Citizens for a free and open service bus


It has been nearly 40 years since that milestone issue of Popular Electronics introduced the world to the Altair 8800--the everyday personal computer that a person could build in his garage using publicly available parts. The free and open service bus was born that day in January 1975. At that time, the inalienable human right for individuals to express themselves digitally using the application of their choice--with all the bandwidth available to them--unencumbered and without prejudice was experienced for the first time in all its blessed glory.

Nearly four decades. And yet in all that time, governments worldwide have failed--failed, mind you--to assert the fundamental freedoms of human expression implicit in the encoding of verbiage as bytes. Not once have they bothered to enumerate the fundamental rights of every processor to a service bus whose interface is never tailored to the requirements of any single brand or provider; or worse, to a cartel of such providers working against the public interest. Never have they expressed the right of every application to be made compatible with every processor, and to be experienced by anyone using any keyboard and any mouse at any time without regard to pinouts, cache sizes or latencies. Services have the right to be free and an obligation to be open, and the service bus is public property; like the public airwaves and public transportation--to be treated with respect, honor and dignity.

Yet governments turn their backs on this basic human need to run free programs freely for free. They do so, of course, because otherwise they'd look damn silly.

We've accepted since the very beginning of the computing industry that the use of machines is not a human right. Machines are tools and electrifying them does not endow them with character or stature beyond that state.

Cloud computing is essentially the act of computing, and in many senses as it always has been, yet on a very large scale.  This scale affords us with efficiencies and economies unavailable to us if we were to maintain data centers as silos. We lease processing time, storage capacity, data processing and, where appropriate, applications in simple and affordable units. And we divide service levels into standard and premium tiers to enable affordability and create fields of competition between service providers. There really has been no debate over whether this state of affairs is as it should be, because such debate is necessary. The point of view I parodied at the start of this essay may as well have come from Mars.

Yet the debate that the Federal Communications Commission is opening to the public in its May 15 open hearing concerns imposing regulations on the maintenance and marketing of the very components that enable the current scale of our highest-scale computing systems. While proponents of net neutrality are advocating the freedom of the Web--that one portion of the Internet that brings you this essay, for what it's worth--the cloud is essentially computing on a global, Internet scale. The cloud is a massive machine. True, it will use a number of shared components manufactured by telecommunications companies and leased to others. But open source developers have shared things in the past and they've managed to work it out.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler suggests that, if government and Internet stakeholders cannot come to an agreement on how to implement enumerated principles of net-semi-neutrality, it can resume regulating Internet service as it had planned originally--as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In a story published Wednesday, The Verge makes the case that this may be the obvious solution given that carriers including Verizon have invoked Title II to build out their fiber optic lines anyway.

This only makes sense on one side of the dichotomy; so long as we think of the Internet as a great, big telephone. On the other side, it's a great, big computer. The network, whose advocates praise it as the conveyor of a fundamental human right that shall never be abridged, is really a scaled up version of the service bus that links the processor to memory to the hard drive. Because it is scaled up, it is a far more complex system that will require regulation of some form to navigate.

But we need to be careful of the extent to which we endow any machine, however complex, with the character of a human right--lest we look to our descendants 40 years hence as a bunch of clowns. - Scott