My campaign is about democracy, drawing off the expertise of those who are most familiar and most affected by specific policies. When it comes to my own expertise, I’m well versed in the history and technical issues of the Internet, because it has been my business for 13 years and I’ve used it for 19.
One of the motivations I had for getting politically involved was watching many in the Republican party, who purported to be against regressive regulation and excessive taxation, reverse course when it came to the Internet. Calls for government control and taxation continue to be heard, but I find that most of these calls are ill-informed of the realities of the Internet, a medium unlike any other.
Now it is easy to stand up against regulation when it takes the form of government censorship. However when the regulation takes the form of something that seems as benign as “net neutrality” it is difficult. I have seen others compare net neutrality to the first amendment, free speech. That all should be guaranteed the ability to have transit at the same level and permission on the Internet. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
The reality is something else though. There are very good reasons for an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to have the ability to block traffic, attacking networks and spammers for example. If the regulation stated that I was unable to deprioritize garbage traffic on my network, all my customers would suffer. An ISP is better off making these decisions without government regulation making them instead.
Much of the “net neutrality” debate arose when William L. Smith of BellSouth stated they wanted to be able to charge for premium access to Yahoo and Google to traverse their network. Mr. Smith must have not done tech support, for if he had, he’d realize that his own customers will call if they can’t get fast access to a website. He needs Google and Yahoo as much as they need him. If a network provider decides to deprioritize valid traffic, they’ll only be shooting themselves in the foot.
I was there when the National Science Foundation handed over the Internet to commercial control in 1994. When this was done, they dictated that neutral peering points be established for the exchange of traffic between entities. However, they set no rules on doing this. I believe the assumption was made that everyone would realize the mutual benefit of exchanging traffic between networks, no matter the disparity in size. However, the opposite has been true. XMission has been part of an international peering exchange in Palo Alto known as PAIX. What I have encountered there is large entities setting down impossible rules that smaller entities can never meet. Some say there are valid technical reasons for doing this, but I don’t buy it. I have always peered with anyone who wanted and it has always worked well. Internet traffic always works best when it can find the shortest, quickest path to its destination. If Google really wanted to show up the telcos on this issue, they should buy their own connections into peering points and bypass them.
What the bureaucrats seem to believe about peering is that something is being given away for free. What they forget is that my traffic needs to reach their network eventually, it’s just going to do it less efficiently without peering. Again, they need me as much as I need them. Such is the quandry of the monopolist when it comes to the Internet.
Now some have told me that lack of regulation for net neutrality allows a provider to block access to websites that they find objectionable. Commercial censorship if you will. Some have accused AOL of censoring email from non-spam sources. However, there are always alternatives. If the Chinese government can’t control the Internet, what makes people believe AT&T can? Call this Ashdown’s rule, “The only way to control the Internet is to shut it down.” Any connection to the Internet presents the opportunity for a third party to allow, or even sell, unfiltered, unrestricted access. Furthermore, this kind of access can be spread for free by local parties. Witness the growth of free community wireless hotspots throughout the world.
As I said at the start of this campaign, I am against all government regulation and taxation of the Internet. Taxation and regulation policies can only serve to push commercial interests to countries who realize an unfettered Internet benefits their economy.