Saving the Net (Doc Searls)07 Mar 2006
In November last year, Doc Searls published a lengthy article in LinuxJournal: “Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes“. It is an essential piece of reading.
This is a long essay. There is, however, no limit to how long I could have made it. The subjects covered here are no less enormous than the Net and its future.
The topic of the essay is this: the big (telco/media) corporations are dying to take over the Net, manage it the corporate style and charge for any use of the Internet. At the same time they want to get rid of the wild, pioneering spirit that brought us avalanches of innovation and the occasional disruptive force like Amazon, Ebay, MP3 and BitTorrent.
He sees 3 possible scenarios:
Scenario I: The Carriers Win
They don’t see themselves as a public utility selling a pure base-level service, such as water or electricity (which is what they are, by the way, in respect to the Net). They see themselves as a source of many additional value-adds, inside the pipes. They see opportunities to sell solutions to industries that rely on the Net–especially their natural partner, the content industry.
The carriers are going to lobby for the laws and regulations they need, and they’re going to do the deals they need to do. The new system will be theirs, not ours. The NEA principle–Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it–so familiar to the Free Software and Open Source communities will prove to be a temporary ideal, a geek conceit. Code is not Law. Culture is not Free. From the Big Boys’ perspective, code and culture are stuff nobody cares about.
Scenario II: The Public Workaround
The only way around this issue is to avoid it by encouraging the development of alternative online access methods, and being careful not to let the incumbents call them illegal. Let the dinosaurs huddle together in the snow, controlling and commoditizing to their hearts’ content. We’re made of better stuff. It should be no more illegal to have an open wireless network in your house than to practice the piano with the windows open.
What if Google wanted to give Wi-Fi access to everyone in America? And what if it had technology capable of targeting advertising to a user’s precise location? The gatekeeper of the world’s information could become one of the globe’s biggest Internet providers and one of its most powerful ad sellers, basically supplanting telecoms in one fell swoop.
The question assumes that we need “an effective framework to govern the internet.” There’s a lot of law that already applies online, and I have not seen a demonstration that more new law is needed–and, in any event, it’s not the FCC that is in the best position to do it.
Scenario III: Fight with Words and Not Just Deeds
To sum up, the Net has all these natures:
- transport system (pipes)
- place (or world)
- publishing system
Right now #1 is at war with #2 and #3, and that war isn’t happening only in the media and in congressional hearing rooms. It’s happening in our own heads.
Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren’t screwing up the Net because they’re “Friends of Bush” or “Friends of Hollywood” or liberals or conservatives. They’re doing it because one way of framing the Net–as a transport system for content–is winning over another way of framing the Net–as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive.
We need to show how the Net has its own nature, and that this nature is too dynamic–too original, too wild and free, too self-creating and self-correcting–for new lawmaking to comprehend, much less control.
We need to stress how the pipe-centric view of the world is responsible for the crippled and asymmetrical “consumer” service the carriers call “broadband”. By restricting upstream use of the Net and biasing service to downstream “content delivery”, the carriers have effectively outlawed personal and small business enterprise on the Net. This is one area where the carriers have been persistently clueless and hostile to the Net since the beginning, and we need to call them on it.
This essay by Doc Searls is one of the reasons I felt uncomfortable reading Russell Beattie’s “WTF2.0” article:
I deal with companies every day who have no qualms about charging 25 cents to send 160 characters of data from one person to another, or who have no problems charging $3.00 for a 10kb .gif image or a bad .midi version of a popular song, or even up to $10.00 for a small Java clone of Tetris – a 20 year old game. Unlike the web world, the mobile world is accustomed to charging for every thing that has the slightest bit of value. The difference between the markets couldn�t be more drastic.
Not that there’s anything wrong with making money, of course. But I’m not looking forward to an Internet that’s only managed by an oligarchy of telco corporations.