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Commentary: BT and its Orwellian Aims to Mind Control the UK (Not)
The controversy over British Telecom's new pricing scheme goes to show that the "Net Neutrality" debate might be the most ridiculous thing since the "Millennium Bug"

That title is my attempt to carry out a ‘not' joke, as I understood a ‘not joke' to be defined in the movie Borat. I hope you got it. It was a joke. I am actually poking fun at the ever-growing group of people who seem to live their lives looking for big business and big technology companies to take over and turn us into some form of alien-food-almost as if they want it to happen.

I have to admit, I too have gone through alarmed periods, discovering that my every interaction with a networked technology could be tracked, logged, interpreted, and used to understand me both on an individual level and on a wider social level. I used to think this was an affront to civil liberties and invading my privacy.

Perhaps it is. But so much of the freedom and civil liberty movement and its arguments are just plain stupid. For me one of the best examples of this is the nonsense that is the "Net Neutrality" debate.

Recent press reports this week published widely here in the UK and globally had titles such as "BT Kills UK Net Neutrality with Two Tier Internet in UK" (www.thinq.co.uk) and "BT Content Connect Tramples on Net Neutrality?" (www.techwatch.co.uk), and even the Financial Times wrote  "BT Service Could Pave the Way for Two-Tier Web."

Frankly I have never read such a lot of drivel.

This "Net Neutrality" debate is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard of since the Millennium Bug. Soothsayers of the Apocalypse, please crawl back into your fantasy worlds and stop wasting everyone's time with this sensationalist rubbish and your own conflicting arguments.

I know that there will be those of you reading this who actually DO think this is a real issue: Please read on. And believe me I have NOT been chipped, fitted with nanobots, drugged, or coerced into writing this.

Before I step in to defend the specifics of the BT issue that has been highlighted this week, let me get a few first principles straight.

"Net Neutrality" - What is it?
For the U.S. audience it is a discussion that has been used divisively in political debates over the past few years that mixes up civil liberty, privacy, right to free speech, censorship, and (bizarrely) routing and network optimisation technologies.

For the European audience it is something that policy makers in government want to be seen as taking seriously because the U.S. politicians are, but even though they don't know a lot about it they want to "make policy" proactively before U.S. policy makers, rather than been seen to once again "just ape" the U.S. (Anti-trust cases come to mind too).

The Internet Society (ISOC) has always been the home of the social policy issues that join the technical issues that are supervised by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which actually define what protocols comprise the suite of technologies that create the Internet. Here are ISOCs principles for reference (from http://www.isoc.org/inet98/about.shtml):

Internet Society Guiding Principles

  • Open, unencumbered, beneficial use of the Internet.
  • Self-regulated content providers; no prior censorship of on-line communications.
  • Online free expression is not restricted by other indirect means such as excessively restrictive governmental or private controls over computer hardware or software, telecommunications infrastructure, or other essential components of the Internet.
  • Open forum for the development of standards and internet technology
  • No discrimination in use of the Internet on the basis of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
  • Personal information generated on the Internet is neither misused nor used by another without informed consent of the principal.
  • Internet users may encrypt their communication and information without restriction.
  • Encouragement of cooperation between networks: Connectivity is its own reward, therefore network providers are rewarded by cooperation with each other.

If the Internet Society had a constitution, this would be it.

Note that the egalitarian underlying principle of equal right to use and access is pervasive here.

Now, I have been a member of ISOC for 13 years and I wholly support their principles. Vint Cerf-co-creator of internet protocol, respected chairman of the IAB, and long-term president of ISOC-highlights in one individual the conjunction of the roles of these organisations. This juncture is important. Since its creation, the internet has always tried to be available non-prejudicially to its users. This equality is ingrained in its very design.

In fact this takes us to the next step of my exploration here: The IP protocols, the presence of which today are prerequisites for a network device to be considered as being "part of the internet," were initially introduced to allow networks using the myriad of different protocols in use at the time to begin to talk to each other. Literally; internet protocol means = protocol for interconnecting networks.

Note something very important here. The networks that were being interconnected were heretofore autonomous private systems. Each of these had its own unique owner, performing its own unique functions on those networks.

Nothing about internetworking these private networks changed a single thing about what those networks did internally. All it meant was that at border points of networks that wanted to interconnect with there was a defined language (the "protocol") that both could talk to enable exchange of data.

There was no policy in the protocol that stated that, if they wanted to interconnect, one network had to allow the other network any right to do anything on its own network, nor could it demand any right to do anything on that remote network.

This protocol was one of translation and not of content. There was an equal right to use the translator, but no obligation to agree on the topic of conversation.

When subscribers started to buy ISP services, there was initially some idea that one service provider could offer a walled garden of content. No one minded that. In fact, it's arguable that on-the-net walled gardens ultimately gave birth to IPTV. And no one argued with that. After all, why shouldn't an ISP be entitled to offer whatever service it wanted to on its own network?

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