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September 21, 2009

Net neutrality, One Web Day, and a moment for joy

[MINUTES LATER: just posted a different piece of mine about Net neutrality. It says that we wouldn’t need a NN rule if we got our infrastructure right.]

I know there are lots of arguments about Net neutrality. I understand that there’s vagueness to the term, that there are times when we may want access providers to discriminate among bits, that it’s possible there will be unintended consequences. But, I want to say two basic things.

First, beyond its practical effects, there’s a symbolic importance to Net neutrality. A Net neutrality principle states firmly that the Internet is ours. It does not belong to, and should not be controlled by, those who provide access to it. Now, that doesn’t mean access providers have no rights. But they should be gatekeepers only in the sense that they keep the gates open as wide as possible. There may be technical issues that require some discrimination but the fundamental and guiding principle enunciated by Net neutrality is, as Tim Bray says: Fat pipe, always on, out of our way.

Second, a bunch of my co-religionists (so to speak) track the Obama administration’s actions on broadband and the Internet, and are seemingly in a state of constant agitation. The administration is not going far enough, is still too beholden, have hired some people from the other camp, is in bed with this lobbyist or that. I sincerely am very happy that these watchdogs are doggedly watching the Obamists. Thank you! But, on the eve of One Web Day, and on the day that the chair of the FCC has enunciated a Net neutrality principle, I want to say to them: Rejoice! Hold the Obama administration’s feet to the fire, but roast a marshmallow or two as well. You’ve earned it.

So, thank you, my friends, for your tirelessness. Thank you for saving the Internet. But also delight in having an administration that has brought in some amazing people, has opened up the processes in ways unthinkable just a few months ago, and is fundamentally with us and of us on these issues.