Sunday, September 05, 2010

"The Economist" gives us a course in net neutrality concepts; but the issues are bigger, still; Check "Free Press" notes

The British mass-market periodical “Economist”, in the Sept. 4-10 issue (I could call it “The September Issue”) has a critical op-ed on p. 11, “The Web’s New Walls: How the threat to the Internet’s openness can be averted”, link here.

The editorial is developed in several detailed stories in the issue. “Untangling the social web” (p. 16), “The Virtual Curmudgeon” (p. 25, about music composer and existential social critic Jaron Lanier – I reviewed his “You Are Not a Gadget” on my books blog Feb. 10, 2010) and, most important, “A Cyber-House Divided” on p 61.

The general concern focuses on two or three areas. One is foreign governments intercepting and censoring content that their citizens see – most of all, China – and the “technology” of getting around these efforts. (These may include Tor Bridges, explained by EFF, as I discussed on my International Issues blog Aug 13, 2009.) But the biggest concern is their spin on the network neutrality debate: the idea that companies want to wall off certain areas and charge more for it, a process that economically seems natural and part of innovation.

Personally, I disagree that there is a lot of practical threat that the average user is going to find the Internet of the future a mishmash of “walled gardens” (the analogy to AOL, Prodigy and Compuserv is a bit misplaced; the Internet in early days wasn’t developed enough to get beyond proprietary content models; I remember back in 1994 how people watched for news about corporate merger negotiations on CompuServ while waiting for employee meetings.) Some walling off (to protect a smart energy grid or health care information and real time diagnosis and treatment grid) really is appropriate. And some consumer technologies (high def video) require special attention when used in great bulk (if we really are going to go to the movies on the Internet). I think that largely market incentives work. A bigger issue is the idea of “Natural Law”, the idea that citizens need to follow some principles of “common good” that will limit what they can do on their own. That gets back to the debate on media perils insurance (could it become mandatory some day), and whether ISPs and content forum hosts (or advertising hosts like Craigslist) should continue to enjoy Section 230 (and DMCA Safe Harbor) protections.

The Sept. 6, 2010 issue of Time Magazine, p 68, has an article ("The awesome column") by Joel Stein, "Net wit: Forget neutrality. Here's why we should make the Internet less fair and less balanced", link for article abstract here  (subscription). Stein is "volunteering" for a lobbying association, the CTIA, the "wireless association."  He thinks lobbyists are legit and "call back fast".  He also thinks that unlimited consumer broadband for low-quality stuff interferes with stability for everyone and for more essential aps like medicine and smart energy. (I would say that Internet modem stability can be affected by something as simple as the stability of your household's electricity voltage.)

Here is a video from the Berkman Center where Chris Riley, Policy Counsel of Free Press (link) the non-profit org, not the book publisher), discusses Comcast, BitTorrent and Network Neutrality, Feb 2009.

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