Monday, January 23, 2006


Internet: Freedom or Privilege?

[I wrote this as an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor, but why wait for a gatekeeper who is laboring under the influence of scarce column inches? -- David I]

The battle for Internet freedom has been joined. Recently a Google spokesman
responded to assertions that Internet companies, “would not use our pipes for free,” by BellSouth, Verizon and the new AT&T, saying, “Google is not discussing sharing of the costs of broadband networks with any carrier. We believe consumers are already paying to support broadband access to the Internet through subscription fees and, as a result, consumers should have the freedom to use this connection without limitations." The battle is bigger than Google versus the telcos. It is about whether Internet access is a freedom, like freedom of the press, or a privilege that may be granted or withheld.

The Internet’s astounding growth in usefulness, in number of users, and in traffic quantity is due, precisely, to, “
the freedom to use this connection without limitations.” Its success comes from Internet users’ ability to send and receive virtually any string of 1s and 0s. For the last decade, no gatekeeper has stood between the user and the Internet to slow (or speed) the 1s and 0s based on their source, destination or meaning –the Internet treats each bit the same as every other. As a result, anybody could try out a new idea, however harebrained, without crossing a ponderous permission barrier. A hobbyist collecting Pez dispensers could develop the idea to become Ebay. A couple of Stanford students could start Google and build a better search engine. Two guys in Europe could assemble a handful of programmers to invent Skype and threaten the trillion-dollar annual global tel-economy.

Behind the obvious usefulness of Google, Ebay, Skype and other Internet applications we use every day, there are thousands of invisible Internet flops. The experimental process that the Internet enables lets users discover the applications and content they want. The good stuff floats to the top. Gatekeepers would interfere. They wound never know as much about what users want as users themselves. If each fragile Internet experiment had to be authorized to, “use our pipes,” if each young innovator had to pay for the privilege, many such experiments, even today’s great successes, might never have had a chance. The Internet’s blindness to content, even though this blindness also allows malware, spam and objectionable material, has led it to overwhelm gated systems like Compuserve and Prodigy; today it even threatens the telephone companies.

Telephone companies are fighting back. They have declared their intent to know what travels on their networks and charge discriminatorily based on this knowledge. They have pushed US courts and the FCC to decide that the Internet is an information service but not essential infrastructure, so gatekeepers can decide who has privilege to use their network. They have shaped FCC proceedings to burden innovators with emergency dialing and wiretapping requirements that, in a Kafka-esque turn, have not yet been specified but must, nevertheless, be met on schedule. They have shaped legislation before the US Congress that would protect telephone company Internet systems with special carve-outs for voice and video services, but burden innovators with federal registration, connection by private commercial arrangement or the threat of banishment to left-over, unregulated, spare capacity.

The legislation in Congress turns on two words, Network Neutrality. Network Neutrality means that the network does not discriminate among different types of traffic based on the traffic’s source, destination or content. In committee hearings, telephone companies claimed that they would not slow traffic that does not pay, only that they would speed traffic that does, but this is simply marketing language for the same discrimination. There were strong Network Neutrality words in draft telecom legislation before the U.S. House Commerce Committee, but these were removed in a second draft, because, according to Chairman Barton, “Nobody I talked to liked the first draft.” The bill’s third draft is now in renewed negotiations.

At issue: Is Internet access a freedom or a privilege? Just as Freedom of Speech means that, with very few limitations, nobody has the right to tell somebody else what to say, so should Internet freedom mean that gatekeepers should not control Internet applications or content. This is essential not just as a matter of freedom, but also as a matter of commerce, because the Internet’s success is directly due to its content-blindness. If the United States fails to understand this, U.S. Internet leadership will follow U.S. leadership in agriculture, in steel, in autos, and in consumer electronics to other countries that do.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

If we agree that customers want Network Neutrality, then the word you need is Deregulation. By creating an environment where you give consumers a choice, practices that restrict service against customer wishes will not be successful.
I'd rather that than create another layer of obfuscation around the telco monopolies.
If we can't give choice, then we need to enforce neutrality, but's a poor compromise, in my opinion.
Boy oh boy. I sense a lot of bloggers wanting to make themselves sound more important than they really are.

The bottom line is, the Internet was designed to insure net neutrality. Its very architecture makes it impossible for the net not to be neutral. That's the genius of its design.

If Bell South block Skype, they'll have to do it based on addressing or content. If they do it on addressing, Skype will evolve to get around it. If they do it on content, the content will magically encrypt itself (like Skype is already) so they can't sniff it.

All that Verizon, Bell South, SBC, and Qwest can do is vary the speed of their access networks. They can only provide different speeds for different connections. And how is that different than me buying a T-1 or a 56K dial-up line?

This more than anything else is why the BOCs are whining, they know they can't really do anything about this and they're trying to bully us. That's why Google has been quiet. They don't need to say anything, they know there's really nothing that they have to worry about.
For a full backgrounder on the net neutrality issue check out the camapign I just posted at

I referece your work as well.

The threat to the freedoms of the Internet, as we have come to know them, is real. Our best course of defense is through a public pressure campaign against Congress and the FCC.
In a digital world what you supply matters far more than how you supply it.

That is, content is what makes reveues and what drives cosumers to buy connectivity.

How would telcos cope with a network where THEY have to produce the content?
Obviously you do not know what freedom of speech is you have freedom of speech but this does not give you the right to infringe on the freedoms and right of others. Freedom of speech only applies to the government and not individuals. It applies to the relationship to government and the people; that the government can not prohibit political speech. Private individuals should have the right to set any policy of speech on their private property; thus since the internet, I.E. the pipes are private property the owner has every rights to set limitation at will.
Maybe I 'm a simple thinker, however it seems to me we just see monopoly at work. Take out 'network', put in 'utility'. So when my energy-, natural gas-, water corporation finds out I'm making big bucks working from my house, using 'their' electricity, gas, water - they 'll come to me and demand their share of the spills. Refusing is no option, as I then will end up with less or no water etc.
Same thing: when Amazon sets up a succesfull warehouse, do they have to pay extra road taxes on level with the increase of truck rolls?
Maybe its different over here in the Netherlands where most ISP's don't use a FUP - but nevertheless it seems to me the American government ouht to understand this thing would equate to giving out a permit to utility like services to economic hostage taking.

PS: any resemblance with '30s style protection by hatted guys with italian accents is sought nor accidental. Neither did I intend to imply a web savvy Eliot Ness might come in handy.
As a society, one should not allow an infrastructure owner to hold the rest of the economy hostage, to let them selectively demand an extra piece of the value created by using that infrastructure, (”or else..”) on top of their normal service bill. If you allow that, the next step will be that the electricity providers will ask an extra fee of Google because they make so much money with the servers that use electricity provided over "their" pipes, to create income dependent utilities, etc.
The key factor is not different levels of QoS of pipes, but discrimination by the Bells between applications and/or users.
Richard I would agree with you if the phone companies had built their businesses like everyone else. From the beginning they have had special deals on rights of way and guaranteed profits by states' utility commissions.

I would love to be able to build a new network with these "special" deals.

In my city there was a law passed that taxed any cable running on public property. Guess who was exempt.

If you want to run your network on telephone poles you are at the mercy of guess who? Rates on telephone poles recently went from $5 per month to $50. There isn't any room for new poles either.

This issue is similar to the road system. We can't have Fedex and UPS building new roads parallel to existing roads. There isn't enough room for everyone who wants to sell network access to build their own network.

Can you imagine AOL, Earthlink, MSN, etc. laying cable to your home?

The phone and cable companies have also gone to court to block any new companies that want to try. We have had a second cable company blocked from entering our city since 2000. The city won't allow them to start until there are no pending court cases and the current cable company has filed suit after suit.

Numerous municipalities have tried to build their own networks across the country but have been stopped by law suits from the phone companies.

Either the phone and cable companies have to share their networks at a reasonable profit or the federal, state and local governments have to let others build their own networks.
It's time to recognize that the Internet is in the process of being hi-jacked by private sector predators and their allies in the Republican-controlled federal government.

As a student of the political processes that undergird privatization and deregulation in the U.S. and abroad, core components of the ideologies of American neo-conservatism, I doubt very much that the damage that has been done and will be done can be undone or averted.

Instead, it is time to envision the creation of a 21st century Internet that will honor "Freedom to Connect" principles. Google and its friends and allies can and should take the lead to design and implement a new Internet with a sound business model that will serve the public good and escape the tentacles of governments like the U.S. under the Bush administration and private sector predators here and abroad.
On second thought: there is something in it like the privatization of value added tax collection.

In the 18th century we used to have a system of privatized tax collection in the Netherlands, it was abolished after our, French inspired, Revolution of january 1795.

One wonders whether in the US the name George might be a force of regression...
David, Yet another wonderful post.
had to steal some.

alan herrell - the head lemur
Perhaps the reality is that the BOCs are expressing their lament that they're in the wrong business. From their secure monopolist positions they could have been Google. They certainly could and perhaps should have been Vonage and its ilk. However, their culture, that of a monopolist, predisposed them to sloth and shortness of vision. They are the antithesis of innovators.

The comments from SBC/AT&T's exec simply highlight his lack of understanding. He's getting paid for his network at both ends but wants more. Fine. Raise the rates you charge your customers. We'll go elsewhere. New options will arise over time and AT&T will become irrelevent. I long ago ceased buying connectivity from an ILEC in favor of a CLEC. That business could use a boost.

What I will do is make my sentiments known to my congressperson, and make certain that they understand the issue at hand.
Here is an example of how an Internet MNC like Google can inadvertently aid ill-equipped police forces in emerging markets and authoritarian regimes put people behind bars for absolutely no fault of theirs. It reiterates the point that those interested in the freedom of the Internet have been making – that the Internet must be kept free of govt control, else you would have horrendous cases of miscarriage of justice in countries where these values are not appreciated much any way. In this case, the real mistake was committed by Airtel, an Indian telephone company and Internet service provider. Airtel’s response has been one of indifference. Worse, it has been hounding the man it helped put in jail for not paying his Internet service bill, though one can't pay bills from jail!

Innocent techie spends 50 days in jail

Wrongly Accused Of Defaming Shivaji On Net

Ketan Tanna | TNN

Mumbai: In the early hours of the morning of August 31, Lakshmana Kailash K was asleep in his home in Bangalore . He was woken up by eight policemen from Pune who came knocking on his door and waved the Information Technology Act, 2000, in his sleepy, terrified face. Get dressed, he was told, we are taking you to Pune for having defamed Shivaji.
Lakshmana protested that he didn’t know anyone called Shivaji. The policemen said that they were talking about Chhatrapati Shivaji, and that an insulting picture of him had been uploaded on the internet networking site Orkut. The cyber trail had led them to his computer in Bangalore .
Turning a deaf ear to his protests, the police took him to Pune and put him behind bars. Along the way, the 26-year-old Lakshmana, who works with HCL, learned that what he was being arrested for was a case that had triggered riots in Pune in November 2006. Political parties had forcibly closed cafes and gone on the rampage over the posting of the illustration which had poked fun at Shivaji. New to the ways of cyber crime, the police took over ten months to trace the alleged source.
Google, which owns Orkut, had cooperated with them but the vital IP address (computer number) was provided by the service provider Bharti (Airtel). Bharti said that the IP address belonged to a Lakshmana K who lived in a Bangalore apartment with friends.
His first bail plea was rejected. Finally, on October 20, after spending 50 days with 200 undertrials at Yervada Jail, Lakshmana was released. Sorry, said the police, the IP address given to us was wrong. We are sorry, said Airtel, and “deeply distressed by the severe inconvenience caused to the customer’’.
To add insult to injury, the police released Laskshmana nearly three weeks after they claimed to have picked up the “real culprits’’ on October 3— three Bangalore boys from Koramangala, all in judicial custody. Asked about the earlier arrest, assistant commissioner Netaji Shinde says, “Yes, we made a mistake. So what?’’
Bharti was a little more contrite but made no mention of compensation. “We are in touch with the customer. We have robust internal processes which we review frequently to make them more stringent,’’ said Airtel in a written response to TOI. “We have conducted a thorough investigation of the matter and will take appropriate action.’’
Lakshmana’s ordeal has uncanny resonances of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’, the more so because his name has the same initial K as Kafka’s hapless protagonist. K is arrested one morning before breakfast on a non-charge and is left to battle the state’s mindless might. Lakshmana was charged under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code for a deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings, and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act for publishing ‘lascivious’ material or material that ‘appeals to the prurient interest’.

Times View

This is a shocking case. The police can’t get away with a mere apology after wrongly charging Lakshmana Kailash and putting him in jail for 50 days on the basis of a “mistake’’. The cops may argue that they acted in good faith and the error was made by the telecom company. But wasn’t the mistake compounded because of poor police work? In fact, it’s because of police sloppiness—or is it arrogance?—that the youngster has suffered this nightmare. Currently, the law doesn’t allow for suing the police and other authorities for such mistakes. The law must be changed so that hapless persons like Lakshmana can demand and get compensation for being gravely wronged. That will also force the police to be careful while exercising their vast powers.

Jail played havoc with techie health

Mumbai: Bangalore techie Lakshmana Kailash K was charged under the IPC and the Information Technology Act. The latter charge carries a punishment of five years’ and gives the police the right to search cyber cafes and residences without a warrant.
Like Kafka’s K, Lakshmana tried initially to be brave. But he cracked when he was made to pose for a photograph with a black slate carrying his father’s name and his alleged crime. “It hurt me a lot that my father, who is a retired banker in Tirunelveli, was being associated with a crime. I just broke down,’’ he says.
“We were given a vati (bowl) which we had to eat and drink from and even take to the toilet. The long queues for filling water in the vati was our survival routine,’’ says Lakshmana. The three-in-one bowl system hit him hard. His kidney stones started acting up and his health deteriorated rapidly. “Because of depression and the bad food, I lost 12 kilos,’’ he says. “I now even have an enlarged liver because of the food and the stress.’’
He’s back home now trying to put it all behind him. HCL has been supportive but Lakshmana is not sure whether his job still exists. “I have forgotten coding. I need to start all over again,’’ he says. Asked if he planned to sue for compensation, Lakshmana is philosophical. “My family is considering it. Right now, I’m just beginning to appreciate the small things in life. It’s good to have a toilet to oneself. It’s good to have clean drinking water. It’s good to have family to quarrel with.’’
Two days after he returned to Bangalore , Airtel got in touch. But it wasn’t about the arrest. They sent him a text message reminding him to pay his bill. The text message was followed up by a visit from a collection agent. “I told them it’s all because of you that I haven’t paid,’’ says Lakshmana. “We can’t pay bills from jail.’’ ###

Times Impact

Techie case: State govt, policemen get MSHRC notice

Ketan Tanna | TNN

Mumbai: Taking suo motu cognisance of a report in the The Times of India on how Bangalore IT professional K Lakshmana was jailed for 50 days on false charges of defaming Shivaji, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) has issued notices to the state government, the chief secretary, additional chief secretary (home), DGP, Mumbai, and commissioner and assistant commissioner of police, Pune city, for “breach of (Lakshmana’s) human rights’’.
In a one-page notice, MSHRC chairperson Justice Khsitij R Vyas said the mental agony and torture suffered by Lakshmana was an evidence of the “sorry state of affairs in a country where every citizen has a right to live, move and breathe freely’’. These rights cannot be taken away at whim or in a careless manner as has been done in this case, Justice Vyas said, adding, “We are living in democracy where the rule of law prevails. There is no place for jungle raj where anybody can be picked up and put behind bars. The fact that Lakshmana’s bail plea was rejected by the court shows the manner in which the police had collected material against him with the sole objective of branding him an accused.’’ The special IGP of the MSHRC’s investigation wing has been directed to seize the case papers and produce it before the panel.
Meanwhile, Lakshmana said he was happy that his innocence had been proved. ###
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?