Woz to FCC: You're supposed to be on the people's side

In an impassioned defense of Net neutrality, the Apple co-founder muses what it would have been like if Apple had charged by the number of bits used.

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Raising his hand in defense of freedom. CeBit Channel/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You could never call Steve Wozniak closed.

He's often offering his opinions, feelings, and quirks for all to see.

Recently, he's been musing a lot about the Web and government. He declared that Edward Snowden is a hero and that he, Steve Wozniak, feels guilty about NSA surveillance.

Now he has opened his mind to the FCC. In an open letter published in the Atlantic, Woz expressed himself with passion and not a little disturbance about the possibility that net neutrality would die.

Admitting that he initially thought "tiered pricing for various customers" made economic sense, he said that he ultimately came to one realization: "Finally, the thought hit me that every time and in every way that the telecommunications careers [sic] have had power or control, we the people wind up getting screwed."

I think he meant "telecommunications carriers." I think that many people might carry the same view.

He explained how, because of the locational quirks of the houses he owned, he was often unable to get broadband service at all. At heart, the carriers don't exist to benefit everyone.

He said: "The local phone providers don't have any obligation to serve all of their phone customers with DSL. They also have no requirement to service everyone living in the geographic area for which they have a monopoly. This is what has happened without regulatory control, despite every politician and president and CEO and PR person since the beginning of the Internet boon saying how important it was to ensure that everyone be provided broadband access."

In begging the FCC to keep the Internet open, he presented an impassioned defense of the Internet ideal: "The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away."

But the Internet seems to be going the way of the Olympics. Once, it was an ideal. Now, it's just a business.

Woz harked back to his time at Apple: "Imagine that when we started Apple we set things up so that we could charge purchasers of our computers by the number of bits they use. The personal computer revolution would have been delayed a decade or more."

Some might say that Apple hasn't always represented openness in every definition of the word.

Still, in the end he tried to appeal to the FCC's very purpose, at least as he sees it: "We have very few government agencies that the populace views as looking out for them, the people."

Perhaps that, too, is an optimistic view. However, for Woz, the FCC's decision on the subject will define "whether the government represents the wealthy powers or the average citizen, of whether the government is good or is bad."

Good or bad; right or wrong; free or enslaved. These are fundamental contests whose definition has been eroded by time, power and, yes, technology.

There can be no doubt that Woz has his heart in the right place. The problem is that heart doesn't necessarily play a role when vast political and economic decisions are being made.

 

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