The Net-Neutrality Spinners12/29/2006 07:00:00 PM Eastern
To a spinmeister, a name can be a most flexible tool. Case in point? The
term "net neutrality."
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it
means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." That was
Alice Through the Looking Glass 135 years ago. The rule
still applies today.
Internet politics creates peculiar alliances. The oddest yet may be
Google and best pal Microsoft teaming up to fight off attempts by broadband
pipe owners (like Comcast and Verizon) to charge certain heavy content
suppliers (like Google and Microsoft) more to use their networks than other
suppliers (like Comcast and Verizon).
Indeed, forceful arguments for this position are made in clever and
well-produced video shorts on Google-owned YouTube.
The pipe owners want to charge big users more. They say that it's their
investment that essentially created the broadband world.
Instead of defending a frozen concept of neutral access, the FCC may
better serve the public interest by letting network owners have their way, as
long as the FCC also adds open spectrum. That would allow free Wi-Max, a more
wide-ranging wireless Internet service than Wi-Fi, to more effectively compete
with fast but pricey private wirelines, ensuring real net neutrality. (Google,
nothing if not smart, has also bet this side of the table by funding efforts to
provide free Wi-Fi.)
In politics, geeks are often described as anarcho-libertarians. Unlike
Groucho Marx, this is a club I include myself in. "Hands off my computer" is
our rallying cry. But there's another axiom: "The Internet sees censorship as
network outage, and routes around it."
I would argue that the Internet will see differential pricing—a
non-neutral Net—as just such an outage, and the venture world will
finance all sorts of free wireless ways around it. The public wins.
Humpty later recites a poem to Alice: "I sent a message to the fish. I
told them, 'This is what I wish.'"
The fish here are you and me; we're supposed to believe that the
regulation demanded by Google, Amazon and Microsoft will assure us that our
Internet will be forever free. For some reason, I instinctively feel for my