[6 October 2007]
Photograph by Ti.Mo
In the twentieth century concentration of media ownership was the issue that threatened free speech. If a corporate behemoth or a media baron wanted to craft a perspective and could splash it over television screens, on radio, in newspapers and magazines and in books, we could see how this would limit differing and especially dissenting perspectives being voiced as loudly, if at all. In the 21st century, where the internet and all manner of media and entertainment services are drifting towards distribution over telephone networks into mobile phone/media devices, it’s the service providers that are seeking to control which messages are “broadcast”.
Lawrence Lessig devised the creative commons licence which allows people to determine how they would like the writing and images and music they create and post on the internet to be used. A share-and-share alike sensibility is the most common application. But Virgin Mobile in Australia used an image on Flickr covered by a some-rights-reserved licence and the girl whose image was appropriated for use in an ad sued Virgin. Lawrence Lessig explained: “As the world is now, while many might resist the idea of Virgin using a photograph of theirs for free…most in the net community would be perfectly find with noncommercial use of a photograph by others within the net community. The Noncommercial license tries to match these expectations. It tries to authorize and reuse—not within a commercial economy, but within a sharing economy.”
Maine.com parsed a New York Times article on Verizon refusing to carry an abortion rights message, explaining how this is a free-speech issue. Verizon noted that it chooses not to carry messages that any of its members might consider unsavory or controversial. Maine.com said in response: “The problem is that, as the article points out, “the First Amendment limits government power, not that of private companies like Verizon.” And this is why we need to bring back Net Neutrality so that the freedom we enjoy in a free flowing of ideas over the Internet is protected under the first amendment, and not dictated by shareholder value.”
In a post on his blog on Net Neutrality Lawrence Lessig linked to a group called Save The Internet, which has a primer on Net Neutrality, which explains why cable and telephone carriers are opposed to it:
The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all. They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors. These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road. The big phone and cable companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to gut Net Neutrality, putting the future of the Internet at risk.
In a story from January of this year, in Wired Magazine, Lawrence Lessig writes that Net Neutrality is related to the issue of control of standards and programs on the Internet, which the Microsoft Anti-Trust case highlighted. He was a self-professed reluctant regulator brought into the case. The internet has a history of champions for its freedom, beginning with Tim Berners Lee, the creator of the world wide web, who deemed that it should be free, to Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux open source program. In his Wired essay Lessig writes:
There isn’t yet a Linus Torvalds of broadband, nor is a single competitive platform being built by volunteers to displace AT&T. But there are forces mucking up the game for those who would profit most from last-mile control. The core of this resistance comes from municipalities. Local governments are building neutral infrastructures that allow anyone, from ISPs to community networks, to use and extend blisteringly fast broadband networks. At the end of its first year, a project in Sandoval County, New Mexico, for example, already provides many in the area with more than 10 times the capacity than anywhere else in the US. And municipal networks are just a first step. Many Linux-style volunteers are building free wireless networks that enable participants to share access and offer capacity to others. These volunteers are also building free protocols that enable legal access without shifting control to a last-mile access provider. These activists recognize the basic truth of what I call the McAdams theorem: Monopolists, as Cornell economist Alan McAdams puts it, don’t monopolize themselves. If the monopoly-like asset is owned by the user, he has little incentive to exploit himself. Put differently, private ownership by users creates its own business model.
Lawrence Lessig. Wired.