This isn't about technology
George Ou ought to be in marketing: his impassioned apology for Comcast's intrusive "network management" (see A rational debate on Comcast traffic management) almost makes sense.
By dragging the discussion down into the details of cable's technical inadequacies he glosses over the important issues. The #1 issue is that if private telecommunications carriers are allowed to pick and choose what packets they carry then we have handed the government a blank check to censor and monitor private communications.
Common carriage is settled law
In 1845 - over 160 years ago - New York telegraph companies were legally required to provide impartial service on a first-come, first serve basis.
It shall be the duty of the owner or the association owning any telegraph line, doing business within this state, to receive dispatches from and for other telegraph lines and associations, and from and for any individual, and on payment of their usual charges for individuals for transmitting dispatches, as established by the rules and regulations of such telegraph line, to transmit the same with impartiality and good faith, under penalty of one hundred dollars for every neglect or refusal to do so...
The data rates are much higher today and the technology more complex, but the issues are the same as they were 160 years ago. If we let our common carriers pick and choose whose packets they carry we cede control of our national communications to unelected and unaccountable corporations. Corporations regulated by the executive branch of the federal government.
The governmental-communications complex
50 years ago the US was a manufacturing economy. Today, we are an information and services economy. Control our information and you control us. Which is exactly what is at stake today.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican and WWII's Allied commander in the European theater, warned the country about the dangers of the military industrial complex in his thoughtful farewell address. No stranger to the use of power, Eisenhower recognized its potential for abuse, especially in new circumstances.
His words are worth pondering today.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
I recommend watching the video.
These words are just as applicable to the entanglement of government and telecommunications companies in the information economy. Regulated by the executive branch, telco markets and profits are hostage to decisions made by political appointees.
Case in point
In the wake of 9/11 the government requested massive communications monitoring without legal authorization, which would have been easy to get. Only one telco, Qwest, refused after requesting, and not receiving, legal justification. That telco's then-CEO, Joe Nacchio, is fighting to stay our of prison after conviction on insider-trading charges, claiming on appeal that government retaliation led to less-than-expected results.
Whether you buy Nacchio's story or not it points up the danger to American liberty. A powerful executive branch, dependent telcos and a Congress - Ebay on the Potomac - running on "campaign contributions" from cosseted industries, and American liberty is on the trash heap of history.
What to do
Only an "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" can turn this mess around. Specifically:
- End the FCC's bogus distinction between "basic" and "enhanced" services that enable excessive government influence over telco business models and create the gusher of "campaign contributions"
- Re-assert the 160 year old principle - itself based on much older common law and broad experience - of telecommunications common carriage
- Don't buy techie excuses for poor business practices (under provisioning bandwidth) or anti-competitive behavior. This fight isn't about technology. It is about power and profit.
Keep your hands out of our packets!
The telcos have every right to charge different rates for different bandwidth. If they sell it, they should provide it. Stop whining about the investment. Figure it out! Network service over cable systems is really hard? Cry me a river!
Once a packet is on the network it should be treated the same as every other packet. The current concerns about streaming video requiring special treatment are purely temporary. Asking the network to solve that problem is wrong anyway.
The Storage Bits take
There is nothing new in the net-neutrality debate. You've got the same greedy, underperforming telcos, the same greedy, power-grubbing politicians, the same, ill-informed apologists and the same over-arching public policy principle: our communications infrastructure should carry our information impartially.
That's all there is. The rest is bluff and bluster.
Comments welcome, of course!