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A Maslow "Hierarchy of Internet Needs?" -- Will there be Internet priorities or a priority-less Internet?

A central policy question concerning the future of the Internet, cloud computing, and the National Broadband Plan is whether there should be Internet priorities or a priority-less Internet?

  • The crux of the grand conflict over the direction of Internet policy is that proponents of a mandated a neutral/open Internet insist that only users can prioritize Internet traffic, not any other entity. 

To grasp the inherent problem and impracticality with a mandated neutral or priority-less Internet, it is helpful to ask if the Internet, which is comprised of hundreds of millions of individual users, has a mutual "hierarchy of needs" just like individuals have a "hierarchy of needs," per Maslow's famed, common sense "Hierarchy of Needs" theory.

  • Briefly, renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow, devised his common sense "Hierarchy of Needs" to explain inherent human priorities, i.e. that some human needs are more important or urgent than others.  
    1. Physiological needs (air, water, food, sleep) must be met first, then... 
    2. Safety needs (security, stability) must be met, then...
    3. Social needs (belonging, love, acceptance, betterment) can be met, then...
    4. Esteem needs (status, achievement, responsibiliity and reputation) can be met, then finally...
    5. Actualization needs (becoming everything one is capable of becoming) can be met.

The obvious point here is that the Internet, the ultimate network of individuals, does indeed have its own Internet version of Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs."

  • Physical needs (functional/reliable power, bandwidth access, and broadband device; reasonable network management) are prerequisite needs to everything else because no other Internet need can be met if one is not on the Internet, is "un-served" by any Internet access provider, or the Internet access is not operational, functional or reliable.
    • The Adminstration's NOFA rules implicitly recognized an Internet hierarchy of needs by prioritizing getting broadband access to unserved areas before adding access to under-served areas.
    • (This is like Maslow's insight that someone with no air does not worry about thirst or hunger...)
  • Security needs (cybersecurity national defense, protection of life and property, protection from denial of service attacks, bot-net takeovers, virus/malware infections, cybercrimes and abuses, invasions/abuses of privacy, and "other harmful activities") are also prerequisite needs because without security and safety one can not take full advantage of the Internet. 
    • President Obama said in his cybersecurity address 5-29-09: "Protecting this infrastructure will be a national security priority.  We will ensure that these networks are secure, trustworthy and resilient.  We will deter, prevent, detect, and defend against attacks and recover quickly from any disruptions or damage."
    • (This is like Maslow's insight that someone is not worried about how they look if they are trying to survive or are scared...)
  • Social needs (communicating freely, democracy, joining communities, collaboration, competition, innovation, efficiency/speed, economic growth and opportunity, investment, fiscal restraint, etc.) are also generally prerequisite needs because without groups, interaction, and benefits, there is little need for status or reputation.
    • (This is like Maslow's insight that one does not worry about one's standing in a group until one is part of a group...) 
  • Esteem needs (broadband ranking in the world, responsibility to, and taking care of, others) are generally prerequisite needs to maximizing ones full potential -- the most highly evolved Maslow-ian need -- actualization. 
  • Actualization Needs (openness)

In closing, the big takeaway here is that proponents of mandated net neutrality are out of synch with the reality, necessity and common sense of Internet priorities.

  • To assume in law or some fifth broadband principle that bit priortization or interference -- is generally nefarious and is not legitimate, necessary and fully in line with the natural priorities of users -- would destroy the Internet's inherent and necessary hierarchy of needs. 

Mandating the aspriational goal of an open Internet would be like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. 

  • Openness, like Maslow's ultimate need for self-actualization, is an important aspiration and end goal, but not something that can be mandated via law or regulation before other more necessary priorities have been addressed and met.
  • Simply, physical, security, social and esteem needs must be satisfied generally, and in that basic order, before true Internet openness can be achieved.

Lastly, the extent to which the FCC's National Broadband Plan works within the common sense framework of an "Internet hierarchy of needs," will largely determine the Plan's practical and ultimate usefulness to our Nation.