Steve Wozniak Calls for Net Neutrality, but Would Apple Be Okay with 'Fast Lanes'?
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak published an open letter on Tuesday calling the current action on net neutrality one of the "most important times ever" for the FCC. At the same time, reports that Apple has made interconnection deals with ISPs might indicate that the company he helped found doesn't have a problem with the proposed "fast lanes" of the internet.
Wozniak — "the other Steve" or "Woz," the man who single-handedly designed the first Apple personal computer and, with Steve Jobs, began the consumer information revolution — has emphatically come out in favor of net neutrality, the concept of a free and open internet where all data is treated equally. In an open letter published by The Atlantic, Wozniak delved into his past to explain why he thinks the FCC should stand up for net neutrality.
Closed Monopolistic Systems Stymied Wozniak's own Innovative Ideas
The outspoken technology guru cited more than one occasion where he wanted to set up an innovative product or service, only to be denied by the corporate telecommunications powers that be. For example, as a budding technologist in the early '70s, Wozniak wanted to create a Dial-a-Joke telephone line, but because "we had a monopoly phone system in our country" at that time, he wasn't allowed to buy and own his own answering machine.
"The only answering machine I could legally use, by leasing (not purchasing) it from our phone company, the Codaphone 700, was designed for businesses like theaters. It was out of the price range of creative individuals wanting to try something new like dial-a-joke. This machine leased for more than a typical car payment each month. Despite my great passion and success with Dial-a-Joke, I could not afford it and eventually had to stop after a couple of years."
Another time, Wozniak wanted to set up his own local TV service for his neighborhood, based (like all promising technologies) in a garage — his garage — because cable hadn't come to his area yet. He called HBO to ask how much to pay for sharing the service, but met with more corporate, monopolistic resistance. "I instantly realized that you couldn't do something nice in your garage as a normal person and I gave up the idea," he laments.
Wozniak said that, while his initial thought on net neutrality was that "economic systems work better with tiered pricing for various customers," he's had time to rethink that — especially when it comes to fostering innovation and inclusivity in the internet revolution. "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," Wozniak hypothesized. "The personal computer revolution would have been delayed a decade or more. If I had to pay for each bit I used on my 6502 microprocessor, I would not have been able to build my own computers anyway. "
Wozniak: This Is a Test for the FCC, and for Government in General
He summarized his opinion, which he came to through personal experience as an innovator, with this stark remark: "Finally, the thought hit me that every time and in every way that the telecommunications careers have had power or control, we the people wind up getting screwed."
But Wozniak said that the FCC is "still wearing a white hat," referring to the term, derived from old westerns and used in the hacking community, for being one of the "good guys". And he added that this summer, as the FCC mulls over whether to allow ISPs to charge for "fast lanes" or to reclassify them as public utilities, the test is not only to determine if the FCC is still one of the "good guys," but for the government in general
"Not only is current action on Net Neutrality one of the most important times ever for the FCC, it's probably the most momentous and watched action of any government agency in memorable times in terms of setting our perception of whether the government represents the wealthy powers or the average citizen, of whether the government is good or is bad. This decision is important far beyond the domain of the FCC itself."
But Would Apple now Agree with its Co-Founder?
At the same time Wozniak officially made his impassioned support for net neutrality known to the public, the company he founded made a business deal that may show where its allegiances lie.
According to industry expert Dan Rayburn's blog on Streaming Media (via Ars Technica), Apple has recently made interconnect deals with ISPs for more direct access to their networks. Apple has been building out its own content delivery network (CDN) for software updates, apps, and other content, and according to Rayburn:
"As part of their build out, Apple is currently negotiating paid interconnection deals with some of the largest ISPs in the U.S. I'm not going to disclose which ISPs they are talking to and what deals they have already done, but it's interesting to note that with all the talk lately of net neutrality, peering and interconnect relationships, Apple isn't out in the market making any complaints."
Of course, whether or not Apple privately is opposed to paying for interconnect deals is not known, but publicly the company hasn't complained; as opposed to Netflix, which has made quite a stink about having to pay for interconnecting deals — to the point where it brought its own new "strong net neutrality" concept to the FCC to ask for protection from having to pay in the future.
To be fair, this doesn't mean Apple is behind the FCC's new "fast lane" concept of the Open Internet: interconnection and the standard definition of net neutrality are separate things (which is why we thought Netflix's reformulation of the idea might have been a classic House of Cards "Underwoodian" move).
But, as we previously pointed out, Apple's signature was conspicuously absent from the recent Silicon Valley letter calling for protection, which included similar companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and many others.
And Apple has always put a premium on getting its users the highest quality service and products, while also keeping strict control over the devices and ways that its customers get it: Jobs' so-called "walled garden" idea. Rayburn, a skeptic of Netflix's complaints, mentions that.
"Part of Apple's reasoning for building their own CDN is because of performance issues with iCloud, with Apple wanting to have more control over the end-user experience. Apple already controls the hardware, the OS and the iTunes/App store platforms. "
So even though interconnect deals and "fast lanes" aren't the same things, you could see Apple's own incentive for not speaking out against them — the FCC's changes could just let them make sure customers' Apple products and services have the best, fastest connections possible, by paying ISPs for a dedicated fast lane. But again, Apple has kept mum on all of this so this speculative thought can only be proved or disproved if and when Apple decides to publicly take a side.
Subscribe to Latin Post!
Sign up for our free newsletter for the Latest coverage!