The Net-Neutrality Spinners

To a spinmeister, a name can be a most flexible tool. Case in point? The term "net neutrality."

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." That was Alice Through the Looking Glass 135 years ago. The rule still applies today.

Internet politics creates peculiar alliances. The oddest yet may be Google and best pal Microsoft teaming up to fight off attempts by broadband pipe owners (like Comcast and Verizon) to charge certain heavy content suppliers (like Google and Microsoft) more to use their networks than other suppliers (like Comcast and Verizon).

Indeed, forceful arguments for this position are made in clever and well-produced video shorts on Google-owned YouTube.

The pipe owners want to charge big users more. They say that it's their investment that essentially created the broadband world.

Instead of defending a frozen concept of neutral access, the FCC may better serve the public interest by letting network owners have their way, as long as the FCC also adds open spectrum. That would allow free Wi-Max, a more wide-ranging wireless Internet service than Wi-Fi, to more effectively compete with fast but pricey private wirelines, ensuring real net neutrality. (Google, nothing if not smart, has also bet this side of the table by funding efforts to provide free Wi-Fi.)

In politics, geeks are often described as anarcho-libertarians. Unlike Groucho Marx, this is a club I include myself in. "Hands off my computer" is our rallying cry. But there's another axiom: "The Internet sees censorship as network outage, and routes around it."

I would argue that the Internet will see differential pricing—a non-neutral Net—as just such an outage, and the venture world will finance all sorts of free wireless ways around it. The public wins.

Humpty later recites a poem to Alice: "I sent a message to the fish. I told them, 'This is what I wish.'"

The fish here are you and me; we're supposed to believe that the regulation demanded by Google, Amazon and Microsoft will assure us that our Internet will be forever free. For some reason, I instinctively feel for my wallet.