In Scientific American, Tim Berners-Lee seems to argue right past the important policy issues facing the Internet today. Instead of describing actual policy or technology problems, he suggests implausibly apocalyptic outcomes. For instance, Berners-Lee says…
The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways.
Sounds serious. How is it threatened? Well, he says….
“Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web“. So, privacy and the “no follow” tag are a threat to the Internet?
“Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals.” He gives no examples.
“The Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.” This is true – and a real issue – but giving government greater authority over the Internet does not seem like a good way to make this less likely. On the contrary, asking government to place broadband under telephone regulations would seem to encourage the government to, you know, treat the Internet the way they treat telephones.
Berners-Lee goes on to say “Several threats to the Web’s universality have arisen recently”, and gives this example:
Cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment.
Who has suggested that? This seems orders of magnitude different than any business model I’ve heard suggested. But this is not un-common in this frustrating net neutrality debate. Pro-net neutrality advocates say regulations are necessary to prevent [insert some absurdly improbable blocking], but few people talk about specific, plausible examples of new services that ISP’s might actually want to offer.
But when critics suggest that, perhaps, the FCC might go too far and get into content and Internet regulation, well, that’s just crazy talk.
Why is it acceptable, even “necessary”, to assume ISP’s will do something extraordinarily outrageous, but outrageous smear tactics to suggest the FCC might go much farther than the original (vague) intent of net neutrality rules?
I would have thought Berners-Lee might offer a more sophisticated analysis of the issue, but…no.
Separately, I’m also somewhat mystified by Berners-Lee’s argument that “Some people may think that closed worlds are just fine“, but “these closed, “walled gardens,” no matter how pleasing, can never compete in diversity, richness and innovation with the mad, throbbing Web market outside their gates.” This is another example of the unnecessary “either/or” approach to open and closed systems. Both are important, as his examples seemed to illustrate…
His example of a “closed” “walled gardens” product? iTunes
His open examples? GnuSocial, Diaspora and identi.ca
I’m not sure that supports his contention that closed technologies cannot compete with “open”. It seems fairly obvious to me that “open” technologies are useful in many ways, “closed” technologies are useful in others and people should be free to choose between the two.
The issue with net neutrality is not whether the Internet will be “open or closed”, but whether the Internet can do what it does today….or what it does today and more.
[Cross-posted at Digital Society]