It's Not An Open vs. Closed Internet, But Ours vs. Theirs

from the one-way-to-look-at-it dept

Dave Weinberger has a thought-provoking post where he discusses why an “open” internet is so important, and suggests that we may be thinking about things incorrectly due to the term “open.”

The Net as a medium is not for anything in particular — not for making calls, sending videos, etc. It also works at every scale, from one to one to many to many. This makes it highly unusual as a medium. In fact, we generally don’t treat it as a medium but as a world, rich with connections, persistent, and social. Because everything we encounter in this world is something that we as humans made (albeit sometimes indirectly), it feels like it’s ours. Obviously it’s not ours in the property sense. Rather, it’s ours in the way that our government is ours and our culture is ours. There aren’t too many other things that are ours in that way.

If we allow others to make decisions about what the Net is for — preferring some content and services to others — the Net won’t feel like it’s ours, and we’ll lose some of the enthusiasm (= love) that drives our participation, innovation, and collaborative efforts.

So, if we’re going to talk about the value of the open Internet, we have to ask what the opposite of “open” is. No one is proposing a closed Internet. When it comes to the Internet, the opposite of “open” is “theirs.”

I’d certainly never thought about it that way, but it does make a point. I do think that many more people feel “at home” on the internet in a way that they never could or would in other platforms or media. And part of the fear that people have about losing an “open” internet is that it will decrease any incentive for participation. There is definitely a sense that part of the reason why some folks would like to pull back on openness is to turn the internet from a platform for users towards a more controlled broadcast sort of platform. That is, it won’t be about communication, but about content delivery — and when you do that, it loses a significant portion of its value. And I think that’s where the shift from “ours” to “theirs” comes from. Not everyone can put a show on TV, but anyone can put a video on YouTube or just create a website. The internet is about communication, and when you start mitigating who can communicate and how, you lose the value of community.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “It's Not An Open vs. Closed Internet, But Ours vs. Theirs”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
PEBKAC says:

I think you have realized this, Mike, just not in a stated, concious way. For example, you’ve taken newspapers to task for their failure to recognize that a vital part of the online aspect of their product is the reader/discussion community that can be attracted to it if courted. It’s why paywalls won’t work. It’s why IP issues are becoming more and more problematic.

I agree with the first poster: the internet is many things, but first and foremost it is a communications medium. Many content providers don’t seem to see it that way and appear to be trying to subvert its nature to their own ends. It won’t happen, as the internet is far more organic than they will credit. Content is important, but it is not the reason the internet exists and never will be.

The adage is true: the internet views control and censorship as damage and will therefore route around it.

Anonymous Coward says:

“First, the Internet is a general purpose technology, he explains, which means that it can be put to all kinds of uses. Second, it is subject to all kinds of network effects that result in positive spillovers. This means that the Internet increases with value as it draws more and more social participation.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In fact the reason why it took so long for the selfish evil corporations to take control of public airwaves via the FCC is because, as a communication medium, public airwaves provided so much public utility that for them to take it over all at once and to turn it into the nonsense it is now would have created huge backlashes. So instead they started regulating it little by little, first allowing the FCC to take it over but ensuring a certain amount of competition existed to prevent backlashes from stopping the government from handing over the airwaves to monopolies. Little by little those regulations started being removed and the government started regulating the airwaves more and more in a way that favors only big corporations until, eventually, you have what you have now, the FCC exists for the sole purpose of ensuring that public airwaves only serve corporate interests at public expense. Without the FCC public airwaves would likewise be a communication medium, much like the Internet is now, and would provide so much more utility than it currently does.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

and this is exactly what they want to do to the Internet. As a communication medium the Internet provides so much utility that to take it over all at once would create huge backlashes. So they want to do the Internet exactly what they did public airwaves, slowly take it over little by little and slowly take more and more control over it until eventually the top one percent owns it entirely just like public airwaves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Please feel free to correct me, but as I understand the system all connections must flow through some form of an ISP. So already there is a gatekeeper who decides who gets through and who does not through its servers.

Once connected, it is pretty much “Katie Bar the Door”.

Of course, the internet is somewhat akin to a King-Size telephony network. It is a platform over which just about anything digital can travel.

The constant cry, however, against content providers does leave me a bit cold. If a content provider does not want their content distributed except in the manner it specifies, then a content user has an infinite number of other perfectly lawful options…not the least of which is to simply take his/her business elsewhere.

The rub seems to be where what a content user wants to do (e.g., YouTube) goes against the grain of what a content provider want the content users to do. Of course, once content gets out it is impossible to stuff it back, but even then there is no good reason to lash out against a content provider just because of how it chooses to distribute its content.

Obviously this is a very general comment, but it does seem appropriate to note that the internet is “theirs” when it comes to hardware and restricted content, and “ours” when it comes to everything else once one is past the ISP gatekeepers.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Please feel free to correct me, but as I understand the system all connections must flow through some form of an ISP. So already there is a gatekeeper who decides who gets through and who does not through its servers.

ISPs are not gatekeepers in the traditional sense because they don’t decide who can use their services or not. “Pay me $30 a month and we’ll give you high speed Internet access” isn’t a decision. If you have the money, you get the service. Of course, the big content owners want ISPs to be gatekeepers and to make decisions for their subscribers, but that’s not the job of the ISP.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

ISPs have no impact whatsoever on the wider Internet; they are just nodes, part of a mechanism for accessing it. Saying they are gatekeepers simply because you can’t access the Internet without paying for them means hardware producers are also gatekeepers because you need a device to access it, not to mention software vendors because the hardware is worthless without an OS.

Now true, ISPs have more discretion over access than others in the current marketplace, but you still get to choose whether to utilize them or not. If the ISP, say, blocks YouTube, then most people would go to a competitor that didn’t. And there will always be competitors offering the best service they can, unless the government screws that up with laws and regulations, such as making them liable for copyright infringement or imposing large overhead costs to drive up the cost of entry.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I believe you may be downplaying to some degree the role of ISPs in the sense that, using a home connection via desktop as an example, all data flowing to/from your desktop must pass through an ISP’s equipment, which to me is a form of a gate in that the gate can be flung wide open, closed up tight, or somewhere in between.

If the internet was truly “ours” it seems to me this gate would always be wide open and incapable of being restricted.

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

But again, ISPs are not the Internet and thus have no impact on it at all. The net can still be “ours” even if the particular points of access available to us at a particular physical location may not be. My guess is that this issue will be ameliorated before long with technological progress and competition – but that means we need innovation and market freedom, and regulation is the antithesis of both of those.

slander (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

An ISP isn’t necessarily a gatekeeper, but is ideally a gateway.

A gatekeeper decides who or what is allowed to pass, usually based on some sort of criteria or limitations. “All who enter must relinquish their weapons,” or “if you pass through the Portal of Infinite Goods and Services, put please don’t squeeze the Charmin®.

A gateway is more akin to a doorway, which allows one to freely pass through in order to experience whatever is out there. The ISP server that allows your computer access to the Internet is called a gateway server.

I hope that helps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: already there is a gatekeeper

Please feel free to correct me, but as I understand the system all connections must flow through some form of an ISP.


So already there is a gatekeeper who decides who gets through and who does not through its servers.

This is exactly what the debate is about. “Net neutrality” means the ISP is required, by law, to pass everything, without preferring one type of content over another. This has been (mostly) the case (in practice) so far. The alternative is that Microsoft will pay the ISP to block or degrade your Google search pages (or vice versa), and would work 10 time slower than

bshock (profile) says:

an interesting reframing of the issue

I like Dave Weinberger’s interpretation of the issue, but in some ways I’m more intrigued by the implications to other items he’s named as “ours” collectively, culture and government.

In particular, how many U.S. citizens these days feel as though the government is “ours?” I suspect that the vast non-wealthy and non-powerful majority of people are disenchanted by the U.S. government because it feels as though it belongs to someone else. Among many of us there was a moment of euphoria when Barack Obama was elected president because we felt as though we’d taken back a piece of that government, but for whatever reason, Mr. Obama went on to conduct business as usual.

It’s long been pointed out that framing the political spectrum as conservative vs. liberal may be missing the point, but perhaps even alternate spectra such as libertarian vs. authoritarian are at least as flawed. What if the most important axis is actually “our government” vs. “their government?”

Unfortunately, “they” possess all the money and power, and so have a nasty way of coopting movements in that direction. At base, I suspect the unfortunately named “Tea Baggers” are just a lot of average people who justifiably feel disenfranchised. It’s more than slightly horrific that wealthy and powerful entities like Fox News and the Republican Party have taken advantage of this group to further their own ends, which are nothing more than becoming wealthier and more powerful still.

Ryan says:

Re: an interesting reframing of the issue

I don’t think much anybody in the U.S. feels as though this government is “ours” beyond the politicians that are running it. It has become larger and larger over the course of the last century, and the burden has exploded just in the last ten years, such that it is teetering on becoming completely unaccountable to its constituents. This is true of any typical society – as government becomes larger, it becomes an instrument of the parties that run it. Take the history of the Soviet Union as a prime example of why the two-stage Marxist revolution is a laughable pipe dream.

But your assertion that we have some class war between “us” and “them”, us being the poor people and them being the rich people, is quizzical. Do you think every rich person makes money in the same way or engenders the same wants and desires? That every powerful person shares a strife for a common outcome? And that that outcome is at odds with every individual below a certain income level? Mexico is overrun with cartels that share the same common desire to make money producing and distributing cocaine, but their differences are manifested as violently as anywhere in the world. There is no common “conspiracy” that has infested the government to direct it as it pleases.

In case you haven’t noticed, each market contains multiple players that engage in fierce competition against each other. Wal-Mart is not conspiring with Target; Coke does not share a bed with Pepsi. And there are mutually exclusive interests across markets as well, such as the powerful sugar industry’s lobbying for sugar tariffs to the detriment of companies that consume it in their products.

Nor are the most powerful players limited to the wealthiest, or to the business owners. By far the most powerful players in the current political environment are the unions, and they are as greedy, selfish, and immoral as any other entity in the country – the corporate structure doesn’t have a monopoly on this.

The fact that you single out the Republican Party as taking advantage of the tea parties to “further their own ends” has got to be a joke. What, Democrats aren’t in it for their own ends? At least the Republican Party is currently in favor of lowering taxes and protecting our freedom to choose our own health care, schools, etc. Democrats just want more power, period.

I think that the contructs of our government – e.g. the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, branches of government, etc. – are “ours”, but that our policies are sold to the highest bidders. On that we agree, but the highest bidders by no means enjoin the same goals, and there is no static “us” vs. “them”. Everybody has an agenda, poor or rich, and the government is an instrument oto force them on everybody else. If the government gets into regulating the internet, it will of course become geared to protect the interests of whoever cares about it the most.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: an interesting reframing of the issue

Any representatives at the federal level, Republican or Democrat, are dependent upon campaign financing to further their careers. They are a part of the corporate lobbying circus we call government. Our votes are up for auction to the highest bidder. Why should a corporation have more influence on government than the votes and voices of those it employs?

Anarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others. – Edward Abbey

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: an interesting reframing of the issue

When I was in the military I never thought of it as I was fighting for my Government, I considered myself fighting for my country.

I feel the same about copyrights as I do about Government: Both had reasonable and noble purposes for their creation, and both are now bent and twisted to favor those with money over “the rest of us”.

Sadly, I also believe that the solution is the same for both: Reboot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: an interesting reframing of the issue

true, but in your comment, it seems you are let down because Obama would not take a totalitarian stance. Question is if you understand that there are three branches of Government and how you have represenatives and senators that you are supposed to go through first.

Part of the problem, though, is that companies often provide services and lobby for their flavor of change in every house seat that they provide sales, support, or services in. This is more unfair because a well-funded effort can drown out the individual voices.

Steve R. (profile) says:

But they (ISP) are hired to move our content

Many opposed to net-neutrality regulation cite how the infrastructure that provides the internet is “private” property. As such, they assert(our)ownership to the extent of ignoring the users (their) claim to ownership to the information being transported.

On way to look at the our/their issue is that those who provide access to the internet are hired to move the private data of the users. As such, ISP are not really entitled to “regulate” or otherwise “manage” the movement of private data.

By way of analogy, when you go to UPS you are hiring them to deliver your private package to its destination, on-time and in good-shape. By extension, the mere fact that the ISPs own the infrastructure does not entitle them to deprive the users of their property rights concerning the delivery of their packets (packages)..

Ryan says:

Re: But they (ISP) are hired to move our content

This is a similar discrepancy between that of stealing physical goods and copying digital information. When you send something via UPS, there is a tangible and unique object in there that can be claimed with property rights. When you trasmit information via the Internet, you’re doing just that – transmitting information. In no sense do you “own” the packets anymore than you own the octaves emitted from your mouth when you speak on the phone. Are the ISPs to be liable for the however many billions of packets that are lost in transmission every day/hour/second? It’s just information.

Now if you want to prevent ISPs from engaging in deep packet inspection, then perhaps that has some equivalence with phone companies listening in on a call. I doubt, though, that laws should be structured similarly for the two scenarios.

Laurel L. Russwurm (profile) says:

"the way that our government is ours and our culture is ours"

None of that has been ours for a long time. I rather agree with a guy named (The Infamous) Joe that a reboot is necessary. Canada may even need a reboot more desperately than the US does at this point.

If the copyright lobby has its way, none of us will have culture anymore at all, just product. How long before they start assessing royalties for the music that runs through our head unbidden.

Perhaps the artists will need to establish underground venues to create a black market culture. It will be like the speakeasies of prohibition), and they will need to stay hidden from the copyright collectives or they’ll be charged “royalties” for performing. In much the same way SOCAN is charging buskers in Vancouver because they MIGHT be using copyright material.Techdirt: Vancouver Train System To Charge Buskers Huge Fees To Play In Stations)

“Us versus them” isn’t about money, its about control. “Them” controlling “us” by controlling government (law), copyright (culture) and the Internet (freedom/communication).

:) says:

No rules vs. rules.

Net Neutrality was sparked exactly because there was no regulation to stop Comcast from discriminating against services and they started with bittorrent and probably would have throttled others like youtube, skype etc. It didn’t happen because people did nothing and nothing happened. It got started because something wrong came to be in a very real way and is not a figment of the imagination.

If nobody did nothing Comcast and others probably would be lobbying for changing the rules in backdoor negotiations.

That is why a lot of big companies that depend on the net to survive want new rules and those rules align with the public need.

There is no competition on the U.S. market and if someone say it does please explain the prices in the U.S. and those in France where $50 gives you broadband + TV + VoIP or why Verizon is halting fiber deployment even as it is increasing costumer base and profits? Would it happen if others where still deploying something?

Now Google and Verizon disagreeing is good when they start agreeing I will be worried because probably this will mean content providers found a way not to depend on the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No rules vs. rules.

“Net Neutrality was sparked exactly because there was no regulation to stop Comcast from discriminating against services and they started with bittorrent and probably would have throttled others like youtube, skype etc.”

That’s because the regulations in place are designed to reduce competition which makes it easier for specific entities to regulate the Internet. What we need is for the government to stop artificially reducing competition (ie: on who can use existing cableco/telco infrastructure and who can build new infrastructure) so that the free market can property regulate ISP’s that discriminate out of business.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...