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Net Neutrality, Health Care, and “The Customer is Always Wrong!”

The surest way to screw up future innovative applications would be for ISPs to make constraining assumptions about the future based on existing applications’ performance. Discussing P2P behavior as if it were some monolithic, unchanging entity is simply wrong. What is P2P? BitTorrent? Skype? CNN live video feed fan-outs? And what of changes to these existing apps? What of future apps? By definition, the sort of “intelligent” network being promoted by anti-neutrality folks will only perform well when applications toe the line according to yesterday’s definitions—stifling true innovation at its core.

P2P paranoia and data jitter fetishes in this context are little more than attempts at obfuscation. The key “take away” lesson of the last few days over on the NNSquad list has been the spectacle of one technical party explaining what they needed from Internet access to conduct their business, and another technical party responding in essence “You don’t need that! Make do! Be glad ISPs have deemed fit to provide you with any broadband at all!” Ah, future echoes of techno-arrogance in the finest tradition of Ma Bell’s monopoly-era business practices.

But this all helps to illuminate a crucial point. The technical details are important of course, but at this stage in debates about “network neutrality” and transparency it’s far more important to establish first principles. Access to broadband Internet facilities is becoming as crucial to everyday life in key ways as access to power and water. Yes, any given individual can probably live without the Net, but around the world it has become clear that lack of quality Internet access will be as debilitating to success and advancement in the long run as being forbidden a basic education.

There are disturbing parallels between these Internet-related controversies and the ongoing U.S. health care debate. In both cases, we have extremely large and powerful entrenched interests (giant ISPs, and enormous insurance companies) who act as “gatekeepers” to a range of services that consumers and subscribers want and need. These gatekeepers are hell-bent on protecting their turfs at all costs and on their terms, the real needs of broader society seemingly be damned.

The question is, will society at large accept such a state of affairs—like lambs to slaughter—indefinitely?

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Bogus fearmongering Brett Glass  –  Oct 6, 2009 1:53 AM

“Network neutrality” lobbyists, including Mr. Weinstein, have concocted a pseudo-emergency—as a political ploy—to get regulation enacted. In a way, they’re like millennialists who, when the world doesn’t end, push back the date and start preaching anew. They’ve been predicting doom and gloom, if innovation-killing legislation and regulation are not enacted, since 2004—and still the Internet continues to grow and flourish.

There really are network capacity issues (witness, for example, the very real congestion which iPhones are causing on AT&T;‘s cell sites). And there’s no need for “network neutrality” regulation.

The lobbyists for “network neutrality” regulation make it out to be a matter of freedom, motherhood, and apple pie. But the truth of the matter is that there is no problem to solve; in the US (where these regulations would have effect) the Internet is not being censored or blocked. And if an ISP did so, its customers would switch in a New York minute.

So, why all the lobbying for regulation to “solve” a nonexistent “problem?” Because—along with assurances that we will get what we already have and are in no danger of losing—the regulations contain provisions that would favor certain large corporations with big lobbying money. (First and foremost of these is Google, which is funding the majority of the “network neutrality” lobbying in DC.) These provisions would actually hinder the rollout of broadband in our country (which IS an important goal). They’d also increase the cost of broadband service, limit consumer choice, kill innovation in both engineering and business models, and even make certain services that businesses—especially startups—might want or need unavailable. (The motive behind this seems to be to prevent another company from arising to compete with Google. For example, a newcomer couldn’t pay ISPs to accelerate delivery of its content to end users, and thus could not compete with Google’s private fiber or its network of private caches.)

In short, the dire predictions of an imminent end to free speech and the American way if regulation is not passed are a smokescreen. “Network neutrality” regulation is a corporate agenda that simply isn’t in consumers’ interest.

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