TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Information Wants to be Free

Re: Information Wants to be Free
23 Jan 2006 10:09:59 -0800

Randall Stross wrote:

> The digital lifestyle I see portrayed so alluringly in
> ads is not possible when the Internet plumbing in our homes is as
> pitiful as it is.

There are a number of serious faults in this article. Here they are:

1) Like so many things advertised, the "alluring digital lifestyle" is
more of a fiction than a reality. Just like beers that promise you an
exciting lifestyle filled with hot young sexy people, or automobiles
you may drive at high speeds on roads you have all to yourself.

2) A substantial part of our demand for high capacity is channels
results from the GARBAGE in the information we seek. Text and simple
photographs require very little bandwidth and a 56k dialup would be
more than adequate if that's all the content consisted of (14.4 if
text only). But the computer industry wouldn't be very profitable at
that level since none of us would need to buy new machines very often.

As Alfred Sloan did at GM many years ago, the computer industry has us
sucked into planned obsolescence. Internet screens are continually
made more complex and more bloated so we need to buy faster computers
and heavier channels to function. Software only a few years old won't
work; modern browsers won't work on older machines.

> It gets worse. Now these same carriers -- led by Verizon Communications
> and BellSouth -- want to create entirely new categories of fees that
> risk destroying the anyone-can-publish culture of the Internet.

3) This writer's first premise "information wants to be free", is
nonsense. If I want a hard copy of his article, I'll have to buy the
New York Times, which is $1.25 where I live. If I look at it on line,
I must subscribe to services to provide it to me. Note that I CAN'T
simply dial up the NYT directly (like an old BBS) and look at their
stuff. Further, to look at their stuff I must also download NYT
advertising, which is one of the reasons expanded bandwidth is

4) The "anyone can publish culture" is also a myth. In the days of
the BBS, they told us "shareware" was new wave of the future. The
reality was that everybody downloaded shareware or bought disks at
computer fairs, but very few paid for it, and very few made any money
out of it. Very few authors gain wide readership on the 'net. They
also told us BBSing was the new communication wave of the future. It
never was. The reality is that a very small part of the population
gets its information from these sources. Sure, anyone can open a
website and create a blog. But how many people will actually read it?
The reality, outside of very rare exceptions, most of us would do
better standing on a street corner and handing out leaflets to
passers-by. When a site does do well it's because it was publicized
by another _media_ source. Hey, if my local [traditional] newspaper
wrote that the leafletter at Broad & Market had something worth
reading, I'd be well known too.

5) Whether the author likes it or not, "plumbing" costs money. This
author seems to think communications lines, junction switchers, and
ongoing maintenance should all magically appear for us, for free.
That's ridiculous.

> Slow broadband seems to be our cursed lot. Until we get an upgrade --
> or rather an upgrade to an upgrade -- the only Americans who will
> enjoy truly fast and inexpensive service will be those who leave the
> country.

6) Maybe we really don't need truly fast service.

Let me note the failed promise of cable television. That was
another "wave of the future" that would revolutionalize our lives.
Gee, so now I can watch young buff bodies on MTV living together. That
has some entertainment value, admittedly, but is that an "information
revolution"? Nope.

Let's also remember the skyrocketing cost of cable television. We're
now paying DOUBLE for it. We pay to subscribe for the content, but
then the shows almost all have a great many commercials. Indeed, most
have more commercials than traditional commercial TV which comes
through for free (though that has more commercials now, too.) Some
cable channels have five minutes of commercials for every five minutes
of content. We have "Modern Marvels" on the History Channel, which
has some educational merit, until a closer look is that it's
essentially a propaganda piece for the industries its covering. A
report on buses, for example, mostly focused on the wonderful work of
one particular school bus builder. When the stuff comes through at
high speed, will we be getting quality or just more commercials?

> An executive vice president of Verizon, for example, said last week
> that the proliferation of video programs offered via the Internet
> opens a new opportunity for his company: a new class of premium online
> delivery for Web sites wishing to pay extra to give smooth video
> streams to their customers in the Verizon service area. ...

7) Verizon had to build an entirely new fibre optic cable delivery
network to provide this. Any other entrapreneur could do the same
thing. Don't tell me Verizon had an advtg as an existing company.
Business history is filled with newcomers upstaging old established
companies. Indeed, Comcast is very new compared to Verizon.
Microsoft is new compared to IBM.

> For one thing, the occasional need for a preferential fast lane for
> streaming video -- that is, moving pictures displayed as fast as they
> arrive, rather than downloaded first and played from memory -- exists
> in the United States only because our standard broadband speeds are so
> slow. Were we ever to become a nation with networks supporting gigabit
> service, streaming video would not require special handling.

8) The Internet is a free form network of networks with very little
central control. That has been debated here, and many people are
extremely passionate about keeping it just that way. Well, free-form
is by no means necessarily better.

> Perhaps more important, the superabundance of content in the
> Internet's ecosystem is best explained by its organizing principle of
> "network neutrality." The phrase refers to the way the Internet
> welcomes everyone who wishes to post content. Consumers, in turn,
> enjoy limitless choices. Rather than having network operators select
> content providers on our behalf -- the philosophy of the local cable
> company -- the Internet allows all of us to act as our own network
> programmers, serving a demographic of just one person.

9) "Network neutrality" simply does not work. Never has, never will.
Here's why:

a) "Limitless choices" is not necessarily a good thing for
consumers. First off, many of those choices are just plain garbage.
Consumers don't have the time to go through every "choice" to assess
quality. For example, I just tried to find out about a new medication
on the Internet. My seach result innundated me with garbage -- a great
many sex/porn sites include buzz words so search engines always pick
them up. Then, there are political activist sites that do the same
thing. There were anti-medication sites. Finally I found the
manufacturer's site, which had very little to say.

Second of all, a key function of information delivery is editing.
The editors of my local newspaper choose what stories to run.
Certainly this process has problems, but the alternative is absolute
chaos--I'd get a newspaper 1,000 pages long every day. Getting a web
screen of 1,000 frames is no better.

TV networks buy show pilots and later decide not to use them. Such
shows are burned off late at night or in late summer (or not shown at
all). I used to be curious and watch such shows, but it was quite
clear why they weren't picked up -- they were pretty lame. For all
the criticism, TV executives aren't as stupid as claimed -- they do
perform a necessary culling out function.

b) Another big problem with "network neutrality" is that society --
civilization -- functions best by a set of rules. We call them
manners and the law. But on the Internet, bullies and malicious
vandals are free to mess up everyone else. We have the obvious very
expensive problems of spam and viruses. (Adding bandwidth will only
make those worse). On discussion groups, we have bullies fouling the
discussions. Our moderator, Pat, often tells of his need to sift
through temendous amounts of garbage every day.

When everyone is talking at once or trying to outshout another,
nothing can be understood.

Nobody likes censorship. But the internet is increasingly being used
to hurt innocent people through theft and exploitation.

The gift of the invention of the automobile was freedom -- freedom to
go anywhere at any time. But then we had cars crashing into each
other, so we enacted rules -- rules on how to drive, rules on the
vehicle we drive.

> ... broadband carriers have failed to demonstrate their commitment
> to the principle of network neutrality. "They've fought it at each
> stage," he said, "and they have never embraced the principle."

10) Of course not. Broadband carriers are in business. The principle
set forth at Bell System divesture was FREE MARKET -- everyone is out
for themselves. Well, a free marketplace has winners and losers.
Those who are more efficient will win out at the expense of the less
efficient. Economices of scale exist. Every business wants to
maximize its market share to increase its efficiency and profits. If
you find that basic economic fact unpleasant, then you shouldn't have
pushed for a free market.

> More unplanned appearances will follow -- but only if the ecosystem is
> protected from tromping telephone companies that are genetically
> incapable of understanding "maximally flexible."

11) Sounds like "regulation for thee, but not for me."

In other words, _other_ companies can do as they please, but the
phone carriers are locked into restrictions and discount services to
benefit others.

Actually, the business history of successful companies is filled with
examples of a company in one line of work switching to another. My
local video store evolved into a computer service store and accounting
service. If say Verizon wants to open up its own e-store, it should
be free to do so.

Indeed, many people feel Comcast is charging too much for cable TV
service and now Verizon, freed from regulation, is entering that
market. That's exactly how free markets are supposed to work.

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