Woz on Network Neutrality

Writing in the Atlantic, Apple co-founder and hardware wizard Steve Wozniak defends Network Neutrality, describing open, neutral networks as a boon to creators, innovators and entrepreneurs:
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. 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. What if we paid for our roads per mile that we drove? It would be fair and understandable to charge more for someone who drives more. But one of the most wonderful things in our current life is getting in the car and driving anywhere we feel like at this moment, and with no accounting for cost. You just get in your car and go. This is one of the most popular themes of our life and even our popular music. It's a type of freedom from some concerns that makes us happy and not complain. The roads are already paid for. You rarely hear people complain that roads are "free." The government shines when it comes to having provided us pathways to drive around our country. We don't think of the roadways as being negative like telecommunication carriers. It's a rare breath of fresh air.

I frequently speak to different types of audiences all over the country. When I'm asked my feeling on Net Neutrality I tell the open truth. When I was first asked to "sign on" with some good people interested in Net Neutrality my initial thought was that the economic system works better with tiered pricing for various customers. On the other hand, I'm a founder of the EFF and I care a lot about individuals and their own importance. 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. Every audience that I speak this statement and phrase to bursts into applause.

That's how the people think. They don't want this to encroach on their Internet freedom.

Steve Wozniak to the FCC: Keep the Internet Free (via Memex 1.1)

(Image: WOZ Challenge - Segway Polo WM, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from koeln_de's photostream)



  1. Forgive me, great Woz. You probably meant “telecommunications carriers” and not “telecommunications careers”.

  2. Is it just me or doesn’t Woz look more and more like an Ewok, the “bear-hobbits” from Return of the Jedi, the older he gets. Also along those same lines, I’ve never really found Woz’s commentary very constructive or, honestly, credible.

    He feels like the interwebs/personal computer version of Ralph Ellison.

  3. FWIW, you do pay by the mile for the roads- that’s what gasoline taxes are generally for. In fact, if you have a boat, you can often apply for a rebate for the extra taxes paid for the gasoline for a vehicle that wasn’t used on the road.

    1. This.

      I’m in favor of net neutrality, but Woz is using a ludicrously false analogy here. Not only is the average driver subject to gasoline taxes that literally “pay by the mile” for highway use, the higher bandwidth carriers (read trucking companies) pay far, far more in taxes, depending on miles driven *and* on weight carried.

      1. Maybe a better analogy would be privatized roads so that you would have to pay a company (the Road Access Provider) to drive on a road that leads to a certain location with congestion, maximum speed and road condition varying from company to company and contract to contract. Not all Road Access Providers would allow you to drive to all destination and some would divert your car to alternative destinations owned by their subsidiaries.

    2. How about We the cyclists? ;) Analogy is always a dangerous way to make your point these days. It can completely derail your original point as people turn to tear the analogy apart…

    3. No, gasoline taxes do not cause you to pay by the mile for roads, they cause you to pay by the gallon of gas.

      I drive a gas-electric hybrid car, but I have a gas-powered tractor that never goes on the roads, and three chainsaws. My gasoline usage is almost completely disconnected from my road use, and varies more by the season than by the mile driven.

      1. You’re an exception to the rule. The vast majority use gasoline powered cars and they all get about the same milage.

  4. Interestingly enough, there have long been plans here in the Netherlands to tax people per mile driven, suitably called ‘kilometer tax’ in Dutch. However, so far, the plan has never made it through parliament, partly because polls and elections showed that there were at best mixed opinions about this issue in the country, and partly because the government was unclear about how to implement the tax (having a box in your car that records where you go brings serious privacy concerns with it, for obvious reasons).

    I actually support this form of taxation, although privacy concerns need to be addressed. However, I think Wozniak’s metaphor doesn’t really work, because most European governments actively try to suppress driving as much as possible, for example with this kilometer tax, in order to protect the environment and prevent congestion. These concerns don’t apply to the net neutrality debate at all, unless you’re saying that watching YouTube videos is bad for the environment and causes the tubes to clog, of course. Which I’m sure some telco’s would like to have you believe…

  5. Rather than highway miles. a better analogy might be public libraries. Where I live, at least, we pay a flat portion of our local tax rate for the library’s operation. We don’t pay based on per-page or par-book consumption.

  6. Maybe Woz is in a position to make the EFF support Net Neutrality. As it stands EFF is a strong OPPONENT of any form of Net Neutrality which is enforced by any governmental agency. That is, they only support Net Neutrality if it is at the discretion of corporations. I tried asking them if they were serious about this and they assured me, yes, they oppose ANY Net Neutrality regulation.

  7. He may not have had to pay for the bits, but he damn sure had to pay for the electrons used to create and manipulate them.

  8. In any sense that a ‘bit’ is an actual thing, you *do* have to pay for them — CPU registers, memory, hard disk space. None of these bit containers is free. When the first 16-bit CPUs became available, did they cost more or less than existing 8-bit CPUs? Can you guess why?

    A bit is simply a ‘binary digit’, and like a more analog digit, say a ‘7’ written on a piece of paper, you don’t have to pay for the numeral, but you do have to pay for the paper on which you store it, and the ink with which you write it.

    bruhinb’s link to the cable-tv analogy is a much more potent and scarier view of what the internet might turn into lacking any guarantee of net neutrality than any of the analogies in Wozniak’s piece.

  9. I can’t help but think he’s missing the point. It’s not about charge per byte. It’s about charging based off the content/destination of the bytes.

  10. While you guys go on about debating analogy…

    I think Woz is commenting on isn’t for or against Net Neutrality but how it would be implemented. Sure, ideally the internet could be regulated in any number of small ways that would make people happy, whether you are consuming, creating or sharing. However, Woz is making note the Powers That Be would not regulate the Internet in any other way than the most simplistic and lopsided way; In favor of the corporation. I think the recent FCC ruling would show that quite handily…

  11. His paying for bits analogy is off. It’s not about paying for bits by the pound or by all you can eat, that can usually get settled by the marketplace. It’s about paying more for some bits than others, and perhaps not even being able to even get still others.

    And as someone who drives the NJ Turnpike frequently, some of us DO pay directly per mile driven, but we don’t get charged differently according to the nature of our destination.

  12. I also wanted to note that gasoline tax is ‘per mile’ tax, and I don’t want to hear otherwise, ok? What you do with your gas is you & your chainsaw’s business. I don’t want to take away from this wonderful hardware guy’s thunder, either, but I am tired of having the gas tax overlooked as a per-mile charge by all&sundry.

    1. Absolutely!

      For the average gasoline consumer, whose gasoline consumption is likely spent driving the same automobile over the same roads under more-or-less the same conditions five days a week for fifty weeks out of the year, the difference between a per-mile tax and a per-gallon tax is moot.

      The fact that individuals like Anon are graciously subsidizing this process with their tractors and chainsaws doesn’t make any difference from the point of view of the average gasoline consumer.

      1. Look, the moon is made of green cheese, OK?!

        And I don’t want to be told any different, keep your filthy “facts” and “reason” and “science” to yourselves!

        Just thought you’d like to know what you sound like to the rest of us, boyos. The tax is on gasoline (as it should be, since it’s an irreplaceable resource) and there is no tax on roads, despite your refusal to acknowledge physical and economic realities.

        1. We’re talking about an analogy. Wrapped in a metaphor. Wrapped in bacon.

          Where do facts, reason, and science enter into any of this?

  13. “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.”

    That loud smack you heard was on the forehead of Steve Jobs as he exclaims, “Of course! Per bit! It is so obvious now! What were we thinking?”

  14. His analogy is backwards. We’re already “taxed by the miles we drive” by paying for different levels of connection speed/bandwidth use.

    A more appropriate analogy would be to say that you can’t drive to the open ocean because the humble beach owner (small website owner) couldn’t pay the fees, and so you have to settle for the urine-pool (big business affiliates) who could pay the fees.

  15. I don’t know if anyone noticed yet, but my analogy is superior to everyone else’s analogy.

    I’m into the indie analogies myself.

  16. Do you people really think that those taxes are used to upkeep roads? We have bridges that fall down people.

    The cost has been socialized to a large degree. Most money goes to other projects. Woz is right in that roads are “essentially” free, and we use them to our delight. Thats why toll roads make us angry. Imagine nothing but toll roads.

  17. I wonder what the other “Dancing With the Stars” contestants have to say about the Internet. This one doesn’t seem to know a helluva lot about it.

  18. I never knew that you could get a master’s degree in Pedantics until I started reading comments here.

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