Monday, March 27, 2006

Sitting On The Fences In A World Without Fences: An Essay About Network Neutrality

During the middle ages and the mariners and explorers, when the Europeans arrived in the "New World", the aborigines in this newly discovered place had no understanding of posession of land. It was just as absurd to believe, land could belong to a person, as it is today with the air we breathe.

This has to do with the fact, that what the peoples who later had become well known as the "Red Indians" were nomads and thus not bound to a specific locality. They just use the land they sit on for a certain period of time and then move on to the next place. They did not claim any tenure of the land they were sitting whatsoever.

Because all the tribes were moving about, this was not a problem. However the European's understanding of building a society had most of the time consisted of settling down. Living on a piece of land also means, you have to own this land and once you own it, you can determine, whatever is going to happen with that. This was the time when it all went wrong. Or didn't it?

The internet somehow started as a network of peered telecom companies. In other words, the telecom companies allowed traffic to pass through their network without questioning, what this traffic was used for. This so called "Peering Agreements" allowed communications without boundaries and there is no doubt that most of the success of the internet is based on the way, traffic is handled.

It is more than understandable, that nowadays, when big companies build up huge profits on the traffic through these telecom networks, the provider of these networks want to see a share of that profit. One of the popular solutions would be something like a prioritized traffic on the internet. If Google wants to have their search results delivered faster, they would have to pay for it. This concept contradicts the fundamental idea and tradition of the "Network Neutrality".

However, it is also perfectly clear, that believers in the free and open internet advocate the "Network Neutrality" as they claim it to be the main reason for the Internet's success and progress. Abandoning "Network Neutrality", so they say, would not only mean constricting further progress but it would also splinter the Internet as we know it.

I perfectly understand both parties in this situation and I must say, the only way out of this awkwardness can be a de-privatisation of the Internet's underlying infrastructure.

Even though the example with the Native Americans shows, that financial profit or the sense of private property can push back openness and liberty, I can give you an example, where openness and free accessibility has proved its way even within a profit orientated society: The United States road traffic system. I am aware of the fact, that there are traffic tolls in place in certain countries, however, in one of the most competitive countries in the world, the United States, you can get from any place to another without having to pay any traffic toll fee whatsoever. (Setting aside certain bridges or tunnels.) The traffic system is being supported and funded by the "Federal Highway Administration" ( on one side and the accordant city council on the other. This means, transportation has to be guaranteed by the state/authority, and everyone, no matter if it's me on a bicycle, an armored car service carrying thousands of dollars or a long distance truck driver.

This obviously only works, if the entire traffic system administration falls under one authority of regulation and if the interest of this regulatory authority is the benefit of all and not to the benefit of itself. This authority can then decide what it needs to keep the service up and running in an effective way and how the whole infrastructure should be funded and maintained.

So the bottom line of all of this is, in the particular case of the internet backbone carriers, I believe, competition and free market is more of a harm than of a benefit. Just as as the roads in your neighborhood are free to use - or at least for a flat rate - , so should the internet connections be. It's not more than a global village after all.


Blogger eMeidi said...

This article reminds me of my own article Fixnet dem Staat!.

The comparison between highways seems very reasonable.

March 28, 2006 12:47 pm


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