Postings in relation to Law & Technology or the Tilburg Institute for Law & Technology

Network Neutrality and the Internet Infrastructure Resource Commons nl

Door tiefschwarz op zondag 13 juni 2010 13:37 - Reacties (3)
Categorie: Law & Technology / TILT, Views: 2.625

De afgelopen maanden van mijn leven stonden in het teken van een ding; mijn master Law en Technology afronden. Het kiezen van een onderwerp voor mijn Master Thesis was al een hele opgave omdat mijn interesse eigenlijk net zo breed is als het aangeboden curriculum--iets wat mij al eerder dwong tot het volgen van extra vakken. Vele onderwerpen passeerden de revu, maar slechts een sprong er daadwerkelijk met kop en schouders bovenuit: netwerk neutraliteit. Een actueel en belangrijk onderwerp met een brede maatschappelijk fundament en enorme belangen voor de betrokken partijen.

Het is onmogelijk om in een scriptie van 16.000 woorden de discussie volledig uit te werken. Daar is het een veel te uitgebreid en complex probleem voor. Ik heb daarom mijn focus gelegd op een onderontwikkeld onderdeel van het debat. Netwerk neutraliteit wordt vaak bekeken vanuit puur commerciŽle en economische overwegingen. Vooral Christopher Yoo1 (overwegend voor diversiteit) en Barbara van Schewick2 (overwegend voor neutraliteit) schrijven hier heel verhelderende artikelen over. Maar die eenzijdige aandacht voor commerciŽle aspecten is niet helemaal terecht om twee redenen: netwerken kennen hun specifieke economische parameters die dwingen tot een bredere blik, en het Internet is een resource commons, een bron voor verdere ontwikkeling in externaliteiten.

Brett Frischmann was de eerste die dat helder en duidelijk verwoordde in een van zijn artikelen3. En van daaruit ben ik op zoek gegaan naar het antwoord op de vraag of het Internet in Europa voldoende ruimte krijgt om zich te ontwikkelen als een dergelijke commons en de sociale en publieke waarde voldoende ruimte krijgt om benut te worden, of dat het beleid teveel gericht is op de commerciŽle waarde van het netwerk.

De discussie over netwerk neutraliteit is soms moeilijk te volgen. Aanhangers van neutraliteit en aanhangers van diversiteit polariseren vaak de essentie van het debat, en doen overdreven sterke uitspraken die niet altijd in de realiteit genesteld zijn. Dat is een grote uitdaging wanneer het doel is om een academisch verantwoord stuk te schrijven. Desalniettemin is het aanbod van literatuur vrij groot, en het tempo waarmee ontwikkelingen zich opvolgen is moordend; een mooie uitdaging!

Na 3 maanden hard ploeteren is het nu zo ver: ik neem afscheid van mijn thesis, en spring met beide benen in een groot zwart gat. Maar niet voordat ik hem met de wereld gedeeld heb via het Internet, want dat is in ultimo de essentie van het standpunt dat ik in mijn thesis verdedigd heb.

Network Neutrality and the Internet Infrastructure Resource Commons

1 CS Yoo, 'Beyond Network Neutrality' Vanderbilt Law and Economics Research Paper No. 05-16; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 05-20 at pages 8, 15-18 available at SSRN
2 Bv Schewick, 'Towards an Economic Framework for Network Neutrality Regulation' (2007) 5 Journal on Telecommunications and High Technology Law 329
3 BM Frischmann, 'An Economic Theory of Infrastructure and Commons Management' (2005) 89 Minnesota Law Review 917

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.

Books Just Disappeared, Always During The Night

By tiefschwarz on Tuesday 9 February 2010 09:29 - Comments (6)
Category: Law & Technology / TILT, Views: 2.922

In the world of the Internet and digital content, (Amazon) is a big one. Amongst other services, it facilitates distribution of e-books and develops and markets the necessary hardware and software to read them, embodied in its Kindle device. Periodically the device synchronizes with the end users’ account. It is connected through a service called Whispernet to manage content. This managing was supposed to entail the possibility to download content to the Kindle device. However in the summer of 2009 the electronic commerce giant demonstrated a different kind of management that left many people thoroughly astonished.
In an effort to conform to the rights holders’ demands, Amazon pulled two works by George Orwell from its online distribution service. However, in a tragic delusion of totalitarian grandeur, Amazon found it appropriate to remove the books from the accounts of users that bought the book as well, which in turn led to the removal of the books from the Kindle devices owned by those users. The irony that one of the works removed was Nineteen Eighty-Four should not be lost on those who are familiar with the book.
What followed after this opportunistic course of action was a massive uproar amongst consumers, media and legal experts. Amazon quickly cried its crocodile tears and offered an apology to its users. Despite the refund that accompanied the removal, there is something utterly wrong and unjust about Amazon’s behavior. After admitting removing the books from the Kindles was wrong, they remained ambiguous on when they would remove or not. In my opinion, Amazon is liable for the removal, regardless the refund given. Digital content providers should never be allowed to unilaterally remove content from devices owned by end users.

Read more »