David Weinberger: Natural Net Neutrality

[Note:  This item comes from friend Seth Johnson.  DLH]

From: Seth Johnson <seth.p.johnson@gmail.com>
Subject: David Weinberger: Natural Net Neutrality
Date: December 5, 2014 at 18:49:52 EST
To: Dewayne Hendricks <dewayne@warpspeed.com>

Organic net neutrality
By David Weinberger
Dec 5 2014

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 Searlsfrequently 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.