Security expert Bruce Schneier has been comparing the modern internet to a virtual feudalism for some time – most recently here. I understand most of his reasoning on the topic, but in the post linked above, he started to lose me with this paragraph:
On the policy side, we have an action plan. In the short term, we need to keep circumvention — the ability to modify our hardware, software, and data files — legal and preserve net neutrality. Both of these things limit how much the lords can take advantage of us, and they increase the possibility that the market will force them to be more benevolent. The last thing we want is the government — that’s us — spending resources to enforce one particular business model over another and stifling competition. [emphasis added]
I absolutely agree with him on anti-circumvention regulation. It should be legal to use your hardware how you want. I’m not convinced on net neutrality, at least as it’s understood by most people. More on that in a moment. Obviously, the other statement I disliked was calling government “us”. There’s a theoretical sense in which that’s true, and politicians tend to tailor their major positions to the median voter; but as every intelligence scandal and rights-eroding legislation shows, there is a gap between people who comprise and run the government and people who must comply with the formers’ decisions, or else.
Back to net neutrality, Schneier also expresses concern that “every part of the Internet is owned by someone.” I think this is most worrisome at the physical layer. You can’t visit any web property without going through a very large company’s network. I think in the not-too-distant future this will be mitigated by ad-hoc, peer-to-peer mesh networking and high-speed wireless technologies. This assumes, though, that the FCC removes a lot of restrictions in the face of the reality of intelligent spread spectrum radios.