today’s Canada Computer which is ironically taking over most of the old leases from NCIX).  Canada Computer was always good to me so I shopped quite a bit there.

Back On Track

Getting back on track to 2002, I bought a few parts in Vancouver from a place called ATIC but then heard about NCIX, their price matching and friendly service.  I actually still have one of the first items an old 80GB IDE Hard Drive with an NCIX label from back then.

So essentially since 2002 I’ve been a customer of NCIX that has purchased a LOT of equipment from them and have probably built dozens of computers from them.  Their prices and service were great, albeit I knew they had the typical restocking fees that the oldschool retailers did (an accepted part of business since I’ve never needed to return anything because I always knew what I was buying and what I wanted).  My experiences were generally very good but I will comment on the few issues I had, around 2006 during boxing day I had to keep following up on some Optical Discs I had bought that weren’t delivered to me.  A few times I bought SATA cables from them and was shocked to find broken connectors in them, the staff at the Langley store was somewhat unpleasant at these exchanges insisting “these are all brand new”.   Now that I think about it, it could have just been left over molding from production especially since looking back at the cables they don’t seem to be of the highest quality for sure.  Fast forward to the last few years I noticed their prices have increased, they had less stock, things took longer to get, longer to ship and once I ordered an item online by mistake and told them right away (but they still shipped it and replied after I got the product and made no offer to resolve the issue).  Still, these weren’t deal breakers but I did notice as they expanded their retail front that the prices and service were slightly decreasing especially on my favorite site directcanada.com and two other similar sites they ran.

The sign of the end

One of their flagship stores in Aberdeen Center (Richmond BC) closed down and at that point I didn’t suspect much (a lot of stores close down there because the rent is super high).  But over the last 2 years or so I saw the decline of the Langley and Surrey store, the shelves were in disarray, there were few staff members and almost no stock on the floor (not an issue for me still) but I couldn’t help but say each time “are you guys closing?”.  I’ve never paid attention to the NCIX forums but happened to browse it when I placed my last order the other month (an order still not fulfilled and one I don’t believe will be with the amount of customers saying they’ve waited weeks or months for refunds for non-delivered products).  The Surrey store closed around Nov 18th suddenly just a few days after I picked up a few power supplies (at that point when I was in the store and was told they turned their phones off and that’s why no one answered my calls I was suspicious). I  saw a list of closures on the NCIX forums, saw a deleted thread on Redflagdeals about them going bankrupt (presumably and upsettingly because NCIX was a Sponsor of RFD).  However a more thorough search showed their other locations were up for lease and were being taken over by competitors such as Canada Computers.

Why Did They Go Under?

From what I’ve read and suspected initially is that the expansion with so many extra stores did it and I read further that management believed more in retail than online ultimately killed them, on top of internal and customer service issues, things compounded fast and it’s all spilling out on social media with disgruntled customers and ex-employees.  I’ve personally known a number of NCIX employees and they all had good things to say about their experience but this was in the pre-2012 days.

It appears cash flow issues related to the retail expansion and apparently a completely unsuccessful expansion into the US (full of complaints) is what brought it down.  The price and stock issues I believe were just a symptom of the larger issue of cash flow and losses due to unprofitable brick and mortar stores.

NCIX-Closing-Down-Bankrupt

NCIX-ComplaintsNCIX-Complaints1

Why Am I Upset?

I’ve been a loyal customer for over 15-years and right until the end the ownership of NCIX never made any announcement whatsoever, and to this day they are still taking orders and collecting money.

NCIX-Areeb-Yasir1

This is where I get upset and would say that I would never do business with any new company under that same ownership/management in the future.  It also seems this was completely avoidable if the management had heeded internal and external suggestions about improving and increasing the online shopping experience. My only complaint is that you couldn’t search by price or sort items by price.  Even with the bankruptcy I believe they could have continued to succeed and restructure by being online only or just a handful of very small stores for sales and online order pickups but at this stage with the amount of negative attention generated and my own situation I don’t think it could be successful.

The other part that is disappointing is that while I do suspect many complaints about the ownership to be true, there are also racial undertones to it which seem to stem from a time long before the complaints started.  And for that reason I do believe some claims may need to be taken with a grain of salt aside from the facts of the customer experience going horribly wrong in recent months and years.