Law prof James Boyle writes in the Financial Times Technology "Digital Business Forum," in praise of the decentralized, the anarchic, the uncontrolled. He offers the Internet, open source software, and wikipedia as examples, contrasting them with the hierarchical world of the proprietary, suggesting that many have a bias for the more controlled model, despite the successes of the open one:
He sees opposition to Net Neutrality and the movement towards Trusted Computing as a play for total control:
And challenges the Obama administration to resist a natural tendency against openness going forward.
The irony, the irony. With only a word change here and there, the piece becomes a paean to free and open markets. The vast expansion of the Internet and the growth of the Web after the original limits on commercial use are lifted from the Internet. The comparative stagnation of the regulated telecom sector, the vitality of the PC industry. Yes, by all means, let us resist restructuring towards top-down control.
But it seems to me unlikely that Trusted Computing and special access will produce institutions or widespread patterns of top-down control. Private sector restrictions on use must contend with worldwide compatibility problems and reams of legacy code and infrastructure, and a competitive equipment and software market that caters to consumers' needs for flexibility and freedom. The terrifying expansion of intellectual property rights he speaks is a last gasp attempt of content owner's to compensate for the almost total collapse of the enforcement end--so many paper tigers.
So wherein lies the danger? A Net Neutrality regime that gets the regulatory camel's nose under the tent, breeding the endless federal seeking of anti-competitive rules that protect the status quo. At least technological and contractual restrictions on use can be broken by new technology, mavericks, outliers, and such. Not so regulatory ones. If it is indeed possible to construct a benevolent Net Neutrality regime that does no more than an essential minimum, show us the details of such a thing. I am curious to see it. For especially if you are right, and it must be continually resisting an innate tendency that people have in favor of control, then it seems to me that in the long run it must possess some very special qualities indeed in order to succeed. But just what those are remain cloaked in rhetoric.