I have long argued in this blog that certain words are often treated as if they had a definite meaning, and yet the true meaning is smuggled in by each user, meaning we are all arguing different points, or else agreeing to something we believe means one thing, while those who are enacting the law imagine it to mean something else. "Wants" and "needs" are good examples of these meaningless words, as is the most empty of words "fairness". (See "Weasel Words and Hollow Words" and the many articles to which it links.)
Besides writing this blog, raising a child and working for a university, I also am a member of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force). (Don't get excited, anyone can join, it just means I am on a mailing list and get discounts on some conferences.) On their mailing list, one of the most hotly debated topics recently has been the topic of "net neutrality". Now, the term itself is not that clearly defined, as it has been proposed in a number of somewhat contradictory forms, but whatever the form, the argument has been that it will encourage "fairness" or "fair access".
However, recently, I have also noticed that an increasing number of writers have pointed out that "fairness" is a term that means different things to different people. If you pay for more bandwidth, is it fair? Is it fair to regulate by size? By number of packets? By service? By origin? Taken literally, the net neutrality proposal seems to suggest providers can do no traffic management at all, but as that would cause an eventual collapse of the entire network supporting the internet, that is absurd. There will always be preferential treatment of some packets over others, but how is it to be determined what is "fair"?
It is nice to see that regular writers, without any particular political agenda are noticing the protean term "fairness" is a poor guide to real world action. Unfortunately, it seems right now it is limited to those with the technical know how to realize what a mess net neutrality will create. (And, sadly, a number of those still support it, out of misguided egalitarianism or other political views.) It is even better to notice a few more who are asking who is going to pay for all the extra bandwidth -- and associated hardware, software and staff -- true "net neutrality" will require. Sadly, I think this misbegotten idea will come to pass. As with banking regulation, monetary manipulation, regulation of health care, and attacks on every other industry, the few who have the knowledge to know what a mess it will create are far outweighed by the combination of those misguided by high sounding rhetoric and the greedy few seeking a free lunch. And so, by dividing us into little distinct groups, the government will step by step achieve control over us all.