Any old cause will do

Check The Guardian today for Andrew Orlowski’s take on net neutrality as an Internet conspiracy theory:

In a much celebrated remark, a senior Bush administration aide told journalist Ron Suskind: “When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities.” But with the democratisation of publishing, creating new realities is now a game that everyone can play. Conspiracy theorists have used the web to great effect, with a mini-industry insisting the 9/11 attacks were a US plot. Describing the popularity of such fantasy realities, Alexander Cockburn lamented that “outrage burns in many an American breast, but there’s scant outlet for it in the political arena”…

The UK’s most prominent internet engineer, Professor Jon Crowcroft of Cambridge University, thinks that activists had imagined a bogus demon. “Net Neutrality is a misdirection, a red herring,” he says.

Save The Internet took full advantage of rational fears, argues veteran internet engineer Richard Bennett, but in doing so, it created “an Intelligent Design for the Left”.

The gap between fear and reality is even more stark when the technical issues are examined. The Neutrality amendments rejected by Congress last year would have made many of today’s private contracts illegal, and outlawed the techniques such as “traffic shaping” that ISPs use to curb bandwidth hogs, says Bennett…

Even worse was the long-term chilling effect. Neutrality would have made designing a better internet much harder, says the man commonly described as the father of the internet.

Dr Robert Kahn says that Neutrality legislation poses a fundamental threat to internet research because it misunderstands what the internet really is; it’s a network of networks, and experimentation on private networks must be encouraged.”The internet has never been neutral,” explains Crowcroft. “Without traffic shaping, we won’t get the convergence that allows the innovation on TV and online games that we’ve seen in data and telephony.”

Last month the Neutrality bandwagon reached Westminster – where it was dismissed in short order. Summing up the consensus at the end of an eForum debate at Millbank, the former Trade Minister Alun Michael described Neutrality as “an answer to problems we don’t have, using a philosophy we don’t share.” And with an echo of Professors Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson, Michael said the phenomenon reminded him of the Tower of Babel.

When the ink is dry on this issue, historians will see it more as a testament to the power of the Internet to win support for dubious causes than anything else. To think that neutralitarians have actually built a movement to pressure Congress to enact laws against unprecedented, speculative, hypothetical ills is actually mind-boggling.

Don’t they have enough real problems?

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