Is Net Neutrality Going To Kill You?
from the be-very-afraid dept
Techdirt does not have much of a history of awarding plaudits to Sonia Arrison. But this time we at least have to give her points for originality: in her latest essay opposing net neutrality she advances the indisputably original argument that net neutrality will kill you.
Well, alright: that's a bit hyperbolic. But she does think that net neutrality legislation could lead to clogged networks that make pervasive health-monitoring applications unsafe, or at least untenable:
Technology like RFID tags connected with wireless networks can help create an "always on" health monitoring system, thereby transitioning society away from a "mainframe" medical model and redirecting it toward a smaller, more personalized, PC-type model. This is a great idea, yet the unspoken truth is that this type of communication requires healthy, innovative networks. That raises a key question about Net neutrality, an issue spun and respun by many.
It's a neat trick, presuming that "non-neutral" and "healthy" are synonymous. But leaving aside that sleight of hand, Ms. Arrison's position ignores an area where regulated networks have historically excelled: providing a minimal but guaranteed level of service. The telephone system's better-than-five-nines level of reliability emerged while Ma Bell was at her most closed and monolithic. The ubiquity of the E911 system is the product of a federal mandate. And the highly-regulated public broadcast spectrum rarely sees dead air.
The best arguments that net neutrality opponents have advanced concern the future of the network, not its present state. They maintain that treating a packet differently based on its business pedigree rather than its functional characteristics will ensure a competitive marketplace that provides new network services -- more bandwidth and lower latency -- and keeps prices low. Whether or not you agree with this conclusion, these posited advantages are exactly what low-bandwidth, latency-insensitive health monitoring systems don't need.
That isn't true of telerobotic surgery, of course, and that application is the other healthcare case that Arrison considers. And although she inexplicably implies that using the public network for it would be anything other than lunacy, she at least acknowledges that dedicated links can and likely would be used by hospitals for this sort of work. But then Arrison bizarrely notes that net neutrality legislation could cripple these privately-owned networks, too.
In 2001, professor Jacques Marescaux, M.D. and his team performed the first clinical robot-assisted remote telepresence surgery, operating on the gallbladder of a patient in Strasbourg, France -- 4,000 miles away from their location in New York. What this type of procedure means to remote patients is life-changing, yet such an operation requires a stable and well-managed network, free from the binding hands of politics. Even if the doctors are using a dedicated network, it is still affected by whatever rules bureaucrats place on network operators as a whole.
I suppose this disastrous outcome is a possibility -- but only in the sense that net neutrality legislation would also be a bad idea if it mandated that ISPs only allow traffic related to Facebook gifts and chain emails, or that cablemodem speeds not exceed 56k. It's hard to imagine why legislators would do anything so daft. "Strengthening the case of anti-neutrality activists" is about the only reason I can come up with.
To be sure, there are real arguments to be made about the future of our networks and the appropriate role of the government, if any, in managing them. But net neutrality is not going to make you sicker.