Net Neutrality & the White Hot Spotlight of Public Attention

by on December 15, 2008 · 43 comments

Over just the past 24 hours, there’s been quite a hullabaloo surrounding the Wall Street Journal’s controversial front-page story on Google’s edge caching plan and whether it violates Net neutrality. (See Cord’s post and Bret’s). Lessig calls it a “made-up drama“, David Isenberg says it’s “bogus” and “bullshit,” and Google’s Rick Whitt has said it’s much ado about nothing.

Regardless, here’s the important thing not to overlook about this episode: It is a prime example of the what Tim Lee has referred to as “the fundamental problem of backlash” that ensues whenever there is even a hint of a potential violation of network neutrality (however one defines it). As Tim argued in his excellent Cato paper on Net neutrality, “No widespread manipulation would go unnoticed for very long,” and a “firestorm of controversy would… be unleashed if a major network owner embarked on a systematic campaign of censorship on its network.” (p. 23). Indeed, this (non-)story about Google’s edge-caching plans have spawned an intense “firestorm of controversy” over the past 24 hours and it doesn’t even involve serious network meddling or censorship! I’ve been trying to keep up with all the traffic about this on TechMeme and Google News during that time, but I have given up trying to digest it all. (Take a look at those snapshots I pasted down below to get a feel for the volume we are talking about here).

In that regard, I love this quote from the always-bloodthirsty Tim Karr of the (inappropriately-named) regulatory activist group Free Press:

If Google or any other tech company were secretly violating Net Neutrality, there would be an absolute and cataclysmic backlash from the grassroots and netroots who have made Net Neutrality a signature issue in 21st Century politics. The Internet community would come crashing down on their heads like Minutemen on Benedict Arnold.

Indeed, that’s exactly what we saw today. But it wasn’t just pro-regulatory fanatics like Free Press. The entire tech and business blogoshere and even some of the mainstream media were on top of this. That’s the “fundamental problem of backlash” at work, and with a vengeance.

TechMeme Google headlines

Google headlines 2

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    ZING!

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    “firestorm of controversy would… be unleashed if a major network owner embarked on a systematic campaign of censorship on its network.”

    Good job Adam, you have firmly convinced me that there exists strong public support for the principle of network neutrality (Gold Star!) Now, why exactly should that principle, which you have just documented is popular, not be enacted into law?

    One thing you need to address is that you assume that a violation of net neutrality would be quickly detected, and that is not at all a given. It is conceivable that there exists forms of network neutrality that would not be quickly detected, and, if that were to happen shortly before, say a major election in which the internet plays a role as a public forum, that those who could cause the outcome of the election to be affected.

    This is a problem that government has a clear duty to protect society from.

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    Thanks for the info. May God have mercy on us all.

  • http://buycheapwiigames.stodan.com Wii Games Guy

    Pardon me but reading that story sounds like one of the many rumors and hypes that engulf the net that are sort of created to cause public unrest and worry. To help feed the Paranoia machine..

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    nice article! nice site. you're in my rss feed now ;-)
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  • http://www.ncaacareercoach.com/en/United-Kingdom/Preston-hotels.htm Preston

    I would disagree. And a strong support for my thoughts is for example gmail – look how they ask you to never delete anything. Very alarming …what if they gather all date they can , every possible way and use it agaisnt our will…for some …i am scared to think of this, but ..commercial way. And as they say , in every hype there is some truth, same in rumours. So we all have to think twice before acting.
    I hope its not true of course.

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    nice article for me thx

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    to be honest, I'm little bit confuse :P

  • Vanessa J Gordon

    Excellent, entertaining, useful reading, Thanks !!

  • http://latinbolt.com accord

    viva Tim Lee

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    well i am just thinking the technology these dayz is changing like anything… It is dynamic and moreover un-predictable. Hats off to the people who are best in this.

  • http://www.MediaMetropolis.com CBS TV

    Wow, I would agree that there would be a major backlash. It is tough, since Google has really dictated how the Web is run. They provide “Law & Order” for the craziness! Nice post. Thanks.

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    The technology is ever changing and dynamic.

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    Is this a case where, as long as there is a potential for misuse and abuse, that there should be due consideration by users and industry watchers to have explore checks and controls?

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    are you saying google is secretly violating the Net neutrality?what about yahoo search?

  • Nancy Brockington

    best article ive read today

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    Solar,

    I am sure Yahoo and MSN are both guilty, to be honest.

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    It's amazing how much blogging has picked up over the years. There are millions of blogs today!

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    I'm sure they are all in it together!

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    The net must remain neutral for society's sake

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    i agree the net has to stay say for kids and us alike.

  • http://www.antivirus-360-removal.com inteltechs

    i beg to disagree i believe google is trying to enrich our lives

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    Extra article.

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    tall poppy syndrome?

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    Technology is going to kill us one day, maybe even in my generation- i hope not though. You're whole life can be on the computer. have you watched The Net with Sandra Bullock? if you haven't I suggest it. It's a great movie. It's a little old but it kind of shows that even back then, our lives were controlled by computers.

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    Pardon me but reading that story sounds like one of the many rumors and hypes that engulf the net that are sort of created to cause public unrest and worry. To help feed the Paranoia machine..

  • http://www.getmymedical.com California health insurance

    Pardon me but reading that story sounds like one of the many rumors and hypes that engulf the net that are sort of created to cause public unrest and worry. To help feed the Paranoia machine..

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    Great article. A good read.

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