5 problems with “net neutrality.”

1. It’s a complicated issue. A really complicated technical issue. The simplistic rhetoric of “demanding that ISPs treat all traffic equally” is a nonstarter, because ISPs have never done that. Peering arrangements, cacheing networks like Akamai, even the fact that you can get slow DSL for an average of $38/month or faster cable service for $41 or a really fast T1 for $250 all point to tons of variation in the way that Net traffic is handled, charged for, optimized, and delivered. Until you understand how this works you can’t even talk intelligently about net neutrality.

2. In an environment where ordinary folks can barely understand the issue, and congressmen even less, legislation is a bad idea. Even if it’s well-intentioned, legislation that attempts to control the course of technological development can have unintended consequences down the line. So today’s defeat of a Net neutrality amendment is probably a good thing, not a setback for democracy.

3. The Internet is not going to end tomorrow if ISPs start prejudicially carrying IP traffic. It may get harder for, say, AOL users or Cox Cable subscribers to do certain things. But break the Internet? Not so easy to do. There are always alternate ways of getting your data from point A to point B.

4. It may not be that urgent. Even AT&T’s Ed Whitacre, who kicked off this whole firestorm with some stupid comments a few months back about charging Google to deliver video, is backing off and says that AT&T isn’t planning to prioritize packet delivery.

5. It’s terribly named. No movement since the fight against “global warming” has given itself a worse name right out of the gate (and using the term “global warming” instead of “climate collapse” probably cost us 20 years). The fact is, “net neutrality” sounds bland, like nothing at all to get inspired about, unless you’re some crazy net geek. “Save the Internet” is a bit better but it sounds wacko and alarmist. Anyone got a better moniker? God knows they need one.

More info: Susan Crawford’s FAQ on Net Neutrality.

  • anonymous Howard

    The whole thing\’s a farce except the root servers.

  • http://birdhouse.org/blog/ Scot Hacker

    using the term “global warming” instead of “climate collapse” probably cost us 20 years

    Very powerful observation on the power of language. Is that yours?

  • http://dylan.tweney.com Dylan

    Scot, I can’t claim credit for that observation, since I know I’ve heard/read other people talk about this topic. But I don’t know who exactly.

    But here are my own thoughts on the matter: “Global warming” makes the problem sound minor, and maybe even slightly pleasant. An extra half degree temperature rise, on average? hey, no big deal! Our winters are kinda cold anyway. But if you focus on the effects: what will happen when the Gulf Stream stops circulating, for instance, it doesn’t seem so pleasant. That’s why Al Gore’s greatest recent contribution to this whole debate is shifting the terminology.

    Those who control the terminology win the debates. Just consider:

    “illegal aliens”
    “illegal immigrants”
    “undocumented workers”
    or the Spanish term — “sin papeles” meaning “people without papers”

    — each of these has a decided rhetorical thrust. If you can get people to start using one of them, you’ve gone a long way towards getting them to accept your arguments.

    Another great example:

    “intellectual property”

    … once you call it that, you’ve classed copyrights together with land rights. And in America, there’s nothing more sacred than land rights! So any notion of the social obligation that used to accompany copyrights & patents goes right out the window, to be replaced by outright ownership, pure and simple.

    This kind of stuff drives me nuts…