Competitive Reflections

Joe Casad, Editor in Chief

Dear Linux Magazine Reader,

I received a memo recently from an advocacy group warning of an impending decision that would "...endanger a truly open Internet." According to the memo, this decision would "...foreclose the evolution of innovative, pro-competitive network and business models and, worse, inject politics into the governance of Internet networks."

What was this diabolical act that could foreclose all competition and threatened the freedom of the Internet? I was surprised to learn that the subject of this message was the new rules proposed by the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for ensuring what has come to be known as Net Neutrality.

The Net Neutrality principle, which the open source community has advocated for years - and which stirred up considerable discussion last fall due to earlier FCC actions, states that Internet providers should not be in the business of choosing the types, sources, and priorities of traffic they handle on their lines.

To see an issue that is regarded with such respect within my own community painted with such a dark cast was both alarming and illuminating - not because I actually believed anything in this memo, but because of what it said about the state of political discourse. I was struck by the lack of attention to the issues. It was all about cultivating a position or attitude that the reader could adopt as a kind of consumer choice - without the tedious ballast of evidence or analysis that would stem from a genuine exchange of ideas.

To be honest, I have received similar invectives in the past from groups on the other end of the political spectrum who tell me to "throw down my chains" without much attention to what my chains are and where I should throw them. These groups, however, are typically volunteers who operate with little or no funding. The most alarming part of the anti-neutrality memo is the convergence of this attitude-based political non-communication with the vast wealth and reach of the Internet provider lobby.

According to the memo, "The FCC is wrong to assume that today's politicians and regulators know what is best for companies not yet created, networks not yet deployed, and business plans not yet formulated." The implication is that the author of this sentence is the one who really knows what is best for these "companies not yet created," and what is best is for them to ante up usage fees and submit to control by the cable giants who stand at the choke point between the content provider and the customer.

Of course, the real problem is something deeper than the FCC or the cable industry. The problem is that so many people in a free society are programmed to respond to prefabricated bundles of tropes as if they have been hypnotized by aliens. If you don't like something, just call it "anti-competitive" and legions of warriors will snap to attention and follow you into the heat of battle, and this business of whether your own position is actually even more anti-competitive won't really matter because the question simply won't ever come up.