Net Neutrality & Everyone Online: responses

Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination

In 2002, Tim Wu proposed broadband discrimination as an alternative to open-access to reach the ultimate goal of network neutrality, and lays out why he believes this should be legislatively regulated as opposed to letting the market self-regulate. Wu describes a neutral network as “an Internet that does not favor one application (say, the world wide web), over others (say, email)” and open-access as “a structural requirement that would prevent broadband operators from bundling broadband service with Internet access from in-house Internet service providers.” Then, he describes a system that would “distinguish between classes of restrictions that should generally be allowable, and those that might raise suspicion” be managed through banning certain activity or price discrimination.

The point of the neutrality principle is not to interfere with the administration of the Internet Protocol side of a broadband carrier’s network. It is, rather, to prevent discrimination in that administration.

This paper raised many questions because of my lack of technical knowledge of the internet at the time and now, and the changes that have occurred in between. What follows is a series of dumb questions.

  • It’s unclear to me how “IP’s neutrality is actually a tradeoff between upward (application) and downward (connection) neutrality.” Does this just refer to fixed bandwidth?  
  • Why does “Delivering the full possible range of applications either [require] an impracticable upgrade of the entire network, or some tolerance of close vertical relationships.” First, why is it impracticable to upgrade networks? Is this referring to a solution within a certain timeframe? Surely networks get upgraded? Then, he references “vertical integration” and “vertical relationships” as potentially necessary, but I’m not sure why, or what an application that requires this might be.
  • Potentially related: the landscape of providers didn’t allow wifi in 2002! What changed between then and now? Did changes come about because of infrastructure improvements or changing norms with the providers themselves?
  • Not addressed (he does say broadband economics is out of scope): is there a problem with the suggested market approach to selling bandwidth? If there’s a limited supply, does that leave the people least able to pay without connectivity? Does this mean there should be bandwidth caps?

This paper made me very curious about solutions to fair network access now that this is increasingly considered a right. If part of the problem is infrastructure related, maybe upgrades in the public interest could be funded through social impact bonds?

 

Here comes everybody

Chapter three, “Everyone is a Media Outlet,” of Clay Shirky’s 2008 book describes the “amateurization” of journalism. Traditionally, the “news” has been “newsworthy events” and “events covered by the press” (I think this means things trained journalists have deemed important). Now that the internet lets just anyone have a blog or social media, people report on and write about things only professionals used to do. I’m not sure if Shirky thinks this is a problem in itself, but he does posit there is an issue with the field not understanding how their role as gatekeepers of news is dissolving.

What’s so great about elite gatekeepers and professionalism?

What Shirky presents as this sort of weird problem with remarks Senator Trent Lott made at Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party actually seems to me like a victory in delivering news that is important to subgroups of people that otherwise would have gone uncovered by professional journalists. In this instance the controversy affected right-wing bloggers and libertarian republicans, but if “the key to any profession is the relation of its members to one another” then ASNE’s Newsroom employment census shows the field of journalism may be missing some relationships:

“The percentage of minority journalists has hovered between 12 and 14 percent for more than a decade. In 1978, when ASNE launched its Newsroom Employment Census of professional full-time journalists, 3.95 percent were minorities.”

Perhaps the “internal consistency of professional judgement,” established by journalism is mostly good, except for when it blinds the field to large changes. I am more broadly skeptical of professional norms than this.

I was convinced that there should be a Federal Law that defines who is protected by journalistic activity and some definition of what this is. I hear this complication about bloggers but surely there can be some distinction made between important investigative activity and opinion pieces/editorial?

Chapter four “Publish, Then Filter” elaborates on patterns of communication that are changing. “Saying something to a few people we know used to be quite distinct from saying something to many people we don’t know” but now we have these “many to many” conversations online. The best part of this chapter was the discussion around filtering information the vast ecosystems of information, and how “communities of practice” that can form naturally benefit in great ways from new ease of communication.

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