Re: cr> A QUESTION: will the open net survive?


Arun Mehta

I suppose I helped start this thread, because I suggested:

AM> While they all are unable to make much sense of the Internet, I
AM> think the  Internet will survive and thrive precisely because the
AM> telcos will not be  able to agree on an alternative. Nor could
AM> their alternative have the  dynamism of the net. They will be
AM> reduced to the level of ordinary  utilities, such as water or
AM> electricity, useful , but no big deal.

Richard and others disagree totally. Specifically, Richard says:

AM> The question:  Will open, Internet-style communications survive
AM>                        the commercialization of cyberspace?
AM> I'm convinced survival is unlikely, not because the two
AM> _couldn't_ co-exist, but because of strategic political
AM> considerations
AM> Arun is confident that the future is too slippery and dynamic for
AM> telco conglomerates or governments to pin down, and that Internet
AM> will survive somehow -- perhaps by escaping to new transport
AM> techologies. (I hope that's a fair characterization.)
AM> ...
AM>         Who owns Iridium?  If they have deep pockets, then won't
AM> they play along with their natural monopolist colleagues?  And if
AM> they don't have deep pockets, then can't they be bought out as
AM> soon as their product is proven?

(Sorry it seems to quote from "AM" above: it should actually say "RKM")

Richard summarises part of my argument above, let me amplify.

Well, firstly, while Gilder is often criticized on this list, he does 
understand technology and write about it well. Specifically, I would 

This nicely explains the significance of LEO satellites, as also points
out that Iridium is far from the last word on the subject. So, Richard, it
does not matter too much who owns Iridium, and how monopolistic they are
-- there are others, and each one would like to prevent the other from
getting a monopoly. So, the Internet model suits everybody, because it
suits none of the "robber barons" that Richard hates. Oh, and if LEOs
don't do the trick, there is packet radio, spread spectrum, etc. As I have
pointed out in my Byte commentary,

regular geostationary (GEO) satellites could easily be used (and are) for
one-way broadcast of Usenet, cost-effectively and virtually uncensorable. 
As Craig pointed out to me (press release of Planet 1, Comsat's new 
portable global personal communications system), GEO's could also offer 
services of the kind that LEOs plan to offer -- so there is no question 
of a monopoly here.

The net changes with a speed that the telcos are not attuned to. These 
are slow, monopolistic organisations, and while some in the US might be 
fleet-footed enough to be cause for worry, most countries in the world, 
including in Europe and Japan, have telcos that are incapable of changing 
at any susbtantial speed.

The Net is good business for telcos. It is growing at a dream rate,
particularly the Web, which is a bandwidth hog. And so far, it is a
bottomless pit too: You simply cannot throw enough bandwidth at it. Now,
why would these capitalists want to fool around with such a good client,
particularly when there is no alternative? Yes, they mourn the loss of the
profits they have made in voice telephony, just as I'm sure some consumer
giants aren't too happy that DVD will replace CD-ROMs and VCRs. However,
rapid innovation is something that any industry that is invaded by
computers has to learn to live with, and telcos are not the first. They
lose voice, they gain other business. The quick ones do well, the slow
ones suffer. Nothing new. Sure, they'd like a monopoly, but who's asking
them? It is hard to retain a monopoly over a technology that is becoming
cheaper and more widespread by the day, as IBM discovered. 

Lots of people are willing to fight for the Internet to stay the way it is.
This includes the cypherpunks, the Joe Sheas (editor of American Reporter,
who will break the black net censorship law the day it comes into force) 
and, I hope, most people on cyber-rights. If enough people show 
determination, can organise, are vocal and even willing to break the law, 
I don't see how those wimps in Congress are going to stop them.

Yes, there are threats to freedom of the Net, such as the Compuserve
action, or that of Netcom. Typically, governments are responsible, and I
see a far greater threat coming from them than from the telcos. But let's
face it: such censorship is already widespread on the net. If you count
all the people who have e-mail only accounts (and can therefore receive
c-r) as "on the Net", I'd say the percentage of people who have easy
Usenet access is small. Each site decides for itself which newsgroups to
carry, so if you work out how many newsgroups the average net user has
access to, you'd have an embarassingly small number. This is why I like
the idea of receiving all the newsgroups I want via satellite. In fact, my
dream is the day when banned Usenet groups and anonymous remailers are
hosted on servers located on satellites, where they are outside the
jurisdiction of all governments.  If things get tough here on earth, I'm
sure that is what will happen. 

The purpose of this note is not to suggest that such attacks aren't 
serious, nor that we can sit back and rely on the famous ability of the 
net to "route around censorship." More than the IP routers, this ability 
rests on us. There is this lovely saying to the effect that all it takes 
for the victory of evil is for good folk to do nothing.

On the contrary, I suggest we fight these encroachments, precisely 
because I think we can win. I've suggested on cpsr-global that we form an 
international organisation to coordinate such actions, modelled on a 
combination of Amnesty International and Green Peace, I'll try to write  
that down in another note.

Arun Mehta, B-69 Lajpat Nagar-I, New Delhi-24, India. Phone 6841172,6849103
•••@••.••• •••@••.••• •••@••.•••
Bureaucrats find the anarchic Internet bewildering and threatening. They
are uncomfortably aware that if they ever attempt a Tiananmen Square in
cyberspace, the students will have the more powerful tanks...