Net neutrality for most of us is like a significant advance in particle physics. We know that it shall affect us in the time to come but our understanding of it is very limited. So is often the motivation to further this understanding.
The title of this post is that of a book by Christopher Marsden published in 2010. When choosing to learn more about anything to do with the internet it is of course best to read about it on the, internet. However the pitfalls of boundary less reading online being well known a good book often comes in handy. From my point of view it made little sense to read this book given a general disinterest in regulation, but then in the spirit of learning something new I indulged.
Marsden is primarily a lawyer(now a professor of Law at the University of Sussex) having given testimony at several significant information policy hearings across the UK and Europe. He has contributed over the years to not only observations on the subject but even to governmental decisions. His book brings a mixture of legal and technical knowledge to the table on the subject of Net Neutrality. He like any author hoping to resonate with the moderate reader, argues for a middle way between the well known stances of business and net liberals. The book acknowledges the need for both keeping the internet freer than other mediums like the television or airwaves and ensuring economic incentives for further growth. Drawing heavily from legal precedents across Europe and then comparing them with the lay of the land in USA, the author introduces the reader to the evolution of multi speed lanes, throttling, ISP discretion and other components of this subject.
Once you begin reading the book you realize how vast and daunting this subject can actually be. You also appreciate how things work today without us truly recognizing their impact on our daily internet usage. While to some throttling, deep packet inspection and filtering or monitoring might not be news, understanding the operations from a regulator’s, ISP’s and consumer’s point of view might be useful. The text focuses mainly on the West but that is something which should not discourage a reader from a developing nation. Our ISPs are looking at their older cousins in the states and Europe for strategies in response to clamors for net neutrality. They are also looking at the governments abroad for an indication as to how their own domestic legislation is likely to be shaped in the future. While the western model might not be directly imported to Asia, most democracies can expect a close derivative.
This book is not limited to keeping content open and discussing speeds. It goes on to talk about content and the case for filtering and banning. The cost of mobile networks, VoIP communication and an ever growing online population is of course thoroughly inspected. This however is not an easy book to read with the constant use of abbreviations, jargon and a laundry list of legal inserts. It is not a casual read on the subject and published 5 years back, certainly not a current one. That being said it manages to deliver quite a lot of information as to what the coalition of business and government has tried to agree upon and achieve. It is a socio – legal text and less of one on economics and technicalities. Armed with the list of abbreviations conveniently listed at the beginning book and a highlighter to mark to-read on terms, you should do well. If you do choose to read the book, you shall probably need more than a weekend or as in my case, multiple weekends.
Read my post on the need to discuss this issue in the Indian context here.