[iDC] Re: Net Neutrality

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Mon Jun 26 03:00:38 EDT 2006

Sorry for the delay Trebor! Thanks very much for the response. Rather  
than respond to your points individually, I'd like to respond to your  
main question because I think it raises some of the critical  
differences in our thinking about strategies and contexts for  
political change that underpin the discussion.

Like you, I am committed to the support of what you call "autonomous"  
and I would call "relatively independent" uses of the Internet, but I  
think the direct relationship to governmental interventions here is  
less straightforward than you suggest. There are two facets issues  
that I would raise with these in respect to Net Neutrality.

Firstly, I guess my experience is that extremely large scale national  
(or international) policy interventions in something like  
standardised service provision in telecommunications has an impact on  
independent content initiatives that is difficult to predict.  
Independent initiatives emerge within very diverse legislative and  
economic regimes. I also think there can be unintended consequences  
to stadardised regimes that are promoted in the public interest. For  
example, if in the wireless future the reduction in infrastructure  
costs allows smaller organisations to become ISPs again (reversing  
the consolidation in this business over the last decade) we might  
imagine a group of indymedia types who would like to provide ultra- 
cheap wireless access to a range of independent political content  
from likeminded organisations from overseas. Management of bandwidth  
costs would be critical to this kind of an initiative. Would Net  
Neutrality provisions force this group to also carry high cost  
content such as mainstream cinema trailers? The scenario doesn't seem  
far-fetched. It doesn't make that much difference whether "overall",  
that certain larger companies might benefit more from neutrality not  
being legislated, we need to account for this case.

Note that I am not saying here that I think no legislation can or  
should be made in the public interest. I am just uncertain about the  
effect of a "Neutrality" provision, because there seem to be very few  
clear models of the impacts or what Neutrality really is.  And I am  
certain that the non-enforcement of "Net Neutrality" will not neuter  
"open access initiatives" or "access to knowledge" activism or many  
other political initiatives that I am committed to in the way you  
suggest. Also, the civic impacts are not limited to nominal ability  
to participate and produce. Available business models for independent  
musicians is a policy question which *is* present in the success or  
failure of the iTunes content model, because it could be a means of  
content financing that is more or less helpful for independent  
artists than other alternatives (that doesn't mean I think it should  
be supported, I'm just saying it is a civic impact).

Secondly, and more relevant for this group I think, is the question  
of how artists and independent producers intervene in the policy  
process. The *practice* of policy interventions is different than the  
*practice* of making independent content. Both are political acts,  
but I think the strategies required are quite different. I'm not a  
policy-hound, but I spend enough time in that space to know that  
politicians have a reasonable nose for how much of a population  
"public benefits" can be sold to. Most of the political ideals I hold  
have no chance of being supported in a governmental process, and I  
try not to waste my time getting upset about it. In particular, I try  
and avoid signing up for legislative movements (no matter how well- 
intentioned) where the rationale and on-the-ground impact is unclear,  
as I think it is in the Net Neutrality case. So what I was trying to  
do with the article was highlight some of the complexity in a policy  
rationale which I think is simplistic and not in touch with all of  
the factors that impact it. (I think the debate also conveniently  
fits with the formalism of new media politics which prefers analysing  
systemic structures and extrapolating those to reality rather than  
evaluating a range of particular cases to formulate a politic).

When it comes to my own activism on tech media policy, I'll be  
looking to freedom of speech, supporting of open-source / access-to- 
knowledge proposals, reform of intellectual property laws, and a  
whole bunch of other areas that seem to me to be more productive  
trees to bark up than Net Neutrality. But I'd also like to see more  
sophisticated dialogue on the topic than I'm seeing online at the  
moment, and I think this group in particular should be capable of  
fostering that.

Best regards


Danny Butt
db at dannybutt.net | http://www.dannybutt.net
Suma Media Consulting | http://www.sumamedia.com
Private Bag MBE P145, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
Ph: +64 21 456 379 | Fx: +64 21 291 0200

On 22/06/2006, at 1:07 PM, Trebor Scholz wrote:

> Danny: "The question of what viable economic models will look like  
> under
> next-generation networks is central to the Net Neutrality debate.  
> On one
> hand, it seems unrealistic to expect that the vertically integrated
> content & distribution model has no place on the Internet - to exclude
> it by legal means will probably delay the introduction of new,  
> efficient
> distribution models that users want (see, for example, the role of
> iTunes in kick-starting the digital music downloads business)."
> My main question for you is: Whom does your argumentation serve? Is
> Mac's financial success or downfall with iTunes impact civic uses of
> technology? Which side of the net does a multi-tiered net that
> privileges the few super corporations who can afford to pay for extra
> bandwidth strengthen? A multi-tiered net would have ample political
> repercussions: guess what political alliances the sections of the net
> would have that run on the fast track.

> Danny: "In a rapidly changing network environment, these will need  
> to be
> more sophisticated than simply arguing for a status quo, or worse,
> implementing poor legislation that is unresponsive to the business
> models that will shape the Internet's future."
> To oppose net neutrality is unresponsive to emerging business models
> that rely on bandwidth for their life. In addition, to think that the
> future of the Internet is in the hands of business alone is already
> giving up on what I love most about the Internet: its autonomous uses.

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