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Father of Internet Warns Against 'Net Neutrality'

Robert Kahn, the most senior figure in the development of the internet, has delivered a strong warning against "Net Neutrality" legislation.

Speaking to an audience at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California at an event held in his honour, Kahn warned against legislation that inhibited experimentation and innovation where it was needed.

Kahn rejected the term "Net Neutrality", calling it "a slogan". He cautioned against dogmatic views of network architecture, saying the need for experimentation at the edges shouldn't come at the expense of improvements elsewhere in the network.

(Kahn gently reminded his audience that the internet was really about interconnecting networks, a point often lost today).

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Anti NN FuD

We have to seperate the principle of net neutrality from the proposed legislation to enforce it.

Ron Paul is wise to oppose hyperactive pre-emptive legislation which attempts to address imagined (not real) problems. Until NN proponents can point to real and present harms, legislators should all exercise the prudence to leave markets alone - in this as well as countless other issues.

However free-market advocates MUST acknowledge situations in which a free market DOES NOT EXIST. If or when this becomes the case in telecommunications, then it becomes a matter of public policy to address the non-market situation.

Too many people assume that government regulation is the first and only answer; true free market economists understand that the problem is often created by government-created barriers to competition. Whenever we can see a market solution to providing services and products, we should strive to promote that.

HOWEVER. Whenever the situation involves an infrastructure that is impractical to duplicate redundantly (imagine multiple private roads leading up to your house, multiple sewer lines etc) we have a situation where a free market does not apply. In services that lead to natural monopolies, the monopoly itself leads us to define the issue as one of "public interest", because consumer choice is so constrained. It is a public issue precisely because there is no practical possibility to avoid the monopoly via means of private contract.

When such a situation arises, it is important and legitimate to raise public awareness. If, in such a situation, monopolistic abuses become significant then legislative action is legitimate. However contrary to current assumptions, the first step should always be to look at ways to remove government barriers to competition. Beyond that, solutions become very situation dependent.

We are at a situation today where many communities have no effective markets in last-mile internet service, and the nation has no effective market in high-speed backbone service. To whatever extent that we have no functioning market, it is absolutely valid to promote Net Neutrality as an issue of public interest. It is up to us in the free-minds/free-markets movement to remind people that the problems are caused by lack of market choices, not lack of government intervention.

Do we have to make a Federal case out of it?

I am not thoroughly knowledgeable on the net neutrality subject so please enlighten me if I misunderstand something. But here are my thoughts.

If an ISP were to charge me more for access to Amazon.com, I would use a proxy and they wouldn't know where I was going. I am pretty sure I could set up a proxy thru SSL and it would take them a few years to decode the traffic to see where I was browsing.

"many communities have no effective markets in last-mile internet service". But isn't there satelite broadband access?

Taking into account that I may be wrong about the first two points because of my lack of knowledge. Here is the most important point. Is there some reason why this has to be taken care of at the Federal level? Is it simply impossible for a State or Local government to legislate such things?

One of the cornerstones of Ron Paul's campaign is the Constituition which delegates certain powers to the Federal government and all the remaining to the States or the People. Anytime we feel that the government must get involved in something, we should ask "do we have to make a Federal case out of it?". If there is anyway a state or local government can deal with an issue then it is better that they do so.

Over the past 150 years we have witnessed a continual transfer of power from the States to the Federal government. And from the congress to the Executive branch. This concentration of power in the hands of a few is at the heart of the loss of Freedom in America.

Good points and questions

"many communities have no effective markets in last-mile internet service". >But isn't there satelite broadband access?

By "effective competition" I meant competitive both in price and performance. Last I checked, satellite is too expensive and high-latency to compete with dsl/cable in most areas - It's a remote-area solution. Microwave might be a market alternative, but the last company I worked for that tried getting this in place in 2000 couldn't pull it off profitably.

>Is there some reason why this has to be taken care of at the Federal level?

Backbone providers provide services between the states, thus federal legislation on them would be constitutional under the Interstate Commerce Clause. At this point i think Ron Paul is right and that federal regulation would be much worse than our current level of backbone abuse (though it's starting.. see AT&T's content scanning).

>Is it simply impossible for a State or Local government to legislate such things?

For ISPs and regional networks, of curse not. Even then the first question to ask is "will deregulating something else solve the problem?"

>We should ask "do we have to make a Federal case out of it?"....
>concentration of power in the hands of a few is at the heart of the loss of Freedom in America

Absolutely! And we need to spread this idea to all americans, and especially to the critters in Congress. They need to have a much greater respect for constitutional limits and impose a much higher benchmark of harms before they step-in and mess with this country via central planning.

A dangerous situation (e.g. Microsoft's domination of the desktop) isn't sufficient a reason to start regulating, but it is reason for people to start educating others about the dangers.


As Capt. Kirk might say.