9 June 2006

A turning point in the history of the Internet

The U.S. House of Representatives rejects the concept of Net Neutrality, as the Republican leadership aligns itself with the telco desire to divvy up internet access into a tiered framework, where they can grant bigger bandwidth to preferred entities and even block or stall other net traffic.

In the words of the man who created the World Wide Web:

Twenty-seven years ago, the inventors of the Internet designed an architecture which was simple and general. Any computer could send a packet to any other computer. The network did not look inside packets. It is the cleanness of that design, and the strict independence of the layers, which allowed the Internet to grow and be useful. It allowed the hardware and transmission technology supporting the Internet to evolve through a thousandfold increase in speed, yet still run the same applications. It allowed new Internet applications to be introduced and to evolve independently.

When, seventeen years ago, I designed the Web, I did not have to ask anyone's permission. The new application rolled out over the existing Internet without modifying it. I tried then, and many people still work very hard still, to make the Web technology, in turn, a universal, neutral, platform. It must not discriminate against particular hardware, software, underlying network, language, culture, disability, or against particular types of data.

Anyone can build a new application on the Web, without asking me, or Vint Cerf, or their ISP, or their cable company, or their operating system provider, or their government, or their hardware vendor.

It is of the utmost importance that, if I connect to the Internet, and you connect to the Internet, that we can then run any Internet application we want, without discrimination as to who we are or what we are doing. We pay for connection to the Net as though it were a cloud which magically delivers our packets. We may pay for a higher or a lower quality of service. We may pay for a service which has the characteristics of being good for video, or quality audio. But we each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.

When I was a child, I was impressed by the fact that the installation fee for a telephone was everywhere the same in the UK, whether you lived in a city or on a mountain, just as the same stamp would get a letter to either place.

To actually design legislation which allows creative interconnections between different service providers, but ensures neutrality of the Net as a whole may be a difficult task. It is a very important one. The US should do it now, and, if it turns out to be the only way, be as draconian as to require financial isolation between IP providers and businesses in other layers.

The Internet is increasingly becoming the dominant medium binding us. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true.

Let us protect the neutrality of the net.

Indeed, the free and open architecture of the internet has a great enabler of progress and advancing technology, and it's no surprise that the successful online companies are speaking out too. Google and Ebay embarked upon email campaigns in support of Net Neutrality.

Republican politicos are going full tilt to paint this debate as an argument about unnecessary federal regulation. But that obscures the fact that it's just a valid on ensuring monopolies play fairly if there are going to be monopolies in the first place. Telcos get money, equipment, immunity from legislation and a government enforced monopoly in exchange for the duty of impartially carrying bits. Or at least until now, where the Republican majority seems to be more concerned with helping the telcos stack their profit coffers, than ensuring a free and open internet.

Lawrence Lessig and Robert McChesney, in brilliant fashion, lay out the facts here:

Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content. The benefits are extraordinary and undeniable.

Congress is deciding on the fate of the Internet. The question before it is simple: Should the Internet be handed over to the handful of cable and telephone companies that control online access for 98 percent of the broadband market? Only a Congress besieged by high-priced telecom lobbyists and stuffed with campaign contributions could possibly even consider such an absurd act.



Comments

Government involvement in the internet is no more than the feds keeping their finger on the scales (hardly keeping things neutral as they claim). They will fudge things one way and then the other, all the time claiming to be 'neutral' then currying campaign donations from Google and eBay. Examine governments' results when it comes to regulation and the consumer always looser. The internet is no different than any other marketplace, it will operate best when free from government meddling.

My libertarian opinion.
Thane, there is already government involvement the internet was a government creation and the telcos themselves are granted monopoly privileges.

Google and EBay may have a vested interest, but there's a larger issue at stake here, as the founders and pioneers of the medium have so passionately argued. It would not be wise to discard their vision in lieu of corporate interests whose ownership of our legislators is simply repulsive.
I will consider but not bow down to no party, be they 'founders' or 'pioneers' (passionate or not). I neither accept nor dismiss Google's or eBay's interests or arguements but consider the issue independently of their positions. I believe that government involvement harms all parties, whether they happen to be 'monopoly telecoms' or (monopoly of a different sort) cable ISPs or other ISPs. I have followed and seen this argument from the perspective as an employee of a large ISP, a cable modem ISP and a DSL ISP relative to "peering" and the hullabalu about "network neutrality" is nothing but the latest proposal by proponents of government meddling to stick governments' fingers in one more pie. The participants (users, companies and associations) that collectively comprise the internet have benefited immensely from the lack of government involvement. The internet we have today may not be perfect but I fail to see how government regulation is likely to produce better results than government cable tv regulation. I am not impressed with the result of government regulation in that arena. As to corporate influence of legislators who in turn wield the hammer of government force - the goal should be to minimize the amount of government meddling permitted, because if government is allowed to regulate eventually they will either immediately or eventually misregulate. People and companies can peacefully resolve outstanding internet issues by discussion, by debate and by negotiation, none of which are aided by government.

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