Openness–in our culture filled with feel-goodery and self congratulation openness is seen as a good thing–a trait that any liberal and modern person should hope to have. But is openness always the best policy?
Google sure thinks so. It’s advocating that the 700 Mhz spectrum–soon to be freed up by the transition to digital TV–should be auctioned with openness in mind. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, has asked FCC Chairman Martin to limit the auction to models that would include open applications, open devices, open services, and open networks.
Sounds great doesn’t it? After all, other open things in the political world are good. Open government, open hearings–both good. But would we want open phone conversations or open email? Maybe open doors and open shades would be a good idea. What do you have to hide?
Living in a democracy we’re used to transparency, but certainly we can recognize the value of limits and closed proceedings as well. What about limited and closed models for networks? Can these be of any benefit or are they, like the technocrats claim they are, just stifling innovation?
Closed networks, or rather networks that aren’t wide-open, offer some significant advantages. Security, for one, is markedly enhanced by a closed or limit-access system. That’s why our national security system, at least those outside the Pentagon’s email servers, are often totally severed from the wide-open internet.
An open network, like the internet itself, is prone to all variety of attacks. By contrast, I’ve never gotten a cell phone virus, something I owe to my cell carrier’s closed system. My phone also seldom crashes, unlike my PC. I owe much of my PC woes to the OS I’m sure, but the various apps I have running are likely not custom made for my particular machine, unlike the apps found on many cell phones.
Let’s think different for a moment and consider Apple. Mac has always been a fairly limited–if not closed–system, yet this walled-garden isn’t seen as an evil. That’s likely because Macs works so well, but its crucial to recognize that much of this is owed to Mac’s closed architecture, something that eliminates many of the variables that plague PCs.
Google may have a business model that makes sense under their proposed restrictions, but forcing the model on others isn’t because of some overarching philosophy of “openness.” Rather, Google wants to save money on the auctions by driving out many of the bidders. This is a shame. While an open wireless network is intriguing and could create a platform for unique innovations, limited networks will still offer stability, compatibility, security, and privacy and should be allowed to compete.