Cory on Neutricide

June 29th, 2006 | by ian |

Cory Doctorow, famed for his debunking of DRM technology, writes an excellent article on the net neutrality issue, or “internet freedom” as I like to call it. He drives home some important points:

…there are few industries that owe their existence to regulation as much as the carriers. These companies are gigantic corporate welfare bums, having received the invaluable boon of a set of rights-of-way leading into every basement in America. Phone companies have a legal right to force you to provide access to your home for their pipes. Try calculating what it would cost to get into every U.S. home without a regulator clearing your path, and you quickly realize that the carriers should be the last people complaining about the distorting effect of regulation on their business.

Cory seems to think regulation may be required but unlike others he ventures deeper and explores what would be needed to allow for effective regulation:

The trick, then, is figuring out what we should be asking for. Based on the above, any well-developed, plausible net neutrality regime should include:
1. A definition of “last-mile carrier,” subject to net neutrality rules
2. A definition of net neutrality
3. A mechanism for keeping the definition up to date with new practices, perhaps a snappy set of principles that can be applied to new businesses
4. A mechanism for detecting breaches of the net neutrality rules
5. A credible enforcement agency and regime for keeping them on our side

Seems like a tall order to meet these requirements, “mechanistically” at least. He goes on to suggest that a SETI@home style client could help the end users keep tabs on the level of service and therefore keep service providers honest. Great idea and probably implementable in itself – it would form a giant distributed monitoring system giving maximum viewpoints of who is doing a good job and who is cheating. This in itself could lead to issues for service providers whose support costs would skyrocket with overly anxious users worrying about every blip and stutter in their service. And it would probably raise the barrier of entry into the business since noone could get away with providing a mediocre service…Perhaps regulation would hurt the internet? Make it less accessible? Hmmm. Now I am confused. So let me fall back on my belief that all business issues, politics and lobbying aside, the internet will continue to thrive with or without regulation.

The internet wasn’t planned. It is a network which emerges from human interaction and will continue to be driven by our collective desires and needs. Anything that tries to be otherwise is not the internet.

Regulation can probably only exist to define the bounds of acceptable behaviour on the ‘net, and even then it fights a losing battle against human nature.

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