Inventor of the web weighs in: Tim Berners-Lee on Net Neutrality

June 22nd, 2006 | by ian |

Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web finally weighs in on the Net Neutrality debate in a blog entry. It is accompanied by a video which is currently only available in RealVideo format, hopefully someone will upload it to Google video or YouTube so most of the world can watch it!

He says:

Net neutrality is this:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

That’s all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.

Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn’t pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.

Strong misconceptions require strong clarifications, and Tim delivers. The debate has meandered in a number of directions, and many folks don’t seem to be aware that most ISPs already offer different tiers of service: by paying more money to our ISP we can gain access to greater bandwidth. Clearly, then, simply selling multiple tiers of bandwidth at sustainable prices is not sufficient for the telcos and ISPs…bottom line is they want to get involved in content filtering and this is just an excuse to do so.

Now Tim doesn’t share my faith that the internet is self-organizing and unlikely to be hijacked by special interest power plays. He believes we need legislation, a point of view I initially supported. I still believe that this road would be the less rocky one to take: there is no way to predict how a fight for internet freedom would run its course without intervention, and it is unlikely that internet businesses would emerge unscathed. That said, he goes on to emphasize the key connection which matters, which I discuss at length at, between net neutrality and social liberty:

Yes, regulation to keep the Internet open is regulation. And mostly, the Internet thrives on lack of regulation. But some basic values have to be preserved. For example, the market system depends on the rule that you can’t photocopy money. Democracy depends on freedom of speech. Freedom of connection, with any application, to any party, is the fundamental social basis of the Internet, and, now, the society based on it.

Let’s see whether the United States is capable as acting according to its important values, or whether it is, as so many people are saying, run by the misguided short-term interested of large corporations.

“Freedom of connection.” That is what it is all about. Not connect for free, but connect freely. Freedom sells.

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