Sunday, December 20, 2009

The First Amendment & Net Neutrality: Be Careful What You Wish For — Technology Liberation Front

As I noted here a few days ago, the Federal Communications Commission held a workshop on Tuesday about “Speech, Democratic Engagement, and the Open Internet.” It was a shockingly one-sided affair with the deck being stacked almost entirely in favor of advocates of Net neutrality regulation. Worse yet, those advocates shamelessly made up spooky stories about a future of “private censorship” that could only be remedied by using the First Amendment as a club to beat private players into submission.

Why not? Apocryphal stories work to promote government run health care, government control of energy production and use, and many other things.

For some reason apocryphal stories of government screw-ups (in addition to real every-day fully-documented headlines of such) don't have the same impact, since a "quick-fix" to whatever the problem exemplified by the story is isn't easily summarized by a sound bite that a politician or activist can utter in order to stir up "grass roots" (maybe "weed roots" would be a better term) support.

When government first steps in to an area, the natural and wild flora and fauna of competition start to die off and what are left are a few mutant-strain species with natural resistance (or worse, resistance produced by favoritism) and you end up with the Intels, Microsofts, GMs and Goldman Sachs of the world, companies who's continued existence and success can't be questioned (even with the existence of limp wristed FTC probes from time to time).


  1. The origins of the Internet itself were a government project through the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the US military, not a commercial endeavor. Commercialization occurred during the '90s.

    AOL is one example of how privatization at first seemed like a good thing, but later really sucked with their proprietary walls around content and incompatible email system, which actually worked to inhibit the free exchange of ideas and speech. The government didn't screw up AOL.

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  3. Not sure how AoL got into this. I never had much RESPECT for the company, but they did serve the purpose of popularizing the Internet, even if not in a particularly good way. Prodigy, Compuserv, GE (I forget their product name even though I used it) and many others all had ways for people to dial-in and get information, exchange messages etc. Like the "Facebooks" of today, it only worked well if everyone you knew was on the same system. AoL was "open" by comparison as you could actually send and receive message from outside (to/from the rest of the Internet). They had a graphical interface when many Internet users were still in character mode. At the time I had experimented with all of these services, but settled instead using a small company in Maryland that supplied only a straight dial-up character-mode interface.

    But it's not like networked computers were anything new. All the computers in the state of Florida were networked in the early 70s and that was using a combination of world standards body technologies and possibly more forward thinking things from IBM. Giving government (much less Al Gore) credit for creating the Internet is sort of like giving them credit for inventing roads by funding the Interstate Highway system. The technology was a build up of public and private technologies which gradually and organically grew out of the need for various interests to communicate (you didn't use the Internet to back-up your databases back then) with one another.

    Anyway, it is generally conceded that the Internet had benefited from the government keeping its hands off of it as much as possible and we are going to throw that idea out all for the purpose (at least the publicly advertised purpose) of preventing a "crime" (predatory traffic shaping) which has only taken place once, and was discontinued after it was publicly exposed, without any government intervention.

    The FCC is going to end up (along with massive new funding) with the power to select winners and losers on totally non-technical grounds. We'll have censorship, monitoring, traceability of everything (in a lot more straightforward fashion than we have now). A few more companies will join the club of "too big to fail" and those will be the ones that smaller companies will have to kowtow to in order to stay in business. So called Network Neutrality is just the camel's nose under the tent. In ten years people will have to look it up on Wikipedia to even understand what the term means.