Thursday, April 20, 2006


Save the Internet

Jeff Pulver has started a campaign to Save the Internet. The objective, in the words of Jon Arnold:
to convince regulators and policymakers that keeping the Internet open and free is in the best interests of consumers. If not, the RBOCs and MSOs will carry the day, which will ultimately lead to a corporate controlled Internet and throw a damper on the kind of innovation that has made the Internet what is today. That's downright scary stuff.
Hmmm. Who are the people who have controlled the Internet so far? Hasn't a free-market, business-oriented approach been the main driver of the innovation to date? Even the most anarchistic software developers appear to have been seduced by the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I can't figure out what kind of rules Jeff wants from the government. On one hand, he is looking for guarantees of wide open access - no interference in anyone's bits. But use government interference to provide those guarantees. An internet world with no rules would mean that anyone can have anything, which sounds good on the surface. But that also means that someone could steal everything.

Think of the Internet as a public library. I suspect that in Jeff's view, the doors never close and there would be no requirement for a library card. No one would even need to sign out a book - to maintain complete anonymity for the users. Users would return the books when they are done, because it is the right thing. Not because the operator of the library charged a fine for overdue books. And extra copies of the books in greatest demand would magically appear, so there was never a shortage of supply.

It is an interesting utopian view of the world and I hate to wake the dreamers - but there need to be reasonable limits. You want non-discriminatory access, but that doesn't mean that there can't be fees associated with certain applications that have atypical requirements. In the context of the Shaw/Vonage dispute, it seems to me that, as long as Shaw isn't purposely interfering with Vonage users' bits, there is nothing wrong with offering a premium service that has quality of service guarantees in exchange for a fee.

For as long as I can remember, and I have been using the internet for more than 20 years, there have been Acceptable Use Policies to apply a semblance of order. Open, but not free. That is where I draw the line.

There is no such thing as free. Someone always pays the price. The advocates for open and free internet are generally looking for someone else to be paying their bills. If we want the internet to thrive, let market forces figure out the rules.

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