[Comments closed here. This post and the conversation has been moved to Listics. -fp-]
A battle of Star Wars proportions rages around us and we, the people, the consumers of Internet services at the edges of the net don't even know it. I'm not sure who plays Yoda, but the four panelists on yesterday's call are certainly among a ragtag band of Jedi knights who have our best interests in mind. The forces of "the empire" have several faces and a monolithic interest in controlling content. They include both cable and telephone companies, companies like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, Bell South, Charter, Verizon, and Qwest. While the giant cable companies and telcos battle each other for the broadband market, we - the consumers - are likely to get trampled.
An alarm must be sounded, a wake-up call to Americans who are in danger of sliding even further into a second class swamp of deteriorating end-to-end service while Europe and Asia using a model of network neutrality provide ever faster on-ramps and cheaper and better transport than we expect.
What would it be like to have a metered Internet, an Internet where every data packet that leaves your house is inspected before it is delivered to the end-point? The capability for metering is in place and the telcos are promoting it as a "Quality of Service" initiative. The argument is seductive. The sequence of packet delivery for audio and video is important. Why not prioritize them on an express track and put all the email spam over on a siding while the media content goes roaring through?
I'm afraid some babies will drown in that particular bath water. If we give the telcos and the cablecos gatekeeper privileges, if we allow packet inspection, then we will see services blocked. Why should SBC allow Skype or Vonage service through its pipes if it can block that service and require you to use the SBC voice services? Content will also be "managed." If the bandwidth providers can block your access to a website, if they can sideline the delivery of a message from your computer to my computer, then they will be limiting free speech in a terrible way.
Sascha Meinrath asked "What are the critical battles?" and
Yoda umm, Lessig said that step one is to fight for Network Neutrality principles. Step two, and also of critical importance, is to influence the government to turn over a meaningfully large chunk of unlicensed broadband radio spectrum for wireless broadband access competition.
The rest of the world is pretty much united in imposing Network Neutrality principles, but in the United States there is a trend toward empowering the owner of the network with control over the content. There is, in other words, no longer a principle of regulating a common carrier.
If you're still reading, then it's likely you have more than a vague interest and understanding of all this. In that case, you might find the following post rewarding. In it, I offer you a chance to go to Washington DC and get deeper into just what Freedom to Connect actually means.