God’s justice assumes you’ll do your best to stay out of other peoples’ way, but that their way won’t mean harming you. It’s a never-ending tension and renegotiation. The biggest source of conflict is unrealistic expectations, particularly regarding what God considers just, and what is possible.
Perception of some things is buried under tons of idiocy. For example, the very nature of the Internet is poorly understood by many. They expect it to be like any broadcast medium, but more convenient because you get to choose the content and timing. While it does do that, it’s much more, and it’s the “much more” which makes expectations unrealistic. Most people have been conditioned to operate as if their perception of the world is the most obvious one of all. A different expectation is not just different, but somehow flawed by virtue of being different.
There are a lot of folks on the Net who do understand something of it’s true nature. While they chafe at restrictions arising from that nature, they at least understand it and what it takes to get around those limits. The Internet is wires and fiber lines running between computers. Because it costs money to put that hardware out there, somebody has to invest up front to get that electronic pathway installed.
It means crossing a lot of land owned by other entities, so legal access has to be negotiated under the assumption it’s a necessity. It becomes a necessity not when the folks who have to surrender access want the Internet, but under a much broader notion that, if enough people on either side really need it badly enough, the guy in the middle has to yield. If we didn’t have that notion, there would be a lot fewer roads, pipelines, wire networks, etc. Even paper letters in envelopes are included, because someone has to carry those things across someone else’s territory. All of those things are a form of “communication” in the broadest meaning of the word. Whether the folks in the middle like or not, human life is unnecessarily burdened if public access across their domain is not allowed, so it became a matter of law and government. The bottom line is if you don’t cooperate, people with guns will come and make your life miserable. There is a general assumption your right to your property is not quite absolute when that property is adjoined to others.
But the folks who are granted access can’t just do what they want, either. If the government does them a special favor, the government has to make sure they don’t go overboard. All the more so when the government presumes to operate somewhat according to the will of the people, or at least in their best interests. Somebody with no interest, or at least limited interest, has to referee between the two. The problem comes when that third party — government — is on the take from one of the other two. Getting your side of the negotiations heard becomes a matter of money, which can be a substitute for force, because it can hire the guns. Governments are made up of people, too, and they have personal interests. Welcome to the real world. So we discuss and debate what is fair and just, and sometimes money isn’t the only thing that matters to governments, since government people have been slaughtered in the past for going too far. We can make laws to protect access in the public interest, but you really can’t prevent someone destroying a means of communication crossing their land. It’s too easy to make it look like someone else did it, since there are plenty of folks willing to do it for their own reasons.
It’s a big mess, but so far things have fallen just above the minimum tolerable. All these things requiring access are classed as a “public utility.” It has to be regulated because, let’s face it, having free competition on access is not possible. A farmer can be forced to let a two-lane road cross his pasture, but he can’t be forced to let five competing companies each build their own road. And the same applies to pipes, wires, etc. So we have this commonly accepted notion you put in enough means of communication to anticipate future need for some time to come, and try not to repeat the process too often. That means making it low maintenance, which is more expensive, but probably worth it for everyone involved. Sometimes folks on the other end want it bad enough they’ll tax themselves to pay for it, because the folks who are best able to put the stuff in or on the ground may need a little convincing. By now, it’s become the norm, so that the Internet is really a public-private partnership of sorts.
Somewhere in the mix of all this, somebody has to broker access to the Internet wires. They put big expensive computers at the end of those wires, and parcel out the signal to lots of ordinary folks. You would hardly believe how many people think having a computer with a web browser entitles them to access that privately controlled Internet. Not only do they not want to pay for that access, they aren’t even fully aware of the physical necessity of plugging a wire into the back of their computer. If we add in a discussion of wireless, it changes things only a little. You can’t have two competing signals on the same frequency in the same area, but the air is hard to “own,” so the government manages the transmission spectrum on behalf of the governed. So access is still limited and somebody has to pay for the power to push those electrons either through the wires or through the air. At some point, you’d have to expect the resources for doing this to run into limits. As more and more powerful computers are sold more cheaply, and old ones keep working so folks can buy them used, more people want access. Worse, more and more of those wanting access have an increasingly poor understanding how it works and what they should expect.
As we debate some of the trouble naturally arising from disputes over limited supplies of what the Internet provides, it’s too easy to forget what happened just a few years ago. The unhappy customers today aren’t the same ones from yesterday, and the character of the average user has shifted to a lower common denominator. No one should be surprised when their demands are increasingly unreasonable. The nature of the Net makes it more and more difficult to give them what they want. The folks who use the Net to cater to those demands want fatter pipes, as do the new class of users. The folks running the Net can’t do it on current terms, with the current hardware. Part of what we have forgotten are issues germane to the debate for other reasons.
It’s gotten pretty tangled and messy. Nobody has clean hands here. Government people have been taking bribes from different sides at different times, though usually in forms which aren’t called “bribes” under the complex laws. The folks who provide the hardware and put it in or on the ground were paid a huge amount of tax money to do more of it as a public benefit, but now they don’t want to offer full access to it. There are vast stretches of unused cable in the ground, and the owners of the cables flatly refuse customer demands, and very few people are even aware of this. They want huge profits, too. The folks who are providing the stuff on the Net, which users demand, are aware of this, but if they have said anything, nobody has reported it. That’s because the folks who do the reporting are usually paid by the folks who own the wires in the ground. Okay, it’s more complicated than that, but it works out about the same. Then there are the big companies who have their market share in the computer hardware used by ordinary folks, and the market share of the software which runs on it, and the operating systems, too. Everyone seems to have a slice of the pie, and wants more, and fights for it — mostly by lying about what they can or can’t do, how much it costs, or simply preventing anyone from a fully informed picture of the debate.
Right now, government seems inclined to do what is in its own interest, which is opening new paths to control. That hasn’t always been totally bad, but it seldom works out as well as we hope. It may still be better than letting things run their own course. On the one hand, the Net itself is a powerful need of government, but broad access is their greatest potential enemy. More people know more things about the secret machinations of folks in government because of broad Internet access, and openness is not what government people like. The people who own the wires would also like to control what goes over them, because there’s big profits in content right now. The folks who simply use the Net to transmit their content are threatened, and want the wire owners kept out of that business. Or, they want at least a regulated “level playing field” for competition. So far, those providers are far more popular with ordinary users. Regular users are tired of being told what they should want.
That final group of regular users is a very mixed bag, indeed. Those of us who understand best aren’t in a good position to be heard. I’m not alone in wishing there was a totally separate consumer-oriented “Internet 2.0″ for all this future nonsense. It’s not just old folks who pine for the Good Ole Days, but folks who use the Net as it was designed, who understand that design (to varying degrees, yes, but you have to draw your circles somewhere). I can’t estimate what proportion we are, but we are substantial. The Net is our work, or the best — even necessary — tool for our work. It’s not entirely a matter of how we’ll put food on the table and pay our ISP bill. There is no viable replacement, so much so many of us are preparing ways to keep it going through other means (like unregulated wireless meshes). What will all this do to us? Right now, most of us support Net Neutrality because we have had too much of the Big Network access providers pretending they are unaccountable. We know for a fact they are able to provide what we need, and can make a profit at it. We know for a fact they are growing more touchy about quarterly investor reports, and ignoring the long term opportunities, which makes them utterly unresponsive — even downright nasty and hateful — to serious Net users.
Finally, it was the government which gave us the Internet in the first place. Yeah, you forgot that, too. A collection of government owned science labs, government funded universities, and government funded programs at private institutions were the first Internet. Nobody else could afford it. Then, when some folks found ways to make money from it, the first corporate networks got involved. Now those corporate networks dominate, and they’ve been partially regulated for a long time. As always, regulation grows when people find new ways to break the old rules. Sometimes the rules are a good idea, and quite often they are not. To think this can somehow morph into something entirely corporate is fantasy. The wires have to go somewhere, and the airwaves are limited, too. It’s a give and take thing, and doctrinaire pontificating from any particular side is propaganda. There are no really good answers, and what we get won’t be pretty.
I’m fully aware of how government bureaucracy works, having been a bureaucrat myself. I’ve also had first hand experience with corporate bureaucracy. But what I can’t forget is how ugly the Big Telcos and network providers can be, how completely unreasonable and unaccountable they are after they have taken your money. Their lies have caused me more pain than government lies. I’ll take my chances; I’m voting for the FCC to enforce Net Neutrality.