Doc Searls: The net could get flushed into the telco sewer system unless WE act. Now.

Doc Searls: The net could get flushed into the telco sewer system unless WE act. Now.

Summary: Doc Searls has authored his longest and perhaps most significant online entry ever. See Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes.

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Doc Searls has authored his longest and perhaps most significant online entry ever. See Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes.  He claims he could have kept writing.  But he apparently had to stop somewhere because the more time he would have spent on it, the less time we would have to act on it. The clock is definitely ticking. Time is running out.  Though I haven't finished reading it yet, I can tell from what I've read already that it's critical reading if you think the Internet is important to you, your kids, their kids, freedom, democracy, and, well, the world.  So, I thought I'd get the word out as soon as possible. 

In what is practically a requiem to the Internet because of what it forecasts, Doc explains how our most beloved public technology is about to succumb to privitization and big business in ways that will destroy everything that it has ever stood for, and everything it has the potential to be. He very judiciously hyperlinks directly to all the backup you need to prove that he's not just some kook on a soapbox.  That sort of linking, copying and pasting, and formatting takes a huge amount of grunt work. I know from the times I've only done a tenth of what he just did.  Please reward him for that work by reading what he has compiled and doing as he asks in his blog: join the conversation and "change a rock we're pushing uphill to a snowball we're rolling downhill."

"If the paranoids are right," writes Doc, "then the Net's toast." I'm one of the paranoids. Clearly, Doc is concerned too or he wouldn't have taken the time to write the nearly 9,000 word anthem (see first entry, definition #2).  The Net will be toast unless we, the Davids do something about the Goliaths before it's too late.  Writes Doc in the first section of the story (Scenario 1: The Carriers Win): 

Be afraid.  Very afraid. --Kevin Werbach.

Are you ready to see the Net privatized from the bottom to the top? Are you ready to see the Net's free and open marketplace sucked into a pit of pipes built and fitted by the phone and cable companies and run according to rules lobbied by the carrier and content industries?

Do you believe a free and open market should be "Your choice of walled garden" or "Your choice of silo"? That's what the big carrier and content companies believe. That's why they're getting ready to fence off the frontiers.

And we're not stopping it.
Doc's right. We should be very afraid.  Not only that, as I've written before (see We the sheeple), most of us are doing nothing to stop it.  You could argue that I'm just pointing to Doc's piece because, near the end of it, he points back to the one I wrote yesterday on how Hollywood and Congress are trampling all over our rights and what you can do about it.  But the truth is that his piece is actually more important because it takes a much bigger picture look at how all sorts of "pipes" -- not just the Digital Restrictions Management ones that I've been railing against -- are ruining the future of technology, innovation, and widespread access to information.  He crosses over into the same territory that PC industry pioneer Bob Frankston covered when he wrote about Reality vs. the Regulatorium and about how the Baby Bells could be abusing their government granted right of way.   In the old Internet, we the users of it controlled the horizontal and the vertical.  In the new Internet, big business controls them.  Even worse, not only is our government endorsing this bleak future (typically done by turning a blind eye), it's going one step further by mandating it with laws. 

In the third section of his piece (Scenario III: Fight with Words and Not just Deeds), Doc issues a clarion call to action.  Wrote Doc:

Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren't screwing up the Net because they're "Friends of Bush" or "Friends of Hollywood" or liberals or conservatives. They're doing it because one way of framing the Net--as a transport system for content--is winning over another way of framing the Net--as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive.....We need to make clear that the Public Domain is the market's underlying geology--a place akin to the ownerless bulk of the Earth--rather than a public preserve in the midst of private holdings. This won't be easy, but it can be done.....We need to stress the fact that the primary "end" in the Net's end-to-end architecture is the individual. The Net's success is due far more to the freedoms enjoyed by individuals than to the advantages enjoyed by large companies whose existence predates the Net. 

While it echoes some of the very same recommendations I have made in terms of contacting your Congresspeople and taking advantage of certain open public comment periods that affect existing legislation (eg: the Digital Millenium Copyright Act), he goes where I shamefully did not by asking readers to support the revolutionaries at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Creative Commons who have been leading the battle on your behalf.  By not supporting them, we're hanging the saviors of the Net out to dry against the likes of the Baby Bells, the entertainment cartel, and our government.  Davids. Goliaths.  Judging by the direction things are heading, the odds are not good Support them. Join them. Help them to protect your future and that of generations to come.  Act and act now before it's too late.

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  • Mixed feelings on it....

    Ok, so we (you) don't want the people paying for the infastructure to be in control. So then what is their motivation to invest the billions of needed dollars?

    What your really saying in effect is that the government (US I assume) needs to step in, take over, and fund it all from taxes.

    I mean if you see some other way to do it I am all ears (eyes?). Keep in mind "regulation" (telcom act) has been the very thing that the Telco's hated and stopped them from building out infastructure in the last 10 years.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Come on David, respond please.

      Exactlly what is it "We" are supposed to do and how do "We" finance it?

      I mean heck, anyone can say XYZ is the wrong solution, but it's a lot tougher to offer an alternative when you speak of billions of dollars required to make it happen...
      No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Paying the piper?

      [i]Ok, so we (you) don't want the people paying for the infastructure to be in control.[/i]

      Oh, that's fine if they're willing to give up a few things in return: common carrier status, special legislative status, things like that.

      As it is, these carriers are the beneficiaries of some very one-sided deals. For instance, around here homebuilders pay to install telephone (and cable TV) wiring, built into the cost of the houses. However, those "last mile" wires are signed over to the telco/cable monopolies as a requirement of providing "the only game in town" to the new homeowners. Then the cost of the "last mile" wires are figured into the rate base for charging the homeowners (who have already paid for them) for telephone (etc.) service.

      What's more, they get special legislative treatment such that nobody else is even [b]allowed[/b] to go into competition with them. Things like rights of way, laws against community internet services, and the special regulatory priveleges that this is all about. It's like having a license to print money.

      Sweet deal if you can get it.

      Now you're arguing that the telephone companies should also have the power to tell us what we can say over those same telephones (their system, right?)

      [i]So then what is their motivation to invest the billions of needed dollars?[/i]

      Hmmm -- some of us remember when AT&T owned it all. They blocked every new communications technology beyond POTS because it was a threat to the cash cow. Even stuff like ISDN that they developed was kept off the market unless they were up against a competitor who was in a position to offer it themselves.

      AT&T went all the way to the US Supreme Court fighting for the power to forbid residential subscribers from using modems (that was back when 300 bps was hot tech.) They lost, which in large part is how we got pre-internet services like Prodigy and CompuServe.

      So somehow that's all changed, and the new AT&T is going to spend billions to build out infrastructure that they won't be able to sell to more than a fraction of their subscribers? Fat chance. The #1 value that broadband has to the ILECs is as a continuing "we need more concessions so that someday we might install it" argument with local regulators. Actually [b]building[/b] it would not only cost money but negate that value.

      To answer your question: they haven't any reason to build out. If they get the concessions they're demanding, they'll have even less reason to build out.

      They may be many things, but suicidal I don't see.
      anonymous
      • Lots of negatives but you didn't answer the question.

        Ok, I get it, you don't like the Telco's or Cable folks. But you suggest nothing about how to finance taking it away from them.

        Don't get me wrong, I am not disagreeing with you or David, but when people say "WE" they quite often mean "YOU" when it comes to paying for it.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • You mistake me, Sir

          [i]Ok, I get it, you don't like the Telco's or Cable folks. But you suggest nothing about how to finance taking it away from them.[/i]

          I don't dislike them any more than I dislike rattlesnakes [1]. Both act according to their natures and the incentives that their environments offer them.

          Nor do I propose "taking away" their properties. What I actually favor is, quite simply, a continuation of the same contract that they've operated under since they were founded: in return for their favored monopoly status, they operate as common carriers.

          They're not to blame for seeking to have all of the benefits of a statutory monopoly without the regulation that goes with it, but [b]we[/b] are responsible (through elected officials) for keeping them from getting away with murder.

          If we don't? Read the Founding Fathers.

          [1] Nothing wrong with rattlers. Peaceable critters, actually, that do a pretty good job of keeping us from being up to our necks in really annoying species like mice. Besides, they taste like chicken.
          anonymous
          • The whole in it is, the stock holder.

            You see, people rant on and on about greedy corps. but the fact is a corp has no greed, or anything else, it's a paper construct.

            What you do have is thousands (millions) of stockholders that want a return on their investment and ther larger that return the happier. Now the thing to really look at is what sort of return are they seeing? Is it higher than any other investment of this type?

            The obvious answer is no, in fact return on investment in telecom has been doing rather poorly. In other words, it's not as if they are making large (or greedy profits) they are barely making the norm.

            I find it amazing that so many people come here ranting about corps and haven't the first clue what they are talking about or the reality of how it works...
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Here's reality for you Ax ...

            I've made about $40K on my SBC stock over the past few years. Yeah, it hasn't appreciated like maybe Google did, but on the other hand it hasn't tanked based on some of the disastrous business decisions they've made in the past few years.

            So I'm a stockholder, one of millions. The guy who makes all the decisions at SBC is Ed Whitacre, who takes home between $10-25 Million from SBC every year, depending on who's counting. So is SBC making a profit? It certainly is for Ed, even if the rest of us get the leftovers.

            If you think corporations are greedless paper constructs, ask an Enron or Worldcom shareholder where their money went. There's real faces and real greed behind the paper curtain.
            terry flores
          • So your complaint is he makes more than you?

            Assume a $25 mil salary, it's a drop in the bucket when your talking billions a month. You could eliminate his salary and it wouldn't make a bit of difference.

            And I am sorry, pointing out a hand full of bad corps out of MILLIONS is meaningless. Some humans commit murder so all humans are bad? Naw, don't be silly...

            The fact is, it is the stock holders demand for a return that drives corporate "greed". The stock holder always holds the ULTIMATE authority and power and the courts will back them up anytime anyone doesn't think so. Ummm, you have heard of stock holder laws suits for non-performance right???
            No_Ax_to_Grind
    • I have no mixed feelings!

      The last time I checked, I am **paying** my cable company for internet access. I assumed what I am paying covered the cost of giving me that access plus enough for them to make a profit. So the billions that they invest in infrastructure is coming out of the subscriptions that me and everyone else is paying. According to you, the price I am paying is below the cable companies cost of doing business, I can't believe that.
      How do you get your access to the net for free?
      leguirerj
      • No, you are wrong...

        You are paying for whatever service they decide to offer to customers. There is no law requiring them to offer anything and it is your choice to buy their offerings or not.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
  • This is the first time

    I've read this in a major publication.

    I have been saying this same thing about big business and the Internet on ZDNet talk backs for a long time. Only to get flamed.

    I don't have all the answers but I do know we need to step back and reconsider where we are headed. The Internet is too important to be destroyed by greed.
    bjbrock
  • What's the net?

    That question is asked in the Blog entry; the link to the longer article is not working for me.

    The net is a connection among computers and devices.

    That definition can be elaborated by descriptions of how the connection is made and by how the connection is used.

    But, just as the connection may be made successfully in many ways, any use for the net is valid.

    The first step in considering control of the net is to realize that no one and in fact no philosophy has a greater inherent right than any other.

    Once one is past what the net should be, it's possible to see the net's capabilities more clearly.

    The net is a distribution system.
    The model net use is someone sending an email and having exact copies go to as many people as desired approximately instantaneously.

    When considering interactions on the net, remember that all participants are using send buttons. They are all distributors (and responders).

    This description shows the net as inherently commercial. The principle of a common carrier begins to apply because the distribution is important to the public.

    The rules for a common carrier regulate commercial activity to make the terms fair for all companies and individuals.

    But in practice, companies have the most money and thus the most importance at risk in using a common carrier.

    We're not seeing anything that wasn't inherent in the web from the start. Required time for companies to figure out how to use the web, and some still have not, but progress has been substantial.


    Still, it might be possible for people to have some influence over future government actions.

    The ones with the least influence would be those opposed to the web's function, who often have an open source orientation. Opposition to maximizing profit is a disqualification.

    But those who want to make the web more efficient at generating profit can and will be heard.



    :-( That irony smiley is definitely needed.
    Anton Philidor
    • You need to read the link.

      It covers most of your points and also points out that it's exactly the definition of the Net as a distribution system that is threatening it. It makes the case that we need to look at the Net as a "place" (you go on the Net not through the Net) that has a system of pipes (the distribution system) as infrastructure. As long as we look at the Net as you describe then marketization of it is inevitable. It's only if you define it as a marketplace that you cn make a case for equal access for everyone.
      slopoke
      • The pipes opened...

        ... and the message came through.
        :-( (Irony smiley equivalent.)

        The argument he opposes was not much different from the one I guessed reading the blog. But one point should be clarified, I think:


        I think that the problem for companies like SBC is more a service like VoIP than the content companies. VoIP is a direct competitor using SBC's own resources, and not paying.
        Remember the battle over cheaper prices for SBC competitors using SBC lines.


        Another minor point, Doc Searls observed:

        The Internet doesn't know lots of things a smart network like the phone system knows: Identities, permissions, priorities, etc. The Internet only knows one thing: this bunch of bits needs to move from one end of the Net to another.

        As we know from several subpoenas, much if not all that passes through the net is recorded somewhere.


        The problem with his argument is apparent in his description of the web:

        To sum up, the Net has all these natures:
        - transport system (pipes)
        - place (or world)
        - publishing system
        --and others as well. But those aren't at war with one another, and that's what matters most.

        The web is not a place, legally. It's a service.
        People do not reside on the web, they use it to accomplish purposes.

        One of the more interesting legal issues is making the web a part of geographic territory.

        For example, say that someone sits a location in which a wager is illegal and places the bet on a computer at a location where the bet is legal.
        Where is the bet placed?
        The choices available are where the person is sitting and where the bet is received. Not available as an answer is a choice called "the internet".

        His argument has the substantial problem that the place called "the internet" does not exist legally. And I think that statement is true worldwide.


        Without that piece, I think his argument becomes more sentimental than cogent. And the argument he's hoping to defeat, based on money and power, wins.

        :-( that's not for irony this time.
        Anton Philidor
    • The threat is bribery and corruption

      You missed one important factor: there are many regulatory bodies who tell the companies and citizens what they can and cannot do, even with their own property. It creates situations where there are no opportunities for competitive evolution in the marketplace.

      SBC, Verizon and the like are BUYING legislation and regulation from government, and the payback is increased profit for THEM. The impact is to freeze out other companies from competing, ultimately locking the consumer into monopoly hell.
      terry flores
      • And you suggest changing it how?

        Seriously, it's easy to condem someone else or their methods, the real work is finding a workable alternative. I'm listening...
        No_Ax_to_Grind
        • Well??? (NT)

          .
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Just a little taste of daily life at the Capitol

            Excerpted from Austin-American Statesman, August 18, 2005 regarding battle between SBC and Time Warner Cable over special-interest state legislation:

            "The state's largest phone company spent from $3.3 million to $6.8 million on lobbying; companies have to report only a dollar range of contracts, not specific amounts.

            By contrast, Time Warner Cable, the biggest cable company in Texas, spent from $220,000 to $505,000.

            "Nobody is shocked to learn that moneyed interests call the shots in Austin," said Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice. "Yet it is truly boggling that a single special interest has the stroke" to push its legislation through the special session, even as school finance efforts failed. "The only way to adequately recognize this feat is to rename the Capitol 'SBC Arena.' "

            What did I do? I wrote the Governor to say I considered him a poor steward of the public trust, and I gave $100 to his challenger's campaign. I did the same with Lamar Smith over the DMCA, and John Cornyn over the Patriot Act.
            Does it help? We will see...
            terry flores
          • Ummm, and how does that answer my question?

            You are telling me how the corp protects it's stockholders, not how to finance doing this without the corps.

            Bottom line here, *SOMEONE* has to invest billions to do it and unless that someone is the tax payer they are going to want a hard cash return on the investment. It's called business 101...

            Once again, other than tilting at widmills how do you propose financing the needed billions???
            No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Financing?

            Can you tell me where it is you get this "free" internet access and use? Everyone I know around here pays a cable or phone company or an ISP to use the internet.
            jbaire@...