April 28, 2014
Let’s Keep the Internet Dumb

The Internet is a brilliant invention. It’s complex, elegant, and took some of the brightest minds on Earth to create. But at heart it is a dumb network. The genius of the Internet is that the actual transport of your data is completely neutral by design. The intelligence is in the applications that run on what is a set of dumb pipes.

Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are not dumb. And they aren’t interested in owning dumb networks. They think that because they own some of infrastructure they should be allowed to make it more intelligent. They also think Google, Netflix, and Microsoft will pay for a supercharged, tier one service that moves their packets along faster. Upstart Internet companies that can’t pay extra will have to settle for slower service.

Net neutrality is the reason we have this wonderfully dumb network. While it might not be dead, it is mortally wounded. The FCC says it is not killing Net neutrality rules, but will change them later this year. They only promise that telecom companies will have to act in a “commercially responsible manner.”

Right. Like they always have.

The kind of network intelligence they are proposing kills innovation. When the Internet is neutral, the services that run on it have to be smarter. They have to be more clever and user-friendly than their competitors. When money becomes the differentiator, innovation is devalued and incumbents have all the power.

No one is going to try a new music service that keeps dropping songs because Pandora is hogging the bandwidth. No one is even going to think about launching a new online movie service if Netflix and Amazon have access to the fastest pipes.

Service providers claim they’re making the Internet more robust and powerful. When AT&T had monopoly control over the entire phone system, they made a system that was hyper-robust, intelligent, and powerful. But while they hardly ever dropped a call, there was very little innovation for the user for more than a century. We had rotary, landline phones in 1890 and rotary, landline phones in 1990. Plus maybe call waiting and voicemail.

The only solution is more competition. How many options do you have for Internet access? If you want a different Internet provider where you live, who would you call? The cable company? Maybe DSL?

If that remains the case, we will soon have gatekeepers with the unchecked power at every door.

Let’s stop pretending the Internet is still a beautiful, pure and elegant technology that leaked out of a government research lab and magically gave everyone free access to a better life. They own the Internet now.

But there are lots of ways to change the dynamic. For one, we have to force monopoly networks to open their networks to competition. Your cable company can’t be the only service provider to use its fiber cables. Those networks are a public utility. They have to be forced to lease it out to competition. If the networks are going to control what we see, we can’t let them have monopoly control.

It will take a lot of time and hard work to change the rules for the better. But we can start today. We can still fight to keep the net dumb. Start by signing a petition. There is still time to come out swinging for neutrality. http://www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home

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