Neutralism: Identifying the ideology behind net neutrality — New White Paper

February 23, 2009

Where did the net neutrality issue come from? And why is it such a persistent issue? In researching answers to these important questions, I came across a key quote by Yale Professor Yochai Benkler in his 2006 book “Wealth of Networks:”   

  • “There was a moment…in 2001, when a range of people who were doing similar things … seemed to cohere into a single intellectual movement, centered on the importance of the commons to information production and creativity in general, and to the digitally networked environment in particular.”

The White Paper released in this post is the culmination of several months of research dedicated to answering these questions — Where did the net neutrality issue come from? and Why is it a persistent issue?

My white paper is also a genuine attempt to summarize, make accessible, and fairly represent the essence of the vision, thinking, and belief system behind the net neutrality movement.

  • Nearly half of the text of this paper is direct quotes from leading neutralist thinkers, so the reader can hear their views in their own words.
  • I trust others will improve upon this initial analysis.

The link to my seven-page white paper is here. The one-page abstract of the white paper is included below in its entirety.

Abstract. The premise behind this white paper is that few understand that there is a surprisingly well-developed ideology and school of economic thought behind the net neutrality issue, regardless of whether one agrees of disagrees with it. Thus, the purpose of this white paper is to educate by briefly defining, explaining, and tracing the origins of the ideology and economic thought behind net neutrality. The value of this paper is that it connects-the-dots and fills-in-gaps for those seeking to more fully understand the issue. Simply, neutralism is the commons ideology behind the net neutrality movement. Neutralists believe that digital information and communications networks should be a public commons, not private property requiring permission or payment to use. Neutralists believe that: 1) Digital technology, if unshackled from ownership restrictions and payment requirements, is a powerful means for creating a more egalitarian society; 2) The end-to-end design of the Internet creates a digital commons that is open to decentralized innovation; and 3) The Internet should not be controlled by market players because it is necessary for democratic discourse. Neutralists generally oppose Big Business incumbents (broadband, media and software) and the expansion of intellectual property as opponents of Internet users, because they enable the owning and controlling of information, communication, and ultimately culture — for the benefit of the propertied-few at the expense of the potential of the many. Neutralists believe technology and innovation, in concert with public commons for information and communication, can transform the traditional capitalistic economics of scarcity — into the more egalitarian economics of abundance — i.e. ‘neutralnomics.’ An underlying premise of neutralnomics is that when faced with resource abundance, capitalism naturally will try to create artificial scarcity or face economic collapse. The white paper also traces the origins of neutralism. First, the de facto father of neutralism is Richard M. Stallman who founded the free software movement with the belief that users should not have to ask for permission or pay for software. Second, Eben Moglen is profiled for his key ideological grounding for neutralism. Third, Lawence Lessig is credited with the mainstream popularization of neutralism and melding free software commons thinking with end-to-end Internet commons thinking. Fourth, Yochai Benkler is profiled as the one who formalized the economic theory behind neutralism. Fifth, David Bollier is credited with creating the initial and formative public policy agenda of Neutralism in “Saving the Information Commons.” This white paper’s core conclusion is: the ideological tension will only increase between the competing visions: calling for a new mandated digital commons vs. defending the existing free market based on property rights. That is because the underlying trends creating the pre-conditions for neutralism are likely to persist and accelerate — i.e. the declining cost economics of digital abundance, and the increased adoption of Internet social “Web 2.0” applications.


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