[A2k] Organic Net Neutrality: David Weinberger

Seth Johnson seth.p.johnson at gmail.com
Mon Dec 8 12:21:08 PST 2014

David Weinberger coins a term and makes a critical point:

Organic Net Neutrality
> https://ting.com/blog/organic-net-neutrality/

There are two types of Net Neutrality. Supporters of it (like me)
spend most of their time arguing for Artificial Net Neutrality: a
government policy that regulates the few dominant providers of access
to the Internet. In fact, we should be spending more of our time
reminding people that before Artificial Net Neutrality the Internet
came by its neutrality naturally, even organically.

To see the difference, you have to keep in mind, (as my friend Doc
Searls frequently reminds me) that Net Neutrality refers not only to a
policy but to a fundamental characteristic of the Internet. The
Internet is an inter-network: local networks agree to pass data
(divided into packets) without discriminating among them, so that no
matter what participating network you’re plugged into, you can always
get and send information anywhere else on the Net. That’s the magic of
the Net: It doesn’t care how you’ve plugged in, where you are, or what
sort of information you’re looking for. It will all get to you, no
matter where it’s coming from, what it’s about, or what type of
application created it.

In fact, it’s because the creators of the Internet didn’t try to
anticipate what people would use it for that it has become the
greatest engine of creativity and wealth in recorded history. For
example, if the Internet had been designed primarily for connecting
static pages, it would have become less suitable for phone calls or
video. If the current Internet access providers decide that videos are
their highest priority traffic, then online games might suffer, and it
would be harder to establish the next new idea — maybe it’s holograms
or some new high-def audio stream or a web of astronomers working on
data shared around the world.

In short, we don’t want the businesses that sell us access to the
Internet to have the power to decide what gets priority on the
Internet…especially since many of them are also in the content
business and thus would be tempted to give preference to their own
videos and music streams. Artificial Net Neutrality as a policy is
intended to preserve the Internet’s non-discriminatory nature by
regulating the access providers.

Even the most fervent supporters of Net Neutrality policies usually
favor it only because we now have so few access providers (also known
as Internet Service Providers, or ISPs). Before a series of decisions
by the U.S. Federal Communications Commision beginning in 2002, and a
ruling by the Supreme Court in 2005, there were more than 9,000 ISPs
in that country. Now the ones that remain are either serving small,
often remote, areas or are one of the tiny handful of absolute giants.

When you talk about Net Neutrality with Seth Johnson, a tireless
advocate presently working at the international level to defend the
Internet, he explains that before 2005, when there was a vibrant,
competitive market for ISPs, the Internet was naturally neutral. Back
when the Internet was composed of relatively small local networks, if
an ISP wanted to promise its subscribers that it would provide a “fast
lane” for movies, or games, or singing telegrams, or whatever, it
could only provide that favorable discrimination within its own small
network. The many other networks those packets passed through wouldn’t
know or care about that one network’s preferences. Zipping packets
through the last couple of miles to your house would be like speeding
up a jet for the last hundred meters of its flight: it wouldn’t make
any noticeable difference.

That was then. We need a Net Neutrality policy now because the giant
ISPs’ own networks are so extensive that a packet of data may spend
most of its time within a single network. That network can institute
discriminatory practices that are noticeable. A Net Neutrality policy
prevents them from giving in to this commercial temptation.

Many of us Net Neutrality advocates, including Seth and Doc, would far
rather see the Internet’s natural infrastructure restored — a big
network composed of many smaller networks — which would in turn
restore natural Net Neutrality. We lost that infrastructure through a
political process. We could get it back the same way, by once again
treating the wires and cables through which Internet packets flow as a
public resource, open to thousands of competing ISPs, none of which
would be able to effectively discriminate among packets.

It’s a shame that we’ve let the market for ISPs become so
non-competitive that we have to resort to government policies to
preserve the Net’s natural neutrality. As with peaches and whole
grains, an organically neutral Internet would be even better for the
entire system.

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