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Lessig champions Net neutrality at VON '06

Lessig champions Net neutrality at VON '06

Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford University and creator of the Creative Commons group, spoke this morning at the VON conference about the concept of Net neutrality and its importance to continual technological innovation. At first, I was baffled about why someone who is known for his passion for updating copyright law to reflect the realities of the digital age was speaking to a roomful of VoIP professionals. But it quickly became clear that what he was speaking about not only affects individuals who are creating and consuming content on the Internet, but also the people who are creating the technology.

By drawing parallels between the Internet and previous innovations such as radio and newspapers, Lessig illustrated how quickly technologies can go from being "unlocked," that is, inexpensive and commonly available for people to innovate, to "locked" or "relocked," where the technology and the means to create are owned by very few. He sees the potential for this to happen to the Internet as a real and possible threat, as the few large companies who currently own the physical infrastructure lobby for more control over the Internet and move to create a pushed-content format, much like today's corporate-owned newspapers and radio.

Lessig argues for what he calls a read-write Internet (as opposed to a read-only), where the innovation--whether applications or content--happens on the fringe of the network and the network itself serves as the "stupid" structure on which everything else hangs. In this read-write scenario, people not only consume, but also create, and more importantly, innovate. As Lessig himself addressed the content side of this situation (by focusing on updating copyright law), he challenged the developers in the room, the employees of the Vonages and Googles, and the as-yet undeveloped start-ups, to carry the fight on the technology side. Their ability to do business and innovate depends on Net neutrality. "What are you going to do?" he asked.