The FCC's definition of net neutrality is phrased in terms of consumers. How does this fit with how people actually use the Internet?
Let's look at BitTorrent as a social network:
The parent sites are key to the process, where you can go and get information about what has been made available. The other portion of the socialability indexing is that the support sites, where you can get tools, support, help, and FAQ's on the process is the second level or secondary index of data.
The socialability of Bit Torrent Networks rmorril (Senior Security Engineer), ITtoolbox Blogs, Posted 9/24/2006
Already it's a bit confusing who's the producer and who's the consumer.
It gets more so:
The parent sites, pirate bay, mininova, isohunt, torrent spy, meganova, bytorr, and others all cross-link to various second level ranking sites that collect statistics. Some of these sites contain blogs that cross-link to other sites that provide a general level of support for people who work in this section of the internet. They include links to their MySpace accounts, Flicker, and other social networking sites to learn more about them. These cross-links allow for a rich view into the community that makes up the bit torrent network. We will be bringing the database of cross-links on line later on this week; we have just been doing data collection this week.
If we start out at a site that has a blog, like the pirate bay or meganova, people do respond to those entries in the blogs and they provide links to their own home pages, e-mail addresses, or other data about themselves. That data when parsed builds out the social network that works within the initial realm of the parent site.
So we've got content lists, tool providers, support providers, help providers, indexers, ranking providers, statistics providers, blogs, myspace, flickr, and links to still other web pages with information about various people and things, all also connected into the general web network indexed by Digg, del.icio.us, etc.
All of these sites are producers of information, and consumers at the same time. This is not the same kind of producers as in the broadcast or Sarnoff model of networking familiar from radio or TV. Instead of a very few content producers and a very large number of consumers, there are many producers, not nearly as high a ratio of consumers to producers, and most producers are consumers of content from several other producers. It doesn't really make a lot of sense to talk about producers and consumers in the Sarnoff sense in such a Reed's law group-forming network.
Let's look at the FCC's August 2005 "four principles to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet:"
- consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
- consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
- consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and
- consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.
Every one of these principles is phrased in terms of consumers. The clear implication is that the broadband providers are few producers and their users are consumers. There's nothing here about participants.
Also note: "legal devices that do not harm the network". Who gets to decide what's a legal device, and which ones do not harm the network? In practice, the same as in the old days of the Ma Bell monopoly: the telephone companies decide. They can cut you off without discussion, process, or redress. Since you're buying a commercial service from them, one could well argue that they're within their rights to do that, and you should take your business elsewhere.
But where? In practice, most places in the U.S. have at most two choices of broadband provider: the telephone company (of which there are about four big ones left, and only one in any given area), or the cable company (of which there is only one in any given area). So this duopoly can decide they don't want you using BitTorrent, and you're stuck.
Can't happen? It already has for port 25 for sending mail directly from your machine. All for the best reasons: squelching spam. But what's to stop the one or two local ISPs from deciding not to pass BitTorrent traffic because they think it's too big?
This is why net neutrality is important. If there were many choices of Internet provider at most locations, there might be real competition, and if some providers cut off BitTorrent, others would probably make a selling point out of not cutting it off. With only one or two, it's important that there be rules of net neutrality so that everyone has access to all the content of the network. Including the capability to be a participant in networks of content such as BitTorrent.