Profound new insight from Dave Farber, Former FCC Chief Technologist and famous Professor

Dave Farber, former FCC Chief technologist and professor to Vint Cerf, made one of the most profound and important comments I have ever heard in this NN debate yesterday. As reported in today's Communications Daily: "The chief threat to Internet culture isn't bit discrimination, but DRM, (Digital Rights Management) a peril to the Web's information-sharing ethos, Farber said. And DRM comes from content providers and content owners, not network providers, he said."

I've been ruminating on this truly profound insight for most of the day and had to comment on it here. Farber is right. Dead right. The neutrality-ites have organized around the wrong boogeyman.

Why? Because this is not so much about "reality" as it is about the "perception" of Politics. and the Freepress needed an issue to keep their Internet grass roots energized and enraged becuase the media ownership issue was no longer at the forefront. They needed an issue that would make them a fund raising and policy force in the Democratic Party and in an election year. Net neutrality fit the bill. Never mind that they were generally silent for the last decade as net neturality has been steadily phased out as competition emerged. It wasn't until this past winter, at the 11th hour, that Moveon and the other inside-the-beltway anti-business activists apparently woke up and acted like the sky was falling. 

Back to Farber's brilliant insight. The first several years of the Internet were dominated by applications providers because the Internet was a tech-inspired and tech-driven technology. Now as tech companies converge into communications, broadband companies have had to evolve, adapt, learn and compete. The online giants, that had the sandbox all to themselves for the Internet's first decade, now have a bigger techcom sandbox to play in and to defend from new broadband competitors. 

What I think Farber's brilliant insight tells us is that these same online companies that have gone to war against broadband companies, are likely to have to go to war with content companies over DRM in the future. My logic is this. The tech companies advantage in communications wasn't so much regulatory, which I think is a big smokescreen, but the absence of communications players being technologically sophisticated and motivated enough to compete online. It isn't so much that NN is becoming obsolete from competition, its that new competition is coming to the online business from broadband players -- especially wireless. 

That why Farber's insght is so brilliant about seeing DRM as the next big threat to the Internet ethos. He understands that it is technology that confers real advantage. Communications technology is catching up to applications technology and content (DRM) technology is quickly catching up to computing and communications technologies.
I can hear Google whining already! Its not fair that we can't make billions off of everyone's content for free anymore. Why should we have to pay anymore for the rights to organize the world's information than we do now -- just because technology finally lets content owners protect their property! Its like why should anyone have the right to put up a fence around their property?!

The common thread in Farber's insight is that technology change is tilting the balance of power back to property owners -- network facility owners, and increasingly with DRM to content property owners. Net neutrality is about technology change not regulatory change!