Net Neutrality is a Delusion

Scott Cleland mentions that His Eminence, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee will testify before Congressman Ed Markey’s House subcommittee on Telecommunications, the Internet, and Shameless Pandering to the Conspiracy Nuts Thursday. Markey has an ambitious agenda:

In a wide-ranging conversation yesterday, Markey laid out a broad telecom agenda that could pit him against the telephone and cable companies — expressing interest in “paranoia-inducing alternatives” like municipal broadband projects and wireless carriers that could pose a competitive threat to cable and telephone companies and push them to innovate.

He stressed that network neutrality — an initiative to ensure that the Internet does not become a two-tiered system in which some companies pay fees for priority access –will likely dominate the discussion over the next two years.

Innovations such as the Web browser, search engines, and the Internet did not emerge from large established companies, and forcing firms to pay more to reach users would stifle creativity, he said.

It’s a position that puts him at odds with major industry players.

Primarily, this position puts him at odds with reality. Was the Web browser actually an innovation that didn’t come from a large established company? Well, given the creation of a web by the interconnection of hyperlinks in documents on the Internet, the browser was more a requirement than an innovation, and hyperlinks were actually first implemented in research labs funded by large enterprises, many private and some public. The first web browser that was fully-functional was produced by Microsoft, so that’s one error. The first search engine that was worth spit was Alta Vista, produced by Digital Equipment Corporation, so that’s two. And the Internet itself was produced by contractors working for the biggest enterprise of all, the United States government, so there’s error number three.

And where did the key technologies upon which the Internet was based come from? The transistor, the high speed data link, the modem, the digital modem and the Unix operating system were all produced by researchers at Bell Labs, part of the world’s most evil monopoly, so oops again. And the personal computers that made the Internet necessary were created by IBM and Intel, using technologies developed by Xerox. So where is this yarn of the virtuous little guys innovating like crazy while the dinosaurs slept really coming from? It’s nothing more than a cheap fantasy.

Now I don’t really expect politicians to be historians of technology, and to actually understand the things they regulate. But they do have people on staff who are supposed to keep them from saying stupid things, and it’s abundantly clear that Markey’s aren’t cutting it.

The hearing will be a real knee-slapper if Markey’s people can’t keep his mouth in check, and history suggests they’re bound to fail.

But we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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