Markoff's Gated Community Should Die in a Fire

A couple friends have asked me about John Markoff’s NYT piece asking after a business and family-friendly Internet. Let me be blunt:

Markoff is continuing his 15-year streak of winning the Public Idiocy on the Part of a Journalist (Computer-Related) Award.

All the things he thinks are “broken” are in fact broken deliberately, that is, they enable the boundless creativity and experimentation and business success that we’ve seen online to date. As Tim Berners-Lee put it, “When I created the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.” The walled garden he pines and scaremongers for has already existed: it was CompuServe, Genie, AOL, Prodigy, and a host of other online services that all failed because they were walled gardens and breathtakingly outperformed by the public commons.

As usual, though, Markoff is more than just ignorant and wrong. His malignant suggestions advance the interests of telecommunications companies and other large businesses that want a Digital Enclosure Movement to destroy this commons and extract tolls from anyone who tries to use the Internet in a way that is not to their direct and excessive fiscal benefit. Think of how text messages cost you 15 and 20 cents and but are actually too cheap to meter — it’s like visiting the future to visit Europe or Asia where this price-gouging doesn’t happen, phones can do far more for far less money.

The separation of the Internet into good and “bad” segments he foolishly proposes is technically possible; Verizon already shanghais any domain typos to spam its users, and they could use the same basic method to redirect domains that have websites on them.

Then they go to site owners and say “Nice site, shame if something were to happen to it. If you don’t fork over some dough, all your visitors will get big scary warning about how they’re off the primrose path and are about to get stabbed in a fetid alley by a heroin-addicted prostitute with AIDS and a wet cough. If we let them visit at all.”

Great to be that extortionist. Sucks to be any website owner, and long-term it sucks to be any user because you miss out on all the small, innovative sites that were kneecapped. Markoff can find approving security consultants because there’s always a buck to be made selling the crowbars.

This article is why all the old hands on the Internet advocate for network neutrality: the goal is to stop companies from breaking up the extraordinary public resource to extract a buck. Imagine Comcast surcharges $5/month for the Educational Internet: it’s like the regular Internet, except that they’ll stop blocking Wikipedia. Or maybe RCN adds a $2/hr fee when you’re browsing Facebook or GMail. Or ESPN sticks up ISPs to add a fee for video. We’ve started sliding down this slippery slope, all these things are legal and (as the last example shows) starting to sneak into common usage.

Finally, to the surprise of no one familiar with Markoff’s history, the article is rife with conflicts of interest.

Markoff should have his keyboard taken away from him before he can do any more damage.