Cerf: Nationalize the Internet?

by on June 27, 2008 · 50 comments

Via tenacious-Google-needler Scott Cleland, Vint Cerf apparently mused at a Personal Democracy Forum panel this week about whether the Internet should be nationalized. Erick Schoenfeld of TechCrunch who heard and reported the comment first-hand is not shy with his criticisms:

[N]ationalizing the Internet is bad idea. (I can’t believe I even have to say this). It would set a horrible precedent, would undermine confidence in the American economy, and would be difficult to pull off.

There are more reasons than that, and they include: slowing down decision-making about technical issues by subjecting them to regulatory processes; giving power over the Internet’s functioning to well-heeled interests most experienced and skilled at lobbying; giving power over Internet content to self-interested politicians; and much, much more.

An interesting thing about politics and public policy is that people who are expert in a subject matter are often deemed therefore to be experts in the public policies related to that subject matter. They’re not.

A fine technologist who has made great contributions, Vint Cerf has little awareness of the profound error it would be to make the Internet a public utility. Yet he’s one of the leaders put forward to promote Google’s ‘Internet for Everyone‘ campaign.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Maybe the Internet’s search and ad sales components should be owned & maintained by the gov’t, as an experiment, so we can see how well they work under neutral control.

    Just a thought.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t call Cerf a “subject matter expert” any more. He clearly was, thirty years ago, but he hasn’t done any real engineering for at least twenty years, so he tends to hang onto romantic and out-dated notions of how the Internet actually works.

    And you might also enjoy RFC 3271, in which Cerf wrote:

    “Internet is for everyone – but it won’t be if Governments restrict access to it, so we must dedicate ourselves to keeping the network unrestricted, unfettered and unregulated. We must have the freedom to speak and the freedom to hear.”

    He was working for WorldCom in those days.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Maybe the Internet’s search and ad sales components should be owned & maintained by the gov’t, as an experiment, so we can see how well they work under neutral control.

    Just a thought.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t call Cerf a “subject matter expert” any more. He clearly was, thirty years ago, but he hasn’t done any real engineering for at least twenty years, so he tends to hang onto romantic and out-dated notions of how the Internet actually works.

    And you might also enjoy RFC 3271, in which Cerf wrote:

    “Internet is for everyone – but it won’t be if Governments restrict access to it, so we must dedicate ourselves to keeping the network unrestricted, unfettered and unregulated. We must have the freedom to speak and the freedom to hear.”

    He was working for WorldCom in those days.

  • Adam Thierer

    As Richard’s first question suggests, it would be interesting to see how far Cerf would be willing to take this little experiment. After all, what does it really mean to “nationalize the Internet?” I assume Cerf is just talking about the physical / infrastructure layer. But what all does that entail exactly? And, even if we could define it, there’s no reason to think those doing the nationalizing would stop there. It truly is amazing how short-sighted this crowd is.

    Perhaps Cerf should invite Hugo Chavez up to run the FCC once Obama gets in. Hugo’s quite the expert on nationalization these days. It’s clearly done wonders for Venezuela.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    It’s absolutely breath-taking that a movement that originated in free speech concerns – net neutrality – has now come to asking the government to take over the means of its criticism. When Indira Gandhi declared martial law in India, newspapers such as the Indian Express who criticized her suffered from newsprint shortages. The government, coincidentally, held the monopoly on newsprint.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    As Richard’s first question suggests, it would be interesting to see how far Cerf would be willing to take this little experiment. After all, what does it really mean to “nationalize the Internet?” I assume Cerf is just talking about the physical / infrastructure layer. But what all does that entail exactly? And, even if we could define it, there’s no reason to think those doing the nationalizing would stop there. It truly is amazing how short-sighted this crowd is.

    Perhaps Cerf should invite Hugo Chavez up to run the FCC once Obama gets in. Hugo’s quite the expert on nationalization these days. It’s clearly done wonders for Venezuela.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    It’s absolutely breath-taking that a movement that originated in free speech concerns – net neutrality – has now come to asking the government to take over the means of its criticism. When Indira Gandhi declared martial law in India, newspapers such as the Indian Express who criticized her suffered from newsprint shortages. The government, coincidentally, held the monopoly on newsprint.

  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, “Net Neutrality” did not originate in free-speech concerns. The one public post I risked on the topic points out that such a statement is complete fiction. This is not a case of one of the right-wing’s favorite storylines, the Good Past Movement that turned into the Bad Current Movement.

    Anyway, I assume that what Cerf meant was that maybe the US telecomms should be nationalized, not “The Internet”.

  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    [Posting without live link to get it through spam-trap]

    Richard, “Net Neutrality” did not originate in free-speech concerns. The one public post ( sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/001273.html ) I risked on the topic points out that such a statement is complete fiction. This is not a case of one of the right-wing’s favorite storylines, the Good Past Movement that turned into the Bad Current Movement.

    Anyway, I assume that what Cerf meant was that maybe the US telecomms should be nationalized, not “The Internet”.

  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, “Net Neutrality” did not originate in free-speech concerns. The one public post I risked on the topic points out that such a statement is complete fiction. This is not a case of one of the right-wing’s favorite storylines, the Good Past Movement that turned into the Bad Current Movement.

    Anyway, I assume that what Cerf meant was that maybe the US telecomms should be nationalized, not “The Internet”.

  • http://sethf.com/anticensorware/ Seth Finkelstein

    [Posting without live link to get it through spam-trap]

    Richard, “Net Neutrality” did not originate in free-speech concerns. The one public post ( sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/001273.html ) I risked on the topic points out that such a statement is complete fiction. This is not a case of one of the right-wing’s favorite storylines, the Good Past Movement that turned into the Bad Current Movement.

    Anyway, I assume that what Cerf meant was that maybe the US telecomms should be nationalized, not “The Internet”.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The useful idiots on the neutralism side, from Free Press to Daily Kos, the Christian Coalition and the Gun Nuts, have always touted protecting free political speech as their chief concern, Seth. Really. And you can take the movement back to the earliest attempts by St. Lessig to read political messages into end-to-end and see the same rhetoric in use.

    This isn’t an “Al Gore claims he invented the Internet” kind of assertion, it’s a fact.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The useful idiots on the neutralism side, from Free Press to Daily Kos, the Christian Coalition and the Gun Nuts, have always touted protecting free political speech as their chief concern, Seth. Really. And you can take the movement back to the earliest attempts by St. Lessig to read political messages into end-to-end and see the same rhetoric in use.

    This isn’t an “Al Gore claims he invented the Internet” kind of assertion, it’s a fact.

  • vint cerf

    My remarks, taken out of context and turned into a bumper sticker, don’t produce very good dialog. What I was getting at is that the Internet is in some ways more like the road system than telephone or cable. These are essentially single purpose networks, each built for a particular application. Because there is not a great deal of consumer choice for these services, the usual effects of competition are weaker. I think the incentives now in place for broadband service provision have not produced significant facilities-based competition. An alternative that has been explored in the UK, for instance, is to mandate that wholesale broadband services must be provided, e.g., by British Telecom. this allows substantial competition above the IP layer for value-added services and substantial consumer choice for them. What I was speculating about in the Personal Democracy Forum was whether incentives could be provided that would render the Internet more like the public road system which is open to everyone. Manufacturers are free to invent and sell vehicles suitable for use on the road system. Builders are free to construct buildings, homes, offices, manufacturing plants that use the road system. But the road system itself is not owned by the private sector and its use is essentially open to all. The question is whether incentives can be found that would produce a similar effect for broadband Internet provision.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/jim-harper Jim Harper

    Thanks for commenting. Alas, public policy debate is not subject to Marquess of Queensbury rules. You have to make the bad into good.

    That said, I’m not sure I understand your clarification terribly well. I think you view roads, telephone networks, and cable plant as similar in that they are essentially single-purpose. The road system is superior, you suggest, because it is substantially freer (more open) than the telephone networks and cable plant.

    It’s a decent analogy, but I don’t think it proves what you want.

    Are roadways really open? New vehicles are introduced rarely. A cartel of manufacturers allied with government safety and environment regulators make it prohibitive to invent and market new vehicles, including electric, fuel-cell-powered, ultra-light, etc. Driving a vehicle whose design doesn’t have regulatory pre-approval, and that hasn’t been registered with the government, will get you pulled over and penalized (and the vehicle impounded). Vehicles are routinely searched by the government. Try walking on the freeway. You’ll get arrested for that. Though the technology exists, there are no smart freeways taking over the driving for the long trip down 5 to Bakersfield. Etc.

    Laws of physics and of man break down the analogy when it comes to what can attach to the road network. Builders are not free to attach whatever they want. They must meet zoning laws of every stripe, and even if they want to add roadway themselves, they aren’t allowed to do it without regulatory pre-approval.

    So, to the extent I’ve understood your analogy, it doesn’t prove the superiority of government ownership. I don’t see why would want to make the Internet – now relatively open to new connections and new “vehicles” (apps and content) – closed like the government-owned and -controlled roadways.

    The analogy doesn’t reach how wholesale access and reselling improves on the current state of affairs or how that relates to nationalization. I really don’t understand how moving from weak facilities-based competition in telecom and Internet access to no competition (i.e. nationalization) would improve things. There is essentially no facilities-based competition to roadways, so we have this unfree “sharing” regime. There is one mode I can use to get to the library. I will travel at dictated speeds in dictated vehicles over pre-determined routes. Why is that so good? How is that “open”?

    If you can clarify further, that would be welcome, but at this point the TechCrunch reporting on your comments seems to have gotten the gist of them. Policies based on your predisposition in favor of government ownership and control would not result in good outcomes.

  • vint cerf

    My remarks, taken out of context and turned into a bumper sticker, don’t produce very good dialog. What I was getting at is that the Internet is in some ways more like the road system than telephone or cable. These are essentially single purpose networks, each built for a particular application. Because there is not a great deal of consumer choice for these services, the usual effects of competition are weaker. I think the incentives now in place for broadband service provision have not produced significant facilities-based competition. An alternative that has been explored in the UK, for instance, is to mandate that wholesale broadband services must be provided, e.g., by British Telecom. this allows substantial competition above the IP layer for value-added services and substantial consumer choice for them. What I was speculating about in the Personal Democracy Forum was whether incentives could be provided that would render the Internet more like the public road system which is open to everyone. Manufacturers are free to invent and sell vehicles suitable for use on the road system. Builders are free to construct buildings, homes, offices, manufacturing plants that use the road system. But the road system itself is not owned by the private sector and its use is essentially open to all. The question is whether incentives can be found that would produce a similar effect for broadband Internet provision.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/jim-harper Jim Harper

    Thanks for commenting. Alas, public policy debate is not subject to Marquess of Queensbury rules. You have to make the bad into good.

    That said, I’m not sure I understand your clarification terribly well. I think you view roads, telephone networks, and cable plant as similar in that they are essentially single-purpose. The road system is superior, you suggest, because it is substantially freer (more open) than the telephone networks and cable plant.

    It’s a decent analogy, but I don’t think it proves what you want.

    Are roadways really open? New vehicles are introduced rarely. A cartel of manufacturers allied with government safety and environment regulators make it prohibitive to invent and market new vehicles, including electric, fuel-cell-powered, ultra-light, etc. Driving a vehicle whose design doesn’t have regulatory pre-approval, and that hasn’t been registered with the government, will get you pulled over and penalized (and the vehicle impounded). Vehicles are routinely searched by the government. Try walking on the freeway. You’ll get arrested for that. Though the technology exists, there are no smart freeways taking over the driving for the long trip down 5 to Bakersfield. Etc.

    Laws of physics and of man break down the analogy when it comes to what can attach to the road network. Builders are not free to attach whatever they want. They must meet zoning laws of every stripe, and even if they want to add roadway themselves, they aren’t allowed to do it without regulatory pre-approval.

    So, to the extent I’ve understood your analogy, it doesn’t prove the superiority of government ownership. I don’t see why would want to make the Internet – now relatively open to new connections and new “vehicles” (apps and content) – closed like the government-owned and -controlled roadways.

    The analogy doesn’t reach how wholesale access and reselling improves on the current state of affairs or how that relates to nationalization. I really don’t understand how moving from weak facilities-based competition in telecom and Internet access to no competition (i.e. nationalization) would improve things. There is essentially no facilities-based competition to roadways, so we have this unfree “sharing” regime. There is one mode I can use to get to the library. I will travel at dictated speeds in dictated vehicles over pre-determined routes. Why is that so good? How is that “open”?

    If you can clarify further, that would be welcome, but at this point the TechCrunch reporting on your comments seems to have gotten the gist of them. Policies based on your predisposition in favor of government ownership and control would not result in good outcomes.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    I think Vint is trying to say that the Internet is a general-purpose network and the telephone and cable networks are not. This is a common claim among NN advocates, but it’s not really true. The Internet is general-purpose with respect to 1970s applications, most of which are oriented around the transfer of short-to-medium sized files, but not in the way that we need our communications system of the future to be.

    The Internet can’t help you if you need sub-25ms response time, for example, or if you need to move massive amounts of data very quickly, or if you need location independence. So it forecloses whole classes of virtual reality/holographic and mobile applications that are going to be important some day.

    The highway system has three classes of service: expedited flow in the HOV lane, normal flow, and slow flow in the truck lanes. The Internet isn’t capable of uniformly managing this sort of service diversity, but if it were, it might be credible to call it “general purpose.”

    It’s also worth noting that the network that Vint and Bob Kahn designed in the 1970s isn’t much like the Internet that we use today. They older network was actually quite neutral with respect to location, but it didn’t handle congestion correctly, so it was essentially replaced the Van Jacobson network where service quality depends on temporal distance. Something similar happened with Ethernet, where an early system that relied on distributed intelligence and only supplied one service class was replaced by a system with centralized intelligence (in the switches) and multiple service classes (in the VLANs.) But we still call these networks by the names of their ancestors out of respect for the inventors.

    Google has built their infrastructure around the exploitation of the Jacobson network’s location bias: Googleplexes all over the globe that force themselves into the fast lane created by small Round-Trip Times and crowd out other traffic. TCP flow rates, you see, are the inverse of RTTs. That wasn’t the case in Vint’s Internet, but it is today, so we have to be suspicious of any plan that seeks to reify the Internet of today by foreclosing experimentation in core services.

    It’s interesting to note that the government does not own the Internet infrastructure in any of the nations cited as Utopias by the NN advocates: they’re all recently-privatized companies, and they didn’t lay down fiber while owned by their governments.

    We know what a government-owned network infrastructure looks like: China. I would submit that we don’t want the US heading down that path.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    I think Vint is trying to say that the Internet is a general-purpose network and the telephone and cable networks are not. This is a common claim among NN advocates, but it’s not really true. The Internet is general-purpose with respect to 1970s applications, most of which are oriented around the transfer of short-to-medium sized files, but not in the way that we need our communications system of the future to be.

    The Internet can’t help you if you need sub-25ms response time, for example, or if you need to move massive amounts of data very quickly, or if you need location independence. So it forecloses whole classes of virtual reality/holographic and mobile applications that are going to be important some day.

    The highway system has three classes of service: expedited flow in the HOV lane, normal flow, and slow flow in the truck lanes. The Internet isn’t capable of uniformly managing this sort of service diversity, but if it were, it might be credible to call it “general purpose.”

    It’s also worth noting that the network that Vint and Bob Kahn designed in the 1970s isn’t much like the Internet that we use today. They older network was actually quite neutral with respect to location, but it didn’t handle congestion correctly, so it was essentially replaced the Van Jacobson network where service quality depends on temporal distance. Something similar happened with Ethernet, where an early system that relied on distributed intelligence and only supplied one service class was replaced by a system with centralized intelligence (in the switches) and multiple service classes (in the VLANs.) But we still call these networks by the names of their ancestors out of respect for the inventors.

    Google has built their infrastructure around the exploitation of the Jacobson network’s location bias: Googleplexes all over the globe that force themselves into the fast lane created by small Round-Trip Times and crowd out other traffic. TCP flow rates, you see, are the inverse of RTTs. That wasn’t the case in Vint’s Internet, but it is today, so we have to be suspicious of any plan that seeks to reify the Internet of today by foreclosing experimentation in core services.

    It’s interesting to note that the government does not own the Internet infrastructure in any of the nations cited as Utopias by the NN advocates: they’re all recently-privatized companies, and they didn’t lay down fiber while owned by their governments.

    We know what a government-owned network infrastructure looks like: China. I would submit that we don’t want the US heading down that path.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, I went into the “free speech” issue in my post. Look, “Net Neutrality” originated as a movement in the _Brand X_ court decision. Everything else has been about justifications for the two sides of that dispute, both of which are in essence big (huge) businesses. Which means a favorite right-wing narrative of Bad Liberal isn’t to blame, no matter how crowd-pleasing it is to launch into denunciations of ivory-tower eggheads who supposedly have brought woe unto the world with their crazy academic theories.

    I read Vint Cerf as merely re-iterating the position of one side of that dispute – that network upgrades should be funded as government-built infrastructure, and hence any given tier of access should be available on a no-buyer-discrimination basis (that is, _Brand X_ was wrongly decided and should be undone). This is neither a difficult nor an irrational position. But it has the word “government” in it – that causes certain knee-jerk ideological reactions, of which the post here is a fine example.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Let me concur with Jim that it’s admirable of Vint to comment on this humble blog. He’s a cultural icon, and we don’t expect icons to come down from their pedestal to mix it up with the rabble, so it’s very cool that he would take the time to comment here. Let’s hope he doesn’t stop until we reach a rough consensus on the right way to run the code.

    Now on to Seth: I think your formulation of NN as a battle between two warring camps of capitalistic exploiters is a bit over-simplified. Google finds 350,000+ references to “free speech” plus “net neutrality,” including at least one congressional hearing with that as a title.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22free+speech%22+%22net+neutrality%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    Searching His Holiness St. Lessig’s domain, I find such gems as this: “But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion.”

    http://lessig.org/blog/2006/05/fair_use_and_network_neutralit.html

    …and 31 other references. Granted, Lessig has taken $11M from Google, but he’s not supposed to be corruptible, is he?

    I agree that at its core, this is a commercial debate, but as a creature of politics it is typically dressed-up in free speech garments.

    Can we really trust any government to protect free speech?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    (edited to escape filtering)

    Let me concur with Jim that it’s admirable of Vint to comment on this humble blog. He’s a cultural icon, and we don’t expect icons to come down from their pedestal to mix it up with the rabble, so it’s very cool that he would take the time to comment here. Let’s hope he doesn’t stop until we reach a rough consensus on the right way to run the code.

    Now on to Seth: I think your formulation of NN as a battle between two warring camps of capitalistic exploiters is a bit over-simplified. Google finds 350,000+ references to “free speech” plus “net neutrality,” including at least one congressional hearing with that as a title.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22free+speech%22+%22net+neutrality%22&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    Searching His Holiness St. Lessig’s domain, I find such gems as this: “But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion.”

    lessig.org/blog/2006/05/fair_use_and_network_neutralit.html

    …and 31 other references. Granted, Lessig has taken $11M from Google, but he’s not supposed to be corruptible, is he?

    I agree that at its core, this is a commercial debate, but as a creature of politics it is typically dressed-up in free speech garments.

    Can we really trust any government to protect free speech?

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, I went into the “free speech” issue in my post. Look, “Net Neutrality” originated as a movement in the _Brand X_ court decision. Everything else has been about justifications for the two sides of that dispute, both of which are in essence big (huge) businesses. Which means a favorite right-wing narrative of Bad Liberal isn’t to blame, no matter how crowd-pleasing it is to launch into denunciations of ivory-tower eggheads who supposedly have brought woe unto the world with their crazy academic theories.

    I read Vint Cerf as merely re-iterating the position of one side of that dispute – that network upgrades should be funded as government-built infrastructure, and hence any given tier of access should be available on a no-buyer-discrimination basis (that is, _Brand X_ was wrongly decided and should be undone). This is neither a difficult nor an irrational position. But it has the word “government” in it – that causes certain knee-jerk ideological reactions, of which the post here is a fine example.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Let me concur with Jim that it’s admirable of Vint to comment on this humble blog. He’s a cultural icon, and we don’t expect icons to come down from their pedestal to mix it up with the rabble, so it’s very cool that he would take the time to comment here. Let’s hope he doesn’t stop until we reach a rough consensus on the right way to run the code.

    Now on to Seth: I think your formulation of NN as a battle between two warring camps of capitalistic exploiters is a bit over-simplified. Google finds 350,000+ references to “free speech” plus “net neutrality,” including at least one congressional hearing with that as a title.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22free+speech%2

    Searching His Holiness St. Lessig’s domain, I find such gems as this: “But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion.”

    http://lessig.org/blog/2006/05/fair_use_and_net

    …and 31 other references. Granted, Lessig has taken $11M from Google, but he’s not supposed to be corruptible, is he?

    I agree that at its core, this is a commercial debate, but as a creature of politics it is typically dressed-up in free speech garments.

    Can we really trust any government to protect free speech?

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    (edited to escape filtering)

    Let me concur with Jim that it’s admirable of Vint to comment on this humble blog. He’s a cultural icon, and we don’t expect icons to come down from their pedestal to mix it up with the rabble, so it’s very cool that he would take the time to comment here. Let’s hope he doesn’t stop until we reach a rough consensus on the right way to run the code.

    Now on to Seth: I think your formulation of NN as a battle between two warring camps of capitalistic exploiters is a bit over-simplified. Google finds 350,000+ references to “free speech” plus “net neutrality,” including at least one congressional hearing with that as a title.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=%22free+speech%22+%22ne...

    Searching His Holiness St. Lessig’s domain, I find such gems as this: “But then let’s hear that debate. Let’s hear people who say competition in applications and content isn’t important. Or that it doesn’t raise issues of free speech. Or whatever other reasons might be advanced to argue that government shouldn’t intervene here. Such arguments would at least be progress in a debate that seems to me so far just stuck in a confusion.”

    lessig.org/blog/2006/05/fair_use_and_network_neutralit.html

    …and 31 other references. Granted, Lessig has taken $11M from Google, but he’s not supposed to be corruptible, is he?

    I agree that at its core, this is a commercial debate, but as a creature of politics it is typically dressed-up in free speech garments.

    Can we really trust any government to protect free speech?

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, it’s a simple fact that up until the _Brand X_ decision, to a good approximation nobody cared about free speech concerns (meaning, there was no funding). In fact, anyone who even tried to discuss such concerns in many areas would be flamed by whiny Libertarians-types ranting the slogan “MY SERVER MY RULES!!!”. Therefore, it didn’t originate in free speech. Why do you take the PR of one of the big businesses involved as meaning anything other than PR? Well, that’s a rhetorical question, because it wouldn’t have any impact to say: “It’s absolutely breath-taking that a movement where the big business lobbyists are falsely claiming free speech concerns as a tactic …”

    I don’t know where you get the $11 million figure. Lessig really makes very little money relative to his standing (I’ve checked various filings). Certainly not as much some telecom lobbyists or right-wing hack-tank flacks.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Seth, you’re arguing about the correct and proper way to frame the issue, but the fact remains that many of the voices in the debate have raised the free speech issue and continue to do so. Lessig was all over the E2E and “code is law” mantras before Brand X.

    And yes, Lessig may have sold out cheaply (I can’t find a reference to the $11 Million I remember,) but that doesn’t change what he is.

  • Adam Thierer

    Well, for what it’s worth, Tim Wu says that “a good regulator is like a very good butcher. The trick is to not to chop to often, and know what it means to cut an industry at the joints, not the bone.”

    God only knows what that means. All I know is that the Net neutrality movement has their knives drawn and are ready to start hacking!

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Richard, it’s a simple fact that up until the _Brand X_ decision, to a good approximation nobody cared about free speech concerns (meaning, there was no funding). In fact, anyone who even tried to discuss such concerns in many areas would be flamed by whiny Libertarians-types ranting the slogan “MY SERVER MY RULES!!!”. Therefore, it didn’t originate in free speech. Why do you take the PR of one of the big businesses involved as meaning anything other than PR? Well, that’s a rhetorical question, because it wouldn’t have any impact to say: “It’s absolutely breath-taking that a movement where the big business lobbyists are falsely claiming free speech concerns as a tactic …”

    I don’t know where you get the $11 million figure. Lessig really makes very little money relative to his standing (I’ve checked various filings). Certainly not as much some telecom lobbyists or right-wing hack-tank flacks.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Is this the reasoning:

    1) Lessig advocates A
    2) Nobody listened (promoted) Lessig about A until the unrelated B
    3) Therefore, A originated B

    By the way, do we all agree now that Vint Cerf said something pretty standard and unremarkable, instead of the inflammatory stuff that’s being strawmanned? (if this weren’t Vint Cerf, you just know the Internuts would be filled with HE-DOESN’T-GET-IT frothing, about how that dumb old guy doesn’t have a clue, unlike the hip wired with-it bloggers, natch). Note I didn’t ask if Libertarians agreed it was a good idea – rather, that it wasn’t anything that basically isn’t commonly said in the debate.

    Nobody in politics is 100% pure. It’s almost impossible to survive that way. But I’d argue people like Lessig (tenured profs without a lot of financial deals) are pretty much as good as it gets. Anyone who strategizes a Supreme Court case based mainly on thinking he’s come up with a killer principled argument that’ll appeal to conservatives against “all the money in the world”, isn’t operating on the basis of what’s going to enrich himself. And very important, there’s a qualitative difference between them and the kind of political hacks who are just fancy paid liars.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Seth, you’re arguing about the correct and proper way to frame the issue, but the fact remains that many of the voices in the debate have raised the free speech issue and continue to do so. Lessig was all over the E2E and “code is law” mantras before Brand X.

    And yes, Lessig may have sold out cheaply (I can’t find a reference to the $11 Million I remember,) but that doesn’t change what he is.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    Well, for what it’s worth, Tim Wu says that “a good regulator is like a very good butcher. The trick is to not to chop to often, and know what it means to cut an industry at the joints, not the bone.”

    God only knows what that means. All I know is that the Net neutrality movement has their knives drawn and are ready to start hacking!

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    Is this the reasoning:

    1) Lessig advocates A
    2) Nobody listened (promoted) Lessig about A until the unrelated B
    3) Therefore, A originated B

    By the way, do we all agree now that Vint Cerf said something pretty standard and unremarkable, instead of the inflammatory stuff that’s being strawmanned? (if this weren’t Vint Cerf, you just know the Internuts would be filled with HE-DOESN’T-GET-IT frothing, about how that dumb old guy doesn’t have a clue, unlike the hip wired with-it bloggers, natch). Note I didn’t ask if Libertarians agreed it was a good idea – rather, that it wasn’t anything that basically isn’t commonly said in the debate.

    Nobody in politics is 100% pure. It’s almost impossible to survive that way. But I’d argue people like Lessig (tenured profs without a lot of financial deals) are pretty much as good as it gets. Anyone who strategizes a Supreme Court case based mainly on thinking he’s come up with a killer principled argument that’ll appeal to conservatives against “all the money in the world”, isn’t operating on the basis of what’s going to enrich himself. And very important, there’s a qualitative difference between them and the kind of political hacks who are just fancy paid liars.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Give it a rest, Seth. The greatest number of net neutrality advocates among the common people are those who care about free speech. They were drawn into the debate by Free Press and Lessig, not by Google and its millions. I agree that Google is the puppetmaster playing these morons, but the morons want what they want regardless of who’s fighting whom for control the neighborhood pipes.

    And no, we don’t agree that Cerf said nothing remarkable. While he’s back-pedaled here, that’s not uncommon for someone who’s made an especially naive suggestion. He did in fact make an argument for government control the chief means of government criticism in a public forum meant to advance democracy, and there’s no wheedling out of that short of saying he’s changed his mind and wishes to repudiate the accurately-reported statement.

    And finally, I have no more trust for a tenured professor who wishes to be a public figure and is frequently called a “rock star intellectual” than I do for a paid shill. In fact, the paid shill is frequently more honest than the publicity-seeking self-aggrandizer. People are motivated by money until they have enough that it’s not an issue, and after that they stroke their egos. Lessig is stroking his ego, selling books, building a fan base, and damaging our democracy in the process.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Give it a rest, Seth. The greatest number of net neutrality advocates among the common people are those who care about free speech. They were drawn into the debate by Free Press and Lessig, not by Google and its millions. I agree that Google is the puppetmaster playing these morons, but the morons want what they want regardless of who’s fighting whom for control the neighborhood pipes.

    And no, we don’t agree that Cerf said nothing remarkable. While he’s back-pedaled here, that’s not uncommon for someone who’s made an especially naive suggestion. He did in fact make an argument for government control the chief means of government criticism in a public forum meant to advance democracy, and there’s no wheedling out of that short of saying he’s changed his mind and wishes to repudiate the accurately-reported statement.

    And finally, I have no more trust for a tenured professor who wishes to be a public figure and is frequently called a “rock star intellectual” than I do for a paid shill. In fact, the paid shill is frequently more honest than the publicity-seeking self-aggrandizer. People are motivated by money until they have enough that it’s not an issue, and after that they stroke their egos. Lessig is stroking his ego, selling books, building a fan base, and damaging our democracy in the process.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “… government control the chief means of government criticism …”

    This is as overheated and absurd as anything on the other side.

    “… wishes to repudiate the accurately-reported statement.”

    You couldn’t be wrong. The attention-driven ranters and flamers “reporting” what he said are paragons of accuracy, over his own words. Got it.

    Why do I bother :-(.

  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “… government control the chief means of government criticism …”

    This is as overheated and absurd as anything on the other side.

    “… wishes to repudiate the accurately-reported statement.”

    You couldn’t be wrong. The attention-driven ranters and flamers “reporting” what he said are paragons of accuracy, over his own words. Got it.

    Why do I bother :-(.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Cerf has neither clarified or repudiated what he said at PDF, he’s simply trying to spin it: “What I was speculating about in the Personal Democracy Forum was whether incentives could be provided that would render the Internet more like the public road system which is open to everyone.”

    To me, “the public road system” is “owned and controlled by the government,” isn’t it?

    You’re trying to defend the indefensible, ole Seth, that’s why you’re feeling frustrated. Cerf is advocating for what Google sees as its interests, nothing more and nothing less.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Cerf has neither clarified or repudiated what he said at PDF, he’s simply trying to spin it: “What I was speculating about in the Personal Democracy Forum was whether incentives could be provided that would render the Internet more like the public road system which is open to everyone.”

    To me, “the public road system” is “owned and controlled by the government,” isn’t it?

    You’re trying to defend the indefensible, ole Seth, that’s why you’re feeling frustrated. Cerf is advocating for what Google sees as its interests, nothing more and nothing less.

  • http://precursorblog.com Scott Cleland

    Kudos Jim for a thoughtful post and comments that prompted dialogue from Google’s Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf, himself. As always, Adam and Richard provided real world analysis and critical thinking to this fundamental question — should the Internet inherently be government-owned/controlled or should it remain the free market it is?

    Ironically, Mr. Cerf claims to be taken out of context while continuing to make his original point. It is clear that he holds the standard Google view, that since there is not enough competition, as Google defines competition — they propose wholesale regulation of the underlying infrastructure — like Google’s Mr Whit proposed in the 700MHz auction as a condition.

    The bottom line is Google ignores that US deregulation policies have produced more facilities-based broadband competition than any where in the world — both wireline and wireless.

    At core, Mr. Cerf’s desire to “render the Internet more like the public road system” is tantamount to nationalizing a competitive sector of the economy. Adam is dead on, that is how Chavez thinks in Venezuela.

  • http://precursorblog.com Scott Cleland

    Kudos Jim for a thoughtful post and comments that prompted dialogue from Google’s Internet Evangelist, Vint Cerf, himself. As always, Adam and Richard provided real world analysis and critical thinking to this fundamental question — should the Internet inherently be government-owned/controlled or should it remain the free market it is?

    Ironically, Mr. Cerf claims to be taken out of context while continuing to make his original point. It is clear that he holds the standard Google view, that since there is not enough competition, as Google defines competition — they propose wholesale regulation of the underlying infrastructure — like Google’s Mr Whit proposed in the 700MHz auction as a condition.

    The bottom line is Google ignores that US deregulation policies have produced more facilities-based broadband competition than any where in the world — both wireline and wireless.

    At core, Mr. Cerf’s desire to “render the Internet more like the public road system” is tantamount to nationalizing a competitive sector of the economy. Adam is dead on, that is how Chavez thinks in Venezuela.

  • susanai

    I thought the internet was worldwide. So some-one, please explain – how will it be ‘nationalised’??

  • susanai

    I thought the internet was worldwide. So some-one, please explain – how will it be ‘nationalised’??

  • JC

    To nationalise the worldwide internet, split it into .us and .them

  • JC

    To nationalise the worldwide internet, split it into .us and .them

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