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Susan Crawford: The Internet is not a medium

Susan Crawford comments on the Comcast FCC hearings, urging that we not view this simply as a matter of keeping net management neutral. Rather, she says, we should recognize that the Internet is not a medium but purely a transport system. The implication is that those who sell access to the Internet should not also be selling content and services over the Internet. (Delamination now!)

This is the crux of the matter. We’ve handed the implementation of our Internet over to companies that view themselves as providers of programming (in the TV, not the software, sense). That’s why they almost all think that giving you a fifth or a tenth of your download capacity for uploading makes obvious sense.

We could get a favorable (from my POV) ruling on Net neutrality from the FCC and still leave our Internet in the hands of those who are structured to treat it as a medium for passive viewers of high-def programming.

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The Boston Globe has a pretty good editorial about the Comcast affair. My main concern with it is that it assumes this country’s failure to deliver a satisfactory Internet infrastructure shows that that infrastructure can’t come from a competitive market … as if the current situation is a competitive market. In my view, we need a mix of government steps to open the market (by rquiring access providers to act as wholesalers, for example), probably some direct government intervention (e.g., subsidies of some sort to reach areas quickly that the market won’t), and (I wish) government-enforced de-laminating of the industry. Something like that. But I have more faith in the power and efficiency of truly open markets than the Globe seems to have.

PS: I still wish we’d embrace the Open Spectrum idea. Lots of problems would be rapidly solved if and when it becomes practical technically and politically.

4 Responses to “Susan Crawford: The Internet is not a medium”

  1. That fifth or tenth capacity for uploading is unfortunately part of the technology involved, particularly on the cable side. Doc Searls gives a good description here – http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2008/02/27/frames-that-prevent-a-neutral-net/.

  2. Yeah, but DOCSIS made sense to them because they thought down was 5-10x more important than up.

    It’s just another reason we should not have handed the implementation over to cable companies. And, if we had some competition in the last mile, this would be a good reason to prefer non-cable. Finally, can we take this as an argument for open spectrum?

    I’m not disagreeing, Larry. I’m just fuming.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with your point, I’m just noting that sometimes technology gets implemented early on that turns out to be a poor choice at a later date.

    Cable companies implemented technology that made sense in their coaxial cable connected world view. Telecoms implemented DSL that made sense in their one pair of wires per household world view. And they both have inherent problems. But it is difficult for a non-incumbent to all of a sudden start serving the last mile without building new or using existing infrastructure.

    The internet should be treated as a pure transport layer, not a medium. But does that open up a different set of problems insofar as the FCC regulates things like local telephone service – another transport layer?

  4. […] to companies that view themselves as providers of programming (in the TV, not the software, sense). Joho the Blog » Susan Crawford: The Internet is not a medium   « It’s pretty clear based on the tenor of the comments by the clubs’ […]


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