Net Neutrality at CopyCamp

Most people perceive the Internet as this big cloud that one hires an Internet Service Provider in order to connect to. The problem with making the Internet into this magic "black box" is that we then have a harder time understanding some of the critical policy decisions we as a society need to make about how the Internet works, and who should be making these decisions.

In the session I will host at CopyCamp on Net Neutrality we will head into the cloud and talk about the special computers called routers and physical connections that make the Internet work. While we will make some of this technology real, I will try to keep this from becoming an overly technical session. Contrary to the claims that some special interests make, these decisions are not strictly technical and should not be left to engineers, but public policy questions which we should all be engaged in.

You will be forced to think about not only who owns the physical hardware within that cloud, but also who owns the land and other property that these connections exist below and above. Given the multiple groups who have legitimate ownership rights to aspects of this network, who should have influence on the policy implemented within this network? We will talk a little bit about what regulations already exist in Canada, and why these regulations need to be strengthened and not abandoned.

When the Internet was first formed it was built with a design philosophy called "end to end" where the terminals we use at the endpoints were "smart", and the network itself was dumb. The network did not make any more than the basic policy decisions required to get information to the right destination. This was in strong contrast with the smart network, dumb terminal philosophy used for telephones, television, radio, and most other communications media that came before it. We will explore the features of each, and force people to really think about whether the Internet is "just like television, only more channels" or whether it is (and should remain) something entirely different. Would creators be better off if the Internet became more like television by breaking the "end to end" design and allowing the network to become "smart" and controlled by those who claim ownership over it? Would creators be better off if what we previously thought of as television and radio simply became services within an "end to end" Internet where it was the endpoints (the creator and their audiences) that were in control, and not the network?

There has been some media attention recently to related issues. In the process of our discussion we will hopefully have separated out the debates about "competitive access" (comparing Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC), Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILEC)), what regulations already exist to mandate competitive access, the various lawsuits in the courts or submissions to regulators, natural monopolies around the "last mile" connections to our homes and businesses, who really "owns" the networks which the phone and cable companies operate, and on top of all these issues where Net Neutrality fits in.