Dysmey Post > Essays > Computing > The Decay of the Public Internet

The Decay of the Public Internet

part one: a corrupt internet

I wrote the following in the late 1990's, originally as an opinion piece on a private Web page featuring interesting material featuring a pretty, shapely but admittedly D-list Japanese actress and model. I still hold the opinions expressed below about the Internet and the general public's corruption thereof.

The Internet until 1992 was inhabited solely by the research and academic community and managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It was hard to attach nude photos to Usenet postings or to maintain a nude FTP site without the Internet community dropping on you like a load of bricks. The fear of loss of federal funding kept everyone in line.

Then the NSF gave the Internet up, and soon it was invaded by all sorts of morons from the online services like AOL and MSN, not to mention the typical XYZ Corporation with its flashy Web site chock full of pointless graphics and applets, all cooked up by marketing droids. This has turned the Net into the electronic equivalent of the mid-20th century Cuyahoga River — dirty, sludgy, smelly, and flammable.

For this reason we have the spectacle of all those mommies, who don't want their kids to see this horrible stuff but would not dream of pulling the modems out of their kids' computers. No, it's much easier to cry out to politicians like Senator Exon of Nebraska, Senator Coats of Indiana, and the horny maggot from Arkansas. They have tried to regain control of the Internet by defecating on the U.S. Constitution — a typical reaction when the general public goes into hysterics.

The NSF should never have given up control of the Internet in the first place. As these mommies and corporations have no business there, they have no right to complain when the cybernest becomes foul. As the Japanese would say of these mommies, politicians and journalists: zama miyagare!

part two: network neutrality

First, a definition: network neutrality is the ability of data packets to find the most available path from source to sink through any network, without any interference, regardless of who owns it.

The American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules on what it calls network neutrality. But those rules were spawned by spurious debate fed by big communications companies to an ignorant popular media. And that debate about network neutrality had absolutely nothing to do with traditional network neutrality, as defined above, any more than the TIME/Newsweek popular meaning of the word hacker has anything to do with having an intimate understanding of the internal workings of a system, computers and computer networks in particular or with anyone who programs enthusiastically (even obsessively) or who enjoys programming.

In other words, rules that were based on spurious debate are spurious themselves. And those spurious rules will determine the future of the public Internet.

This is why Slashdotters and Techdirtters and other hackers (in the classic sense) have exploded in rage at the FCC rules. It has gotten so that one of them proposes that it is time to abandon the public Internet altogether.

The moment the net neutrality debate began was the moment the net neutrality debate was lost. For once the fate of a network — its fairness, its rule set, its capacity for social or economic reformation — is in the hands of policymakers and the corporations funding them — that network loses its power to effect change. The mere fact that lawmakers and lobbyists now control the future of the net should be enough to turn us elsewhere. And he goes on to suggest citizens fork the Internet and makes a call for ideas how to do that.

This is not a surprise. The traditional components of the Internet — academia, the Pentagon and the U.S. Government — have already abandoned the public Internet for independent networks of their own, complete with network backbones. It was only a matter of time before hackerdom, the only remaining traditional component of the Internet which is still on the public Internet, will decide to ditch out for its own network.

The abandonment of the traditional Internet by hackerdom will entail the death of the traditional Internet. It will cease to exist, although some of its components (like the IETF) will remain.

The public, commercial Internet, however, will then enter a new age of decay. Why? As a rule, in any corporation, the best developers walk away†; the worst are fired; and the mediocre stay on, especially if they are well-socialized. Mediocre programmers, no matter how well paid or well-adjusted, are not competent or skillful enough to do the work of hackerdom in maintaining the Internet or in providing new protocols and services. Also, unlike hackers, who have been known to work on a chosen project for years, corporate developers are impermanent: Corporate predation ensures that these mediocre developers will be without work for some of their productive lives.

It is not inconceivable, that Americans will become used to a hackerless public Internet:

The United States, by its very own willful inferiority, will have erected a Great Firewall of its own against the superior Internet of Europe and East Asia.

As for myself, network neutrality was lost when the general public was allowed on the Internet in the mid-1990's. Where the general public — ever venal, ever corrupting, ever gullible — goes, corporations follow, eager to carve out turf for themselves. And so does the State, eager to vent its desire for power on whatever the public does in the name of the common good or the children or security or equality or whatever else is popular at the moment. Network neutrality was dead long before the debate even started.

†Actual hackers would shun corporate work, prefering academic environments, unless there is no other development work available, or unless they have to take on different work rather than tolerate the inanities of management behavior.

‡This may well solve the IPv4 problem in the United States. As the specialized networks and the Internet in other countries adopt IPv6 and dump their IPv4 address blocks, the American public Internet can lap up the forsaken blocks and continue to function with IPv4 as a cheaper alternative to conversion to IPv6. The American general public can then, in blissful ignorance, continue on IPv4 as the Internet of the rest of the planet carries on with IPv6.

Written by Andy West on 11 January 2011; older material added 23 March 2011.