That's the essence of the "net neutrality" debate: should the Internet backbone be treated like, or differently from, other telecom infrastructure?
Former Senator and Vice Presidential John Edwards believes the toll road approach is wrong, and at Gnomedex, he shared that view with Amazon CTO Werner Vogels. Vogels told attendees at the international conference: "Understand that the phone and cable companies will fundamentally alter the internet in America unless Congress acts to stop them." (See video.)
Your Internet provider already has the right to charge you something other than a flat rate for your service. In other words, if you regularly visit YouTube, GoogleVideo or other "high bandwidth" websites, your provider can (and some say "should") charge you a higher monthly fee than someone who only accesses e-mail. That's because video files are much larger than email, which is mostly text.
Telecos and cable companies want to give preferential treatment to their content and then charge websites like YouTube or GoogleVideo yet-another fee (on top of their already metered service) to guarantee prompt delivery along that last mile to your home.
The prospect of this discriminatory behavior was one of the topics for Edwards, who engaged in a 45 minute dialog with attendees. A technology optimist -- at least before this crowd -- Edwards pointed out that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are blogging and using text messaging as part of their One America campaign. He includes a petition on net neutrality on the site.
Mitch Radcliffe challenged Edwards to put a blogger on the campaign bus as a citizen journalist -- a visible pledge of openness and transparency. The issue of "voice" -- and the tendency for politicians to be coated with a "plastic veneer" -- permeated the discussion.
"My own view is the next president of the United States, or certainly the one after, is likely to be the single candidate who doesn't sound like a politician," he said. "I want to tell you on a personal level, I'm trying every way I know how not to do it. We've been trained to do the wrong thing," he concluded. "That's the problem." (cite)
It was obvious he was trying... because every-now-and-then he'd slip into politician-speak and almost visibly shift gears to reconnect with the here-and-now, the audience in front of him (not the one from last week, for example). Staying authentic on a campaign is not an easy job: how do you answer the same questions -- over and over -- and not begin to sound robotic?
Edwards insisted that issues come second to personal connection when a voter selects between Presidential candidates:
I have a concern about too much energy being spent on strategy instead of doing the right thing. There are people in our party who do the same thing. My job is to figure out where the country needs to go and how to get there. I think that in presidential elections, the bigger issue is credibility and character. The people who decide the election ... nonsense to appeal to moderation. Language will not control the presidential election - people watch these two candidates. Is that a guy I want to be my president? Do I believe that they have character, integrity, ability to lead? Language is important in positioning national issues like partial birth abortion, network neutrality. (paraphrase, cite)
No doubt in my mind: he's running in 2008.
The sixth Gnomedex technology conference, held in Seattle 30 June - 1 July, brings together technology developers, bloggers, start ups, and marketers.
Photo copyright Scott Beale (Laughing Squid) and used with permission.
Updated to add Gnomedex blogger links, Vogels link.