The <strike>Four</strike> Five 'Net Freedoms

The <strike>Four</strike> Five 'Net Freedoms

Summary: In February of 2004, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell gave a speech in which he outlined four 'Net freedoms.  David Isenberg (who wrote the famous paper on the Rise of the Stupid Network) has excerpted the four freedoms and Powell's explanation for easy reference.


In February of 2004, then FCC Chairman Michael Powell gave a speech in which he outlined four 'Net freedoms.  David Isenberg (who wrote the famous paper on the Rise of the Stupid Network) has excerpted the four freedoms and Powell's explanation for easy reference.  The freedoms are:

  • Freedom to Access Content
  • Freedom to Use Applications
  • Freedom to Attach Personal Devices
  • Freedom to Obtain Service Plan Information

The current FCC chairman, Kevin Marin, has reworded on these in ways that make them more like entitlements for consumers rather than basic freedoms for netizens.  The distinction is crucial.  DSL and cable providers would like you to think of their service as "the Internet" when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The Internet is more of a place that you can get to multiple ways.

I was speaking with Doc Searls and Britt Blaser this morning and Doc described consumer choice as having been defined in terms of "which silo would you like to be in?"  I don't want to be in the Comcast silo or the Qwest silo, I want free, unfettered access to the whole 'Net and I want to be able to provide services as well as use them.  

Britt's been working with NYC Wireless, an ambitious project to provide publicly accessible wireless Internet in public places around New York City.  Why are projects like NYC Wireless important? Not just because they provide access, but because they provide access without the silo.  Muni-broadband projects tend to support Powell's freedoms naturally.

That's why arguments against community broadband projects that see the issue merely in terms of offering a low-cost replacement for DSL service are so far off the mark.   This isn't so much about giving people subsidized service as it is about protecting these and other 'Net freedoms.  What other 'Net freedoms are there?

For one, I claim the right to provide service, not just be a passive "consumer."  This implies symmetric connectivity and the ability to get public IP numbers for services I want to offer without being penalized.  Blogs, and more recently podcasting, show that regular folk can create news, music, stories, pictures, and so on that other's want.  We don't need, or want, Comcast, Verizon, Qwest, or anyone else to decide what's appropriate and what's not.  So far the 'Net has routed around this with servers, but that creates a barrier that ought not to be there. 

As I said in a post the other day,  the vision of DSL and cable providers is "all about a one-way street where deliveries were made but packages were never picked up. Maybe instead of 'walled gardens' a more apt metaphor would be 'roach motels.'"   This isn't surprising and I don't think the DSL and cable providers are "evil" because of this view.  In fact, I think that they're reacting entirely naturally.  If we'd taken the private enterprise route to building highways, we'd have exactly the same kind of system.  Toll roads where there was good margin, roads to some neighborhoods and not others, and competing "road silos" trying to convince you to drive on their road instead of the competitors.  There are good reasons why we've decided public funding for roads is desirable and most of those apply equally well to broadband as well.  

Topics: Networking, Servers, Verizon

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  • Accounting for choices in the real world

    Two economists are walking along the street and one of them sees a fancy watch in a store window.

    "I want that" he says, and the other economist replies:

    "Obviously not"

    Whatever we say we believe, economics reveals what we really value when we have to make a tradeoff between possible choices.

    In this case, we are dealing with a tradeoff between freedom and governance. We have hashed through this particular tradeoff for telecomm several times in the past few decades, remember "Ma Bell", cable provider monopolies, etc?

    In each and every case, we have always chosen privatization with some regulation. More importantly, that has proven to be by far the best choice, economically, we are far better off without government sponsored monopolies like the old AT&T.

    But if too much governance is anathema, then so is too little. Everything has a cost, including freedoms, and sometimes the cost is too high. We have the freedom to say whatever we want, but the cost of shouting fire in a crowded theater has been deemed too high.

    Everyone has the freedom to provide service on the Internet, provided thay can pay the cost.

    The question is, how do we decide, as a nation, what that cost is? We have, many times, already made that decision with regard to telecommunications. It is sometimes called "Universal Service" and it says that the cost of certain types of communications are borne by the state.

    But not all communications. If you want to start a business, the state is under no obligation to provide you with free advertising time on local media, or pay your phone bill. The cost is determined by competition between providers for your business, and how much you can pay and still stay in business.

    If the state deems your business efforts have some value to the states goals, it may defray some of that cost. Thats what tax exemptions and SBA loans are for.

    On the other hand, if the state determines that your business efforts detract from some the achievement of the states goals, it may increase your costs. This may range from gas and cigarette taxes to imprisonment and fines for providing child pornography or hate group literature.

    The FCC chairman is responsible for determining how the state will respond to the costs of telecommunications. It is an enormous responsibility that affects the lives of all americans and the American economy. Chairman Martins comments reflected these very real responsibilities.

    I have been following the community Wi-Fi movement from the start, and I think it is a noble cause that certainly adds value to America's social goals.

    But not unqualified value. No society that I know of has ever been able to make a government sponsored entity cost effective, and it is unlikely Wi Fi networks will be the first.

    A municipally sponsored community network not only distorts the economics of telecommunications, with all the ramifications, more importantly, there is enoough competition that it can be achieved privately, and those funds applied to the states goals that are not economically feasible in the private sector. America certainly has enough of a backlog of deserving underfunded initiatives that could use the resources.