Yesterday’s FCC vote regarding paid priority on the Internet consumed my whole day. As I fumed, I wondered why our government and legislators don’t consult Sir Tim Berners-Lee, since Americans have a founding fathers fetish. As if by fate, Sir Tim’s book Weaving the Web (Nov. 2000) showed up at my door. I thumbed through the book and serendipitously landed in the “Web of People” chapter where the creator of the Web outlines his thoughts on net neutrality:
Two types of deals were taking place [in 1999], the first between companies that carry data over phone and cable TV lines, the second between content providers. Each of these deals was happening within one of the Web’s layers.
I am more concerned about companies trying to take a vertical slice through the layers than creating a monopoly in any one layer…. vertical integration–for example, between the medium and content–affects the quality of information, and can be more insidious.
Keeping the medium and the content separate is a good rule in most media. When I turn on the television, I don’t expect it to deliberately jump to a particular channel, or to give a better picture when I choose a channel that has the “right” commercials. I expect my television to be an impartial box. I also expect the same neutrality of software…If a search engine is not giving me completely neutral results, then I should be told about it with some notice or icon…
More insidiously still, it could also be possible for my ISP to give me better connectivity to sites that have paid for it, and I would have no way of knowing this: I might think that some stores just seemed to have slow servers. It would be great to see some self-regulation or even government regulation in these areas.
The Web’s universality leads to a thriving richness and diversity. If a company claims to give access to the world of information, then presents a filtered view, the Web loses its credibility. That is why hardware, software, and transmission companies must remain unbiased toward content. I would like to keep the conduit separate from the content.