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Net pioneers tell FCC: ‘You don’t understand how the internet works’
An open letter by key inventors of the internet asks the federal agency to delay its vote on Thursday on whether to remove net neutrality.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of internet pioneers, it would certainly contain the likenesses of such tech leaders as co-creator of TCP/IP Vint Cerf, inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, DNS co-creator Paul Vixie and public-key cryptography pioneer Whitfield Diffie.
On Monday, those legendary tech figures were joined by over a dozen more to sound the alarm about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) vote this Thursday to eliminate net neutrality.
In an open letter to four members of Congress on key committees overseeing communications, the group didn’t pull any punches.
“You don’t understand how the internet works,” the letter says in its title.
It urges the FCC to cancel the December 14 vote that would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to block content, sites or apps if they disagreed with them or if they posed a competitive threat, and to establish different classes and prices of service for different types of content.
Many observers have commented on the impacts those kinds of restraints would have on the free flow of commerce and information. But these Net pioneers emphasize that the proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai “is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of internet technology.”
It points to a July letter from nearly 200 internet engineers that described how the Chairman’s proposal fundamentally misunderstands how the internet works technically.
A key point, the letter notes, is that ISPs do not offer an “information service,” the classification that the FCC would need to invoke in order to allow differential treatments of traffic. Instead, the engineers point out, ISPs provide “common carrier” service, like phone companies.
ISPs may have offered differentiating information services when they first launched, the pioneers’ letter says, but nowadays those services are almost entirely provided by third parties:
Customers subscribe to an ISP’s service not for information services the ISP might provide, but because the subscription enables customers to transmit and receive data to and from the wider Internet. […] Saying that ISPs provide an information service to their customers because they offer caching and webmail in addition to Internet connectivity is like saying that airlines are in the business of providing an entertainment service because they offer in-flight movies in addition to transportation.
[…] If the same flawed logic were applied to the telephone network, one would conclude that because Verizon’s customers can use their phones to order a pizza, it is Verizon (instead of the local pizza parlor) that is offering the capability for having pizza delivered.
The pioneers’ letter also notes that the federal agency has not held a single open public hearing to assess public comments, and it could not possibly have digested the 23 million comments recently left on the FCC’s website.
Other signatories on the pioneers’ letter include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former FTC Chief Technologist Steven M. Bellovin, Betaworks CEO John Borthwick, net pioneer Stephen D. Crocker, former FCC Chief Technologist David J. Farber, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, hypertext pioneer Theodor Holm Nelson, chair of the Princeton Computer Science department Jennifer Rexford and the co-inventor of the RSA encryption algorithm, Ronald L. Rivest.