Defending Amazon Kindle’s Reasonable Network Management

March 2, 2009

To offer its innovative and property-protecting e-book/e-newspaper Kindle service, Amazon engages in reasonable network management of its Amazon-branded Whispernet wireless broadband access service.

  • Amazon’s Kindle service blocks consumers’ access to all content that does not have a commercial relationship with Amazon, and it does not allow open, neutral or non-discriminatory access to the content of consumers’ choice on its leased network.
  • Amazon’s network management is reasonable because it enables the offering of an innovative, secure, quality, affordable service for consumers.
  • Amazon’s unfettered freedom to choose the business model that best suited the Kindle was central to Amazon’s breakthrough innovation.

Important questions:

First, is “closed” innovation out-performing?

No one should miss the irony that two of the most-innovative and most-in-demand consumer electronics that leverage broadband access – the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPhone — are not considered “open” or “neutral,” but largely “closed” devices. This runs directly counter to Silicon Valley’s PR and political orthodoxy that “openness” is a necessary pre-condition for innovation and that closed systems, or “walled gardens” like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPhone almost by definition cannot be innovative because they are not designed  to be neutral, end-to-end dumb-pipe friendly products and services.

  • Could these highest-of-profile examples be evidence that innovation is not necessarily driven by openness as Silicon Valley orthodoxy dictates?
  • Could it be that innovation is best fostered when there is no Government mandate where innovation should or should not be allowed to occur?
  • Could it be that the unfettered freedom of innovators to choose an open, closed, or hybrid model is a key to promoting real innovation?

Second, is Amazon de facto endorsing a property-driven-economy over a propertyless-digital-commons or “ecommony?”

It is important to note that Amazon recently decided to allow e-book property owners to control the enablement of the Kindle’s text-to-audio feature in order to protect their copyrights rather than be open/neutral and allow consumers complete freedom to access the content of their choice.

  • This is a significant precedent because Amazon had a choice between siding with open/neutral view where consumers should get access to the content of their choice without permission or payment, but instead chose to side with those who produce valuable content that can be offered via payment or subscription.
  • In a word, Amazon sided with the economy over the “ecommony.”

This adds momentum to Cablevision’s recent decision to no longer give Newsday’s content away for free on the Web.  The Kindle also offers blogs a new subscription revenue stream – additional proof that Silicon Valley’s PR and political orthodoxy “information wants to be free” is under significant assault.

Third, how does Amazon square its non-neutral reasonable network management of its Kindle network with its continued support of net neutrality regulation?

Any reasonable interpretation of proposed net neutrality/open Internet strictures would not allow Amazon’s non-neutral, anti-openness operation and business model for its Kindle access network. How does Amazon square this circle?

  • Is it counting on special treatment, an Amazon-specific exemption/earmark from any potential net neutrality requirement?
  • Is it arguing that the Government should abandon its longstanding technology neutrality policy and apply net neutrality non-neutrally to only one type of Internet access, competitive broadband facilities and not to dominant Internet access applications like Amazon’s, Google’s or eBay’s?
  • Or is Amazon simply arguing, do as I say not as I do?

Bottom line:

I strongly defend Amazon’s reasonable network management of its Amazon-branded wireless broadband access network.

The benefits of reasonable network management are numerous, essential and not limited to the benefits listed below:

  • Enabling innovative business models, products, services, features, etc.
  • Enabling quality of service guarantees;
  • Meeting the diversity of needs, wants and means of consumers for different prices, speeds, features, and offerings like mobility; and
  • Protecting consumers from Internet pollution and harm.
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