JCL Blog

Golden Age of the Internet (ending now?)

About a year ago I argued in this post that the Internet would eventually be regulated and we should work to regulate it in a way that works.  I still think that someday the government will get its hands on the Internet and the outcome will most likely be bad.  For that reason I propose that we are currently watching the sun set on the golden age of the internet.  Soon government regulation will be added to the ever suffocating weight of security issues and we will no longer be able to have free access to all web sites or the pace of innovation that we have enjoyed over the past 15 years.

I site the Protect IP bill currently working its way through the halls of Conress as support for my argument.  If passed, this bill will allow the government broad powers to prevent citizens from accessing certain web sites. This affront to free speech would undoubtedly be used by rights holders (entrenched businesses) to prevent innovation.  If you are interested in this subject at all, please visit:  www.demandprogress.org.

Leo Laporte and his guests on TWIT had a great segment at the end of the show on Sunday about this.  Go to the last 7 minutes of the show.  Soon we could be saying: Remember when we used to be able to [your favorite online activity here] on the Internet?

I happen to think that if an Internet dark ages does come about, the overriding maxim of information wants to be free will eventually prevail.  Maybe we would have another round of offshore pirates like we did in the '60s as depicted in the movie Pirate Radio.  A new Internet, located in the ocean and not in any country, beaming its signal directly to the users without government interference.


Confidence in Effective Government Regulation

There are too relatvely boring stories in the NY Times today that when taken toghether tell a somewhat interesting tale.

Andrew Pollack's piece titled: Modified Salmon Is Safe, F.D.A. Says and Joe Nocera's take on net neutrality with the title: The Struggle for What We Already Have.

I wonder how many readers really think genetically altered salmion is safe enough to feed their kids.  I guess not many.  The FCC's ability to regulate the internet? -- just as shaky.   And the SEC doesn't do much to build the credibility of federal agencies.

It is a miracle the FAA keeps the planes in the sky.  I suppose the highly visible planes falling from the sky scenario is what makes the price of buying the FAA beyond the reach of the hired guns in Washington.  You can bet they are trying everything they can.

So I for one do not believe that the FDA knows any more about the long term effects of the altered salmon than they do about the long term effects of the growth hormones in our beef.  Best to eat as little of that stuff as possible.

Whether or not the FCC gets some regulations to enforce against Comcast -- I am pretty sure Comcast is going to be managing my network traffic however they want.

Here is another post I did a few weeks ago on net neutrality.


Another Golden Age?

A golden age is rarely appreciated in the present tense.  This could be because a golden age only becomes a golden age once the not fun parts are forgotten, and the memory of the fun parts expanded.  It is unlikely that early pilots and passengers were lamenting the end of the golden age of flight as the FAA was created.

54 years passed between the Wright Brothers first flight in 1904 and the creation of the FAA in 1958.  I doubt any of it was really the golden age.   Just last month the Wall Street Journal had this article on the Golden Age of Flight and how it may not have been so golden.  As someone who has gone through the process of getting a pilot's license, I am quite glad for the 50,000 people who work for the FAA and have experienced first hand how they make flying safer and more efficient.

Two years before the FAA was created, Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act into law. This kicked off what may have been the largest public works project ever:  $25 billion for the construction of over 40,000 miles of interstate highways.  These interstate highways, along with most other roads, in our country are highly regulated, and for good reason.  It does not take much imagination to realize that without standardization of the vehicles, regulation of speed and safety, enforcement of HOV lane use, and regulation of oversize loads, few of us would be able to rely on these highways for safe travel or commerce.

Even with the Federal Highway Administration, some processes associated with the governance of the interstates is cumbersome.  A quick look at the page on Wide Loads reveals that each individual state controls wide loads differently.  Making the moving of a mobile homes across the country quite a project -- even without having to worry about being chased by a tornado.  Making wide loads difficult may in fact be a good thing.

The roads in our country work because everyone drives on the right hand side of the road, cars are generally six feet wide and 15 feet long, weigh under 8,500 pounds, have four whees, bumpers that work and so on.

This brings us to the internet.  As far as I can tell, there is no regulation of the internet at this time.  Any computer connected to the internet can manage traffic any way it wants and any traffic on the internet can do anything it wants.  This works more or less because the internet has many routes from point A to point B and if one route does not work, another one will.  The size and number of the routes is always expanding as more fiber, routers, and computers are brought online every day.  The volume of data being moved on the internet is expanding even faster as we move from a time dominated by text to a time dominated by images, audio, and video.  

The belief that all network owners treat all traffic the same is illogical.  Network owners are free to manage their networks and they most certainly do.  The FCC has no way to know if a preference is given to some of the packets, and even if it did, it has no laws to enforce to ensure that the internet is being administered in a neutral way.  We must by now realize that some regulation is necessary.  In 2006 John Dvorak wrote in PC Mag about the end of the Golden Age of the Internet stating that a combination of factors is bringing the free for all to an end.  Whether or not as cranky as John Dvorak, I suspect even casual users of the internet have experienced the negative impact of either poor or inadequate regulation.

Just this week, Google was widely castigated for its negotiations with Verizon and subsequent recommendations to the government about the regulation of the internet.  They clarified their intentions in this post on Net Neutrality.  I think they are on the right track.  The internet will become regulated at some point and Google, and others in our industry, should use whatever means available to bring about a regulatory structure that works.

Without it, we will have a very real Tragedy of the Commons with everyone driving a wide load truck and no one getting anywhere.

Those of you that are interested in more reading on the topic should check out this post by Doc Searls.