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.