What about an Open Web Health Report?

report_card_1We often talk about the “Open Web” or “the web as a platform” and it certainly resonates from some, but for others, not so much. It’s a murky concept for sure. Prior to my time at Mozilla, I must admit that I didn’t spend a lot of cycles thinking about the web as a platform, what’s important about it, the key attributes, much less its health. Like most of us, I just used it and assumed it would always be there. My sense is that people think about the open web about as much as they did the “environment” before the environmental movement first gained broad traction in the early ’70s.

Given that much of Mozilla’s mission is about nurturing and creating a healthy web environment, it seems we should have some way to understand and track its health. Just like a doctor wants to understand your symptoms before treatment, or a business tracks its inventory, maybe we need the same thing for the open web. Perhaps there’s a need for some kind of report that tracks key metrics that would give us qualitative and quantitative insight into the health of this so called open web.

There are plenty of reports that monitor traffic like Keynote or Akami’s State of the Internet report that highlights attack traffic, connection speeds, Internet penetration, etc. These are all good but there’s more to the health of the open web than traffic, speed, and adoption.

A clear understanding of the current state and trends should inform our strategy and let us know where, when, and if we have been successful. It would also tell us when we weren’t. Knowing the problem is certainly the first step to solutions. Ten years ago when one browser had roughly 90% market share it was easy to see the problem. Today – not so much.

So how would you do it? First there would have to be some common understanding of the attributes of the open web we want to monitor. This itself is no easy task, but the 80/20 rule seems applicable here. Tantek did some great work a few years ago when he articulated three principle abilities that were essential to the “open web” namely:

  1. publish content and applications on the web in open standards
  2. code and implement the web standards that that content/apps depend on
  3. access and use content / code / web-apps / implementations

In “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” Tim Berners-Lee articulated universality as the key principle of the web. He also noted that “some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles.” The FCC’s Open Internet Order articulated four key concepts that encapsulate the idea of net neutrality – one core principle. Google’s Sergey Brin described some of the same principles and threats in a 2012 Guardian interview. In some of our public policy work we attempted to identify “open web DNA” so we could better address policy threats. These all assume the existence of some common set of principles that underpin the open web.

The world is even more complicated today and I would posit that there are a wide range of additional metrics that collectively indicate the health of the open web and the vitality of the principles we care about. Many of these are not the traditional technical components, but commercial and external market factors that could serve as indicators for the abilities described above. For example, it may include factors like:

  • Diversity of service providers and ecosystems
  • Concentration of service providers, publishers, and applications
  • Adoption of open standards, APIs and languages
  • Security
  • User choice and control
  • Public awareness and activism
  • Content restrictions
  • Transparency
  • Interoperability
  • HTML5 developers
  • Relevant economic/growth indicators
  • Usage patterns and trends
  • Maybe even a disruption index

If this kind of report already exists, let’s use it more. If it doesn’t should we try to create it?

FCC Chairman Genachowski’s Proposal on Net Neutrality

Today, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Julius Genachowski, issued a statement outlining a proposal to codify the open Internet principles and provide some resolution to the net neutrality debate. If adopted by the FCC in a hearing scheduled for December 21st, the new rules would represent a significant step forward in protecting users and innovation on the Internet.  No doubt, the rules will not be perfect, nor achieve all of the aims sought by net neutrality proponents.  As a whole, they represent major progress and reflect a delicate balance of the concerns of an array of stakeholders with often competing interest.

As proposed, the rules will establish needed non-discrimination, no blocking, and transparency principles for wireline communications.  On the wireless side,  it will establish rules that will prohibit blocking by carriers of lawful web sites or competitive voice, video, or telephony services, and require transparency in network management practices.

We urge the FCC to continue its efforts to promote rules that encourage a single framework regardless of the type of network.  In the long term, there is “one Internet” and the rules should be the same for wired and wireless transport particularly given the importance and growth of wireless Internet access. Nonetheless, we’re pleased by the Commission’s efforts to protect the Internet and the qualities that have made it both so valuable and transformative.

Other Articles:


Net Neutrality – Comments to the FCC

The FCC recently asked for additional comments in its ongoing proceeding regarding Open Internet Principles. In particular, the FCC sought specific input on whether the openness principles should apply to both wireline and wireless networks.

We submitted comments in response to the FCC’s inquiry supporting application of the Open Internet principles to wireless networks. Relevant portions of the submission are shown below:

There is, and should be, only one Internet. Historically, the Internet has not distinguished between various forms of content or how users access such content. This non-discrimination has allowed consumers and software developers to choose between locations, platforms, and devices, all without complex negotiations with transport networks. This freedom has been a key reason why the Internet is so creative, competitive, and consumer-friendly. Internet users now benefit from this flexibility as they access the Internet across a wide range of devices and access points including 3/4G, WiFi, and wired networks. The wave of new Internet enabled mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPad, and a broad range of smartphones, including Blackberry, Palm, and Android based devices, will continue to drive exponential increases in mobile Internet access. The central fact is that wireless Internet access is as important as wired Internet access.

The increasing importance of mobile networks is not the only reason policy should be network agnostic. Users should not have a significantly different experience as they move back and forth between connection types, and they should not have to be aware that one regulatory regime (applicable to wired and WiFi access) protects their ability to access content of their choosing, while another regime (for mobile wireless) does not. At the end of the day, users are not deciding to access a “wired platform” and then a “wireless platform” – they are simply deciding to access the Internet, and their access to content should not depend on how they happen to connect at any given moment. Given the undisputed importance and growth of wireless Internet access, the value created by keeping all Internet access open and neutral, and user expectations of a single Internet, it is imperative that the Commission protect the entire Internet, not just the wireline portion. The best way to do this is to extend the open Internet principles to wireless providers and protect the Internet, not the network.

We trust the FCC will consider these comments, and the many others like them, in reaching its final decision.  You can submit your own comments here.

Related Links:

Search FCC for other comments

Open Internet Coalition Comments

CDT Comments

FCC Action on Net Neutrality Principles – The Third Way

Today the FCC issued a statement describing a proposal to solve the jurisdiction issues created by the Comcast v. FCC case. There’s a post here by John Lilly that discusses what’s at stake in more detail.

No doubt the policy and legislative wonks will feast on the legal details. Let’s face it Title I v. Title II  – a match-up that promises to be as exciting as the Thriller in Manilla.

Some contend that this is the first step to regulation of the Internet, which is an outcome I hope never to see, but it seems the Commission’s proposal strikes a careful and thoughtful balance by using the Title II common carrier authority instead of ancillary powers under Title I.  Interestingly, it also appears that there’s a general consensus supporting the majority of the open Internet principles themselves. Even Comcast states that it is committed to the “existing” principles. Certainly, some of the principles are still hotly debated and reasonable minds will differ. While I’m not an expert on the complexities and interactions of the Communications Act, it sure seems like a world with the open Internet principles is better than without.

You can see the formal record of everyone’s comments filed in the Open Internet proceeding by searching here under Proceeding Number 09-191.

Some other views on this subject:

New York Times

Center for Democracy and Technology

Open Internet Coalition