Reading about technology-related news involves a healthy exposure to analogies. Companies use them all the time to make their products or ideas easier for a broader audience to understand, whether that audience happens to be customers, the press or legislators. Writers use them even more often to boil down the things those companies have said into pithier language.
These figures of speech can be very helpful. Technology is sometimes difficult for even the smartest readers to understand. So it makes sense that something as complicated as the Internet, and even specific elements of it, get discussed in analogies to ease comprehension.
A series of recent developments have brought nearly every imaginable analogy and metaphor for the Internet to light. First, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit threw out the bulk of the FCC's open Internet rules--rules the agency later said it would take another shot at adopting. Then Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) said it had agreed to buy Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC). Finally, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Comcast reached an interconnection agreement that will see the largest U.S. subscription online video provider pay fees to the largest cable operator for the first time.
The all-time greatest hits of Internet analogies are off limits today. You won't hear anyone describing the Internet as "a series of tubes" or a truck you can just dump stuff on. But pipes, highway lanes, toll booths, railroads, restaurants, tomato suppliers, retailers, water and electricity have all been deployed as (arguably) better-understood concepts that resemble the Internet and the policy and business issues implicated by recent headlines.
With the FCC set to review the Comcast-TWC merger and propose new open Internet rules this year, the parade of Internet analogies is sure to continue. Washington loves a good analogy almost as much as Silicon Valley.--Josh