Making sense of Net Neutrality outside of the beltway

Taking a neutral view of Net Neutrality, and why it’s important to do so.

net-neutrality-internetNo doubt, you have heard about and perhaps read analysis of the FCC Chairman’s submission to his colleagues on the topic of Net Neutrality and Title II. The headlines in social media and traditional media have been set in pretty simplistic and predictable fashion.

One framing is that Net Neutrality is the latest and most pernicious example of the heavy hand of federal regulation that is going to strangle the free market (ObamaCare for the Internet). The other framing is that the Chairman and his two democratic FCC Commissioners are the last great hope to save “us” from the tyranny of oligopolistic giants who have appropriated the language of, and now support the idea of, laissez faire markets.

I don’t believe both of these characterizations are equally flawed but I do believe both framings are flawed.

In 1964 Paul Baran, one of the original inventors of packet switching, juxtaposed three models of network traffic; the then incumbent centralized phone switch, the then emergent hub and spoke model, and the third being the distributed network model. Baran’s model demonstrated that the distributed network model was significantly more resilient than the alternatives. The distributed network-engineering model became the design inspiration for the Internet (capable of withstanding major (nuclear) disruption).


The distributed network model also catalyzed unprecedented innovation at the edges of the distributed network because the network effect of this model did not require permission of any centralized/singular authority to provide services. And so was born hardware and software in the proverbial start-up garage or college dorm room, at the edge of distributed network, and not in the central R&D facilities of Bell Labs.

The disruption occasioned by the distributed network also produced plenty of half-baked code, some of it downright dangerous. Because the distributed network typology did not have a central clearing authority for quality control, spam was no longer cheap food in a can, viruses affected more than human beings, and phishing was no longer a misspelling of the recreation and sport on the lake.

(Next page: The big fish and little fish of the internet sea)