Speed isn’t everything, freedom important too

Someone on twitter recently mentioned Molalla Communications Cooperative as a nearby existing fiber-to-the-premises network. It is, and there are others. It has better bandwidth and pricing than we get from incumbents here in Portland, their X-Fon product has 40 Mbps down, 10 Mbps up for under $50/month. However, looking at their fine print, we find this clause:

“You shall not connect servers of any type to the Services. Molalla Communications reserves the right to suspend or terminate Service without advance warning if a violation of this policy is detected.”

If you take that literally, and I think you have to, it would mean no Linux boxes that you can log into remotely, no web servers, no business email servers, no other “normal” internet services. It prevents you from using off-site system administrators to help you solve technical problems. In many realistic circumstances, this restriction makes the service unacceptably limited. Comcast has similarly restrictive terms of service. Service providers seem to like the bright line between producers and consumers, that you are a consumer and a consumer only. “We went to the trouble of labelling you, stay in your damned box!”

Users of infrastructure should pay for the infrastructure, but having done so, they should have the ability and freedom to use that infrastructure for what they want, not limited to some artificial set of consumption-only activities. Ward Cunningham tells the story of how he changed the world because he could provide a service over a 14,400 baud modem with a $300 computer under his desk that let people communally develop and refine ideas about computer programming. The “no servers” rule would strangle in the cradle just that kind of innovation and collaboration that can make progress possible and life for everyone better. Maybe there are no creative people in Molalla (I know that’s not true), but there are in Portland. A Portland fiber network cannot have a restriction like that and be considered a success. This is why an open-access model, where many providers on the same infrastructure compete on price, quality and terms-of-service is essential.

About Russell Senior

President of Personal Telco Project since August 2009, an officer and Board member since March 2006. Works professionally as a Scientific Data Analyst and Programmer. Also an active member of the Portland Linux Users Group.

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