For centuries now we have been aware of the dangers of having different forms of power in the same hands. The principle of separation of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary has been in the democratic countries' Constitutions for as long as there have been Constitutions.
Yet, while these sane principles are well established in our political environment , we fail to apply them to other aspects of our society where they also belong. As I'm a geek concerned with the future of the electronic world, I'll tell you about this — but I'm confident that one can find plenty of examples.
Network neutrality is a fundamental principle of the Internet. It is the simple fact that all content, all sources, all recipients, all protocols must be treated equally on the Internet. One cannot alter the quality of the transmission of some content — whether in its advantage (prioritizing it) or not (slowing it down or even blocking it completely) — based on its origin, its destination, its contents or the protocol used to transmit it. I'd go as far as claiming that from the day the network stops being neutral in any of these ways, it cannot be called the Internet anymore.
And in this sense, I'm not sure the Internet still exists.
With Comcast providing on-demand video streaming, what prevents them from slowing down Netflix traffic to their broadband customers, in order to gain some competitive advantage?
As Google is trying to become an ISP, what tells us they are not using their infrastructure to the advantage of their own services? Claiming "Don't be evil" is one thing; not being evil is a whole other task. A task we cannot just blindly trust anyone to be carrying. And I'm not even talking about political threats on net neutrality, which are overwhelming too.
What Montesquieu established two and a half centuries ago for the political ruling of our lives, it is now our turn to generalize for everything likely to be abused. Power doesn't mean politics — power includes politics. We have to be aware of all powers, and not let them slip into anyone's hands.
Image: Charles-Louis de Montesquieu, 1728.