Net Neutrality and the SAFE Network
by John Ferguson, the Simpleton of Project SAFE
April 24, 2014
Per Wikipedia, “Network Neutrality” is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
Essentially, the concept calls for a level playing field for all users, whether they be individuals or
providers of high-bandwidth services like Netflix, HBO, etc., or whoever.
From an egalitarian perspective, the answer as to whether net neutrality is a good idea or not is easy: of
course, it is good.
From the perspectives of companies which wish to provide high-bandwidth services, as well as the
customers who are willing to pay extra to receive those services in the best possible quality, the answer
is not so clear. Why, for instance, can't such services as Netflix, and thus the customers who use them,
pay more so that high-access-streaming channels can be built up, and thus taking traffic off of the other
lines, thus being better for everyone? Whether this is a legitimate characterization of the argument or
whether that's how it would work out in the real world, one can see that the subject is a little more
complicated than the simple idea of equal treatment. And it's a lot more complex than that, even on a
technical level.if any
Throw in the power (and corruptibility) of government agents, the obligation of service providers to
make a profit for their shareholders and thus purchase government agents to gain advantage, the
carelessness of the general population to pay attention and judge a complex issue, and all the other
factors in the mix, and we're left with a frustrating mess that seems to have no solution. I, myself, can
and have argued the matter from both sides with equal passion.
But what if we take a few steps back and take a look at the assumptions which might be making all this
truly unresolvable based on the current debate? Let's try.
Let's start by going all the way back, to consider what the nature of a truly neutral medium would have
Put in somewhat simpler terms, let's look at net neutrality as the effort to arrive at a truly neutral
medium, in which no one is discriminated against BY THE MEDIUM ITSELF based on the quality or
quantity of the communication they wish to engage in.
To get an idea of what I mean by this, let's draw a comparison to another vital medium through which
much communication travels, with which we all have vast experience, and which is a truly neutral
You and I can stand across from each other and say whatever we like, be it loving or vile, and the air
does not care. It dutifully does it's job of passing the sounds along from place to place. I can shout to a
vast audience, or equally from a lonely mountaintop in a vain (or not) attempt to be heard by the gods:
it's all the same to the air. I can throw flowers or paper airplanes or bullets and the air can have no
moral judgement as to which should pass and which should be stopped. There are only the physical
dynamics of the different objects, velocities, temperatures, etc., which determine the flight. The air
does not have the ability to say, "The flowers are good, so they should have easy passage, but the
bullets will only be passed on slowly and reluctantly.
Now, if you insult me deeply using the air as a medium, I may decide to retaliate with a blow to
discourage you from doing so again. The air will discriminate towards my response only based upon
whether my hand is open or closed, the slap coming slightly more slowly because of air resistance. If
you insult me from cover, disguising your voice, I'll have a harder time discouraging you, but the air
doesn't know or care.
The air does not discriminate as to who breaths it. Saints and sinners, people of peace and war, good
intentions and bad, all breath it with equal ease, depending upon their capacity.
Perhaps you get my point by now. In our current society what we commonly refer to as “the Media” is
not such a neutral scene. It is common knowledge that news organizations have had a stranglehold on
the dissemination of “news” and have used it for decades, in conjunction with government and
corporate interests, to color the view of the world for populations at large—i.e., propaganda. This is
basically because the means of communication have been very centralized and subject to control. Radio
waves are neutral media, but access to them by the general population has been limited by both
technology and (more profoundly) centralized political and economic force.
The Internet, as it has come into use, has served as a much more neutral medium. Currently, legacy
news and propaganda channels are dying the slow death, as upstart bloggers and videographers apply
the death of a million cuts, exposing their biases and agendas, and delivering information that users
find more relevant to themselves and more truthful. Politicians and others in positions of power are
losing ground as the power has shifted towards the individual, who can more easily determine she is
being lied to.
But the current structure of the Internet, while better in many ways than anything which has existed
before, does not make for a truly neutral medium. Actually, while it makes the shift toward individual
freedom of expression much more accessible, it also exposes the individual to liabilities which have
never been faced before in all of human history. Exercise of the apparent freedoms gained comes at the
expense of privacy and security of the individual, which ultimately undermines the very freedoms
which are apparently being gained. Predictive technologies based upon all the data gathered on
individuals and groups make the possibilities of social manipulation and control ever more possible by
fewer and fewer individuals.
One doesn't have to look further than the vast revelations which have been made in the last two years
by way of Edward Snowden's disclosures (whether you gauge them heroic or sinister) to appreciate the
velvet glove and iron fist with which the surveillance corporation/state is enclosing the broad
There is an apparency of great freedom. But at what cost and how true is that freedom?
(I'm reminded of the great cultural revolution in China, in which Mao said “Let a thousand flowers
bloom.” Dissidence and counter-revolution were, for a time, encouraged. Then, once the the trouble
spots were identified, millions lost their lives. I'm not suggesting that this is necessarily the course of
western civilization, but there is a very large history lesson here to be considered.)
So, let's look back now on the concept of net neutrality. Is net neutrality even remotely possible with
the current structure of the Internet? Are we dealing with any sort of neutral medium? I'd have to say
no. Therefore, all the social uproar and political action to get agencies and companies to play nice is of
little if any use.
Bitcoin and a number of other decentralizing technologies show some hope, but I'd have to say that
they are well behind the curve and are likely to be of only marginal utility in securing greater actual
freedom for individuals.
Enter the SAFE Network. Now, I could easily, and justly, be accused of being fanciful on this score,
since the SAFE Network is yet to go live and prove itself. But I can't help myself. The promise is too
great and the vision too clear to let these things sit. The more people who see the vision and help bring
it to fruition, the better. Even if we fail.
So, before we examine the SAFE Network, let's look back at the concept of a neutral medium and
examine what the elements of a neutral data storage and communication network would have to be.
1. Secure by default. Anyone who accessed it would be able to do so without compromising their
financial or data security. This means that they would also have complete personal responsibility for
their personal and financial data. Sharing it would be an explicit choice.
2. Privacy by default. Anyone accessing the network would be able to have confidence that whatever
they did on the network would be completely private, by default. Any choice to share any private data,
even their identity, would be an explicit choice. The exposure of private data shared with another
person or group would be limited to the worthiness of the trust placed in those receiving that data.
Ideally, there would be capabilities of proving valid identifiers cryptographically without having to
share actual identity details, unless necessary.
3. Broad access. It could be freely accessed by individuals with very little technical barrier, and no one
could deny use of the network if the individual could pass those technical barriers (i.e., a computing
device and internet access).
4. Morally neutral. The network could not be subject to central control as to who uses it or the content
of the communications, or data stored or retrieved. (Parallel to the air analogy.) The network would
handle all of its standard functions of passing and storing data particles with no means of distinguishing
amongst them, except to know what to do with them. This would require that the network be composed
of nodes provided by users on the assumption that to have the sort of network desired, it is necessary to
supply resources to the network to accomplish its purpose, rather than trying to control it.
5. Resistant to compromise. If compromised, no node in the network would be able to adversely affect
the operation of the network at large. If it were compromised, it could reveal no useful information
about the network itself or its users.
6. Scalable. Heavy demand for particular services or items would not require the building of separate
centralized infrastructure, or use of methods which could discriminate for or against certain traffic. In
other words, for a website or video or service which is in high demand, the network would simply
deliver it up faster, the more demand there was, and then return to more usual handling when demand
I'm sure there are other attributes which could fit in this picture of a factually neutral Internet structure,
but that's probably enough to make the point.
These characteristics, and many more, actually ARE characteristics of the SAFE Network as it has been
designed and proven-out over the last nine years by the folks at Maidsafe.
Will it work as the design and tests so far promise it will?
Will it fulfil the promise perceived by supporters like me?
We will soon see.
This document is copyleft, by John Ferguson. Any use is permitted as long as derivatives are also