[NetBehaviour] Saving the Net

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Fri Nov 18 21:57:09 CET 2005

Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the 

By Doc Searls on Wed, 2005-11-16 02:00. Industry News

We're hearing tales of two scenarios--one pessimistic, one 
optimistic--for the future of the Net. If the paranoids are right, the 
Net's toast. If they're not, it will be because we fought to save it, 
perhaps in a new way we haven't talked about before. Davids, meet your 

This is a long essay. There is, however, no limit to how long I could 
have made it. The subjects covered here are no less enormous than the 
Net and its future. Even optimists agree that the Net's future as a free 
and open environment for business and culture is facing many threats. We 
can't begin to cover them all or cover all the ways we can fight them. I 
believe, however, that there is one sure way to fight all of these 
threats at once, and without doing it the bad guys will win. That's what 
this essay is about.

Here's a brief outline of the article. If you want to go straight to the 
solution, skip to the third section:


      Scenario I: The Carriers Win

      Scenario II: The Public Workaround

      Scenario III: Fight with Words and Not Just Deeds

Scenario I: The Carriers Win

Be afraid. Be very afraid. --Kevin Werbach.

Are you ready to see the Net privatized from the bottom to the top? Are 
you ready to see the Net's free and open marketplace sucked into a pit 
of pipes built and fitted by the phone and cable companies and run 
according to rules lobbied by the carrier and content industries?

Do you believe a free and open market should be "Your choice of walled 
garden" or "Your choice of silo"? That's what the big carrier and 
content companies believe. That's why they're getting ready to fence off 
the frontiers.

And we're not stopping it.

With the purchase and re-animation of AT&T's remains, the collection of 
former Baby Bells called SBC will become the largest communications 
company in the US--the new Ma Bell. Verizon, comprised of the old GTE 
plus MCI and the Baby Bells SBC didn't grab, is the new Pa Bell. That's 
one side of the battlefield, called The Regulatory Environment. Across 
the battlefield from Ma and Pa Bell are the cable and entertainment 
giants: Comcast, Cox, TimeWarner and so on. Covering the battle are the 
business and tech media, which love a good fight.

The problem is that all of these battling companies--plus the 
regulators--hate the Net.

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. The thing is, they're hostile to it, 
because they don't get it. Worse, they only get it in one very literal 
way. See, to the carriers and their regulators, the Net isn't a world, a 
frontier, a marketplace or a commons. To them, the Net is a collection 
of pipes. Their goal is to beat the other pipe-owners. To do that, they 
want to sell access and charge for traffic.

There's nothing wrong with being in the bandwidth business, of course. 
But some of these big boys want to go farther with it. They don't see 
themselves as a public utility selling a pure base-level service, such 
as water or electricity (which is what they are, by the way, in respect 
to the Net). They see themselves as a source of many additional 
value-adds, inside the pipes. They see opportunities to sell solutions 
to industries that rely on the Net--especially their natural partner, 
the content industry.

They see a problem with freeloaders. On the tall end of the power curve, 
those 'loaders are AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other large sources 
of the container cargo we call "content". Out on the long tail, the 
freeloaders are you and me. The big 'loaders have been getting a free 
ride for too long and are going to need to pay. The Information Highway 
isn't the freaking interstate. It's a system of private roads that needs 
to start charging tolls. As for the small 'loaders, it hardly matters 
that they're a boundless source of invention, innovation, vitality and 
new business. To the carriers, we're all still just "consumers". And we 
always will be.

"Piracy" is a bigger issue to the cargo sources than to the carriers. To 
the carriers, "fighting piracy" is a service offering as well as a lever 
on regulators to give carriers more control of the pipes. "You want us 
to help you fight piracy?", the transport companies say to the content 
companies. "Okay, let's deal." And everybody else's freedoms--to invent, 
to innovate, to do business, to take advantage of free markets and to 
make free culture--get dealt away.

The carriers have been lobbying Congress for control of the Net since 
Bush the Elder was in office. Once they get what they want, they'll put 
up the toll booths, the truck scales, the customs checkpoints--all in a 
fresh new regulatory environment that formalizes the container cargo 
business we call packet transport. This new environment will be built to 
benefit the carriers and nobody else. The "consumers"? Oh ya, sure: 
they'll benefit too, by having "access" to all the good things that 
carriers ship them from content providers. Is there anything else? No.

Crocodile grins began to grow on the faces of carriers as soon as it 
became clear that everything we call "media" eventually would flow 
through their pipes. All that stuff we used to call TV, radio, 
newspapers and magazines will just be "content" moving through the 
transport layer of the pipe system they own and control. Think it's a 
cool thing that TV channels are going away? So do the carriers. The 
future à lá carte business of media will depend on one medium alone: the 
Net. And the Net is going to be theirs.

The Net's genie, which granted all those e-commerce wishes over the past 
ten years, won't just get shoved back in the bottle. No, that genie will 
be piped and priced by the packet. The owners of those pipes have a duty 
to their stockholders to make the most of the privileged position 
they've been waiting to claim ever since they got blind-sided, back in 
the 80s and 90s. (For an excellent history of how the European PTTs got 
snookered by the Net and the Web, see Paul F. Kunz' Bringing the World 
Wide Web to America.) They have assets to leverage, dammit, and now they 

Does it matter that countless markets flourish in the wide spaces opened 
by agreements and protocols that thrive at the grace of carriage? Or 
that those markets are threatened by new limits, protections and costs 
imposed at the pipe level?


Thus, the Era of Net Facilitation will end. The choke points are in the 
pipes, the permission is coming from the lawmakers and regulators, and 
the choking will be done. No more free rides, folks. Time to pay. It's 
called creating scarcity and charging for it. The Information Age may be 
here, but the Industrial Age is hardly over. In fact, there is no sign 
it will ever end.

much more...

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list