December 14, 2017

Net Kleptocracy

Dear A.G. Schneiderman,

My address and my wife's name was fraudulently used in a public comment filed in support of today's horrible FCC vote to repeal net neutrality protections.

The fraud is particularly infuriating because, as readers of this blog know, I was one of the engineers who devoted two decades of my life to building fundamental Internet technologies....

I built the first AJAX browser with Microsoft; I built several open-source and open standard technologies around XML, HTML, Javascript, and open instant messaging together with organizations such as the Apache Software Foundation; and I built open communication services and search engine software for Google.

Nothing I built during all this time cost a dime for any consumer. Why did I spend all this effort building free and open software? It was because the unique rules that governed the internet meant that the furious competition would be matched by the enormous benefits of frictionless access. The network was an open resource for all of humanity, a wide open playing field with no bottlenecks, no rent-collectors, and no gatekeepers. There have certainly been many efforts to build global networks using a proprietary model, from Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy, to more recent efforts like videogame console services or cable tv offerings - but by collecting fees and imposing choke points, all these attempts have failed to grow. If the internet had been yet another creation of the telecom companies, I would never have invested twenty years of creativity and energy into building it. Neither would thousands of my peers, the programmers, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders who created the internet.

That is why the current rollback of net neutrality is theft on a huge scale. It is theft of all the efforts of those us who built the internet under the original set of rules where we were free to share, compete, and communicate on an even playing field. Letting telecoms pick winners and losers and levy taxes on the services of their choosing is to let them behave as if the internet is their property. But they do not own the internet just because they happen to own the wires that connect you to it. The internet is not just a series of tubes.

The telecoms have have long imagined that the only thing needed for a network is their wires, and they have tried many times to build their own closed services based on that. But they failed. They could not build their own Firefox, Google, Amazon, Facebook, or Netflix. They could not imagine Instagram, Reddit, Youtube, Spotify, Etsy, Drudge, Huffpo, or 4chan. By paying Republicans to change the rules after the fact, the telecoms are papering over their lack of imagination by taking our most precious public information resource hostage. They are claiming property rights on a community resource representing trillions of dollars of investment made by others. But the internet is simply not theirs to take.

The fact that my family was falsely attributed in a fraudulent comment is just an example of how unethical their effort is. It is theft, plain and simple. The people behind the current net kleptocracy - that is, the leaders of AT+T, Verizon and Comcast - they think they will benefit handsomely from the theft, but we cannot let it stand. These leaders should be investigated, held to account, and prosecuted.

It begins with finding out who perpetrated the fraud. Using our name and address in a fraudulent comment on this topic is not a small thing. It is a smearing of our reputation and an insult to my work of twenty years. We are happy to lend our voice and support to efforts to call these people to account.

Heidi Yeh and David Bau
88 Lincoln Road

Posted by David at December 14, 2017 09:37 PM

Well spoken. I am just commenting to say thanks for wording what i always just muttered when i really enraged about people not understanding the importance of net-neutrality (germany here, so its not as bad as in the US right now).

Being thankfull for preparing such a great field of possibilities is out of question, but i do want to say that we will defend what was handed over to us.

-The younger ones that want our playaground to stay

Posted by: Sören at April 9, 2018 08:59 PM
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