- Some legal issues, some technical issues, a little personal insight… This is what Professor Felten gives us here. Some excellent questions rose to the top in this interview, and the answers are similarly thoughtful. Major thanks go out to Professor Felten, also to the many Slashdot people who submitted great questions!
1) From your discussions with them…
…do you perceive that legislators are aware of the extraordinarily broad negative implications of these new telecommunications laws that are being proposed/enacted?
Also, if you are aware of it, have the hardware/software manufacturers who will be affected joined together to fight these laws, or has it flown under their radar?
Let me take the second part of the question first. Yes, various manufacturers have opposed the bills. The Consumer Electronics Association, for example, has opposed them. The MPAA has now changed the bills in an attempt to make some of the big manufacturers happier.
As to the first part of the question:
No, I don’t think the legislators who support these bills really understand the harm they would do. In my experience, if you can explain to them what the problem is, they will want to do the right thing. (They may not kill a bad bill entirely, but they will at least try to amend it to fix problems.) The hard part is to get their attention, and then to explain the problem in a manner that non-geeks can understand.
The underlying problem, I think, is that geeks think about technology in a different way than non-geeks do. The differences have sunk deeply into the basic worldviews of the two communities, so that their consequences seem to be a matter of common sense to each group. This is why it often looks to each group as if members of the other group are idiots.
Here’s an example. Geeks think of networks as being like the Internet: composed of semi-independent interoperating parts, and built in layers. Non-geeks tend to think of networks as being like the old-time telephone monopoly: centrally organized and managed, non-layered, and provided by a single company. It’s not that they don’t know that the world has changed — if you ask them what the Internet is like, they’ll say that it’s decentralized and layered. But the *implications* of those changes haven’t sunk deeply into their brains, so they tend not to see problems that are obvious to geeks.
Geeks will look at proposed network regulation and immediately ask “How will this affect interoperability?” or “Is this consistent with the end-to-end principle?” but non-geeks will look at the same proposal and think of different questions. They know what interoperability is, but it’s just not at the front of their minds.
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