John McCann

Don’t take my Net

In Internet on February 6, 2006 at 8:32 pm

The Internet is a grass roots phenomenon that has grown because it provides a standard method by which anyone can communicate openly with anyone else. That is, it is the network that any and all of us can use to participate in our economies and our cultures. Once our communications and our productions are in digital form, they can move over and share the same routers, wires, cables, fibers, and airways that compose the Internet. Keeping those wires, cables, fibers and airways open to all is at the heart of the participation age.

Such openness is the antethesis of the philosophy of almost all industrial age, and the large information age, companies. Telephone companies control their telephone networks; cable TV companies control their cable networks; etc. If you want to hang something on one of those networks, you need the permission of its owner … and those permissions are not granted lightly.

Customer control and lock-in are at the core of their products, services and marketing efforts. Their actions seems to be based on the belief that if a firm that can get a large group of people (who they call consumers) to adopt products and services that are proprietory to that firm, it can achieve higher profits, perhaps even monopoly-level profits. As the Internet becomes more central to the operation of these firms, we are seeing new efforts by large established firms to limit its openness, and perhaps even to close it to some degree. Perhaps to make the Interent operate more like the television network, controlled by several dozen entities that determine what and when the rest of us to view.

Being so very opposed to such a world, I was particularly pleased to read an article by Doc Searls titled “The Producer Electronics Revolution, Part I” in which he provides details about what he calls an unholy alliance. He concludes the article with some thoughts about how the tide is shifting away from the folks who would close the Net:

Right now this tide shift isn’t a smooth thing. In fact, it’s a fight. That fight is between independence and dependence; between liberty and slavery; between free markets and your-choice-of-silo; between what you want to do and what Apple or Microsoft or Intel or Real or Google will let you do.

It’s a fight between those who value music, artwork, video and writing, and those who wish to reduce all those goods to the container cargo they call “content”.

It’s a fight that has the The Net and its founding values on one side. On the other side is an unholy alliance between the “content” industries, Consumer Electronics and the carriers who still think the Internet is about delivering industrial goods in packeted forms to our TVs, desktops and MP3 players.

It’s a fight between two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. The larger circle is The Net: an open noncommercial environment that supports countless commercial markets, including the one for Consumer Electronics goods. The smaller circle is the unholy alliance that thinks its circle is bigger.

The Net will win, because its circle is actually the world on which the smaller circle resides–whether or not the smaller circle likes that fact.

Doc promises to offer us ideas about how to “thwart that unholy alliance” and I certainly look forward to reading his ideas.


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