Computer industry legend Jim Warren (right, from the PC Hall of Fame) says we need to think about net neutrality differently in order to understand it.
It's about content. It's about carriers of content restricting access to competing content.
Cable companies have this in their business model. You can't have an unlimited number of channels on a cable box. But they do have a crude way of gauging the popularity of content, and by offering Internet service they allow you go reach all the content there is.
So instead of worrying about AT&T or Verizon, he says, worry about Comcast deciding what you are and are not allowed to do with your cable Internet service.
And one more thing. Worry about Apple. Worry about Apple a lot.
This is a sort of Circle of Life story because, as co-founder of the West Coast Computer Faire (he called himself the Faire Chaircreature), Jim Warren ran the trade show at which the Apple II was introduced.
So why worry about Apple? Jim explained it all last week to Dave Farber's Interesting People list:
Apple blocks iPhone users from choosing their own cell-service provider (in the USA, but apparently not in Communist China!); prohibits Adobe's Flash app on iPhones and iPods and thus blocks user access to Flash CONTENT; blocks Netflix from access via [some] Apple
Apple is doing this for EXACTLY the same reason that the railroads abused their position, and that the conglomerated communications cartel opposes content neutrality: Apple is using its position as PLATFORM-maker to block access to CONTENT if it "competes" with Apple's content or their monopoly deal with AT&T.
How long will it be before ALL equipment makers and communications carriers finish Balkinizing access and choking CONTENT providers into subservience to equipment-makers' and communications-carriers' all-powerful whims?
Think Jim's crazy? Right now, Apple is pitching TV and cable networks about offering a $30/month programming package through its iTunes service. Apple already has a chokehold on the music business and if you're not on iTunes you don't have a song.
Most arguments about net neutrality are based on a railroad metaphor, writes VisiCalc co-founder Bob Frankston. But the track itself was not the problem. The problem was the control the track gave the railroad over commerce surrounding it. Absent regulation, railroads could price farmers or industrial suppliers out of their markets through its control of access to the market.
The same thing is constantly threatened in the world of technology, and often implemented. Anyone who can create a bottleneck will. When a device or network owner seeks to turn its bottleneck control into monopoly power, as the railroads had in the 1880s, that's when government must step in.
The first such regulation was passed in 1887, and signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland wasn't a socialist, and he wasn't anti-business. He, and the Congress, merely became convinced that bottlenecks between buyers and sellers must be controlled by someone other than their owners.
That should be your guide to the net neutrality debate.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com