Sir Tim Berners-Lee has never been one to hide his opinions. Now the father of the World Wide Web is up in arms about the state of net neutrality in the United States.
In a chat with the Washington Post Sir Tim railed against the telecommunications companies' push to introduce differential pricing for internet content – such as charging subscribers more to watch YouTube. Such practices were counter-intuitive to the idea of an open internet, and would mean internet firms would shun the US as a market, he warned.
"If businesses are to move here and start here, rather than start in Europe or Brazil or Australia, they're going to look around and make sure, 'Oh, does the power stay up?' And they'll look for other things.'Is the Internet open?' Will they have to effectively bribe their ISPs to start a new service? That's what it looks like from the outside. It's bribery," he said.
US watchdog the Federal Communications Commission is mulling over millions of emails sent in during its deliberations about how the internet will be run in the US in future. While the vast majority of public comment has been in favor of an open internet, in which every packet is treated equally, there are still fears that the submissions by ISPs – which want compensation for carrying heavy traffic – will carry more political weight.
Sir Tim said the tactics used by the anti-net neutrality campaigners were disingenuous to say the least. Politicians are fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the issue and were falling back on tired old canards, he opined.
"A lot of congressmen say, 'Well, sign up for the free market' and feel that it's just something you should leave to go by itself," he said.
"Well yeah, the market works well so long as nobody prints money. So we have rules, okay? You don't steal stuff, for example. The US dollar is something that everyone relies on. So the government keeps the dollar a stable thing, nobody steals stuff, and then you can rely on the free market."
El Reg would suggest Sir Tim looks at the quantitive-easing policies of the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and others before being quite so confident in governments' ability to print money. But his basic point holds true; the free market only functions properly when rules are set down to ensure fair competition.
He pointed out that in 1991 he didn't have to ask ISPs for permission to add new features when he plugged his NeXT cube into a phone line and made it the first web server. Trying to bolt on commercial restrictions after the fact is anti-competitive, he argued, and would only harm the internet in the long term.
Furthermore, the fact that we're even having to debate about net neutrality shows a certain failing in the intellectual argument, he said.
"The technical bit – all the deals about peering all that – is really complicated and difficult," said Berners-Lee. "That is something normal people in the street aren't going to understand, and they shouldn't have to! If you have to start understanding what's happening inside, then the internet has failed already." ®