April 17, 2007

The two Internets, Jeffersonet and Edisonet, and why they need to be regulated differently

Edit: This post was Slashdotted, along with Richi Jennings’ reply.

In a way, proponents and opponents of network neutrality are both correct! That is, they are each correct about different aspects of the Internet.

Net neutrality is both necessary and workable for what I call Jeffersonet, which comprises the “classical”, bandwidth-light parts of the Internet. Thus, it includes e-mail, instant messaging, much e-commerce, and just about every website created in the first 13 or so years of the Web. Jeffersonet is the greatest tool in human history to communicate research, teaching, news, and political ideas, or to let tiny businesses compete worldwide. Any censorship of Jeffersonet – even if just of the self-interested large-enterprise commercial kind – would be a terrible loss. Net neutrality is workable for Jeffersonet because – well, because it’s already working just fine. Jeffersonet doesn’t need anything beyond current levels of bandwidth and reliability. So there’s no reason to mess with what’s working, other than simple profit-hungry greed.

Network neutrality opponents, however, point to evolving and future technologies, technically more demanding than what the current Internet can well support. Their uses are centered on what I call Edisonet – communication-rich applications such as entertainment, gaming, telephony, telemedicine, teleteaching, or telemeetings of all kinds. Reliable, tiered service is needed for these applications, and somebody has to pay for it. Even so – and this is a key point — the payment scheme should be as favorable to application-developer competition as possible.

If it were not for Edisonet, extreme net neutrality would be fairly harmless. If it were not for the huge public benefits of Jeffersonet, letting the telecom carriers have their way on non-neutral pricing wouldn’t be so bad. But given the presence of both, a middle course is needed. Fortunately, one is available that gives appropriate treatment to Jeffersonet and Edisonet alike, without giving tasks to regulatory agencies that are much different from the kinds they actually do a pretty good job of performing already. Tariff Rebate Passthrough shows the way.

Historical notes on the names: Obviously, Jeffersonet and Edisonet are named after Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Edison respectively. Jefferson famously opined that newspapers were more important to good government than the institutions of government himself. He also donated the beginning of the collection that became the Library of Congress, founded the University of Virginia, and sponsored the Lewis and Clark expeditions. Today’s Internet – its flaws notwithstanding — would surely fill him with the utmost delight.

Thomas Edison, of course, was a prolific inventor, and heavily involved in founding the whole electric utility industry. He created home and business conveniences and necessities as, ultimately, complete geographically dispersed systems. In some ways, his inventions are most significant for how they have contributed to leisure, from the phonograph to the electric light that let people read easily after their work was done. Today’s Internet would surely delight him too, but he would also be busily focused on future enhancements in entertainment and other areas.


14 Responses to “The two Internets, Jeffersonet and Edisonet, and why they need to be regulated differently”

  1. The Monash Report»Blog Archive » Link list for network neutrality on April 17th, 2007 10:00 am

    […] This post today separating the Internet into “Jeffersonet” and “Edisonet”, where Jeffersonet needs extreme net neutrality but Edisonet can and must endure tiered pricing. I’d have loved to get that point into the column, but there wasn’t room. […]

  2. Richi Jennings on April 23rd, 2007 6:30 pm

    “The current Internet can [not] well support … communication-rich applications such as entertainment, gaming, telephony, telemedicine, teleteaching, or telemeetings.”

    Bold assertion. Certainly if t’were true the anti-neutrality camp would have a point.

    Care to expand?

    BTW, I’m not 100% in either camp, but my gut tells me that today’s IP routing technology is holding up well. It’s the lack of investment in sufficient peering bandwidth and router horsepower that’s letting the side down. That and the criminally glacial progress towards IPv6.

  3. Curt Monash on April 23rd, 2007 7:51 pm


    I think that in a high fraction of applications that amount to real-time communications, good quality will entail seriously sub-second latency. I don’t think it will soon be affordable to provide that kind of QOS for all traffic. Ergo, tiering.

    Until we get to unmeteredly-cheap, just-like-being-there transmission of full-room-sized sounds and images, there will be a place for differentiated QOS.



  4. Richi Jennings on April 24th, 2007 7:26 am

    I started writing a followup, but it turned into a blog post at richij.com

  5. Andy on April 25th, 2007 6:42 am

    Edisonet is a good name for what Verizon/SBC/etc want to do:
    treat their competitors like Edison treated Tesla

  6. Jim Vernon on April 25th, 2007 10:20 am

    You say Jeffersonet is “already working just fine” and regulators “actually do a pretty good job” with certain types of regulatory tasks. This ignores two important facts:

    1. Jeffersonet didn’t work very well for a lot of folks until broadband became widely available. Even old-fashioned web pages didn’t load very fast over dial-up, for a lot of users in the “first 13 years”. Personally, I’d say close to half that period lacked the sort of everyday experience of “working just fine” that you describe.

    2. Regulators have completely screwed up with respect to competition for the last mile (or last 100 feet) of cable/fiber. I don’t know anyone (not one person) who has an actual choice of who provides cable internet access to his/her home. This relates to the fact that I don’t know anyone who has an actual choice of who provides cable television, either. (Yes, I know that I can get satellite service, from one other competitor, but that’s not a perfect substitute.) Competition stopped when municipalities bent over and granted local monopolies. Good regulatory policy would have ensured that multiple content providers could compete over the same infrastructure, just as multiple long-distance carriers can compete over the same telephony infrastructure, or multiple wireless carriers can compete over the same tower infrastructure. That would still leave some regulatory and competitive problems, to be sure, but my local cable provider would behave much differentl (= better) if another provider could come to my home and say “here are our service options”.

  7. James K. Lowden on April 25th, 2007 10:43 am

    No law prevents anyone from building another network alongside the Internet to carry futuristic telethis and telethat. What prevents it are the exact interests that would build it: no collection of private groups will ever agree on neutral standards to convey the data.

    We already know what “edisonet” would look like: Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL, MCI Mail. The Internet was the asteroid that wiped out those dinosaurs. We also already have a tiered service network. It used to be called the Bell System. It hasn’t changed much since then.

    There’s no example anywhere of a shared proprietary protocol yielding great service. Or even much service. Look at the wireless data offerings by the bells.

    There’s also no evidence that the Internet is failing to innovate or invest. What’s preventing “video dial tone” isn’t TCP/IP or net neutrality; it’s the MPAA and DRM. No kind of tiered service will change that kind of thinking.

    Finally, remember that each provider today already charges his customers what he wants. The “tiered service” advocates want to charge *others’* customers, based on content or origin or whatever. It’s a disguised way for Verizon, say, to charge enough extra on Vonage packets to put Vonage out of business. It’s all about — and *only* about — old-fashioned monopolistic control.

    We don’t need a “compromise”. We need legislators and the nontechnical public to recognize that the Internet succeeds because of its free and nondiscriminatory structure. There’s no need or advantage to selling it to private interests. Let them try and fail again to build their own.

  8. Richi Jennings on April 25th, 2007 11:23 am

    Ooops. I guess Ian slashdotted us.

  9. abb3w on April 25th, 2007 12:47 pm

    I seem to recall the departmental expert on Edison’s history mentioning that Tom Edison resisted for many years how the Phonograph and Movie were turned into tools for the entertainment of the unwashed masses. I’d also deny that “Jeffersonet doesn’t need anything beyond current levels of bandwidth and reliability.” Bandwidth demand always grows to exceed existing capacity.

  10. RustyBadger on April 25th, 2007 2:33 pm

    Andy beat me to the punch – my first thought was that Teslanet would have been a better analogy than Edisonet. Edison had no vision for the future uses of his inventions, unlike Tesla. Regardless of the model employed, we need to fight the Edisons of the Internet who want to exert monopolies on the infrastructure and delivery methods.

  11. holotone.net on April 25th, 2007 8:34 pm

    […] The two Internets, Jeffersonet and Edisonet, and why they need to be regulated differently – In a way, proponents and opponents of network neutrality are both correct! That is, they are each correct about different aspects of the Internet. […]

  12. Curt Monash on April 26th, 2007 1:58 am

    Re your “not one person” Jim —

    Hi! Pleased to meetcha!

    Last Friday we switched our cable TV service from Comcast to Verizon FiOS. The driver for the decision was that we had an old DSL service (Speakeasy) that had suddenly REALLY gone to hell. What’s really ironic/appropriate is that it only went to hell for vanilla http; other protocols still had the same old performance, such as SMTP and even https. Which all led to the weird result that I could surf much faster by logging into AOL and using their browser than I could in either Firefox or uncrippled IE. Go figure.

    Anyhow, Verizon FiOS seemed more appealing that Comcast by every metric (speed, cost, service) so we had it installed. As of the first few days, it’s doing great.

    Hmm. This is beginning to sound like a Verizon ad. I think I’ll go sign up for their affiliate program. It shall be my first such sign-up ever. 🙂


  13. Curt Monash on April 26th, 2007 2:01 am

    As for Jeffersonet working badly pre-broadband — so what?

    My point is that the lowest/cheapest tier should have its neutrality vigorously protected.

    I also think that higher tiers should be pretty nondiscriminatory as well. Hence the structure of Tariff Rebate Passthrough. But we don’t have to be as heavy-handedly absolutist about the neutrality as we do for Jeffersonet.


  14. Solve the network neutrality dilemma and make money too! | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on May 14th, 2014 9:46 am

    […] I wrote in 2007 — and which garnered considerable discussion at the time — still applies: Net […]

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