Testing a thesis

By tiefschwarz on Wednesday 12 May 2010 14:35 - Comments (8)
Category: Law & Technology / TILT, Views: 3.543

Klein onderdeel van mijn thesis over netwerk neutraliteit. Dit gedeelte is een abstract juridisch betoog waarom netwerk neutraliteit noodzakelijk is voor het waarborgen van toegang tot de toegevoegde waarde die het internet brengt aan degenen die daaraan hun bijdrage leveren. Input is gewenst, expertise niet noodzakelijk; het is immers een maatschappelijke kwestie.

The creation of an enormous construct as the Internet inevitably is paired with the division of labour to ensure that, as David Hume describes it, any considerable work can be achieved:

“When every individual person labours a-part, and only for himself, his force is too small to execute any considerable work; his labour being employ’d in supplying all his different necessities, he never attains a perfection in any particular art; and as his force and success are not at all times equal, the least failure in either of these particulars must be attended with inevitable ruin and misery. Society provides a remedy for these three inconveniences. By the conjunction of forces, our power is augmented: By the partition of employments, our ability encreases: And by mutual succour we are less expos’d to fortune and accidents. ’Tis by this additional force, ability, and security, that society becomes advantageous.”

The Internet is especially susceptible to the division of labour, and that division is exceptionally effective, both because of its fundamental design choices and the nature of its being. What is less obvious is the division of the benefits that are reaped from the Internet and there is a problem analogous to the dynamic described by Karl Marx in his assertion of the ownership of the means of production.

It is not the intrinsic value of the end points, the architecture or the information that is most important. By themselves, these components are relatively limited in their usefulness. It is the large additional value that is created by a synergy between these components that really matters. Connecting billions of people, enterprises and entities with one another over the Internet is of great value to a society that relies heavily on the consumption of information, and it creates a value larger than the sum of the individual components. Translated into the vast virtual landscape, this additional value or synergetic value is an intangible common that is to be explored, enriched and enjoyed by all who participate.

Most participants however are unaware or oblivious to the notion that this area is in fact a walled garden, surrounded by an invisible fence created by gatekeepers at the front entrances to the network that own the physical infrastructure; the crucial part of the production means in terms of control. In absence of an overall governing body or scheme controlling their moves, these gatekeepers potentially have absolute control over access to the Internet. They are the network providers, and the effect of their control increases the closer they are to the end points since they have a more absolute control over what passes through the gate from which side, and what not.

Although the network providers cannot take physical ownership over the synergetic value of the Internet, the ability to exclude lies only with them. As the key factor in ownership, this excludability leads to some kind of pseudo-ownership. At the same time there is no valid reason for such entitlement since the achievement of the synergetic value is only partially due to the efforts of these gatekeepers, yet they may very well be able to decide how that benefit that is enjoyed through access, by whom, and to what extent.

But surrendering control to them would not only be unjust, it gives undue leverage to those maintaining the gates, and enables them to put up tollbooths along the digital highway. That strategy is bound for success when the point of no return has been reached for those providing content and services and who have implemented the Internet into their operations. Given the specific economic parameters like network economic effects and high entry barriers the threshold for that point of no return is relatively low.

However, deriving income from the pseudo-ownership of the synergetic value of the Internet by holding access to that benefit hostage against a ransom is an abuse of the position assumed through the division of labour by the network providers. Providers should instead seek to get compensated for their contribution through the offering of their primary good. While they are in fact partially responsible for the synergetic value that comes forth from the creation of the Internet, the reward for that is returned in a higher value of that primary good, making their offering more valuable to end users.