Re: Online PR: consensus


Sender: Martin Janzen <•••@••.•••>

Marilyn Davis <•••@••.•••> writes (to Craig, I think):
>You have no right to block our action unless you give us a reason.
>We *do* have consensus.  I don't read in Martin's latest post anything
>that disagrees with our statement.  You yourself can't find anything
>against it.

I like Marilyn's description of how a group may arrive at consensus;
namely, that any member of the group is able to block consensus, but
must be prepared to give a reason for doing so.

Very well; I object to the proposed statement, for the following reasons:

>We, the 500 members of the cyber-rights email list, agree by consensus
>1.  Email is the communication/cooperation superhighway, completely
>distinct from the information/entertainment superhighway.

This is unclear at best, and untrue at worst.  I see what you're getting
at -- that an email-based list such as this one is very different from,
say, a video-on-demand network.  But I for one use email for communication,
cooperation (believe it or not), information, _and_ entertainment.

Also, I don't think that it's a good idea to try and encourage
would-be regulators to think differently about different kinds of
Internet traffic.  This can only lead to absurdities such as the talk
about treating voice-over-net differently than other Net traffic.
An IP packet is an IP packet is an IP packet.  And attempts at
distinguishing different kinds of traffic will be largely unenforceable
in any case, as I will discuss in a moment.

Finally, a minor aesthetic point:  Email (or the Internet) "is" not a
superhighway at all.  Will people _please_ stop using this tired old
metaphor???  It died of overuse years ago, but refuses to stay buried
and is starting to smell bad.  :-P

>2.  Email is the backbone of grassroots online organizing and holds
>great promise as a democracy-enhancer.

Yes, it does.  (Though whether this will lead to an increase in the
amount of reasoned debate, or simply in the number of fanatical,
missionary, and humorless -- but well-organized -- special interest
groups, remains to be seen...)

>3.  Email demands a miniscule amount of resources delivered at low
>priority compared to information/entertainment applications.  Any
>scheme that bases price on resources used and makes entertainment
>affordable will render email almost free, as it should be.

Yes, most likely.

The "as it should be" part makes me a bit uneasy, though.  Let's not
forget that Net access is not some "natural right", like the right to
free speech, or some ubiquitous natural resource that is ours for the
taking, like oxygen.  It must be supplied by someone, and that someone
deserves to be compensated for providing it.  I know that Marilyn is not
suggesting otherwise here, but given some of the talk about "universal
service" and "equal access", I'm concerned that someone will eventually
suggest the application of similar distortions and subsidies to the Net.

>4.  If an innapropriate minimum charge per session or per transaction
>is applied, only email will be adversely affected and it will be felt
>as a direct attack by government on online democracy.

Well, first of all, not _only_ email will be affected by high per-session
or per-transaction charges.  FTP, HTTP, and other IP-based protocols
also rely on many relatively short connections.

(Of course, if "inappropriate" per-session or per-transaction charges
become the norm, technology will come to the rescue as usual.  That is
to say, the protocols will change to adapt to the new model, whatever it
may be.  As an example of this, ATM networks -- that's Asynchronous
Transfer Mode, not bank machines -- can support alternative "adaptation
layer" protocols.  If setting up a "Virtual Connection" through your
favorite public ATM network is fairly cheap, you can use the simple
AAL-5 protocol and set up lots of connections; if VCs are expensive, you
can use the more complex AAL-3/4, which allows multiplexing of separate
data streams over the same VC.  "The Net interprets obnoxious pricing
models as damage..." :-)

Second, who or what determines what charge is "appropriate"?  (Regular
readers of this list will be able to predict my answer: it should be
determined by a _consensus_ between the supplier and the purchaser of
the service.)  Or does this sentence mean to say that _any_ per-session
or per-transaction charge is inappropriate -- that is, is it meant as an
argument for pricing based solely on bandwidth or time used?  If so, I
agree, and would choose not to deal with an ISP who uses a different
pricing model -- but wouldn't dream of inflicting my preference on, say,
an infrequent Net user for whom a per-session or per-transaction charge
might be more economical.

Finally, the use of the passive voice makes this sentence unclear.  I
read it to mean that the "direct attack by government" occurs because
the per-session or per-transaction charge is required by some law or
regulation on the part of the government.  I would see this as an attack
as well, on more than just "online democracy", and would oppose such a
charge -- or any system in which the government dictates pricing levels
or models, for that matter.  Besides being immoral, central economic
planning has not been wildly successful, to put it mildly...

(An alternative reading of this sentence is that the government is
guilty of a "direct attack" if a privately-owned ISP institutes a per-
session or per-transaction charge that Marilyn feels is inappropriate,
and the government fails to act to force the ISP to change its pricing
policy to something that she prefers.  Calling for such blatant
interference by the government would be contemptible, and according to
the "principle of charity" I will assume that this is not what she meant
to say.)

>Therefore, *if* the government regulates the price of internet access,
>the regulation must guarantee continued widely affordable access to email.

To me this feels like discussing the terms of surrender even before the
war is lost.  The government has _no_ place in determining the price of
Internet access; I'm not interested in discussing the details of how it
might go about doing so.

The danger of making such a statement is that even if it is received
enthusiastically by supportive politicians and bureaucrats, it might
be easily construed by them as a call to "do something" -- to pass
regulations which (they believe) will have the desired effect.  This is
the last thing I want to see.  The best thing that these people can do
for the Internet is to leave it alone.

>Other than that, the call is for a stronger statement.  Does anyone
>have any ideas?  The stronger statement would be that the internet
>declares itself to be free from regulation by any country.

Such a statement would be absurd, on several levels.  First, "the
internet" is not a single entity that can make such a "declaration of
independence" on its own behalf, but a globally distributed network of
networks composed of an incredible variety of people of all national-
ities and viewpoints.  Who, or what, is "itself"?

Second, the foundation of the Internet -- specifically, the telecommuni-
cations facilities over which Internet Protocol packets are sent -- are
patently _not_ free of regulation.  In fact, at present they are quite
highly regulated by most countries, and this regulation shows no signs
of disappearing any time soon.  (Fortunately, there are encouraging
trends towards deregulation in some countries, even if not everyone on
the list is delighted at this development...)

Third, and by far most importantly, the statement is unnecessary.  Even
as governments all over the world wake up to the Net and attempt to
regulate it, the independence of the Net and its users is becoming a
technological fait accompli.

Strong public-key cryptography, anonymous remailers, steganography,
IPv6, ISPs which provide anonymous accounts, and (soon) anonymous
digital cash (*) all weaken the ability of the state to regulate
individuals' behavior, by strengthening the ability of individuals
(and, yes, corporations -- sorry, Richard!)  to engage in private
communications, in private economic transactions, and "regulatory

Governments can and will claim to be regulating the Internet, but they
will be widely ignored. (**)

Those are my objections.  If you must issue a statement despite the lack
of consensus, I ask for just one change:

>We, the 500 members of the cyber-rights email list, agree [...]

should read

>We, 499 of the 500 members of the cyber-rights email list, agree [...]

Finally, our esteemed Moderator writes:
>But my main point here is to ensure that people can stay on the list
>for discussion or just to learn, and not feel that they have to take a
>position on some issue.  Several types of people will not want to join
>in a position paper:
>I want all these people on the list.  We need you all, for healthy
>criticism and to help get our views out to a wider audience.

Thanks, Andy!  It's an interesting list, and I'd hate to have to unsub
simply in order not to be associated with a group statement with which I

Martin Janzen           •••@••.•••

(*) If you are unfamiliar with these topics, or want to find out more,
you can throw them into any one of the search engines on the Web.  But
an excellent starting point is Tim May's "Cyphernomicon".  An HTML-ized
version is at
cyphernomicon.contents.html.  Fascinating reading; essential information
and "idees fortes" for anyone interested in Cyber-Rights!

(**) Interesting; as _capitalism_ advances, the state withers away!
Karl Marx is probably rolling over in his grave... ;-)

 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
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