Recommended reading

Brett Glass has filed a very good letter with the FCC regarding the current controversy. Of particular interest is one of the “Four Freedoms”, the freedom to run any application you want:

It’s important to step back and think about the implications of this clause – the one which Comcast has been accused in the current proceeding of having “violated.”

An application (a technical term for any computer program which is not an operating system) encodes and embodies behavior — any behavior at all that the author wants. And anyone can write one. So, insisting that an ISP allow a user to run any application means that anyone can program his or her computer to behave any way at all — no matter how destructively — on the Internet, and the ISP is not allowed to intervene. In short, such a requirement means that no network provider can have an enforceable Acceptable Use Policy or Terms of Service.

This is a recipe for disaster. Anyone who engages in destructive behavior, hogs bandwidth, or even takes down the network could and say, “I was just running an application… and I have the right to run any application I want, so you can’t stop me.”

The application freedom, like the others, is limited by “reasonable network management,” which is undefined. So the real exercise is defining this term, where the operative essence of the four freedoms is “you can do any damn thing you want, except for what you can’t do, and here’s what you can’t do.” Rather than enumerate freedoms, Michael Powell should have enumerated restrictions, on users, carriers, and services.

That’s hard work, but it’s the kind of thing that serious policy-makers do. Restrictions should start with the following list:

1. You can’t lie to your customers or the public, nor can you be economical with the truth:
– You have to fully disclose terms of service in language as plain is it can be, using standard metrics and terminology.

2. The Internet is a shared facility, and no one is entitled to overload any portion of it.

3. You can’t manipulate dominant market share in to fix prices or eliminate competition.

4. You can’t act arbitrarily or without notice to terminate services.

5. You can’t operate equipment on the pubic Internet with doors and windows open to malware, viruses, and bots. If your equipment is hijacked, you will summarily be cut off.

6. No stealing.

Etc.

Some of these apply to carriers, some to users, and some to services. In a mature Internet, we all have responsibilities, not just freedoms. With great power, etc.

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One Response to Recommended reading

  1. Brett Glass says:

    Richard, thank you for citing my letter above. Ironically, I have already drafted a list of principles that could serve as the starting point for a set of rules such as the one you propose above — and which include all of the points you’ve mentioned. See http://www.brettglass.com/principles.pdf for the document.

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