Network Neutrality – the brain trust!

This is a real gallery of big names; Terry Fisher is in the chair and Yochai Benkler and Tim Wu are speaking. Not only that, but sitting in front of me are Chris Marsden (the UK expert; see his work here)) and Motohiro Tsuchiya (the Japanese expert!), and Maria Gomez Rodriguez (completing a fantastic PhD on net neutrality in the EU; see an example here) is alongside us.

Benkler – This is a “story” – if you wanted competition as you moved from incumbents – you needed to allow to share their facilities, unbundle, etc – but the big question was what to do with cable. Would you have the same ‘open access’ approach? It certainly seemed like this was going to happen. But in the early years of the century, indications of a shift by the FCC from requiring this sort of competition on each wire (i.e. within cable) to competition between wires/modes (i.e. a cable connection v DSL). There are many policies that have been passed since then that need to be revised.

Do we need to look at infrastructure that is public? (municipal etc) Should we be focusing on user-owned infrastructure? (wireless mess, ‘create your own local loop’)? So you’ll have multiple pipelines – competition between genuine physical facilities?

Wu said that there are four issues :

1. Can service providers demand payment for access? The current position is that the customer pays the ISP and eBay pays the service provider but once you’re on, you’re on. Can an ISP apply fast lane / ‘payola’ / etc? In a telephony context, this is an ‘access fee’, which is a regulated price (i.e. long distance). Many of the proposals have some form of ban on charging.

2. What is ‘reasonable network management’? When can the carrier delay/block/”mess with” the connection between two parties for the purposes of managing bandwidth. Reads the FCC hearing at Harvard where unilateral approaches are not accepted in this domain.

3. If there is some sort of net neutrality norm, what is the form of this? Is it an ad hoc system whereby the FCC does something about things it doesn’t like? We are laying the groundwork for that right now. It would remain a concept that you’re not supposed to transgress. Hearings and threat, not rules and processes. This can be debated from the point of view of good administrative governance.

4. “Hollywood”. What side are the content industries on? In some ways, the studio is like eBay, in that they want to reach the users without difficulty. They don’t want to get engaged with another set of powerful gatekeepers. On the other hand, the idea of paying more for advantage, that’s the traditional way of doing things anyway. This year, there will be a struggle in the policy community for gaining the allegiance of this crowd…

Fisher – is mostly a consumer of the neutrality issue rather than an author. There seem to be six types of NN:

a – Content Neutrality
b – Application Neutrality
c – Sender Neutrality
d – Toll Free
e – Sustain Separation of the Layers of the Internet
f – Truth in Advertising

The argument then is allow discrimination vs curbing discrimination.

He now has a matrix of such on the screen but it’s moving far too fast to take down.

Opening for discussion now; hitting publish and, again as this is a parallel session, liveblogging the rest.


Benkler is critical of the 700MHz auction – there was an opportunity for genuine open access and it was missed. What the system is trying to do is to ensure that there are not too many changes.

Question – is there a need for prioritisation (first responders, telemedicine, etc) – Wu agrees, but suggests that private networks designed for specific purposes is the solution. This is already present through VPNs, to some extent. “The public internet should be kept a public place, as free from discrimination as possible”….there is an important issue over things like 911 but “don’t contaminate the public Internet”.

From the floor, Chris Marsden says that much of the practice is very little to do with the standard practices of regulators, it’s to do with things like privacy, spam, homeland security etc, and there’s very little communication between that and the traditional regulatory world.

In response to another question, Benkler ruminates on the idea of whether “cable” is different to “the Internet”. In response, Wu is drawing crazy clouds and arrows on the board, which I hope he’ll explain in a moment.

Susie Lindsay (who now works for Bell Canada, a very interesting player in the NN debate in Canada) talks about “good discrimination” (traffic shaping, etc). I think she accepts/acknowledges what Bell is doing, which has be the most straightforward statement of a complex issue. Full marks to her for explaining honestly and briefly the dilemna that they and others find themselves in. More coverage of this particular issue at Michael Geist’s blog.

Very provocative statement by Wu – compare with employment law, having competition alone does not mean that you need to abandon non-discrimination law in employment. And now he’s going to have a little go at the Chicago School.

This was a very, very enjoyable session, although I found the focus on the FCC and US law a little frustrating at times, as the issues here benefit not just from looking at international law (actions in one state have an impact in another, the enterprises are organised multinationally, does trade law count, etc) but also at comparative law. The NN debate will benefit from both.

Some thoughts from a freewheeling panel

Charlie Nesson (wearing a t-shirt with his own – or Eon’s – face on it) is chairing a session with a very eclectic range of speakers. It’s a heavy debate so I’m just getting a sense of it down on electrons, while also participating in the IRC.

The panel –

Michael Fricklas (Viacom)
Esther Dyson (um, Esther Dyson)
Reed Hundt (former chair, FCC)

First question from Eon : why didn’t Wikipedia come out of university or government? “Boundaries” is the main answer, it seems.

Michael Fricklas from Viacom gets asked how it feels to be sitting on a “huge pile of assets” (content). Answer : in relevant part, “an economic incentive to create those things [content] is a good thing” but agrees that “the existing system [of copyright] has issues with how it works in this world”. Charlie is doing a great job of focusing the questions, starting with a softball but working very sharply in the followups. He (Fricklas) doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of libraries in the world, or at least that’s how I read his comments. There’s also a very useful discussion in the IRC channel (

Reed Hundt: “user-generated content is another word for no intellectual property rights”. I disagree.

Fricklas talks about making clips of the Daily Show available online. “It enhances what we do”. Nesson isn’t convinced about how they’re going about it.

The conversation also drifted to the future of the university – a topic that Nesson has had some interest in. Hundt wonders what universities are spending their money on. And the question then is how does the West relate to the rest of the world, can you ‘impose’ the work of the elite universities, through the Internet, on others – is this a good thing or a bad thing?

On communications, Esther Dyson: “In many cases, Government is the problem”. Not the first time she has said that, though the point was lost in a change of pace of discussion. Pity – would have been interesting to see that explored.

On access, Charlie Nesson described the move to open access at Harvard Law School (as well documented at the time, the faculty voted in favour of an open access policy. He said, and I agree, that this is one of the most important things to happen in the Berkman anniversary year.

Sara Wedeman (see also here) from the floor made a very timely intervention on incorporating the lessons of other approaches to knowledge and information (other than the Harvard University one) into global development projects.

Nesson : “The Berkman Center is as much about a style of discourse as anything else”, related to the style of the law school and other things. (Blog comment from me, i.e. Daithí: that’s why it’s so exciting that John Palfrey will from this summer be running the library and information side of Harvard Law School, while still involved in Berkman).

That’s it for today. More tomorrow…

The Coop

Not the Harvard Cooperative Society, but Cooperation, this afternoon’s theme.

Yochai Benkler (now at Harvard Law School, author of The Wealth of Networks) and Jimmy Wales (who “needs no introduction” according to Benkler, although if he does, you can read (ooh, self-referential) the Wikipedia entry on the (co-)founder of Wikipedia) are speaking in this session; each will speak for a few minutes each, and then proceed for a more free-flowing discussion. The blurb:

Wikipedia has become the icon of a different way of looking at how we can be productive and collaborative. Peer production has emerged as a defining feature of the networked information economy and the networked public sphere. Can we seriously begin to imagine that these practices should change our understanding of the possibilities of cooperative human relations? What are the forces pushing against cooperation, and how can they be addressed? What can we learn from life online about how better to design systems, both technical and institutional that will foster cooperation?

Wales referred back to Zittrain’s notion (from his book and his talk of this morning) that the Wikipedia idea is a crazy one. He started with the history, remarking that Usenet groups were not just unmoderated but, in practice, unmoderatable, and the ease of entry and ease of destruction were two sides of the same coin. And there’s flaming and all that – so Wikipedia is therefore impossible. Yet you can go to a restaurant with knives; we have social and legal tools to deal with a situation. Can Wikipedia be the same?

How does it work, then? “Neutrality (NPOV) is absolute and non-negotiable”. If you want your contributions to survive, you have to ‘write for the enemy’, i.e. so that the people who disagree with you can agree to the statement. Then there’s consensus – not based on voting because the minority *is* a problem and therefore that should be taken on board until “all but the most unreasonable, who often exhibit behavioural problems too” can agree. And then, he sums up and hands over to Benkler.

Benkler’s title today is “Cooperation, Human Systems Disign, and Peer Production”. He talked about the history of Britannica, going from expensive volumes to a ‘cheap’ digitised version (and now, the CD Britannica is remaindered!) The idea that there would even be a plausible argument, discussed by nature, about Britannica vs Wikipedia, would have itself been incredible ten years ago. And then he launches into a wide-ranging discussion that is impossible to live-blog (but is still remarkable), Obama to friendship to Mechanical Turk to make-your-own-tshirts to evolutionary biology and more. He speaks even faster than I do.

In the discussion, then, Wales was quite critical of crowdsourcing, which was interesting – it’s easy to group Wikipedia into that general category but he clearly disagrees. The question on companies (and others) editing their own entries was put to him, and he responded that this is overstated and does not happen as often as is understood. But there is also the issue of encouraging people who are not Wikipedians to participate in the conversation.

An Italian participant, who has had direct involvement in cases against Wikipedia, asks about who pays for lawsuits. Wales responds that the number is particularly small, with only one in the US, and a handful in Europe, and that from their point of view, it’s much more important than merely avoiding libel. Libel shouldn’t be a wikipedia issue as that relates in most cases to investigative journalism, which isn’t Wiki territory. (Thanks to jessamyn on the IRC backchannel for supplying the link to the Italian case mentioned by the questioner.

Hitting publish now, and will add in the later questions if I get a chance.

* Wales likes Uncyclopedia, says it’s very funny and it works.
* Benkler mentions Sunstein’s experiments on polarisation, but notes that some other work gives different results, and that the difference is that the type of interaction has an impact (i.e. structured v unstructured)
* Ethan Zuckerman mentions hybrid models, particularly where trying to avoid excluding people from the process. Mentions correlation with social welfare systems and university systems (i.e. more time to spend as an active Wikipedian). “Cultural barriers to entry” are an issue.
* Muppet Wiki would probably not have much of an economic model…

Meaning many blood-sucking parasites

The Internet is changing how politics is conducted at every level, from local to national to global. Ten years ago, some predicted the online utopia of “everyone a pamphleteer.” It’s clear that the changes taking place on the Internet are more subtle than some anticipated, that they vary by place and context, and that the changes are not all good. Optimists argue that things are on the right track — that the development of the “networked public sphere” is, overall, a very positive thing for democratic institutions. Others are not so sure, pointing to the possible dystopia of citizens surrounding themselves with only the information they wish to hear, censors blocking important political speech at national borders, and a growing culture of surveillance on the web. Against this background, what types of interventions could ensure that the growing use of networked technologies helps to strengthen democracies rather than to undercut their development?

We’re talking about politics, in the company of John Palfrey (now in charge of the Law Library in Harvard, possibly one of the best jobs in the world?). He mentioned the Publius Project, which has a great set of essays worth reading, just launched this week – I downloaded a couple for my flight and wasn’t disappointed. Anyway, Palfrey is leading the session but has a cast of thousands (well, almost) in the audience to help out.

Kicking off, Palfrey discussed the media coverage of protests in Burma and how images were ‘getting out’ to the world, in different ways.

The Internet allows more speech from more people than ever before” – turning to Ethan Zuckerman for more (sitting in front of me, and – to his great credit – here despite just coming out of significant surgery), who talked about Global Voices and how it came out of Berkman work. This is the ‘generativity of the Net’ in action. Global Voices makes it possible for stories to get more attention than they would have…we’ve gone from international news being a supply problem to a demand problem. In response to a question from Palfrey (aka JP), Zuckerman specifically mentioned the blog of Salam Pax as something that illustrated the power of blogging (Zuckerman was initially sceptical); going forward, though, you see governments and corporations pushing back and trying to cut down access. A related issue is where attention comes from; Burma had already made headline news but how do you bring attention to stories that don’t have some attention already?

Over to John Kelly’s beautiful blogosphere maps, now. (See an older photo and discussion, here). Today, he’s discussing a map of the Farsi blogosphere, which illustrates types of blog and linking between them. Aha! Someone who I think is Vicki Nash from the Oxford Internet Institute (couple of rows behind me) asked Kelly to respond to Cass Sunstein’s argument (as published in and updated in 2.0, published last year) about echo chambers and people talking to themselves. Kelly responded that the data does show more interaction than is understood, and mentioned Benkler’s discussion of collaborative discussion as a more helpful one. Palfrey now steers the discussion back to the OpenNet Initiative, and Rob Faris joins the conversation. We’ve talked about circumvention and the use of the Flash drive as a way to avoid censorship, and social factors that act in concert with or alongside censorship.

Someone whose name I missed from the Sunlight Foundation spoke about the work they are doing, in particular the making available and/or analysis of data about how government works. It’s a wonderful site and you should check it out. They are still getting started but have created quite a resource already.

Finally, Yochai Benkler, from the very back of the room, was called upon to address the question, what should we study, and what should we do, for the next ten years? – a theme of the day so far. He mentioned in particular the move towards more rigorous research and the availability of data and resources that were not present in the initial stages of research in this field. The process of adoption and change goes on and this means that much, much more analysis is needed.

A coda from David Reed now on the power of groups. Never heard him talk before…”it’s the impact of the group not the existence of the group” that needs to be measured. And now we adjourn, back for more this afternoon…


Charles Nesson was joined by eon, Dean of Cyberspace, and they spoke about the importance of openness and how the Berkman Center contributes to this. Alas, that was all from him for the time being- I misread the agenda, and he was just up for introductions. So we moved on to Jonathan Zittrain.

Zittrain’s talk was based on his new book, which I’ve given first thoughts on earlier this month. Because there is some overlap with that post and with prior coverage here, so these notes are not comprehensive, more things that jumped out at me.

Before long, the ‘hourglass architecture’ appeared on screen; this is the way that IP (edit: internet protocol NOT intellectual property) is a link between a diversity of technologies and a diversity of applications. We also heard about the IETF and the way it works, against the odds, and an overview of the creative and generative use of the Internet, through Wikipedia, Skype and more.

A new dimension to the talk, bits of which I’d heard before, was a detailed discussion about the YouTube outage earlier this year (Pakistan) and how this relates to the security of the Internet. George Tenet came in for a gentle bit of teasing, for his call (while director of central intelligence) to restrict Internet connections to those who can show they take security seriously, as did the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) for its creation of complicated models for next-generation networks and the future of the Internet, linked to its desire to ‘save’ the Internet.

Zittrain dedicated a good bit of time to talking about the iPhone. What interested me here was comparing with his comments of last summer, which was at an earlier stage of the iPhone’s development. He put on the table the criticism of his original position – that the iPhone’s new functionality (SDK for developers) was not the new dawn, as the terms and conditions are still part of the Apple mission to have a single supplier or intermediary; applications have to go through the iTunes store, they may be blocked or killed, restricted for reasons related to privacy, legality, etc. He compared this, unfavourably, with the environment that software for personal computers was developed in, where it was much more difficult to kill or block a single application; “it didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen”.

The solutions require ‘social buy-in’. For example, we can start to look at the ways for respecting something like privacy, before making the leap back to traditional methods of government control or competition between businesses, both hierarchical in a certain way. So norms are particularly important and the social links will define the future.

A brief Q&A followed, starting with the comment that “Jonathan does hyperbole quite well, and is sort of right”. Lots more questions on the question tool. Now. Coffee!