Net Neutrality

Unexpectedly, I was asked by someone in Washington D.C. about my views on Net Neutrality. Not something I have given a lot of thought to – the discussion is there, not here. But of course a decision in the US will impact on everyone. So I cobbled together a few notes. This is more or less what I wrote.

In the early days of the web, Joi Ito, the current director of MIT Media Lawas working for the Japanese broadcaster NHK. He downloaded a video from a website owned by Adam Curry. He brought the video to his boss at NHK to show him. “Who owns this network?” asked the boss.
“No one.” said Ito.
“Does Murdoch own it?”
“No.”
“Can I own it?”
“No.”
“He just couldn’t get it.” says Ito It was the World Wide Web. No one – and every one owns it.

In the early part of the first decade of the 21st century, a young businessman in Belfast wanted to make a website for his new business. He paid a small fee to reserve the domain name and bought the services of a web designer to build the site. If he has the skills and the time he could have done that himself using the open source Hyper Text Mark-up Language at no cost. He then paid a company to host that site. He didn’t have to ask permission from anyone. There was no centralisation of permission except the cataloguing system to ensure the safety of his domain. Later he set up a separate blog on a free site Blogger for which he paid nothing.

Like every other website owner or blogger, he had one expectation. This website could be seen by anyone in the “free world” un-confounded by censorship and state control or big business getting in the way. His website would be delivered in the same way and at the same speed as BBC.co.uk, WhiteHouse.gov and PresbyterIanireland.org.

In 1996 I, like many other people, started to build websites on the free resource Geocities.com (Now sadly gone – thanks Yahoo!). Other, smarter, (geekier?) people learned that they could code, create and make new stuff for the Web – which often they shared for free. But there was room to make a profit, too. The internet – and the Web – has been built to ensure that standards are open and transparent. Anyone can add to it, improve it – and create a business on it.

Socially and culturally the Web is inclusive. Big exists beside small. “Open” software promotes innovation. “The Web runs on open standards: globally accepted agreements that allow software to talk to each other.” writes Tim Berners-Lee. “When they succeed they dramatically lower the cost of creating something … Open standards are formed by consensus and form a fertile base.”

The web is 25 years old. “A Proposal” was written by Berners-Lee in March 1989. It is CERN’s gift to the world. Of course big business and governments want to control it. Of course mega media companies want their content delivered first and if that business man wants his website to be delivered at the same speed as theirs – providing he gets permission to have a blog – he will have to pay a premium … supposing he gets permission.

So, let’s ensure the next 25 years and beyond build on the values of the first years of the Web. Let WWW be neutral.

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