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Woz pleads for free and open internet

Maggie Shiels | 10:55 UK time, Thursday, 23 December 2010

Steve Wozniak is an out and out self proclaimed geek. As the co-founder of Apple, he has given the world products aimed at making our life easier and more fun.

Steve Wozniak

On the occasions I have interviewed him he is always bright and upbeat about the state of the industry and where it is going. Today he is feeling very differently about his view of the world.

In a lengthy letter in the distinguished magazine The Atlantic, Woz expresses a high degree of frustration and concern about the future of internet.

"The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible."

Woz's plea is aimed at US regulators and legislators. His consternation follows a vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week to approve rules aimed at ensuring that all traffic is treated equally in the wired world and that broadband companies cannot favour anyone's content over another.

Rules for the wireless world have been watered down. It's a move that many net neutrality advocates I have spoken to are deeply worried about as more and more consumers turn to their smartphones and tablet devices to access the web for work, keeping in touch and entertainment.

Mr Wosniak wrote:

"We have very few government agencies that the populace views as looking out for them, the people. The FCC is one of these agencies that is still wearing a white hat. Not only is current action on Net Neutrality one of the most important times ever for the FCC, it's probably the most momentous and watched action of any government agency in memorable times in terms of setting our perception of whether the government represents the wealthy powers or the average citizen, of whether the government is good or is bad. This decision is important far beyond the domain of the FCC itself."

The full details of the order approved in a 3-2 majority vote this week will not be released for a few days, but two Democrat commissioners serving on the FCC expressed their distaste with the rules because they felt they did not go far enough to protect consumers. Michael Copps told the agency "universal access to broadband needs to be seen as a civil right...(though) not many people have talked about it that way".

Woz is clearly of the same mind:

"I frequently speak to different types of audiences all over the country. When I'm asked my feeling on Net Neutrality I tell the open truth. When I was first asked to 'sign on' with some good people interested in Net Neutrality my initial thought was that the economic system works better with tiered pricing for various customers. On the other hand, I'm a founder of the EFF and I care a lot about individuals and their own importance. Finally, the thought hit me that every time and in every way that the telecommunications careers have had power or control, we the people wind up getting screwed. Every audience that I speak this statement and phrase to bursts into applause.
 
"That's how the people think. They don't want this to encroach on their Internet freedom."

For a full read of the letter go here.

Comments

  • 1. At 5:20pm on 23 Dec 2010, Bertie wrote:

    Net freedom, come on, big business has had its eye on the entire net as a potential big earner for a very long time.
    Sooner or later every time you go online you will pay, sooner or later you will even pay for where you currently go free.
    As for content - isnt it true that every mail sent anywhere in the world is scanned electronicaly, and then if found significant read - the idea that the contents if of sufficient interest though non threatening to the state are not acted upon are a little nieve.
    Perhaps it even filters down to the bbc??

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  • 2. At 04:16am on 24 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    Berate wrote:

    "Net freedom, come on, big business has had its eye on the entire net as a potential big earner for a very long time.
    Sooner or later every time you go online you will pay, sooner or later you will even pay for where you currently go free.
    As for content - isnt it true that every mail sent anywhere in the world is scanned electronicaly, and then if found significant read - the idea that the contents if of sufficient interest though non threatening to the state are not acted upon are a little nieve."

    The Net as we know it would not exist if it were not for big business! Let's not condemn something in it's entirety simply because some aspects may need correcting or need to be watched and regulated!

    Every time you have EVER gone online you have had to pay. It costs money for Internet providers to provide access to the Internet. Do you honestly think they should and could offer that access for free? The same goes for free services and sites. Very few can come up with a viable and realistic way of offering something for nothing. People running those sites and services have to eat too!

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  • 3. At 09:49am on 24 Dec 2010, Olga Rikova wrote:

    Way to go Woz! The EFF is really great at taking on the real issues around the internet - from privacy to regulation. A colleague of mine started a venture a couple of years back and they were most helpful in providing counsel on specific issues related to storage and tracking of user data by the authorities.

    One can only wonder if he has the stomach to take on the likes of Google who seem to be amassing a wealth of user data seemingly above regulation in any jurisdiction (e.g. in the UK streemaps were deemed to be for the public benefit so any concerns over privacy were trashed)

    Olga (Czech on Africa blog)

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  • 4. At 12:49pm on 24 Dec 2010, Hacky The Hufrex wrote:

    Apple has become the case study for the way that companies should aim to make money by innovation. Many people think of the computer revolution as something that has already happened. What a lot of people fail to understand is that we are at the beginning of the computer revolution.

    Steve Wozniak is joining the debate because, like Tim Berners Lee, he sees that things are only just starting and the direction that we take with the internet will determine the course of society over this century.

    Some of the trends that we may see are..
    * A massive increase in the use of AI with AI eventually taking over large areas of product development.
    * Social networking transforming into social justice networking. Methodist chapels were the meeting places that led to the formation of the unions in the 19th century and online meeting places will become the new forums for social justice.
    * A potential collision of the energy crunch with rapid technological change. This would happen if technology is driven by corporate profits, i.e. the drive for continuous growth.
    * The technology divide may converge with other inequalities such that the haves and have nots become the have technology and the have no techology.

    Steve Wozniak is a prophet and he's not the only one. The course that we allow technology to take is up there with sustainability, the energy economy and the environment.

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  • 5. At 3:12pm on 24 Dec 2010, MukkaMonkey wrote:

    I am always concerned when people talk about Internet Access/Broadband/ etc with phrases like "it should be a basic/civil/human right".

    I totally agree with net neutrality advocates, and I totally agree that as ISPs and carriers are businesses they must be able to find a way to make a profit on their business, but "the right" to internet access really troubles me.

    Before we know it, we (taxpayers) are going to be subsidising broadband for those that can't afford it "because we've made it some kind of *right*". As far as I'm aware television isn't a "right", nor is a mobile phone... if you can't afford it, you have to do without. The internet is *exactly* the same.

    There are priorities in life: food, well-being, security, etc.... being able to browse cats that like cheeseburgers, women with unreasonably large "parts", and tell the world that you're just going out to buy some broccoli (it 140 characters) is NOT one of them!

    Happy Christmas! Bah Humbug...

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  • 6. At 7:08pm on 24 Dec 2010, Graphis wrote:

    I'm with MukkaMonkey on this one: the only way the internet can be considered a right is that access to it (or certain parts of it) should never be denied to anyone for political reasons (hello Iran, China etc!) It's the world's library, and while it contains a lot of crap, it also contains a lot of really good stuff too. The point is that those who want access to it (and access can be free/very cheap in your local library) should be able to have it. Even if it is porn.

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  • 7. At 7:28pm on 24 Dec 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Net neutrality rules, so what?
    Actually it's more like what-what:
    1. what "a" won't have an impact on our daily lives and
    2. what "b" - will impact how we access the Web.
    The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has approved net neutrality rules; these rules give the FCC the authority to intervene in disputes about
    1. how Internet service providers are managing their networks or
    2. initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules.
    I haven't seen a copy of these FCC rules yet.
    The Republican Commissioners voted against the plan yesterday.
    According to FCC procedures, the commission must respond to any dissent before releasing its rules. So, I reckon we will not see the rules till the New Year.
    That being said, the FCC did provide a sort of overview of what's included in the regulations, essentially three (3) rules:
    1. transparency;
    2. no blocking; and
    3. no unreasonable discrimination.
    Transparency: This basically requires broadband providers – fixed and wireless – to be more transparent about their activities. They need to be upfront about how they manage their networks.
    No Blocking: Under the FCC rules, an ISP would not be able to pick and choose apps or service to block in order to improve network performance. e.g. Your ISP would not be able to block access to Netflix's streaming service for Xbox Live.
    No unreasonable discrimination: A term being tossed around this week is "network management," which basically governs how an ISP like Comcast or Time Warner Cable run their operations. Under the FCC rules, ISPs can manage their networks, but it can't be "unreasonable" or discriminate against specific applications.
    e.b. blocking Netflix or BitTorrent because it competes with your own service or eats up bandwidth? No, no, that's bad. You will get coal in your sock!
    FCC officials said the agency has included specific definitions in its rules to define unreasonable network management. These of course I have not seen.
    When asked yesterday if formal complaints would take priority over individual consumer complaints, the FCC said it would evaluate everything on its own merits. The agency will also keep tabs on individual complaints to watch for trends.

    So far all this seems reasonable and fair.
    But I await the written rules.

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  • 8. At 9:54pm on 24 Dec 2010, Hacky The Hufrex wrote:

    MukkaMonkey @5
    There are priorities in life: food, well-being, security, etc.... being able to browse cats that like cheeseburgers, women with unreasonably large "parts", and tell the world that you're just going out to buy some broccoli (it 140 characters) is NOT one of them!
    ----------------------------

    You are confusing the internet with the world wide web. The world wide web is a legacy technology. There are now much better communication technologies and things are changing all the time. I'm not even certain that the TCP/IP based internet will survive but the principles of communication technology are being formed now and the standards that we apply to these technologies will be applied to future technologies as well.

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  • 9. At 11:14am on 25 Dec 2010, shane wrote:

    co-founder of apple for net neutrality, while at the same time apple ban wiki-leaks ap.... hmmmm,
    time Steve Wozniak was back in apple methinks

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  • 10. At 11:42pm on 25 Dec 2010, Soumya Sen wrote:

    So the co-founder of Apple, a company that has thrived by overpricing its products, extracting huge surpluses from early adopters, using incompatible and proprietary standards, and basically creating a "walled garden" for its products, is now lecturing on how ISPs should keep the Internet open and inexpensive for everyone to access?!!

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  • 11. At 11:52am on 26 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    Soumya Sen wrote:

    "So the co-founder of Apple, a company that has thrived by overpricing its products,"

    All for profit companies and businesses price their products based on what the market is willing to pay. You are naive in thinking Apple is unique in this regard.

    And if you think pricing a computer should be a simple case of comparing hardware specs, typically limited to CPU, memory and graphics cards, then you have much to learn.

    "extracting huge surpluses from early adopters,"

    I have Apple products because because they offer things that other computer/electronics manufacturers do not. Those are the highest of build quality, a much more secure operating system, a much easier and simpler to use operating system, a more stable operating system, fantastic customer support and user community for help, a focus on a relatively small amount of products with the goal of perfecting them, fantastic design and high quality and superior components, such as IPS LCD screens and the highest resolution monitor in an all in one computer, as is the case with the 27" iMac. For those things I am willing to pay what you consider too much.

    "using incompatible and proprietary standards,"

    Oh Really? Such as??

    "and basically creating a "walled garden" for its products,"

    If that "walled garden" keeps out the porn from the app store then I say great! If that "walled garden" sets high standards for apps in the app store then I say great! If that "walled garden" means the early demise of buggy and bloated Flash then I say great! Incidently, the Flash restriction only applies to Apple's iOS devices, not its computers!

    "is now lecturing on how ISPs should keep the Internet open and inexpensive for everyone to access?!!"

    Apple is a business, the internet itself is not. For them to argue that the internet should remain "open" is not being hypocritical.

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  • 12. At 12:01pm on 26 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    shane wrote:

    "co-founder of apple for net neutrality, while at the same time apple ban wiki-leaks ap.... hmmmm,"

    Good for Apple. If I ran Apple I would have done the same thing against someone trying to harm and attack our country. Wikileaks and its rabid supporters are not about whisteblowing, they are simply anti-American. What else explains posting sensitive locations around the world that terrorists can now target? In the past such an organization would have been a legitimate military target, and rightly so!

    "time Steve Wozniak was back in apple methinks"

    What makes you think he would have made a different decision?

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  • 13. At 12:04pm on 26 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    Keep in mind that this topic is about what is happening in America. If you are not American then it has nothing to do with you. Certainly not to the extent that some of you are arguing as if somehow you were American.

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  • 14. At 2:40pm on 26 Dec 2010, MukkaMonkey wrote:

    Hacky @8:
    I take your point, and actually I have been using the *internet* for quite a while now, and before the birth of www, http, etc, too.

    However, almost everyone who is looking for "access" to this thing, wants access to the web. The "net" being primarily a delivery mechanism is, on its own to an individual, about as useful as a motorway when you don't own a means of transport.

    You are also obviously right in saying things are changing all the time, but for the moment, we are still calling all these incarnations of converging technologies "The Web"... in time the name might change too, but for the moment, the average joe actually pays their ISP for Web access, not internet access. Regardless of what it is advertised as, many many people wouldn't know what to do with "just internet" access without the web part.

    Probably gone off topic a bit here, but it shows the dangers of reporting a subject using the terms of the populace when the terms of the tekkies (and therefore those used in the arguments) sound the same, but are actually a bit different.

    Happy St Stephens Day all!

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  • 15. At 2:45pm on 26 Dec 2010, MukkaMonkey wrote:

    AllenT2 @13:
    It doesn't matter that we are American or not. The Internet is a World Wide phenomenon, but the FCC has a disproportionately large influence over it. It was born out of America (through the ARPA projects) and the majority of the technology and equipment that run and manage it are still American designed and manufactured.

    The fact that the FCC may not have the immediate regulatory control over non-US ISPs, etc is fairly immaterial... to a fairly large extent, where they lead, others will follow.

    Having said this would you all rather that the Chinese government were making the rules...?

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  • 16. At 10:33am on 27 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    " MukkaMonkey wrote:"

    "It doesn't matter that we are American or not. The Internet is a World Wide phenomenon, but the FCC has a disproportionately large influence over it. It was born out of America (through the ARPA projects) and the majority of the technology and equipment that run and manage it are still American designed and manufactured. "

    The topic being discussed is what is being considered for and in America. It is as simple as that. Nothing is being discussed that will affect other countries. As America does not stop evil regimes in China, Iran, etc, from blocking access to the Internet by their own people what makes you think the regulation being discussed for America will change how you access the Internet in your country?

    "The fact that the FCC may not have the immediate regulatory control over non-US ISPs, etc is fairly immaterial... to a fairly large extent, where they lead, others will follow."

    If other countries follow then that will be their choice. If your country happens to be one of them then, and only then, it becomes your business in a personal way. In the mean time it is one thing to express interest in what is going on in America but another thing altogether to act as if you have, or should have, a say in what America chooses for itself. That's just being disrespectful and interfering towards another country.

    "Having said this would you all rather that the Chinese government were making the rules...?"

    Obviously, as I have already mentioned, they most certainly do make the rules in their own country. It is also follows that your country can also do what it likes regarding Internet access, in *your country.*

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  • 17. At 12:25pm on 27 Dec 2010, danclarkie wrote:

    Charging for internet access to certain sites or areas of the internet is doomed to fail and for that reason I am not worried.
    Attempts by big business and govt to regulate the internet are only ever successful if they are in line with the will of the people. Look at internet file sharing, whilst I wont be seen to condone it, Big business and govt are fighting it tooth and nail and, well, would you like to buy a stack of CDs?
    In the end the mass of people that use and seek access to the internet define and sculpt where it goes and how it works. Those in Iran or China that want to access the BBC or twitter or such, can and do.
    The internet is global and unless there is one global government, regulation of the internet will not be truly possible.

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  • 18. At 7:28pm on 27 Dec 2010, Darkspark88 wrote:

    The internet is actually one of those services where the consumer actually has a better hand than the providers. As is natural when it comes to business, firms will try to extract the most value from their products, and this is now being applied to the internet, now there are enough users to differentiate pricing and create a tiered service.

    Like Woz, I too as a Economics student saw the tiered model as great. Consumers that use more data for video streaming and heavy downloading should pay more than a user than simply checks email and downloads the odd song.

    However in practice, firms will exploit their position, pushing heavy download packages that are unsuitable for low bandwidth customers (to make more marginal profit) and inevitably degrade the services such as video calling on cheaper packages. Essentially screwing the customer. Net neutrality should be protected to universally benefit society from the exploitative nature of the firm.

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  • 19. At 2:16pm on 28 Dec 2010, Trikkitt wrote:

    USA and UK Internet access differs significantly.

    In the UK you have a large broadband infrastructure that is regulated in the form of BT Openreach, they provide the core infrastructure and have to treat all ISPs equally. In addition ISPs can install infrastructure at the telephone exchanges bypassing all of BT's equipment (LLU). Because of this you have a huge number of ISPs to select from. If one doesn't deliver the service you want, you can easily change provider.

    In the USA the story is very different. The majority of people only have one or two providers to select from, the local cable company and the local telephone company. There is no regulation that requires these companies to open their infrastructure up to third parties. As a result there are very few options if someone doesn't like the service provided by their ISP.

    Internet access is reaching saturation point. ISPs need new revenue streams, and the consumer price can only go so high. One option is to charge companies for prefered delivery, or to prioritise their own services making third-party services perform badly. e.g. BT priorities their own VOIP services over Skype, meaning that for BT customers Skype doesn't work very well. Or Sky prioritises their TV offerings over BBC or ITV, meaning their TV on demand works well while the others at times are choppy and keeps pausing. Or Google pays the ISP a ton of money so that YouTube, or their others services run well, which in turn prevents smaller companies competing because they can't afford these prefered delivery fees.

    Fortunately in the UK you can vote with your feet, and change providers to one that doesn't throttle bandwidth of third parties. The drawback is that these providers will cost more because they aren't being subsidised by their prefered delivery services. The benefit is that low usage customers won't care, and can get a cheap offering.

    Tiered Usages Internet is a completely different story and is not about net neutrality. This is the alternate way to suck more money from the consumer instead of going to the content providers for money. This is a common practice in the UK, and isn't a bad thing depending on the implementation i.e. not stinging customers with huge bills etc.

    Over-all I do not like companies charging the content providers for prefered delivery in any country, however the UK isn't at the same risk as the USA due to the way things are regulated already.

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  • 20. At 03:49am on 29 Dec 2010, Politicalobservor wrote:

    I love his guy, his own products are so overpriced almost 4 times than normal PC's on claims of being secure. Gosh talk about running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

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  • 21. At 08:28am on 29 Dec 2010, AllenT2 wrote:

    Politicalobservor wrote:

    "I love his guy, his own products are so overpriced almost 4 times than normal PC's on claims of being secure. Gosh talk about running with the hares and hunting with the hounds."

    Please, you wouldn't even be able to come up with an example where Apple computers are twice the cost, and certainly you wouldn't even be able to come up with a like for like comparison. For example, where is the PC equivalent of an all in one 27" computer running at a resolution of 2560 by 1440 on an IPS LCD? For that matter, where is the 21.5 version with an IPS LCD?

    As for Macs being insecure, as you suggest, where are all the Apple computers with viruses?

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  • 22. At 5:51pm on 29 Dec 2010, Jamie R wrote:

    We are seeing the issue of net neutrality start here in the UK too. Here is a recent BBC News story:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11773574

    The chain above has been interesting to read, it's a very emotive subject and as I read there is lots of confusion at to what the issue is.

    Net neutrality is about all data on the Internet being treated equally.

    No matter if it’s going to its destination via a wire or radio waves (wi-fi or cell-phone network), if it makes up the contents of an email, a web page, a TV programme being streamed or a file being sent from manufacturer to the buyer – all data is equal.

    What the proposal in the US is about, for example, Mercedes cars (data) on a road (the Internet) are allowed right of way because they are more expensive than say a Ford Fiesta (more data), i.e. given priority. In a neutral Internet world, all data is equal no matter what its purpose.

    The fact that the comments in Maggie’s blog came from a co-founder of Apple has absolutely nothing to do with their products (disclosure: I use nothing but Apple products for my personal use), or creating “walled gardens”. Or, the cost of accessing the Internet and whether it’s a human right or not. It’s about the data on the Internet being equal.

    Steve Wozniak is in a fortunate position that people tend to listen to him. He’s quite rightly using this position to get people to wake up to the situation before it’s too late.

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  • 23. At 11:01pm on 29 Dec 2010, TimDAscoli wrote:

    Has Steve Wozniak anything to say about the puritanical move that Apple has recently made regarding Apps that it does not think are "appropriate" while allowing similar (yet higher profile) Apps like the Playboy App to continue. What's up with the hypocrisy here Waz???!!

    Seems that once a company reaches the top of the heap - passing Microsoft in the last year - it gets the "I AM THE KING" thinking and piddles on all 'lesser' contributes.

    Shame on you WAZ!!!! You should be speaking to this issue NOW.

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  • 24. At 3:57pm on 30 Dec 2010, Hastings wrote:

    I don't understand how people argue any of this really. The idea of Net Neutrality seems such an academic philosophy that I cannot see how it can be applied in reality.

    For instance, with a previous ISP I had a business connection that gave me a contention ratio of 10:1 and an agreement that business users with the ISP would be given network priority over domestic users who had a contention ratio of 50:1.

    That was a two tier internet. In theory, during times of heavy traffic, I would be able to access high bandwidth content that another user cannot access. In reality I have no idea whether that ever actually happened.

    Even without the different ISP deals, my copper line may give me a better connection than next door's line - so there is no way of attaining parity between us unless we work to the lowest common denominator.

    Just on that one example, Net Neutrality has been undermined even before the idea has started.

    Another side of the philosophy says that there should be no restriction on content subject matter, for instance the recent wikileaks publications. However, some who advocate that also support the attacks on companies who have distanced themselves from Wikileaks - those attacks also undermine net neutrality.

    In addition, I would imagine that many who support the wikileaks publications are probably very much against sites promoting child pornography, and quite rightly too. But, isn't that censorship also undermining the philosophy?

    Net Neutrality is, at the end of the day, an absolute - it either exists or it doesn't.

    So the question has to be is net neutrality actually feasible at all?

    Currently, much of the arguments both for an against seem to be debased by self interest, as is often the case with this sort of argument.

    The winner will, inevitably, be the side not that has the most to gain but who invests the most into the system. If in the future one company owns most of the infrastructure - then that company will to a greater extent dictate how the system works.

    From a governments point of view that would actually be easier - it is simpler to impose sanctions against one party than millions.

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