[UPDATE, 15Nov14: Ars Technica and the FCC call bullshit on AT&T too: FCC calls AT&T’s fiber bluff, demands detailed construction plans. AT&T claims net neutrality forced it to “pause” fiber builds it never started. The FCC team reviewing AT&T’s proposed acquisition of DirectTV has asked AT&T to detail its current FTTH deployment (approximately zero homes — DI), its planned FTTH deployment, and the impact of the announced pause on those plans. AT&T’s fiber plans impact its ability to deliver video, so they bear on the DirectTV deal. The FCC asked for answers by November 21; don’t hold your breath.]

Today’s headline in Reuters and the Washington Post says,
AT&T to pause fiber investment until net neutrality rules are decided

The body of the short article says essentially nothing. Here it is:

(Reuters) – AT&T (T.N) will pause investments to bring fiber connections to 100 cities until U.S. regulators iron out rules to regulate how Internet service providers manage their Web traffic, the company’s chief executive told investors at a conference on Wednesday.

“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” said Randall Stephenson.

“We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like,” he added.

First, if uncertainty of AT&T’s investment were the problem, it would have made this announcement sooner, for example, when the FCC first leaked its “commercially reasonable” fast-lanes-ok proposal, or, later when the FCC released its hybrid 706/Title 2 proposal. Both of these had substantially more uncertain outcomes than a pure Title 2 approach.

Second, fiber deployment to 100 cities — if indeed AT&T’s announced intent is more than just “fiber to the press release” — is a huge effort that will take years, perhaps a decade. Thus any effect of a pause won’t be felt — except in the press and resulting political pressure — for years. Why would AT&T pause for a month or two now if the effect would be to move fiber-based service cutover from e.g., July 2017 to September 2017?

Third, if AT&T is threatening to get out of the business of deploying a fiber network altogether, why doesn’t it just come clean and say so!

Fourth, AT&T was quick to announce a fiber to the home project in Austin TX right after Google announced its own Austin project. Is AT&T now going to cede this point of pride to Google after just a few months?

Give me a break, AT&T. You are blowing noxious PR smoke.

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[UPDATE, 15Nov14: Ars Technica and the FCC call bullshit on AT&T too: FCC calls AT&T’s fiber bluff, demands detailed construction plans
AT&T claims net neutrality forced it to “pause” fiber builds it never started.
The FCC team reviewing AT&T’s proposed acquisition of DirectTV has asked AT&T to detail its current FTTH deployment (approximately zero homes — DI), its planned FTTH deployment, and the impact of the announced pause on those plans. AT&T’s fiber plans impact its ability to deliver video, so they bear on the DirectTV deal. The FCC asked for an answer by November 21; don’t hold your breath.]

Today’s headline in Reuters and the Washington Post says,
AT&T to pause fiber investment until net neutrality rules are decided

The body of the short article says essentially nothing. Here it is:

(Reuters) – AT&T (T.N) will pause investments to bring fiber connections to 100 cities until U.S. regulators iron out rules to regulate how Internet service providers manage their Web traffic, the company’s chief executive told investors at a conference on Wednesday.

“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” said Randall Stephenson.

“We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like,” he added.

First, if uncertainty of AT&T’s investment were the problem, it would have made this announcement sooner, for example, when the FCC first leaked its “commercially reasonable” fast-lanes-ok proposal, or, later when the FCC released its hybrid 706/Title 2 proposal. Both of these had substantially more uncertain outcomes than a pure Title 2 approach.

Second, fiber deployment to 100 cities — if indeed AT&T’s announced intent is more than just “fiber to the press release” — is a huge effort that will take years, perhaps a decade. Thus any effect of a pause won’t be felt — except in the press and resulting political pressure — for years. Why would AT&T pause for a month or two now if the effect would be to move fiber-based service cutover from e.g., July 2017 to September 2017?

Third, if AT&T is threatening to get out of the business of deploying a fiber network altogether, why doesn’t it just come clean and say so!

Fourth, AT&T was quick to announce a fiber to the home project in Austin TX right after Google announced its own Austin project. Is AT&T now going to cede this point of pride to Google after just a few months?

Give me a break, AT&T. You are blowing noxious PR smoke.

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[UPDATE, 15Nov14: Ars Technica and the FCC call bullshit on AT&T too: FCC calls AT&T’s fiber bluff, demands detailed construction plans
AT&T claims net neutrality forced it to “pause” fiber builds it never started.
The FCC team reviewing AT&T’s proposed acquisition of DirectTV has asked AT&T to detail its current FTTH deployment (approximately zero homes — DI), its planned FTTH deployment, and the impact of the announced pause on those plans. AT&T’s fiber plans impact its ability to deliver video, so they bear on the DirectTV deal. The FCC asked for an answer by November 21; don’t hold your breath.]

Today’s headline in Reuters and the Washington Post says,
AT&T to pause fiber investment until net neutrality rules are decided

The body of the short article says essentially nothing. Here it is:

(Reuters) – AT&T (T.N) will pause investments to bring fiber connections to 100 cities until U.S. regulators iron out rules to regulate how Internet service providers manage their Web traffic, the company’s chief executive told investors at a conference on Wednesday.

“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” said Randall Stephenson.

“We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules would look like,” he added.

First, if uncertainty of AT&T’s investment were the problem, it would have made this announcement sooner, for example, when the FCC first leaked its “commercially reasonable” fast-lanes-ok proposal, or, later when the FCC released its hybrid 706/Title 2 proposal. Both of these had substantially more uncertain outcomes than a pure Title 2 approach.

Second, fiber deployment to 100 cities — if indeed AT&T’s announced intent is more than just “fiber to the press release” — is a huge effort that will take years, perhaps a decade. Thus any effect of a pause won’t be felt — except in the press and resulting political pressure — for years. Why would AT&T pause for a month or two now if the effect would be to move fiber-based service cutover from e.g., July 2017 to September 2017?

Third, if AT&T is threatening to get out of the business of deploying a fiber network altogether, why doesn’t it just come clean and say so!

Fourth, AT&T was quick to announce a fiber to the home project in Austin TX right after Google announced its own Austin project. Is AT&T now going to cede this point of pride to Google after just a few months?

Give me a break, AT&T. You are blowing noxious PR smoke.

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As Network Neutrality activists picketed in front of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Georgetown residence this morning to show their concern for the future of the Internet, President Obama vindicated months of fervent pro-Internet activism by declaring his support for strong Net Neutrality under Title 2 of the Telecommunications Act.

But Network Neutrality is not yet the law of the land, and it may never be, especially if the FCC dawdles.

Obama said,

. . . the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.

He continued,

The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.

The President’s full statement is here.

This is huge, perhaps the biggest victory since Internet activists rose up to stop SOPA and PIPA in 2012! Like that victory, today’s victory never would have happened without hundreds of committed activists motivating the concern of millions of Internet users. Today’s victory would not have happened without comments filed at the FCC by 4 million concerned citizens who were inspired by an amazingly cohesive and diligent coalition of organizations like Free Press, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight For the Future, Credo, Common Cause, the Open Technology Institute, Demand Progress, and others.

What these activists have been saying is, simply this: Title 2 is the simplest route to strong Net Neutrality. It embodies the fact that the Internet is now an essential service. Also, and very importantly, Title 2 is the most solid legal ground for Net Neutrality (based on common law from the 1300s) and the most likely to stand up to court challenges. So the President’s statement this morning gives us cause to celebrate.

But the battle is not over, and DEFINITELY not won yet.

As Obama has pointed out, the FCC is — and remains — an independent agency. Here is a little known fact: The FCC is a legislative body, NOT a part of the executive branch. It reports to Congress, not to the President. And guess who will be an all-Republican body — opposed to everything with Obama’s fingerprints on it — in January. So if the FCC waits until January, it could — and likely WILL — be facing unprecedented Congressional hostility.

Moreover, when Comcast calls — or AT&T, or Verizon or Time Warner — he takes their calls. (When Free Press or Public Knowledge or EFF calls, not so much — they have to camp out and picket and deliver millions of comments to get his attention.)

Also, Title 2 reclassification needs three FCC votes. So even if Tom Wheeler accedes to the President’s moral authority on this matter, OR if Tom Wheeler follows the pull of his personal bonds to Barack Obama, we still need Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to vote for it. (The two GOP-nominated Commissioners, uh, fuggedaboudit.) Both Rosenworcel and Clyburn have indicated that they support stronger versions of Net Neutrality than Wheeler has heretofore proposed, but Comcast and the others have bribed FCC commissioners right into a good job in the recent past for voting “the right way.” So we must encourage Rosenworcel and Clyburn to stay strong on this. And act soon.

Act soon. This is the most important thing now. The FCC must act now. Now, in 2014. Title 2 Reclassification, now.

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Everybody is against FCC Chairman Wheeler’s soon-to-be-forthcoming proposal, it seems, except Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable. And a few on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand academics like Kevin Werbach and Phil Weiser, both of whom have served in the federal government to augment their academic careers. It’s exactly as David Pogue outlined in his recent Scientific American column, The Net Neutrality Debate in 2 Minutes or Less, Network Neutrality is supported by . . .

. . . nearly every pro-consumer organization on earth, including the Consumers Union and Common Cause. Also, the creators of the Internet (including Vinton Cerf) and the Web (including Tim Berners-Lee). And every true believer in free speech, innovation and the American way . . .

and opposed by the telcos and cablecos.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen screeds against Wheeler’s proposal by Dan Gillmor, Tim Wu, Cory Doctorow, The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, ZDNet, SPIN Magazine, GigaOm, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Al Franken, and, well, just about everybody. Even Public Knowledge, the watchdog group created by FCC Chairman Wheeler’s External Affairs Chief, has come out against it.

The New York Times’ The Strip says it like this:

The-Strip-Slide-5Gwg-Jumbo

So, why, might we ask, are the countries most despised companies — Comcast tops the list — getting what they want from the FCC while the vast majority of people are opposed? Maybe this story, unrelated to the FCC, might shed some light: Data driven research by economists at Princeton and Northwestern, looking at almost 2000 policy issues in a dispassionate, data-driven analysis, conclude that,

“… economic elites and organized groups representing business interests [influence]
U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups
have little or no influence.”

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this month’s surprise best-seller is another economic study, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty, which concludes that the long term return to capital exceeds long term economic growth, in other words, capitalism is sucking the economy dry.

It certainly has nothing to do with the fact that both Brazil and the European Community passed strong network neutrality legislation this month.

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In a NYT Op-Ed yesterday (reproduced below), erstwhile candidate for
FCC Chair Professor Susan Crawford meekly protests the current FCC
Chair’s proposal to gut network neutrality and replace it with a
pay-for-play system of fast lanes for bigcos and slow lanes for the
rest of the Internet’s 3 billion content creators.

Professor Crawford says not to worry because Municipal Networks.
She says,

“… the commission’s decision frees Americans to focus on the
only real long-term solution: supporting open municipal-level
fiber networks.”

Municipal networks are no substitute for network neutrality. Muni nets
are a great idea, and they provide huge advantages over networks owned
by Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and other bigcos, but they
are not a substitute for federal network non-discrimination regulation.

Regrettably, Professor Crawford makes a mistake when she calls the
FCC Chair’s proposal a decision. If it is a decision, why fight? But the
decision has not been made. The fight is still on.

Furthermore, I am afraid that she’s misdirecting us with her claim that
municipal networks will provide “fair and equitable Internet access.”

There are some 25,000 municipalities in the US. Of these, 400 — 1.6%
– are building or planning municipal networks. Crawford says that
removing the state legal barriers to muni nets that exist in 20 states
will make muni nets more common, but even in the 30 states with no such
barriers muni nets are a rare exception.

Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that municipal networks won’t filter
content, offer fast-lane pay-to-play deals or violate network
neutrality in other ways. If BigCo X and City Hall make a deal, well,
y’know a deal’s a deal. It’d be delusional to think that Joe and Jill
Citizen could win against BigCo X in the age of Citizens United and
McCutcheon.

Even if your city had a network with a strong non-discrimination
policy, without federal legislation you would still be connecting to a
biased net. If your city’s network connects to Comcast (or Verizon or
AT&T orTime Warner Cable), and you need services or content from such
bigco networks, they’re still free to discriminate against you. Even if
you interact with the bigco’s Internet customers, without federal
non-discrimination regulations you face bias. (For example, if you are
part of a social network like Facebook that doesn’t have a deal with
(e.g.) Comcast, then Facebook could be slow-laned and your friends who
are Comcast’s customers could be “encouraged” to join networks that
Comcast does have deals with. If you publish an independent blog, write
your own apps or host your own services, fuggedaboudit.)

Professor Crawford is egregiously wrong when she says that muni nets
are, “…the only real long-term solution.” Structural separation –
making it illegal for network operators to have any financial interest
in the traffic they carry — would remove any motive for providers of
Internet connections to discriminate. Structural separation is the
“single payer rule” of networks, and the bigcos hate because it is
simple, enforceable and not subject to legal haggling and
re-definition. It’s the best real long term solution, except that in
the USA of Citizens United and McCutcheon oligopoly defines reality.

Failing structural separation, Title II, which governed our telephone
network when it was the greatest communications network in the world,
provides a framework for treating Internet access as critical
infrastructure so that Internet access providers would have public
duties that include non-discrimination. Even the current FCC Chair
leaves the door open to Title II, but if thinkers like Crawford give
up, the Chair certainly won’t push it on his own.

Failing that, we should require the FCC to implement temporary but
strong network neutrality rules that sunset when muni nets reach oh,
say, 10% of the United States population. This would be somewhat more
palatable to those who favor competition over regulation.

In summary, if we give up the fight for the open Internet before the
FCC makes its decision, we’re tools. And if we think that municipal
networks are a substitute for federal protection of the properties that
made the Internet miraculous, we’re fools.
—–

[Before FCC Chair Wheeler announced his proposal to gut net neutrality
I gave a talk (transcript here) about many of the ideas above.]
—–

The Wire Next Time
By SUSAN CRAWFORD
APRIL 27, 2014
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/28/opinion/the-wire-next-time.html?_r=1

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — LAST week’s proposal by the Federal
Communications Commission to allow Internet service providers to
charge different rates to different online content companies —
effectively ending the government’s commitment to net neutrality —
set off a flurry of protest.

The uproar is appropriate: In bowing before an onslaught of
corporate lobbying, the commission has chosen short-term political
expediency over the long-term interest of the country.

But if this is the end of net neutrality as we know it, it is not
the end of the line for fair and equitable Internet access.
Indeed, the commission’s decision frees Americans to focus on the
only real long-term solution: supporting open municipal-level
fiber networks.

Such networks typically provide a superior and less expensive
option to wholly private networks operated by Internet service
providers like Comcast and Time Warner.

The idea of muni networks has been around for a while, with
bipartisan support. When the Telecommunications Act was under
discussion in 1994, Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi,
was one of its most enthusiastic supporters. Thanks to him and
others, the act, passed in 1996, prohibits states from putting up
unreasonable obstacles to any entity that wants to provide
telecommunications services.

So why didn’t a thousand muni networks bloom? After all, the 1996
act was aimed at increasing competition. But private providers
rightly recognized muni networks as a threat, and in the
subsequent decades have pushed through laws in 20 states that,
despite the 1996 act, make it difficult or impossible for
municipalities to clear the way for the sorts of networks that the
1996 act envisioned.

That means that the main problem behind getting muni networks up
and running isn’t about the technology — which not only exists,
but is already being used in large and small cities around the
world — but about the politics.

As a first step, Americans need to focus their efforts on getting
these laws taken off the books. (To its credit, the FCC recently
signaled its willingness to help, saying it would consider
blocking those laws at the federal level.)

Mere legislative change won’t be enough, however. We need to elect
leaders on the basis of their commitment to changing America’s
stagnant communications infrastructure.

There is much to be done at every level of government, but cities
are the most promising battleground right now. Mayors, Republican
and Democrat alike, are in the business of providing their
citizens with services, and fiber infrastructure is just like a
city street grid: Economic development, quality of life, new jobs
and a thriving competitive market all depend on its presence.

Most important, cities have assets in the form of control over
conduits, poles and rights of way that can be used to support the
provision of competitive fiber-optic networks. Since 1998, my
hometown, Santa Monica, Calif., has been saving money by shifting
from paying expensive leases on private communications lines to
using its own fiber network, called City Net.

The city planned carefully and built out City Net slowly, taking
advantage of moments when streets were being opened for other
infrastructure projects. Businesses in Santa Monica now pay City
Net a third of what a private operator would charge, and the city
government has made millions leasing out its fiber resources at
reasonable rates to other providers.

According to Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self
Reliance, a national expert on community networks, more than 400
towns and cities across America have installed or are planning
networks. And that’s not just good for consumers; it’s good for
business. Companies are moving to places like Wilson, N.C., and
Chattanooga, Tenn., because those cities provide public,
inexpensive, high-capacity connectivity.

American cities need fast, cheap, ubiquitous, open fiber networks,
and every city has the tools at its disposal to get these networks
built. But there are powerful and well-funded incumbents who will
fight any mayor brave enough to consider the idea. If you’re
furious about your cable bill and worried about net neutrality, go
tell city hall.

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Fcc-Round-RobinAs news of the FCC’s new Network Neutrality proposal breaks, e.g., this Washington Post piece, [or — even better — this piece from Esquire] it is pretty obvious what’s going on here [source of info-graphic above]. #myFCC

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I gave this talk at the Broadband Communities Summit today, April 10, in Austin TX.

[These remarks are  more or less "as delivered." I edited them to reflect my last minute changes on 4/14/14.]
—–

I’m honored to be in front of an audience that is building networks that are alternatives to the local telephone company and cable company. You are doing THE good work.

But I need to tell you something. I get a little bit sick when I hear “broadband, broadband, broadband.” To a first approximation it does not matter how many shmegabits or shmigabits your networks run at. The important thing is that your networks connect to the Internet. The Internet is what makes your broadband networks valuable. Let’s not forget that the Internet became popular at 28.8 and 56 KILObits a second. Broadband without the Internet ain’t worth squat.

So let’s not talk about broadband — for a change — Lets talk about the Internet.

Like many of the unreasonable people who imagine an ideal future and ask “Why not?” on whose shoulders we all stand, I have a dream …

I have a dream that the Internet harnesses the best impulses of humanity, that the Internet opens doors for us to replace ignorance with curiosity, cruelty with empathy , and privation with productivity.

I have a dream that, thanks to the Internet, we think of the people in Accra or Bejing or Caracas as “us” not “them” — as US, the same way that we think of the people of Austin, Boston and Chicago.

I have a dream that, thanks to the Internet, a cornucopia of new and wonderful applications that we can’t even imagine today will make our lives more satisfying and productive tomorrow.

I have a dream that, thanks to the Internet, the climate problem will be solved by smart vehicles and smart energy and smart food production, all networked together for optimum resource usage and minimum planetary impact.

I have a dream that, thanks to the Internet, the two billion human beings who live on less than dollar a day will connect to food and water and medical care, to transparent, democratic governance, to customers, suppliers, markets, innovative ideas and, ultimately, to incomes that will lift them out of poverty

I have a dream that one of these two billion people is already smart enough to be another Einstein, that another is so compassionate as to be another Gandhi, that another is so wise as to be another Mandella . . . and that someday soon we will discover their blog, subscribe to their flickr photo stream and read their tweets.

If the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King had seen the Internet today, he might have said, “Mine eyes have seen the glory.”

But I also have a nightmare . . .

In my nightmare, the sons and daughters of the people who grew rich and powerful harvesting the resources of the last century have convinced us that they need to — quote-unquote — “manage” — what they call — quote-unquote — “my pipes” so that they know every single thing we do on the Internet, everything we see, everything we read, everything we write, everything we buy, who our friends are, how much money we owe, what medical problems we have, what drugs we take, what sex turns us on, what kind of parents we are to our kids . . .

You’ve probably had the kind of nightmare I’m talking about where you’re revulsed but you can’t look away, where you try to run but your legs won’t move, where you’re struggling to escape but you’re paralyzed.

In my nightmare, they say they need to manage their pipes to prevent network congestion. But then we discover that there’s no congestion, but they’ve already put their creepy middleware into the Internet. Then they say they want to pay authors and musicians fairly. So they put some creepy copyright catcher into the Internet. But then we discover they’re still not paying authors and musicians fairly. So then they say they need to do it to stop illegal drugs. So they install creepy spyware in the Internet. Then after years of no-knock raids, racist arrests, kangaroo courts and overflowing prisons, we show that they’ve failed to stop illegal drugs. And then they say they need to do it to stop terrorism . . .

In my nightmare, sometimes there’s a genuine emergency — a big storm or an earthquake or a pandemic or — amazingly infrequently — an attack on a city, but they choose to shut the Internet down — rather than open it up — and now people can’t call their loved ones, summon aid, find advice or figure out what’s going on except through official — and panic-clogged — channels.

In my nightmare, whatever the excuse — or the precipitating real-world event — once the Internet’s intermediaries know which apps generate which packets, they discover the information we value the most and start charging more for applications we value more.

In my nightmare, this becomes a form of blackmail, because if you tell, say, a bank, that there’s a secure transaction service, no matter how bogus, and it doesn’t use it, and there’s a security breach anywhere for any reason, the bank becomes liable because by not choosing the so-called “secure service,” it demonstrated that it did not take *all* the precautions that were available.

In my nightmare, some applications generate more revenues because they’re subject to management — and others don’t — and the managed applications get all the newest, shiniest, fastest network upgrades, while the newer, edgier, more experimental apps languish in what rapidly becomes Yesterday’s Network.

In my nightmare, new innovations that need the newest fastest network, but don’t yet have a revenue stream, are consigned to second class service. Or they’re subject to lengthy engineering studies and other barriers that keep them off the market. In other words, in my nightmare, all but the most mundane innovation dies.

In my nightmare, the Internet Search Company is NOT guided by a pole star named, “Don’t be evil.”

In my nightmare, the sons and daughters of yesterday’s power structure know if I like their war, if I agree with their energy policy, if I’ve detected that their cronies are on the take, and if I reject their version of the truth.

In my nightmare, they’ve discovered exactly when I’ll be at the supermarket. A car pulls up, and there’s a man holding each of my elbows . . . “come with us, sir, just a few routine questions” . . . I step into the car, I feel a prick in my arm and the world goes dark . . . and I wake up in an orange jumpsuit in a windowless room that is completely disconnected from the Internet, from geography, from information, from law, from time, from my wife, from everything that makes me human. I break into a cold sweat, I try to scream, I struggle to wake up . . .

Then I wake up.

OK … so which is it, Internet dream or Internet nightmare?

The reason I’m talking to you this morning is that I hope that you who are building new networks, and who are building your communities around them, will understand that broadband that does not connect to the Internet isn’t worth squat.

You can have a fast digital connection that’s not an Internet connection. It could be a backplane, or a specialized financial transaction network, or a cable TV system.

When I was at AT&T we tried desperately to sell digital services before the Internet got popular, services like switched digital lines and ISDN, and products like Datakit, and StarLan., but before the Internet nobody was buying!

Digital so-called broadband services only took off after the Internet became popular.

So, why was the Internet so miraculously successful, whereas all previous service models failed?

The answer is that the Internet was designed to be a Network of Networks. And the Internet became the miraculous value producer it did because it was a network of networks.

This is important: The Internet protocol is designed to ignore network-specific differences. It is designed to move data from any network to any other network from an x.25 network to an Ethernet, to a DSL connection, to a token ring network, to a StarLAN, to a switched data connection, to a SONET ring, to an ATM packet switch without any tweaks or engineering or interoperability testing.

The Internet Protocol was designed to ignore network-specific properties. If you implement the Internet Protocol according to the public specification that everybody has access to, and buy a connection to the Internet, it just works.

The spin-off of this one property is profound. It means that anybody at the edge of the Internet can put their application or service or content on the network. It also means that everybody on the Internet can access that application or service or content.

It also means that if you operate one of the Internet’s networks, it is futile (from an Internet perspective) to add value to your network specifically. The paradigmatic example comes from dial-up — the call waiting tone added value for a telephone company, but when were logged on to the Internet, call waiting was a pain in the asychronous connection.

The futility of adding value to one network is why only the simplest QOS has been implemented on the Internet. It is the reason why multicast isn’t used. The owner of a network has very little specific leverage on the end-user in the Internet’s Network-of-Networks world.

If the Internet consolidates and specializes and centralizes and monetizes, it won’t be the Internet anymore. It will be some alien network where we find out the weather, do our shopping and get the official version of the news. That’s why the work of the Broadband Communities Summit is important. You are building alternative networks that preserve the heterogeneity, the Network of Networks that is the Internet.

Let’s talk about adding value at the edge a bit more. Remember Napster? It was the first popular on-line music application. In its day, it had over 80 million registered users and accounted for 60% of the Internet traffic. It was vaguely illegal, and eventually it got sued out of existence. But it was the fore-runner of all the every-day ways we get music on line today.

When I was at Bell Labs, we had one of the first high quality, low bit rate music coders, we had the first solid-state music player, we had service models for digital music, but AT&T wanted to put on-line music in the middle of its own network. The real show-stopper, though, was that AT&T would never do anything that was quasi-legal. It had too much to lose. If the recording industry had sued AT&T, we’d be talking about big money. So AT&T never did it. It had to be done at the edge — by an edgy player like Napster. Then, once the trail was blazed, along came iTunes and Amazon and Pandora and Soundcloud and all the other ways we get on-line music

The music business is just one example of a business that needed the Internet to succeed. There are others — the picturephone was one. Do you know how many times telephone companies tried to invent the picturephone before the Internet?

Video on Demand was another — Last time I checked, Cableco video on demand was still struggling, but Netflix — which is implemented at the edge of the Internet — is doing fine, and Youtube accepts 100 hours of UPLOADS every minute.

This quasi-legal thing is a big deal. An amazing amount of social change is — or starts out as — quasi-legal activity. Civil rights. Gay rights. Marijuana. Martin Luther King is a hero today, right? He was jailed in 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1967. Nelson Mandela is a hero, right? He was in prison 27 years. If we want positive social change, we need an Internet that is tolerant of quasi-legal — or even illegal — activity at its edges.

Now let me be clear. I am not advocating for a network of crime. But I am saying that the Internet should be governed by an “Innocent until Proven Guilty” ethic — just like off-line society should be.

Consider the alternative — gate-keepers that pre-judge what’s allowed on the Internet. Unacceptable. If we fail to allow the users at the edge of the Internet — both the creators and the customers — if we don’t allow THEM to decide what succeeds and fails on the Internet, we will have lost the Internet.

If we allow powerful, consolidated companies like Comcast to put their own private tweaks on the public suite of Internet protocols, we risk losing the Internet. Usage caps and private deals are just the thin edge of the wedge.

When Comcast comes to your Community Broadband Network and says, “Let’s make a deal,” the deal may seem sweet, but the risk is that we lose the Internet.

If we lose the Internet, Community Broadband networks will be the biggest losers.

What can we do about that? That’s another talk. But in short, I believe that Network Neutrality was a symptom of the open Internet. Fighting for Network Neutrality is a good fight, but it is a mistake to think that it is an end in and of itself. It is a symptom of an open, heterogeneous Internet based on public protocols.

The root cause, the thing that made the Internet great, was that it was a network of networks. The best way to preserve that is to ensure — by law — that network operators have no motive to make private changes to the suite of Internet protocol within their own networks. The best way to do that is to make it illegal for network operators to have any financial interest in any of the content that travels on their networks.

This is called structural separation. It is the only long-term enforceable, sustainable way to save the Internet and to preserve our investments in Community Broadband Networks.

If we want the dream, we have to ensure that the Internet of tomorrow remains a network of heterogeneous networks. In the short-term, if we could stop with the “broadband, broadband, broadband” already and, instead, talk about Internet connections, it will help us build awareness of what’s really important.

Thank you!

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I just re-watched the first part of my eComm talk from 2008, in which I tried to tell applications providers that Comcast, Verizon and AT&T were moving up the stack, that all these ideas about innovative applications would not be aired at conferences like eComm, but at meetings inside Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

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fightback

On February 11, join BoingBoing, Mozilla, Reddit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, the ACLU, Fight for the Future, Greenpeace, Roots Action, Free Press, ThoughtWorks, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Access, the Open Technology Institute, and many other fine organizations (such as isen.com, LLC) to honor the memory of Aaron Swartz and further the work he started.