Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard argues that a healthy internet is not just neutral, but should also be powered by a neutral, as in non-monopolistic, energy infrastructure, preferably based on renewable energy.
“The Internet needs a lot of electricity, and its footprint is only growing as more people around the world get connected. If the Internet is powered by renewable energy, then it can help usher in the clean-energy revolution we so desperately need to avoid catastrophic climate change,” she wrote in an op-ed piece published in the Huffington Post. “This is a major opportunity, and responsibility, for Internet companies to join activists in a crucial fight.”
But while she acknowledged large Internet firms like Netflix, Amazon, and Microsoft have won their battle for net neutrality, monopoly electric companies are holding back the Internet from becoming green.
“Unfortunately, just as monopoly cable companies like AT&T and Comcast tried to hold us back from an open Internet, monopoly electric companies that are dependent on dirty energy want to hold us back from a green Internet. The data centers that power the Internet are concentrated in a few locations around the world, like North Carolina and Virginia, so much so that up to 70 percent of global Internet traffic passes through Northern Virginia every day,” she said.
“These are the places where the Internet “cloud” touches the ground; they are predominantly powered by coal, gas and nuclear power, and the utilities that make and sell the electricity there are monopolies like Duke Energy in North Carolina and Dominion Power in Virginia. These companies have fought tooth and nail against opening the market up to wind and solar power.”
According to Leonard, Amazon Web Services’ data centre in Virginia alone uses up enough energy to power 160,000 US homes. The problem is that the utility that provides electricity for the site, Dominion, generates its power “almost entirely by coal, gas, and nuclear energy.”
“Amazon will have to demand more wind and solar from Dominion and Virginia policy makers if it wants to make good on its 100-percent-renewable pledge,” she wrote. “Some companies have already done exactly this: Apple pushed its utility in Arizona to provide it with solar energy, and Facebook did the same thing in Iowa for wind energy. But these examples have been too few and far between.”
Instead of just demanding a policy to avoid “slow lanes” on the Internet, Internet companies “have the opportunity and obligation to join activists in the fight to avoid Internet ‘dirty lanes’, so that we can have an Internet that is free, open and green,” she said.
More reading: Greenpeace’s new report, “Clicking Clean: A Guide to Building the Green Internet.”