Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/30/obama_virtual/

Obama pledges Net Neutrality, Ewok safety

Your virtual candidate calling

By Andrew Orlowski

Posted in Broadband, 30th October 2007 18:02 GMT

Comment Politicians long ago gave up on politics. Instead of articulating great ideas, the choice that faces voters today is between identikit managerial bureaucrats who've never had a job outside politics. Most of their adult lives have been spent in the hermetic world of wonkdom. So it's little wonder, then, that they have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality.

And it's no surprise at all to hear that a virtual Presidential candidate is throwing his electrons behind a virtual cause, to repeal a virtual law that never existed.

What else would a cypher do?

Asked whether he'd "re-instate Net Neutrality" as "the Law of the Land", trailing Presidential Candidate Barack Obama told an audience in Cedar Rapids, Iowa pledged that yes, he would.

He also said he'd protect Ewok villages everywhere, and hoped that Tony Soprano had survived the non-existent bloodbath at the conclusion of The Sopranos.

(So we made the last two up - but they wouldn't have been any more silly than what the Presidential Candidate really said.)

There are several problems with Obama's pledge.

Firstly, the network of networks we call the internet has never been neutral in any technical sense - it wouldn't work if it was. Network managers have always performed "shaping".

Nor has this "neutrality" ever been "the Law of the Land". Campaigners like to point to the ominous portents of a Federal court decision known as Brand X, from 2005. But guess what? This turns out to be a fiction, too: the court simply maintained the status quo, upholding FCC cable regulations that permitted cable to share their pipes with ISPs. So no change there.

Campaigners say comments by AT&T boss Ed Whitacre indicated he wanted to charge different prices for different websites. This is something Obama picked up on.

"What you've been seeing is some lobbying that says that the servers and the various portals through which you're getting information over the Internet should be able to be gatekeepers and to charge different rates to different Web sites, so you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you'd be getting rotten service from the mom and pop sites," he said.

But ... well, you can guess, by now.

In the now famous interview, Whitacre never mentioned websites: he indicated that Google and Yahoo! for example, shouldn't be allowed to launch TV services on his expensive new high speed IPTV network for free: a defensive, not an offensive remark.

Virtually yours

Obama's finger-on-the-button pledge may have been a waste of virtual time, though - for "neutrality" has fallen off the agenda for a number of reasons - Despite the dogged efforts of Ars Technica's Nate "Neut" Anderson to try and breath some life into it.

Perhaps the idea of one slow lane for everyone doesn't really hold much appeal. Or perhaps the it's because each new "scare" turns out to be hokum, and the public is growing tired of the Chicken Little scares.

For example, a fortnight ago Comcast put a cap on Bittorrent uploads, so Bittorrent downloads could continue. And that's a clue to why "Neutralists" now meet with such indifference - perhaps there's a realisation that in a shared resources network, rationing actually means there's more to go round.

There's one aspect to this virtual campaign that's been overlooked however - the sheer improbability of the nightmare.

To believe the campaigners, you need to believe that a net with differential treatment (eg, "No YouTube for You") is sellable at any price: in other words, you need to believe ordinary people are stupid.

Unfortunately, this comes naturally to the Neutralists, and their paranoid narratives.

They're capable of imagining all kind of satanic machinations from up on high. But they're incapable of believing that their fellow citizens are able to make the simplest and most rational decision, and just say No. ®