October 04, 2009

Net Neutrality, Health Care, and "The Customer is Always Wrong!"

Greetings. The surest way to screw up future innovative applications would be for ISPs to make constraining assumptions about the future based on existing applications' performance. Discussing P2P behavior as if it were some monolithic, unchanging entity is simply wrong. What is P2P? BitTorrent? Skype? CNN live video feed fan-outs? And what of changes to these existing apps? What of future apps? By definition, the sort of "intelligent" network being promoted by anti-neutrality folks will only perform well when applications toe the line according to yesterday's definitions -- stifling true innovation at its core.

P2P paranoia and data jitter fetishes in this context are little more than attempts at obfuscation. The key "take away" lesson of the last few days over on the NNSquad list has been the spectacle of one technical party explaining what they needed from Internet access to conduct their business, and another technical party responding in essence "You don't need that! Make do! Be glad ISPs have deemed fit to provide you with any broadband at all!" Ah, future echoes of techno-arrogance in the finest tradition of Ma Bell's monopoly-era business practices.

But this all helps to illuminate a crucial point. The technical details are important of course, but at this stage in debates about "network neutrality" and transparency it's far more important to establish first principles. Access to broadband Internet facilities is becoming as crucial to everyday life in key ways as access to power and water. Yes, any given individual can probably live without the Net, but around the world it has become clear that lack of quality Internet access will be as debilitating to success and advancement in the long run as being forbidden a basic education.

There are disturbing parallels between these Internet-related controversies and the ongoing U.S. health care debate. In both cases, we have extremely large and powerful entrenched interests (giant ISPs, and enormous insurance companies) who act as "gatekeepers" to a range of services that consumers and subscribers want and need. These gatekeepers are hell-bent on protecting their turfs at all costs and on their terms, the real needs of broader society seemingly be damned.

The question is, will society at large accept such a state of affairs -- like lambs to slaughter -- indefinitely?


Posted by Lauren at October 4, 2009 12:55 PM | Permalink
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