Quick Net Neutrality Column

Submitted by StephenK on Sat, 01/09/2010 - 16:11

Internet: Concept Not A Thing

By Stephen Michael Kellat, MSLS
Head Writer, Erie Looking Productions

The District of Columbia circuit is interesting among the federal courts of appeal. This is the main circuit in which the decisions and orders of federal regulatory agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Consumer Product Safety Commission can be appealed. As might be imagined, the Federal Communications Commission does wind up there at times too.

Wired recently reported that a panel of the circuit has questioned whether or not the FCC actually has the authority to enforce net neutrality. Marguerite Reardon of CNET reported that the Chief Judge of that circuit does not want any regulatory agency acting on its own without proper statutory authority. Tony Bradley of PC World stated that Comcast claimed there was no federal law for the Commission to interpret let alone apply or enforce in the case and that the author thought Comcast had a valid point. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement reaffirming his belief that the Commission has the statutory authority to do what it is trying to do.

The Commission presently has a proceeding underway to codify net neutrality within the Commission's rules. If the appeals court rules against the FCC, all current efforts to codify net neutrality fail. Stretching interpretation and implication to the limits to reach desired policy outcomes may backfire when it comes to the Commission's goal of preserving an open Internet.

In the midst of all this action from above it is almost totally discounted that action can also come from below. Breaking free of the notion of the Internet being an agglomerated whole is the first step. The Internet is merely a collection of autonomous systems that interact with each other. That terminology may sound rooted in the Internet's early days in the late 1970's but age does not mean it is not still true.

The time seems to have come to start changing the Internet's topology from below. If communications companies have problems with what traffic is being carried, alternative methods of data transport should be explored. While the companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable have complications with file downloading and a rich media world, older technology remains quite mature to handle less intense datagrams.

Bulletin Board Systems, UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy), Freenets, FidoNet, and the rest remain mature technology. Even though they are old, they do work. Before there was Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail, Internet e-mail was possible through a Freenet or even through a FidoNet-based gateway. The author's very first e-mail address from days gone by seemed a mile long and was from a Bulletin Board System that participated in FidoNet and passed traffic over the FidoNet to Internet gateway.

Removing the more "mundane" traffic from what is called the Internet today would help deflate the calls for much of these fairly aggressive network management practices. Letting the Internet become a place where only intense video game traffic and NetFlix streaming video happens would take the wind out of the sails of those broadband providers waiting to aggressively manage their networks. That such would also create an incentive to compete with their own video-on-demand offerings against NetFlix would also potentially help drive prices down. Those companies know how to provide content on-demand and would have a more level playing field upon which they could compete.

To remove the "mundane" traffic would require shifting towards different access topologies. Shifting things back to dial-up modems would mean a change for some while for others nothing would change. After all, there are still dial-up users of the Internet out there connecting to Earthlink and AOL through dial-up modems. For businesses clearing credit card transactions dial-up modems are still out there in use as backup systems in the event of the main connectivity tool's failure. There is one text published by O'Reilly detailing how community wireless networks using WiFi backbones could be created. The current access paradigm is neither inevitable nor desirable in today's world.

The easiest thing to do in this case is to throw hands in the air and claim that net neutrality is a lost cause. Libraries have long been centers of public access computing. Some even hosted Freenets back in the day. Since the imposition from above of net neutrality seems assuredly in danger of not happening it seems subversion from below is now the order of the day.

Older yet more mature tools remain viable ways to carry out the subversion. The question now, though, is whether or not there is will to carry such through. Using UUCP over an Iridium satellite telephone is just a somewhat costlier way of carrying the theme above. Worrying about the means now is far less important than simply starting to take action.

Where do you stand?

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Internet: Concept Not A Thing by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.