BBC BLOGS - dot.Rory
« Previous | Main | Next »

Sir Tim turns the tables

Rory Cellan-Jones | 10:55 UK time, Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Our interview with the web's creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee threw up some interesting news lines. The man asked by the broadband minister to sort out the row over net neutrality told us progress was slow - and made clear where he stood.

While he understands the need for the ISPs to manage the traffic on their networks, he is adamant that they should not be allowed to discriminate between different content providers. That would be like the days when AOL controlled your internet experience, he said, and it would end innovation online.

So it's clear that Sir Tim is not exactly a neutral arbitrator - he thinks net neutrality is a vital principle which must be defended. The big ISPs may not be too happy about that - though they will feel much warmer about his criticisms of the Digital Economy Act, which they have delayed through a judicial review.

At the end of our interview, Sir Tim turned the tables, asking for the right to interview me. He asked some tough questions about the BBC's ability to compete in the information age, and when he would be able to use the iPlayer in the United States.

Some of what he asked was way above my paygrade and I should stress I had no insider information and I was making it up as I went along. But I promised in the spirit of openness and transparency to put his interview online. Here it is:

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.


Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "While he understands the need for the ISPs to manage the traffic on their networks, he is adamant that they should not be allowed to discriminate between different content providers."

    Very important words and I hope the BBC agrees.

    Rory, you say some of this is above your pay grade, but perhaps you could get someone to answer the questions raised here?

    http://www.pcpro.co.uk/blogs/2011/04/01/net-neutrality-what-the-bbc-says-and-what-the-bbc-does/

  • Comment number 2.

    So refreshing to see someone clearly motivated by what's for the good of all, rather than obvious self-interest. (Er, sorry Rory, I do mean Sir Tim!) I repeat my comment from yesterday: why isn't he (and his colleagues) running the country? It seems that the problem we have with politics is that those who opt for a career in it are those who are LEAST interested in what they can do for the good of all.

  • Comment number 3.

    First off, "Mr. Tim" did not create the Internet as we know it, nor did he make it possible. The Internet was already created with the intention of linking information between computers, first with text then things like images, sound, and video. That was not his idea nor was he necessary for achieving that. Why British people are so desperate to heap undo praise on the man just because he is British is embarrassing, and I'm not even British.

    He is also not very knowledgable about how AOL worked because if he was he would have known that AOL members were not "controlled" when it came to their "Internet experience." At any time while logged on to AOL you could use an external browser to do your surfing. Even AOL's internal browser did not prevent you from visiting sites on the Internet. He also continues to put AOL down while talking up innovation while missing the irony that AOL itself was one of the most instrumental and innovative companies ever to be associated with the Internet and it's development. Sorry, but it has to be said but the man is clueless.

    And if he is so desperate for the BBC's iPlayer to be available in America then maybe he should't spend so much time in America. It's mind boggling how people expect to have so much of their culture provided to them while choosing to be in or live in another country. Maybe he should be reminded that he is in another country with another culture and that maybe he should try embracing and appreciating the culture of the country he has chosen to spend so much time in. Besides, it isn't up to the BBC whether they are allowed to broadcast in another country.

  • Comment number 4.

    Rory,
    Great use of the blog today. Many thanks.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is painful to see that, once again in history, scientists are coming up with wonderful inventions and technologies to benefit mankind - only for the politicians and businessmen to take note of its success and start meddling with it to suit their own selfish needs, usually detrimental to society.

  • Comment number 6.

    Net neutrality is largely the only remaining defence before economic censorship is reached.

    Censorship could be obtained via blocking certain content that ISPs do not like, ostensibly because they take up too much bandwidth but in reality because either the host won't pay them enough or the ISP's boss doesn't like the content. Rupert Murdoch, known to dislike the BBC, could relegate the BBC to the slow lane for sky customers.

    I would go further than Sir Tim and say that net neutrality is essential for a free internet and free exchange of ideas

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent! The answers are more revealing, and helpful, than might at first appear - a snapshot of someone working within a large organisation gives a clearer view than carefully formulated words from the boss. Companies and governments that are honestly open have far less to fear than those who feel the need to polish opinions and data, and thereby control the response of their recipients.

  • Comment number 8.

    @AllenT2

    Congratulations, you've managed to thoroughly embarrass yourself with that comment.

    Clearly you have no understanding of the differentiation between the Internet and the web, the realities of AOL in the early days, or of what the iPlayer even is. Well done, I haven't seen anyone get a 100% failure rate for a long time.

  • Comment number 9.

    There was no claim here that Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet - that developed from the US Department of Defense's Arpanet in the 1970s. However, Sir Tim DID invent all the building blocks - HTTP, HTML etc. - that gave us the World-Wide Web (as it says in the article), which was his brainchild. Also, anyone who believes AOL were just passive suppliers of Internet access is a little naive. More importantly, mobile phone suppliers have targetted Skype conversations for bandwidth throttling, ensuring users could not reduce their phone bills by using Internet phoning via 3G data transfer. This is the type of covert controlling action Net neutrality is intended to outlaw, and rightly so in my view.

  • Comment number 10.

    Allan #3. You maybe right. Off my head i do know that the web existed and it was called something like TCP-IP or Apranet but i am not sure

  • Comment number 11.

    @sagat4.

    Whilst the internet existed previously, the web (world-wide-web) which is based on web-pages using html (hyper-text-markup-language) only came about due to the technologies he invented. Prior to the web the internet was very difficult to interact with in a meaningful way.

  • Comment number 12.

    @AllenT2
    Ha, ha, ha!
    If you don't know what the difference is between the internet and the web then you aren't really qualified to be giving us a history lesson.

  • Comment number 13.

    Content providers (like the BBC or YouTube or anyone with a website) pay for bandwidth consumed by their users. Similarly, users (you and me) pay for bandwidth they consume. That money ultimately goes to the owners of the owners of the fibre optic cables that link everything together. To them, all data is the same, whether from a data-heavy site or not. They have no need to charge different fees depending on the content provider.

    ISPs simply wish to be able to charge more money to groups who feel they must pay extra, because they will make mroe profit that way.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    Net neutrality? Those providing services have a choice regarding how they connect their service to the Internet. This choice will influence their users’ experience of the service. ISPs have similar choices to make regarding how they connect, as do users. An ISP could use dedicated bandwidth to, say, connect to the US to improve their customers’ experience of US sites. User organizations can also choose how they connect. So how neutral is your experience of the Internet?
    I recall in the early days one of the first victims of my UK ISP was Usenet. They severely restricted the high volume groups with large messages (you can guess what the content was!). They did this openly, and users who want that particular content could go elsewhere. The remaining users – the majority – experienced much better access to Usenet. These days and ISP might, say, specialise in supporting gamers and hence prioritize their traffic. What’s wrong with that if it is done transparently?

  • Comment number 16.

    Great to see interviews like this being posted. I've long wondered why we cannot sign in to iPlayer when abroad using our licence number (and, maybe, surname and postcode). I travel a good deal as part of my work and find it intensely frustrating to be denied access to the BBC content that I've already paid for just because I happen to be abroad. I fully understand that the BBC needs to protect its content but the current attitude only encourages people to find (illegal) ways around it. If that attitude changes (as Rory hints), it will be an extremely Good Thing.

  • Comment number 17.

    tomjol wrote:

    "Congratulations, you've managed to thoroughly embarrass yourself with that comment. Clearly you have no understanding of the differentiation between the Internet and the web, the realities of AOL in the early days, or of what the iPlayer even is. Well done, I haven't seen anyone get a 100% failure rate for a long time."

    You are welcome to refute my comments at any time. Simply saying they are wrong means nothing.

    The only people that make a "differentiation" of what the web is and what the Internet was meant to be, and is, are those that somehow think that the Internet was not meant to be what the web is, a network of interconnected computers that share information in the form of text, images, audio and video, etc. That is exactly what the Internet was created for.

    When using AOL it was possible to simply use an external browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer to explore the Internet. That is a well known fact, and especially by it's users, like myself, that did exactly that.

    I also know more than enough about the iPlayer and video distribution to say my comment about the BBC being subjected to the laws and regulations regarding distribution in another country is right on the mark. A desire on their part to have their services shown in America is not all that it takes for them to do so.


  • Comment number 18.

    Jack the lad wrote:

    "There was no claim here that Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the Internet - that developed from the US Department of Defense's Arpanet in the 1970s. However, Sir Tim DID invent all the building blocks - HTTP, HTML etc. - that gave us the World-Wide Web (as it says in the article), which was his brainchild."

    The Internet was always meant to be what the web is. He did not invent the concept of computers tied together in a world wide network sharing information in the form of text, images, audio, video, etc nor did he make it possible. It's as simple as that.

    And without getting into a dry and long winded reply about http and HTML one only has to consider that he simply took existing knowledge and said let's use this. In his own words he has often said he same thing. It's no coincidence that he is very modest about his contributions in the the development of the Internet because they are modest and certainly not a determining factor for what the Internet was always meant to be.

    "Also, anyone who believes AOL were just passive suppliers of Internet access is a little naive."

    What does that remark have to do with Mr. Lee said and what I said in response? He said AOL was controlling in it's access to the Internet and I simply stated the fact that as an AOL member it was possible to simply open an external browser and surf the Internet without having to be within the confines of AOL's interface and offerings. This is a fact that can not be disputed. I was also an AOL member for many years and did exactly what I have described.

    "More importantly, mobile phone suppliers have targetted Skype conversations for bandwidth throttling, ensuring users could not reduce their phone bills by using Internet phoning via 3G data transfer. This is the type of covert controlling action Net neutrality is intended to outlaw, and rightly so in my view."

    I didn't' make any comments related to any of that but I will say this, it should be up to each individual country as to how they will allow Internet access to be controlled. While I believe in net neutrality I believe it is up to each country, assuming they are free and democratic and are not simply censoring information like China does, to make their own choices when it comes to the Internet and it's regulation within their borders. That should be respected.

  • Comment number 19.

    sybilschon wrote:

    "Ha, ha, ha! If you don't know what the difference is between the internet and the web then you aren't really qualified to be giving us a history lesson. "

    So what was the Internet created for? Are you suggesting the Internet was not created for what the web is all about, a world wide network of computers sharing information in the form of text, images, audio, video, etc, etc? Because you are wrong if you think the Internet was not created for just that. You can try and dispute it all you like. In fact, I challenge you to try and do just that.


    compla

  • Comment number 20.

    11. At 16:40pm 19th Apr 2011, James Gosling wrote:
    @sagat4.

    "lWhilst the internet existed previously, the web (world-wide-web) which is based on web-pages using html (hyper-text-markup-language) only came about due to the technologies he invented. Prior to the web the internet was very difficult to interact with in a meaningful way."

    Mr. Lee in his own words: "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the Transmission Control Protocol and domain name system ideas and—ta-da! — the World Wide Web"

    Source: Wikipedia

    As I said before, he took existing technologies and simply used them together, and certainly did not invent them. He also, as I have said repeatedly, did not invent the concept of what the web is because it was what the Internet was always meant to be, a world wide network of computers sharing information in the form of text, then images, then audio, video, etc, etc.

    To say that he invented the web, beyond the name, is to then say that what the web fundamentally is is not what the Internet was always meant to be, which would obviously be false.

    It is also a slap in the face to those truly responsible for truly laying the foundation of what we know as the Internet today, which would be companies like Netscape, AOL (yes, AOL, like it or not), Macromedia, Microsoft, Apple, Real, and so many other others that the list would be huge, not to mention the infrastructure companies like Cisco, and also not to mention the many involved in universities and government.

    And what ultimately made the Internet easy to "interact" with were Internet browsers such as Mosaic and later Netscape's Navigator.

    I'm not trying to knock Mr. Lee but let's stay grounded and in the realm of facts and not give praise for much more than what is deserved simply because he is a fellow Briton and, I suspect, because the vast majority of the credit for what the Internet is, and still is, is because of Americans and American companies.

    While I agree with Mr. Lee's views on net neutrality he also doesn't help his case by pointing out things like about AOL that simply were not true. It makes him seem a bit out of touch with what one would expect him to know much about.

  • Comment number 21.

    @AllenT2 NOT taking sides, just a wee point about your line on invention. Taking disparate things and putting them together in a new way is exactly what invention is. Tim B-L is a very modest man, but that shouldn't detract from what he has done. Yes if it hadn't been him, I'm sure someone else would have later. Adding a rubber cushion to a bicycle wheel for comfort is obvious isn't it, BUT someone had to be first. The internet and the web are seperate but intertwined identities, arguably the latter hosted on the former. If you want to finesse the point, his work enabled the internet and web to be the things they are. How many inventions are between the Model T Ford and the Prius? Yet they are both still cars!

  • Comment number 22.

    @AllenT2

    "As I said before, he took existing technologies and simply used them together, and certainly did not invent them"

    I think you would find it very hard to find any invention that was not built up from other elements which have been used in a new and novel way. I'm sure even the wheel would have taken its inspiration from somewhere. One advantage of "Standing on the shoulders of giants".

    Whilst the internet certainly was not his idea, the idea of being able to navigate, view, and create a "web" of pages (which are world wide!) for the purpose of sharing information was.

  • Comment number 23.

    @AllenT2,

    Relax, step away from the keyboard and go outside to breathe some fresh air...

    ..it also might help you realise you are a bit out of your depth when it comes to discussing the topic in hand.

    Cheers.

  • Comment number 24.

    Do Not Feed The Troll :)

  • Comment number 25.

    The idea of being able to use iPlayer abroad sounds good. If the BBC are smart and offer the same content (content placed on iPlayer at the same time it is broadcast in the UK), then it could be a real money earner for them. I would imagine that many expats would be prepared to pay a lot of money for access to iPlayer. I'm working abroad next year and I am hoping that something will be in place by then.

  • Comment number 26.

    Freedom being put at risk by the demands of big business? Well gosh, whoever heard of such a thing?

    Wake up Tim, that pretty much encapsulates capitalism doesn't it?

  • Comment number 27.

    As Mr. Berners-Lee asked, so when is BBC going to release the iPlayer so that people in America can watch?

    Nothing can make me watch BBC America. They seem to pick the worse shows, run them into the ground, ignore consistant scheduling, and show even more comercials than even the American stations.

    I used to watch BBC Prime when I got satelite in Switzerland. That was worthwhile.

    I bet you'd find many of us would be willing to pay $5 a month. You know it's a trivial matter for us to pay less than $5 a month to a proxy provider to get BBC iPlayer content. I don't but I bet there are many that do, from what I understand BBC needs that income.

  • Comment number 28.

    @AllenT2

    There is a technical differentiation between internet and web. To put it very simply, the internet is the connections and the web is a technology which uses the connections. The web is not the internet in the same way that email is not the internet and online gaming is not the internet. These are just technologies which run over the internet. These technologies will run over non-internet networks also. They are distinct.

    I don't know if you were just trolling (to which I probably shouldn't have responded) or you're just ill-informed, but I hope this clears up your confusion.

  • Comment number 29.

    "credited for his invention of the World Wide Web"
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

    As has been stated, there's a difference between the internet and the www.
    Computers may be linked but, on top of this linkage/infrastructure, the very pages we view - that's down to Sir Tim.

    Any research about the web shows this, the Time article mentions this, any basic IT text should show this.

    In his sphere, no-one would dispute the contribution of Bill Gates though there were the likes of Ed Roberts, Tim Paterson and Gary Kildall before.
    How about Apple and the GUI - though ideas were fashioned out of the work of Xerox .
    Nor would we bristle at an american outlet as being nationalistic for commenting on their work.

    Perhaps somebody else would have come up idea XYZ but the one who did, we remember for their contribution - even if with hindsight it seems like strapping together of stuff already out there.


    Ignoring the the Bacon movement, etc, Shakespeare wrote Othello, etc but he can be said to have been influenced by the tale of Cinthio who was influenced by the 1001 Nights, etc, etc, etc ....

    None of the literature disputes Sir Tim as the inventor of the www.
    Suspect that if he was american, nobody would be downplaying his contribution.
    Whether "modest" or not.

    This doesn't detract from the fact that others did communicate over the internet before the web, e.g. bulletin boards (contribution of Ward Christensen, Susan Biddlecomb, etc) but bulletin boards declined as the web grew and went mainstream.

  • Comment number 30.

    Also, it being distinct, another example is of his invention which runs over non-internet networks - like the phone network.

 

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.