October 20, 2006 · Lessig
So in the comments to my post about the piece in the FT, John Earnhardt, an author on Cisco’s (read: the company that will sell the technology to end network neutrality) “High Tech Policy Blog,” complains about “the rhetoric [I] have used.” In his blog post, titled “How can you tell if a lawyer is lying?” (talk about helpful rhetoric), he writes:
In the FT piece he writes: “Network owners now want to…charg(e) companies different rates to get access to a “premium” internet. YouTube, or blip.tv, would have to pay a special fee for their content to flow efficiently to customers. If they do not pay this special fee, their content would be relegated to the “public” internet a slower and less reliable network. The network owners would begin to pick which content (and, in principle, applications) would flow quickly and which would not.” This is sheer fiction and he knows it. The truth of the matter is that YouTube and Google, the companies he holds up at stalwarts of fair play, apple pie, motherhood and whiskers on kittens actually charge companies to get premium placement on their websites. What’s this you say? Those who own a website or service are allowed to charge money to allow an advertiser to get top placement on their website? I’m shocked and appalled and will be submitted an op-ed to the FT stating the same. What is the difference of a service provider (in his terminology, a “network owner”) of charging a service to get premium placement on their “owned” network? They are not degrading the services of others, but enhancing the service of those who choose to pay for the premium placement.
“What is the difference [between] a service provider … charging a service [fee] to get premium placement on their ‘owned’ network?” Really? The difference is all the difference in the world. No one supporting network neutrality would (or should) say that we should fight discrimination at the edge of the network. That’s the whole point: End-to-end (the bedrock upon with the network neutrality argument rests) is all about facilitating lots of discrimination and preference at the edge; the only place discrimination is a problem is within the network. And again, nothing in my argument is about whether people at the edge of the network are “stalwarts of fair play, apple pie, motherhood and whiskers on kittens” (whiskers on kittens?). The point is not about good vs. evil. The point is about what architectures (whether imposed through technology or business models) will lead to the fastest growth in applications and content. No doubt, some architectures will lead to faster growth in profits for some companies (not to name names); but more profits for some is not the same as faster growth for all.
His second strike is even better:
Here’s another anology: We’re in the throes of campaign season here in the ol’ US of A and television and radio ads play a large role in electing or defeating a candidate. Those candidates who have more money can buy more ads on radio and TV. They can buy them during the most popular shows so that the most amount of voters can see them. If the other candidate has no money and cannot afford to place an ad on television or radio I can only assume that Larry Lessig will offer to pay their way in the name of net neutrality. Why? Because, in his mind, the playing field should be equal for all candidates.
So again, no, whether candidates have money or not is not my concern. They are (in the analogy) at the edge of the network. But let me turn the analogy around. Imagine there are only two television stations in a particular democracy. They both begin to “access tier” — charging different rates to different political candidates. So Dems get a rate 1/2 the rate charged to the GOP; or major parties get a rate that is 1/3 the rate charged to Independents. Does that begin to trouble you?
Now again, as I said in the blog post about the piece, everything here hangs upon market power. So in a truly competitive market for last mile broadband, I wouldn’t care as much (Barbara van Schewick says there’s still a reason to care). But in a world of limited competition, the games the networks can play will both stifle innovation at the edge, and reduce the incentive network owners have to increase performance for all.