Thursday, September 28, 2006

Web Pioneer: No Internet Without Net Neutrality

Sir Tim
The man who invented the World-Wide-Web sees the phone and cable company plan to gut Net Neutrality as a looming threat to free speech and economic innovation in America. In a New York Times interview, Internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee said that the neutrality of the Net is "essential for democracy."

In the 1980s, Sir Tim first proposed the idea of linking documents with hypertext software pointers -- a concept that evolved, in the 1990s, into the World Wide Web.

Throughout 2006, Berners-Lee has spoken passionately in favor of protecting Net Neutrality. In yesterday's Times interview, he warned against companies, like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, that seek to remake the information superhighway into their private toll roads.

"I think the people who talk about dismantling — threatening — Net neutrality don’t appreciate how important it has been for us to have an independent market for productivity and for applications on the Internet," Berners-Lee said.

According to Berners-Lee, killing Net neutrality in the U.S. would put the country even further behind in the race to bridge the digital divide and bring cheaper, faster access and better economic opportunity to more people.

"[I]f the United States ends up faltering in its quest for Net neutrality, I think the rest of the world will be horrified, and there will be very strong pressure from other countries who will become a world separate from the U.S., where the Net is neutral," Berners-Lee told Times interviewer John Markoff.
"If things go wrong in the States, then I think the result could be that the United States would then have a less-competitive market where content providers could provide a limited selection of all the same old movies to their customers because they have a captive market."
Berners-Lee also clarifies the debate over service fees for special types of data, calling "not actually logical" people who say that Net Neutrality prevents "Quality of Service" upgrades:
"Some people say perhaps we ought to be able to charge more for this very special high-bandwidth connectivity. Of course that’s fine, charge more. Nobody is suggesting that you shouldn’t be able to charge more for a video-capable Internet connection. That’s no reason not to make it anything but neutral."
Berners-Lee echoes's position against discrimination on the Web. We don’t think that it's wrong for the network operators to be able to prioritize certain types of content. For instance, they can prioritize telemedicine over regular data files.

The Net Neutrality rules that we and Berners-Lee support concern stopping discrimination based on the source or ownership of content. If network operators favor one hospital's telemedicine site over another, that’s the problem. That’s when the network operators can turn the Web into their private fiefdoms, awarding fast-lane services to their corporate allies while shunting all others to a slow lane. Under this scenario, the free and open Internet no longer exists.


ideallypc said...

I agree wholeheartedly with both Mr. Karr and Sir Berners-Lee that Net Neutrality should be maintained and until today I have agreed lock-step with each of them. However, I take exception with the concept that "they can prioritize telemedicine over regular data files."

Can “they”? Should “they”? Who are “they”?

The concerns I have are 1, are you suggesting that Telemedicine data can be identified in the transmission process to give it priority over regular data? 2, If so, what organization gets to decide all the types and forms of data that supposedly gets internet priority and then set the highest to lowest order of prioritization of content? 3, Who monitors who gets access to use these "priority protocols" if they exist or are developed? and 4, Does today's internet routing technology permit non-protocol specific prioritization of any specific content?

Net Neutrality in its simplest form suggests that there be no form of discrimination in the routing of data across the public internet; even when it is for such applications as Telemedicine. Wikipedia defines Telemedicine as “the use of communications and information technologies for the delivery of clinical care….Telemedicine is practiced on the basis of two concepts: real time (synchronous) and store-and-forward (asynchronous).” According to the American College of Physicians, Telemedicine is defined as “The use of audio, video, and other telecommunications and electronic information processing technologies to provide health services or assist health care personnel at distant sites.” Given these two non-specific definitions and the lack of anything more concrete in a Google search, there appears to be nothing specific or distinguishing about Telemedicine that makes it any different than “regular data files.” Clearly, store-and-forward mentioned by Wikipedia should not take any precedence over “regular data”, however, should real-time Telemedicine?

The primary method of moving content, known as “normalized data”, across the internet is by sending "packets" of data, generally by using TCP/IP-Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. Although the public internet supports several "protocols," TCP/IP is the standard. TCP/IP packets are small groupings of data that can be characterized much the same as postal envelopes from which the internet’s high speed routers only note the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of the sender and the receiver. They also monitor the success or failure of the packet transmission to the next router en-route to the final destination IP address. Depending on whether encryption is used, the contents of the packets may or may not be viewable. Following transmission of all of the packets of data, (that more than likely each took a separate route between source and destination computer by design) TCP/IP then re-groups all the intended packets into the full data set at the destination computer. For sake of this blog, this explanation of how the internet works is OVERLY SIMPLIFIED.

Accepting that my simple explanation of the internet is mostly correct, nothing exists that would allow priority of Telemedicine-qualified data on the internet. Further, there is no generally agreed upon governing body that would grant this access. Are you suggesting that this body be created and that they alone have access to determine how data is discriminated?

I do not believe that the state of today's technology standards governing how high speed routers transmit TCP/IP packets across the internet actually give them the ability to distinguish between telemedicine and data files. In fact, the genius of TCP/IP packet switching across the internet today is in its simplicity and efficiency whereby the routers only act upon the IP addressing and success or failure of transmission. Like most of the protocols in use on the internet TCP/IP was designed to be net neutral. To allow Telemedicine prioritization would be analogous to allowing the US Postal Service to open all mail it handles to determine whether or not each envelope it handles contains Telemedicine information to increase it handling priority –highly inefficient!

Rather than venture down this slippery slope of internet data prioritization, commercial or otherwise, I suggest that you go back to the simple, straight-forward definition of Net Neutrality which is no discrimination of content shall be permitted. Period.

If the users of Telemedicine services and applications determine that their content is life critical, I suggest that they, the consumers of the internet, purchase additional bandwidth and understand how to provide redundancy in their reliance to assure that their applications succeed. This way everyone gets what they pay for, the internet is maintained in its present optimal model and there are fewer bureaucratic “they’s” making decisions that place one interest over another. An argument that allows any form of internet prioritization only plays into the hands of those that want to kill Net Neutrality.

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