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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tim Wu and the origins of net neutrality

[Note - Tim states clearly that the idea comes from the seminal Lemley/Lessig 1999 paper (the lobbyist cited has the 2000 paper but hey, that's the Beltway for you) to the FCC which itself has its roots in the Noam 1994 article]
Fascinating piece on Tim's background and the ideas that led to net neutrality, essential reading for students of the topic. I was struck by his brief foray into corporate life:
"In 2000, as Mr. Wu’s clerkship came to a close, the country was infected with dot-com fever. And even at the Supreme Court, he caught a case of it. With his legal pedigree and programming skills, he was in high demand. He opted for a high-risk, high-reward opportunity: a marketing job with a start-up firm in Silicon Valley called Riverstone Networks. The company, he said, “promised to make us all rich.”
Instead, it made him disillusioned. He says he was appalled by the business practices around him. “Network neutrality came out of the bad things there,” he said.
The company sold industrial-size Internet routers that were being used, Mr. Wu recalls, “to block and prioritize Internet traffic, to discriminate against traffic, basically, to do many of the things that I think companies on the Internet shouldn’t be doing.” He went to China for the company and found that the equipment he was dealing in was of interest to the Chinese for its potential to abet censorship.
“Helping the Chinese government censor dissidents wasn’t the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life,” he said. “It hit me that we weren’t on the good side there.” The idea of net neutrality grew, in part, because “I had personal experience of violations of it,” he said.
That was only part of the problem. The company’s top executives were engaging in activities that the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors said were improper. His immediate boss, Andrew Feldman, ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony count of violating internal accounting controls, and Mr. Feldman and four other top executives agreed to an S.E.C. settlement in a complaint accusing them of a scheme to defraud investors by misstating revenues.
Mr. Wu was untouched by the investigations, but said he had known that things weren’t right. 
“I wondered how I’d gotten there,” he recalls. “I realized that what we’d been doing all those months was abhorrent.” He had been living in a world based on nothing but money, he said, and saw that “the idea that the private sector, the free market, on its own has all the solutions is just a myth.” He added: “When it’s just about money, there are no values.”
See Part 2 for my background - rather similar.

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