My comments to the FCC

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In 2012, I published an article titled, “The Spread of TCP/IP: How the Internet Became the Internet” — available here, It’s paywalled — sorry — but I can send you a copy.

Because of this research, I think I might be the world’s leading expert on the early international politics of the Internet. My research was mostly talking to the folks who built the early precursors of the Internet — ARPANET, NSFNET, etc. — and figuring out why they were doing what they were doing. Almost everyone involved was doing it because they wanted a network that they could use.

In fact, the Internet is what it is because _users_ built it. The phrase ‘net neutrality’ alludes to a decision made early on — and embedded in TCP/IP — to empower network users over network owners. The decision was made in the name of ‘academic freedom’, but the decision has come to affect billions of people. The decisions embedded in the Internet give users an unprecedented level of intellectual freedom, and are what makes the Internet such a powerful technology.

And whenever the users’ vision of the Internet faced the owners’ vision — in DECNET, X.25, OSI, and other protocols — the users’ vision won. This is a contest that has been going on for decades. Our net neutrality debate is just the latest attempt by telecoms to get a bite of that apple — to build a network that reflects the owners’ interests, not the users.

If the FCC decides to create a tiered system of Internet service, along the lines of what the telecoms propose, it will undo that decision to give users control of the network. The result would still be a network of sorts, but not the Internet — at least not in spirit.

Because the Internet is so popular with users worldwide, it seems likely that many of them will try to preserve it as is, in stretches of the network outside the FCC’s jurisdiction. This could lead to the creation of a parallel Internet, or the U.S. being relegated to a backwater of the world’s Internet. I don’t know how likely these things are, but they seem possible enough to be a risk worth weighing.

And while I am not an expert on Internet economics, it seems likely that many foreign companies — and maybe even some U.S. companies — will refuse the constraints of an owner-controlled Internet. So it also seems possible that this could the U.S. jobs, deny US consumers access to products and services, and erode the U.S.’s leading position in the Internet marketplace.

In any case, I think the decision to end net neutrality is a bad one for the Internet. I think it harms the basic principle that makes the Internet such a useful and powerful technology. Ending net neutrality would be a major step backward for Internet users in this country, and the world more generally.

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments, and for your consideration of this important question.


Miles Townes

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