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Re: NYT on (fwd)

  • From: Paul Wouters
  • Date: Tue Jan 14 05:46:22 2003

(Zenon isn't on Nanog and asked me to forward this)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 20:59:06 +0100
From: Zenon Panoussis <>
Cc: Kurt Erik Lindqvist <>, batz <>,
To: Paul Wouters <>
Subject: Re: NYT on

Paul Wouters wrote:

> For those who do not know, Flashback is a Swedish e-zine, that had about a
> million subscribers. 

The longer away from the sea, the bigger the fish get. Something in the
order of a hundred thousand is more correct, which is still quite a lot
in a country of eight million.

> Things were even brought into court, where the judge ruled 

It never made court. The prosecutor deemed the material fully legal and
refused to prosecute. Three times.

> In short, UUnet corporate policy stood above Swedisch law........

Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

> This is exactly why ISP's should not be allowed to have these "we will
> disconnect you at our sole discretion" clauses. 

You can't forbid them. Private enterprises have (and should have) every
right to manage their own business as they want. Just as it would be both
unethical and unconstitutional to oblige the KRO (Dutch broadcasting
corporation owned by the catholic church) to broadcast porn, it would
be a violation of the ISPs' right to property and negative right of
association (the right to not enter into contract) to force them to
carry what they don't want. Your "solution" is dictatorial in the name
of freedom.

The way I see it, the problem is not in the clauses of ISPs, but in their
numbers. The closer you get to the backbone, the fewer carriers you will
find. There is no competition in these matters and no alternative. With
this as my basis, I would say that there are two possible solutions:
1. A public network on which private ISPs operate, something like public
    roads and railways on which private trucks and trains run and/or
2. A much stricter anti-trust control in telecommunications, making
    impossible the serial mergers and oligopolies that we now see.

>>First of all, in my opinion (and this seems to be pretty common), a 
>>company should be free to choose who they sign contracts and business 
>>deals with. 

> Only within reason. You cannot excludes based on various reasons, such
> as religion, believes, race, sex, etc. Most countries have laws against
> such discrimination. 

And so does Sweden. Political conviction could be added to religion,
sex etc, by I strongly doubt that that would solve the problem. For
one, there is no objective way to distinguish between politics and
moral, or even taste. For another, such as ISP responsibility for
user content has developed, ISPs can give purely financial and fully
valid reasons for refusing content: "the mere risk of us getting
sued costs us money and by keeping all controversy away, legal or not,
we get a lower insurance premium". Finally, since racial and ethnic
discrimination was criminalised in Sweden in 1987, not even a handful
of people have been convicted, despite a general level of ethnical
and racial discrimination that's comparable to or higher than that
in Germany. Says something about the efficiency of these laws.

>>if I believe that having him as a client 
>>will harm other business relations (out of competitive claims etc) or 
>>similar issues, I should be in my full right to deny signing a contract.

> You should not! You will open yourself to threats from all your customers.
> Your big customers will end up deciding your company's policy. This is BAD!
> Canceling a customer that has done nothing wrong, is just ethically and
> morally wrong. You might as well condone the Great Firewall of China.

In principle you are right, both morally and from a long-term business
point of view. In practice, sadly, things work differently. You could
just as well substitute "don't exploit your workers", "don't ruin the
environment", "don't fiddle with your taxes" and a million other such
rules for "don't let your customers make your policies", but most people
look at trimestral, or at the most annual, results and don't believe any
more in supreme judgement and hell.

> As a simple example, say you are hosting, and Greenpeace
> asks you for hosting. You agree, and then Shell (by far a much bigger
> and profitable customer for you) tells you it will go elsewhere if you do
> not cancel your hosting agreement with Greenpeace. Now, your company's
> reason is VERY valid, it is in the company's financial interest to cancel
> Greenpeace. And since Greenpeace has done nothing wrong, you can only
> cancel them based on "in sole discretion".

Bad example. Greenpeace might be a small customer, but it's a customer
with muscle. If this happened and Greenpeace got the wind of it, both
Shell and the ISP would live to regret it. The people who need protection
from having their civil rights arbitrarily curtailed by corporations
are the small ones who lack muscle. In a world where only muscle counts,
be it financial, political or other, there are only two ways for the
small ones to make themselves valid: cooperation and guerilla tactics.
We have seen both on the net, both have had their successes and their
failures. Since guerilla tactics by definition cannot be institutionalised,
I would add
3. End-user cooperatives providing ISP services and bundling the
    financial muscle of their members, cooperatives of small ISPs
    stepping into the backbone business.
to my two possible solutions above.

>>Now, getting these two claims to work together is the tricky balance.

> You cannot. You want to discriminate based on your company's interest
> first, and your customers' rights second. By doing so, you are not
> better then those big bullying customers of yours yourself.

"Good" and "bad" doesn't count in business. Money does, and money is
not only green. Bad publicity is money lost. Lawsuits is money lost.
A high ethical stance is good publicity and money gained; we have
a perfect example of this in xs4all. However, as with everything
else, the market doesn't stand still and there is no perfect recipy
of how much good or bad karma will get you most money. When most ISPs
are bad in the sense that we are now discussing, it will be profitable
to be good. Again, upstream is the problem; too few carriers, all of
them having too similar interests. The internet was made to be
decentralised, have no possible single (or even main) point of failure
and repair its own damages. MCI/Worldcom ruined that. You could indeed
say that MCI/Worldcom ruined the internet. That's where you need to
start fixing it.


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