Take Action on Net Neutrality

Today I'm asking that you take action to contact Senator Dole and Senator Burr to encourage them to support an unencumbered internet, also known as "net neutrality". Talking Points Memo is keeping a list of the Senators and where they stand. At last check Dole had not been contacted and Burr had not decided.

Email or call. Share your concerns. Ask for their commitment to help keep the full internet accessible to all Americans, not just the wealthy.

Many of us are a bit confused as to what net neutrality really means and whether it will impact our lives. I'm still not clear on all the different details, but everything I've read tells me that it will impact our lives and could do so dramatically for those of us who use the internet to research and communicate.

More info below the fold...

According to Wikipedia:

Network neutrality relates to the various kinds of distortions that analog and digital networks of any kind impose on the traffic they carry, either due to design, to management practices, or to meet business objectives. Network neutrality is a focal point for regulatory policies, especially related to the Internet. It is often used in an idiosyncratic manner by political groups to signify any of a wide-ranging collection of public policy goals. The precise interpretation of the term is the subject of contentious debate, perhaps because it is a recent coinage without a well-established history as well as the subject of political debate.

I'm going to provide links to all of the different blogs that discuss this issue. As much as I would love to clear things up for everyone - and I do understand the basics - I do not do a very good job of explaining all of the different issues that arise with the communications companies having sole control of the internet.

My biggest concern is that the telcom and cable companies will go beyond charging for different access speeds and will have tiered services much like cable companies have for television subscription. In other words, basic access will block out certain "channels" or servers and the $50/month I'm paying won't allow me the same access that I currently have.

If Google, Yahoo, CNN, Fox, etc have to pay more to be top tier for different providers at some point that is going to impact us. At some point they will make access to their data subscription only or will put more information behind firewalls like the New York Times does and limit the information that is available for free.

I do not begrudge these companies their profits. I do get a bit pissy when Time Warner Cable is reaching into my pocket each month mulitiple times. In other words, I pay them my monthly access fee and then I pay them through Google or Yahoo or CNN for any fees these companies impose on services I currently receive for free. You see these companies have to turn around and give part of my money to Time Warner Cable for their top tier status. Wait! Pissy doesn't begin to describe how that makes me feel.

Here's a "what if" for you. A high school teacher gives an assignment that involves researching several specific web sites for data. If the internet service providers have limited access to any of these sites or reserved access to them for only their highest paying customers, what happens when students in a public school try to complete their research? Will only the wealthiest students have access to this information on their home computers. Will other students be forced to find other ways to access this data? Will our high schools be forced to stop encouraging internet research and technical advancement because it is simply out of reach for some students? This is more than likely a big stretch, but it is something to think about.

Be prepared to hear somebody toss out those tired capitalistic rants about competition and the free market. "Free market" forces do not work where there is limited to no competition, so the typical free market responses to our concerns should receive a loud burst of derisive laughter.

Here are some good sites for further reading...


MyDD Diaries...Scroll down

DailyKos posts on net neutrality

Contact Your Senators Today!

Richard Burr

Elizabeth Dole

You know what to do!


More on Net Neutrality

From this week's Drinking Liberally announcement:

"In a nutshell, network neutrality is a basic principle that preserves a free (as in speech, not as in beer) and open Internet. A level playing field where everyone can access content or run any application or device they choose. All you need is imagination and know-how... and a little bit of venture capital couldn't hurt either. eBay, Google, Yahoo!, and Skype are but a few examples of this, and we have the principle of net neutrality to thank for it.

What's at issue here is the desire of the big telecommunications companies - AT&T, BellSouth, Verizon, Charter, et al - to change all of that in their favor. The telcos, who already control the greater majority of Internet access, want the power to select who gets access to high-speed lines, essentially deciding whose content gets seen first and fastest. Anyone who can't (or won't) pay those fees will have their content relegated to slower, more congested lines.
What's in it for the telcos? $$$! Ed Whitacre, CEO of AT&T, said that "the Internet can't be free... for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes free is nuts."

What's in it for the politicos who support the demise of net neutrality? Do I really need to ask?

The House bill in question, HR 5252, passed last week with overwhelmingly partisan support from the right side of the aisle, and the Senate is set to vote on this issue next week. (For the record, Rep. Charles Taylor voted no on an amendment that was introduced to HR 5252 that would have ensured net neutrality and voted yes on the final bill - We'll let you make up your own mind which side of the coin he's on.)

What's in it for us? Well... imagine it taking two minutes instead of two seconds for your e-mail program to get this message. Imagine not being able to read some peoples' blog pages because Blogger wouldn't play ball with AT&T. Imagine not being able to use a VOIP service like Vonage. Imagine not being able to use Google or Yahoo! because your ISP, in conjunction with their paid partners, would rather you use *their* search engine that lets you browse *their* content."

Scrutiny Hooligans - http://www.scrutinyhooligans.us


Net neutrality is like a tippy canoe in a murky swamp. It's hard to know where the danger lies or what action will overturn the canoe. Here's a few observations about the net, corporations, politics and money in NC.

In 2000 US LEC, a Charlotte based telecom, was found by the NC Utilities Commission to have artificially kept network connections open and overbilled Bellsouth to the tune of over $150 million. US LEC was generating traffic to a separate company, Metacomm whose major shareholder was US LEC's chair. Metacomm established thousands of connections between BellSouth's network and US LEC's network and left them open nearly continuously in order to attempt to create as much reciprocal compensation revenue as possible. Metacomm got 40% of the revenue back from US LEC.

Panel slams telco scheme

At the time a US LEC executive lamented the power of Bellsouth lobbyists. Fast forward a few years and US LEC formed its own PAC and made contributions to NC campaigns. US LEC PAC gave $1,000 each to the following in October 2004:
Marc Basnight, Jim Black, Harold Brubaker, Drew Saunders, Richard Morgan, Kay Hagan, Roy Cooper, Dan Clodfelter and in Sept 2004, David Hoyle.

The problem is that US LEC PAC is a Federal PAC that never has never registered with the SBOE as an NC Federal PAC so all of these contributions are out of order.

Drew Saunders, it should be noted is Chair of the House Public Utilities Committee. He receives a lot of contributions from utility/ telecom PACs and he reported $4,000 from the Bellsouth NC PAC 7/20/04 that was never reported by the PAC.

Fast forward a little bit more: NCFREE, the North Carolina Forum for Research & Economic Education,(supposedly non-partisan but contemplating their own PAC) hosted a reception celebrating their 20th anniversary on Thursday, April 7, 2005 at US LEC Corporate Headquarters, Charlotte. Speaker Jim Black and Rep. Ed McMahan were the "honored guests" and spoke to the group.

US LEC is big into VOIP and according to this recent N&O interview with it's CEO "prioritized services".

I'm not sure where all this is headed but if the Chair of the Public Utilities Committee is being showered with money from telecoms and the Attorney General, Black, Saunders, Basnight, Brubaker and others can't identify an illegal contribution from one how is Jane Q. Netizen supposed to have a hope in framing the debate?

No Net Neutrality

I don't think my ideas about net neutrality are going to be very popular, so I've held them for a day when I kind of feel like getting into an argument. And hey! That's today!

Net neutrality is a bad idea. If I'm streaming video, I absolutely do not want my video to jump or rebuffer so that someone can load their webpage in 1.433 seconds instead of 1.401 seconds. I don't even want someone else's video to jump so that I can load BlueNC even a whole second faster. That's just silly. And if a network is going to prioritize high-bandwidth low-latency (wait-time) applications like VOIP and video, it's going to have to look at the packets of information passing on the network to see which ones get prioritized. That's a good thing.

Now I know that what everyone is afraid of is an ISP deciding what kind of information its users can consume. But there's no reason that packet prioritization has to mean content discrimination. A perfectly reasonable regulatory scheme could say "ISPs can prioritize certain traffic but has to allow decent bandwidth for all content."

So let the ISPs prioritize high-bandwidth low-latency traffic, and require them to leave good old-fashioned data flow for the other stuff. What say you, BlueNC?

I know you hate slippery slope arguments

But this one looks like a mudslide to me. With control over the Internets in the hands of five or six major corporations and their mouthpieces in Congress, the line between packet prioritization and content discrimination is a blur at best. What's more, I can't imagine a Republican controlled Congress passing legislation that enables priortization with ironclad safeguards around content.

As I said yesterday in a comment to Screwy. In rightwing world, if it can be bought, it will be sold. It's just a question of price.

You can have it if you pay for it

I'll allow you the slippery slope argument if you can explain why a prohibition on blocking content (or limiting it to the point where it's practically blocked) can't survive in a world of packet prioritization.

Prioritization wouldn't be necessary if the telcos delivered

We made several deals with the telcos - '96 with the Telecommunications Act, within the State (as current as today with the cable franchise repeal debate) and even locally that if we deregulated them, allowed excessive fees, etc. - they'd deliver real high speed (45Mbs), symetrical access all of their customers by 2001. 5 years after that date we still have "red-lining", crappy asymetric service and, now, with an extortionist demand to pay or we'll throttle your packets.

The monopolists have not been honest in their dealings to date, so why trust them on net neutrality?

They're asking for indiscriminate power to control packets - not provide QoS for specific protocols. So, Company A won't prioritize ALL VOIP or IPTV over their network to meet QoS (quality-of-service) requirements but, instead, prioritize their VOIP over a competitors. This has been the pattern with Vonage.

You're Right, Trusting Corporations is Foolish

Because they're only "people" in a proscribed legal sense. The best ways to deal with corporations are contract and regulation. You're also right that "they're asking for indiscriminate power to control packets," but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about regulation to limit providers' ability to bottleneck free stuff while allowing them to fast-track the other stuff. That's not exactly what the telcos want, but it isn't 100% neutrality, either.

Almost with you Lance, except...

"...bottleneck free stuff"?

To use a nerdism TANSTAAFL.

Their "ain't" no free on the Internet. You're paying access charges for a service that is advertised to deliver a somewhat specific set of capabilities - so much bandwidth, limited by the ever mutable TOS (terms of service). The companies/persons you attach to pay for access. The network that provides the service has been heavily subsidized by JQ Public.

Maybe you mean "free" as in non-proprietary implementations or protocols.

So, free - Skype (which uses SIP), HTTP served up by an Apache server, Bittorrent.

Not so free- VOIP using Cingular's extended protocols, HTTP delivered by MS IIS, Realmedia DRM'd streaming.

Maybe you mean services. Free, NCBlue - underwritten by the community. Not so free - NY Times paywalled columnist.

There's no incentive for the telcos to raise the service floor on what THEY deem to be free (or not essential to their profits). There's every incentive to play dirty pool with other folks traffic.

I don't find the monopolists arguments that new types of service (P2P) or new sources of content (World Cup) are overwhelming their networks. It's disingenuous. There's plenty of DOT.com dark-fibre left in the ground. They've collected more than a decade of additional access fees for building a 45Mbps network - fees they've squandered or used to anti-competitively grow. We have numerous counter-examples of countries paying a lot less per user and getting a lot more service (S. Korea - where what I pay monthly would get me 100M BYTES/sec symetrical service + 200 cable channels + wired/wireless phone service).

We need an absolutely level playing field to spur innovation and increase participation. Doing away with even today's compromised 'net neutrality would deal a harsh blow to both.

My prediction? Without some legal protections, the US will see a rapidly increasing inverted relationship between cost and capability of services.

By "free" I mean you don't pay extra

So say I wanted to stream movies. In an world of packet prioritization, my provider could offer an added-cost service that would get me my HD with 6.1 surround (or whatever.1 we're up to now) in a dedicated 'channel' of their network so that I wouldn't be up against regular internet traffic. (I would totally pay for this, by the way.)

In a total neutrality world, this doesn't work so well. I was at my brother-in-law's house a couple of weekends ago and I watched an "on demand" movie. There were compression artifacts galore, and when the stream occasionally broke down, we had to rewind a bit so that we could get the video and audio to re-sync. This wasn't unusual for him.

One more thing. I don't see any reason why packet discrimination would necessarily entail content discrimination. We can forbid the latter without forbidding the former. The industry, for its own sake, would come up with standards. Or we could have an administrative agency do it. Or, if we wanted bad standards that are difficult to change, we could have Congress do it.

Artifacts galore...

Let's put aside the problem with telcos not delivering the capacity they promised in the mid-'90s and posit that, whatever the intention of the providers, throughput will lag in the near term (unlike desktop PCs where the curve has temporarily flattened).

It's not a bad bet, as with increased capability brings new ways to squander it. So, to give their IPTV offering a decent chance, Company A will adjust their network QoS parameters to prioritize their movie streams over other traffic. For this service, you pay, say $20 per month and maybe $5 per movie. Let's also say that the base throughput of everyone else isn't throttled (you get 10M per sec. and I get 1M per sec. whatever the case).

I could ALMOST see this working except... What happens when Company B offers movies for $0.99 per and they use a streaming technology that provides decent quality at my 1M throughput? Worse, what if I get alternative content for free? Kaput goes their revenue stream.

Also, given past telco history, I'd say it was a better than even bet that my 1M throughput will be cannibalized to ensure your 10M throughput. In other words, net capability stays static. Why? Cheaper for the monopolists.

My example is somewhat simplistic as I'm ignoring the "real" way the 'net works. Content caching, filtering, packet size, endpoint-topology shape traffic flow today and folks don't generally bellyache about it (unless their torrent is cut).

I'd rather avoid modifying the existing infrastructure to finely manage packet streams. Once we have codified this type of mechanism, the "unintended" consequence of easy censorship comes into play. That's a major concern.

One day (soon?), wireless technology will hopefully make this moot. If we used our public airwaves effectively, let's say reserving the current TV-bands for public domain ultra-wide band tech, and coupled that with open mesh networking protocols, the overall capacity of this decentralized communications web would outpace the telcos aging copper. And, because of the robust, shared, nature of this approach,it would be nearly impossible to monopolize.