Definitions, Dialogue, and the FCC

November 8th, 2010 by · 1 Comment

On Friday, a wide-ranging group of thinkers filed a statement with the FCC in response to an otherwise unassuming NPRM entitled “Further Inquiry into Two Under-developed Issues in the Open Internet Proceeding“.  What they had to say was not for or against the NPRM itself.  Rather, they simply praised how it separated the concept of the internet from that of specialized services.  Several then followed up with blog postsDavid P. Reed’s was particularly well formed, including this section:

I’ve stated often and repeatedly that the Internet was created to solve a very specific design challenge – creating a way to allow all computer-mediated communication to interoperate in any way that made sense, no matter what type of computer or what medium of communications (even homing pigeons have been discussed as potential transport media). The Open Internet was designed as the one communications framework to rule them all. Very much as vocalizations evolved into a universal human communications framework, or ink on paper evolved into a universal repository for human knowledge. That’s what we tried to create when we designed the Internet protocols and the resulting thing we call the Internet. The Internet is not the fiber, not the copper, not the switches and not the cellular networks that bear its signals. It is universal, and in order to be universal, it must be open.

However, the FCC historically organizes itself around “services”, which are tightly bound to particular technologies. Satellite systems are not “radio” and telephony over radio is not the same service as telephony over wires. While this structure has been made to work, it cannot work for the Internet, because the Internet is the first communications framework defined deliberately without reference to a particular technological medium or low-level transport.

I think that this differentiation gets directly to what I once on this site referred to as the sloppiness of language surrounding the Network Neutrality shouting matches.  We all view the network neutrality from our own perspective.  Viewers see it in terms of pricing and choice.  Corporations see it in terms of services they provide and get paid for.  Institutions see it as a transformative societal phenomenon, and so on.

But when the FCC goes to regulate it, it has run into a lack of vocabulary common to each point of view.  After all the discussions, proposals, arguments, and lobbying, one still cannot state network neutrality unambiguously today without it being crippled by unintended consequences or containing loopholes the QE2 could pass through at low tide.  This is because the internet is a living thing.  It’s not a service but a platform that can provide virtually any combination old, current and future services, and it can and will morph in response to regulations much more quickly than the rules and regulations ever could.

So these guys got together to point out that this NPRM offers a pathway forward to a more effective dialogue across the board.  However, it’s not an easy path to follow, especially given the inertia of the dysfunctional systems everyone is so used to.  Will Julius Genachowski take the bait?  Will Verizon and AT&T?

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Categories: Government Regulations

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