Lobbyists sometimes try to simplify issues, for policy makers and for grassroots and other supporters, and one of the most potent ideas surrounding Internet policy is that what you don’t like will ‘break the Internet’.
Here’s John Naughton neatly encapsulating this approach for the UK’s Guardian newspaper in a comment on SOPA/PIPA early in 2012:
…the most worrying aspect of these bills is that they would distort the architecture of the internet in ways that would cripple its capacity for enabling innovation
Read the whole thing here under the headline ‘Sopa and Pipa: don’t let big business break the internet’: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/jan/08/online-piracy-challenge-sopa-pipa
The attraction of this is easy to understand. For any highly technical question with complete uncertainty about the outcome of any policy decision, all the attention-deprived Government official or politician has to do is ask, ‘will it break the Internet?’ If there is sufficient noise in the ‘ayes’, risk that they may be right will ensure inaction.
While this is going on in public, privately companies are breaking the internet in all sorts of useful and interesting ways. For a small business I am a large buyer of datacentre services and connectivity, operating a highly connected music platform hosted at Interxion in London. For many reasons we own and manage our hardware – but I can now, should I so wish, buy private connectivity within the datacentre to Amazon’s Web Services. Here’s what they say about it:
Using AWS Direct Connect, you can establish private connectivity between AWS and your datacenter, office, or colocation environment, which in many cases can reduce your network costs, increase bandwidth throughput, and provide a more consistent network experience than Internet-based connections.
A quick survey shows that Amazon has been rolling out private connectivity via high quality datacentres around the world. You can bet also that the peering points which connect consumer access providers to the Internet also benefit from these direct connections, alongside connections to Google, to Akamai, Limelight, and other providers of media and application delivery services.
The chances are increasingly slim these days, if you stick to fairly popular sites and services, that your bits will ever touch the Internet. In fact the real Internet is already significantly more expensive, more congested, less reliable and less consistent than all these private platforms.
Why is this important? Well, perhaps monopolies built on private networks should be regulated as private businesses, rather than as users of a miraculously unlimited and unfettered Internet commons. So when Google in Germany launches a campaign saying ‘Defend Your Network’ (Verteidige Dein Netz), it is important to understand that Google no longer uses our public Netz, it has its own, private Netz.
Google’s property rights in its network should of course be respected, and robustly defended, in all the territories it operates in. Help them if you wish, but not in the name of the extraordinary communal efforts that enabled them to achieve their scale, and which they have now left behind.