Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Trusted computing" and "the attack on network neutrality"

Recently, I reviewed Duke University law professor James Boyle’s “The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind” on my books blog, but I wanted to point out his take on network neutrality, which he presents on p 235, just after discussing “trusted computing,” which he views as the anti-concept.

“Trusted computing” would allow content providers and especially operating system providers to prevent the running of unapproved outside programs not certified and “digitally identified.” Boyle says that Microsoft is a big pusher of the concept. It would look askance at open source computing and operating systems (like Linux). It would be much easier to secure most users from viruses, spam and other threats.

To mean, the mainframe computing world, which was bread-and-butter for most financial companies through the 90s through Y2K (and accounts for many fewer jobs today than it used to), with all of its culture (especially depending so much on scheduled batch cycles) demonstrates the ultimate notion of “trusted computing”. The mainframe world is “safer” (especially now after the major security changes in the early 1990s) and for closed operations where information access is relatively closed and contained, it’s still the paradigm of choice, as far as I am concerned.

Boyle talks about our main topic as “the attack on network neutrality”. He gives an example, where a telephone company puts you on hold if you try to order a pizza, unless you dial its sponsored brand of pizza. He assumes that network neutrality is the default and naturally occurs unless content and communications providers ask for privileges (maybe as tribute for providing broadband into hard to reach rural areas, a major infrastructure goal that Barack Obama is advancing). Libertarian-oriented writers (like Tim Lee, who has papers on the topic) present an unregulated environment as naturally promoting network neutrality through competition (and the proper balance of intellectual property rights and public access through an enlightened notion of “competition”), and I wonder if that is what Boyle means here.

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