Shared Community WiFi Networking Blog From A Toronto Co-op ISP

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lawrence Lessig on Net Netrality and WiFi groups

From Lessig's article "I Blew It on Microsoft" in Wired 15.01:

"I think about this mistake whenever I think about the current Microsoft-like network-neutrality debate – whether network owners can pick the stuff that flows across "their" network. In this debate, too, I am a reluctant regulator. And again, I don't see how it's possible to steer broadband providers away from a business model that – like Microsoft's – may benefit them but could stifle innovation. Every dominant commercial competitor has the same incentive: to build a business that extracts all potential value from the pipes that company owns.

But life is all about repeating the same mistakes in many different contexts. So, are we reluctant regulators wrong again? Is there something we think is impossible today that will be obvious tomorrow? Can last-mile broadband be developed in a way that doesn't rely on the incentives that drive current providers toward innovation-stifling business models?

Yes. There isn't yet a Linus Torvalds of broadband, nor is a single competitive platform being built by volunteers to displace AT&T. But there are forces mucking up the game for those who would profit most from last-mile control.

The core of this resistance comes from municipalities. Local governments are building neutral infrastructures that allow anyone, from ISPs to community networks, to use and extend blisteringly fast broadband networks. At the end of its first year, a project in Sandoval County, New Mexico, for example, already provides many in the area with more than 10 times the capacity than anywhere else in the US.

And municipal networks are just a first step. Many Linux-style volunteers are building free wireless networks that enable participants to share access and offer capacity to others. These volunteers are also building free protocols that enable legal access without shifting control to a last-mile access provider.

These activists recognize the basic truth of what I call the McAdams theorem: Monopolists, as Cornell economist Alan McAdams puts it, don't monopolize themselves. If the monopoly-like asset is owned by the user, he has little incentive to exploit himself. Put differently, private ownership by users creates its own business model.

Will these grassroots alternatives check the power of the big companies? I remain skeptical. But the frantic efforts of traditional broadband providers to persuade states to ban municipal broadband should give you some clue as to the potential of these services."

LINK to Lessig article


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