20 June 2006

A Study in Stupidity

I am constantly amazed at how many people do not get what net neutrality is about. Cunningly, the telecoms companies frame this in terms of providing "superior" services for certain classes of data traffic - conveniently skating over the fact that creating a first class inevitably demotes everyone else to second class or worse.

The key point about network neutrality is that it ensures a level playing-field - a commons, no less, open to all - and does not attempt to second-guess the intentions of those who will exploit that commons. Those who fight against it forget all the history of the Internet - how none of the services that run across it was planned, but was simply able to take the basic infrastructure for granted.

This is not rocket science; and yet we can still have nominally insightful people writing stuff like this:

there's a huge analytical leap between preventing patently anticompetitive conduct and having the government tell operators how to manage their networks in the name of network neutrality. Unfortunately, as election politics loom large, many in Congress are ignoring this important distinction. They instead are seeking to rush through legislation that would essentially commoditize the Internet into a "stupid" network, without understanding the potential adverse consequences.

A commoditised, stupid network that gets out of the way is precisely what we want, for reasons that this excellent essay explains:

This ability to "just do it" liberates huge amounts of innovative energy. If I have a Stupid Network and I get an idea for a communications application, I just write it. Then I send it to my buddy, and my buddy can install it, too. If we both like it, we can send it to more people. If people really like it, then maybe we can charge for it - or even start our own company. Yahoo!

Or Google, or Amazon or eBay.

There are no "adverse consequences" if that stupidity is implemented in a technical sense. Equally, this is not a question of "having the government tell operators how to manage their networks": all they know - and all they need to know - is that every IP packet must be treated the same. It's a simple engineering-based condition. To say - or indeed ask for - anything else is just, well, stupid.

No comments: