Monday, November 17, 2008

Cato Institute has paper by Tim Lee "The Durable Internet: Preserving Network Neutrality Without Regulation"


Timothy B. Lee, University of Minnesota graduate and now an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, has authored a major paper “The Durable Internet: Preserving Network Neutrality Without Regulation,” dated Nov. 12, 2008. The PDF link is here.

Mr. Lee had spoken at the Cato Institute’s forum “Copyright Controversies: Freedom, Property, Content Creation, and the DMCA” on April 26, 2006, link here.

Mr. Lee traces the history of today’s user environment all the way back to the 1960s with ARAPNET and then TCP/IP. He points out that early attempts to guarantee perfect service to a more limited set of users (familiar to programmers in the mainframe world) affects flexibility and cost. He then builds a broad, heaving footnoted narrative about the way the Internet today tends to police itself without the need for much regulation. The main natural antidote to ISP or telecommunications company manipulation is the availability of so much other content and other providers, and the capability of developers or publishers to work around problems on their own.

He builds his discussion around some core concepts, starting with “The End-to-End Principle.” Later (in a section called “Is the Internet neutral now?”) he answers the concerns that practices such as backbone peering, website safety blocking and spam filtering would defeat the spirit of network neutrality.

He gives some interesting anecdotes about the practical pressures on companies not to interfere with user behavior or self-published content. For example, Digg had an interesting controversy when someone published DVD decryption codes in a report. Digg apparently bowed to legal pressure to remove the codes, and then was flooded with stories about the incident, overwhelming the site. Nevertheless, the incident was a test case for the unique way that Digg packages content, making it valuable to users in a way that distinguishes it from larger companies like Yahoo!, AOL, CNN, etc.

Actually, that is what I have tried to do with my own sites and blogs: group the material in such a way that it has an "impartial" political impact even when discovered by a relatively small volume of visitors.

He also discusses some technical issues around the controversies of monitoring overuse of broadband services, involving BitTorrent, and the voluntary negotiations to solve such issues. He also notes that previous business models based on “walled gardens” or proprietary content (like early AOL and Prodigy in the 1990s) have tended to fail eventually because of competition.

The network neutrality debate does not generally encompass the “social problems,” like reputation defense and liability concerns, that could cause others to want to regulate how individuals can access and publish on the Internet further.

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