The False Promise Of Net Neutrality

I wasn’t there when the Internet was invented, and I wasn’t around for the first e-mail, but I do remember Eternal September.

In the fall of 1990, one of my professors at Miami University signed me and the rest of the students in my class up for access to the school’s VAX minicomputer. The idea was that we would use e-mail to send him our papers and to communicate with each other. To do this, I had to walk across the quad to the 24/7 computer lab in MacCracken Hall, where I used a gutted IBM PC/AT as a video terminal.

Our professor gave us explicit written instructions on which options in the VAX menu would let us get our work done. My classmates were befuddled. Most of them had never touched a computer before, unless you count an Atari 2600 or a NES as a computer. About four weeks into the semester, the VAX requirement was walked back. We could go back to using typewriters or writing by hand. Everybody went back. Everybody, that is, but me.

By the time I left for winter break I’d figured out quite a bit about the VAX, including how it connected to other systems of what started as the DARPAnet but with the addition of various educational and commercial enterprises had come to be known as the Internet. I stayed on the VAX for the rest of my time at Miami. I was there for Eternal September, the day that AOL users were given access to USENET discussion forums in September of 1993. (It was actually September 11, 1993, but history has retconned it to just “some time in September” for semi-obvious reasons.) By 1996 I was working in the business, as a network engineer for Litel. In May of 1997, I opened up my “BMX Basics” website. In late 1999 I founded a web-hosting cooperative. In 2000 I joined the Free Hardware Project at MIT, only to see it fall apart in the aftermath of the other September 11th. In the years that followed, I made the majority of my living selling, developing, and implementing a variety of systems and solutions that were based on the principles of Free Software as laid down by Richard Stallman, whom I met around the time the AI Lab became the Media Lab.

Why tell you all of this? Simply as deep background for what I’m going to tell you next: I believe in a free Internet, I believe in software freedom, I believe in data freedom. But I don’t believe in “Net Neutrality”, and I’ll explain why.

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