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Net neutrality

Just spoken at vloggercon on the net neutrality panel. It was organised and chaired by the guys from blip.tv Charles Hope and Mike Hudack, who was recently on PBS NOW programme debating the issue. The panel discussion was heated at times and only reinforced my opinion that this is one of the most important issues affecting the future of the internet these days. The points below reflect my position:

  1. The telecoms and cablecos are heavily regulated and their cries for free market are false. The industry is already warped and the argument against net neutrality based on the desire to keep government out of ‘markets’ is misplaced.

  2. The distinction between consumer and user is gone. It is in fact the ‘content’ produced by many individual vloggers that put the social media cat among the old media pigeons. The media industry has smelled the wealth of content and feels the urge to control it.
  3. A network that is heavily regulated and not very innovative is being used as a model of control and regulation for a network that is amazingly open, innovative in a historically unprecedented manner. So the government is imposing regulation from a closed and cumbersome industry to an agile and dynamic space.
  4. Nothwithstanding all of the above, net neutrality legislation is not the answer – it is more like ‘casting out a devil with the devil’. There is no fundamental understanding of the internet as a space, marketplace, world or a frontier (for more on this see Doc Searls’ article on Saving the Net). The debate should not be about the internet as a sum of pipelines and wires and content and packets delivered across an infrastructure. It should be in terms of protecting the space in which the individual has been empowered and the emergent benefits of interactions among those individuals that are having an increasingly sociall impact.

There was more but this is what I can think of whilst sitting in the middle of vloggercon still in full flow.


Update: In the heat of the moment, I forgot to mention my ‘solution’ – deregulate telecoms and cablecos so we have something resembling a real competition at the pipelines and wires level. Then the pipeline takers will not have a case to control content and what goes through. Susan Crawford sums it up well:

Think of the pipes and wires that you use to go online as a sidewalk. The question is whether the sidewalk should get a cut of the value of the conversations that you have as you walk along. The traditional telephone model has been that the telephone company doesn’t get paid more if you have a particularly meaningful call — they’re just providing a neutral pipe.

cross-posted from Media Influencer

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11 comments to Net neutrality

  • Is this just an issue for Americans or will it affect everyone?

  • Julian Morrison

    It’s an issue for Americans, but it will probably set a trend, one way or the other.

  • I’m a UK-based telco consultant and a net neutrality contrarian. Those new to the issue might enjoy the loose transcript of my speech from the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington DC this April:


    No, I’m not paid by any telcos to hold these opinions ;)

  • It is a bugger of an issue and the solution is… good question.

  • ResidentAlien

    Government intervention may well be one of the reasons why the telcos are in a position to prioritise traffic in ways that suit them but I am wary of trying to “correct” this by adding more government regulation in the name of “net neutrality.”

  • Mark

    Poor analogy, Adriana. A better analogy would be the possible construction of a moving sidewalk next to the sidewalk. The question is would you pay money to be able to go a little faster on the moving sidewalk. Maybe, maybe not, but I’d sure like the option instead of the government preventing the construction of the moving sidewalk.

    And the reason that Google and the rest are against it is — here is another analogy — is the same reason that merchants were the instigators of the ridiculous blue laws in America. They didn’t want to give a competitor the option of opening on Sunday, because then they’d have to open up, also. Google knows they’d end up having to pay to use the moving sidewalk because one of their competitors would be using it, and Googe’s customers would be demanding Google deliver information faster, also.

  • maryanne

    I think the main telecom and cableco argument (we’ll have no incentive to innovate in broadband delivery or build out networks if we can’t make profits by doing so) is significantly more compelling than the content providers’ argument, which is essentially that content delivery has been free in the past, so it should remain free forever more.

    The content providers have done a good job of scaring people into thinking that the network providers will block content just because they disagree with it or it competes with them, but as bad as most anti-trust law is, there are already laws on the books to prevent anti-competitive behavior. It’s simply a matter of rent-seeking on the part of the content providers. A service they used to get for free will no have a price, and they don’t want to pay it.

  • Sigivald

    As I understand it, the issue is not Google Vs. Yahoo paying for Faster Internets, so much as Vonage (or Qwest, say) being able to pay more to get low latency service for VOIP traffic (and conversely, the pipe provider being able to charge more for that prioritised low latency service).

    As Richard Bennett says, VOIP and streaming video need low latency but don’t care if they drop an occasional packet; the rest of the traditional web and the like don’t care as much about latency but puke on packet loss.

    The two seem best reconciled in precisely the way the net-neutrality people seek to prevent with ridiculous claims (in some cases, mostly due to being merely clueless rather than nefarious) that you’ll ‘have to pay extra to get to Google’, or ‘they’ll block websites they don’t like’ (as if a provider can’t drop traffic now, if they wanted to and their contracts allowed for it!).

  • Why, exactly, are people talking about ‘content providers’ as if they are all monolithic companies? Take a look at this blog and all the other ones out there – the demand side is supplying itself, and we are all content providers now (yep, even commenters). Unless you understand this, you cannot possibly begin to comprehend the importance of what is happening around this issue.

  • Jackie –


    This issue arises because content – all content – has different transport requirements than communication – all non-recorded communication.

    The Internet of the present and future is a multi-purpose network, unlike the Internet of the past which was all content and the telephone network, which is all communication.

    Network engineering and network investment needs to reconcile these two major sets of requirements, and the means to do this will be eliminated from the network engineering toolbox if these stupid regulations become law, like sigivald said.

    It’s nice to think that the Internet is “just people talking” but the wires and boxes make all that possible, and if you kill them, you lose.

  • I totally agree that this is the most important issue affecting the future of internet. We tend to believe that the freedom of the internet is irreversible, but it insn’t! Most of all because the survival of the tradicional media companies may depend on the end of the net neutrality. See on this post what I mean: http://teseeantitese.wordpress.com/2006/10/25/on-net-neutrality(Link)