Net Neutrality

So there's this movie over in the sidebar sponsored by the telcos, which makes a fair amount of sense right up until the last few seconds (which is about where they ask you to make the leap from believing that if some data discrimination is good, then it all is). And there have been conversations about net neutrality here and there. And I thought I understood at least the vague outlines of this debate.

But this morning, there was a telco rep on NPR saying that net neutrality is about the government setting a provider's price for bandwidth. Say what? Does anyone take this approach to the question seriously? That seems like a pretty tortured way to approach the question. Watcha think?


You're thinking too hard.

This is a classic example where you don't even need to get to the substance of the discussion. Companies all across the spectrum of telecom -- cable, wireless, satellite, long distance, VOIP, resellers, equipment manufacturers, content providers and more -- have business models under intense pressure. They're all poaching into each others' business and their margins are collapsing like sand castles at high tide. Whenever this happens, they all rush to Congress to get new legislation they believe will shore up their pricing and give them an edge over competitors. That's what triggered the original break up of Ma Bell and it continues to form the foundation of regulatory policy.

These companies know they have the friendliest FCC and Congress they're ever going to get and they are scared shitless that the Dems will take control . . . because then all the money they've poured into Republican candidates will be flushed down the toilet.

So how did all this Net Neutrality stuff arise? It came from an army of lobbyists with one motive in mind: Secure legislation that can create competitive advantage for ____________ (fill in the blank). Any rhetoric about anything being good for We the People is just that: rhetoric.

Telcom companies want the net to go the way of broadcast spectrum. It used to be that We the People had at least the illusion of say over how airwaves would be used . . . but that illusion has long since been crushed by the drive for profits. This dust-up over the Internet is just Act II, Scene I of the same tragedy.

What do you have to hide?

What do you have to hide? Why are you so afraid? Let them listen to phone call or read your letters. It you're not hiding anything, what are you afraid of. Seriously, have you forgotten about the Pentagon and that field?


have you lost whatever mind you used to have?

What Anglico said...

he's right on. I think that ad is a bunch of misinformation. Withholding lots of info at best. I'd like to see ya'll block it from appearing on this site. Why help them?

When someone brings up the "government shouldn't compete or interfere with business" argument I remind them of this. The Federal government gives out billions of dollars to prop up business and that resources like the airwaves, land used to transmit data, right to communicate, etc belong to all citizens. Not just corporations. Government should represent all people not just the highest bidder. If OUR governement does so much for business WE have a right to interfere.

Check out The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal for a good bit of history. Here is one review:

I was lucky enough to be able to look over an advance copy of Bruce Kushnick’s new book, “The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal” — it’s a powerful critique documenting the trail of broken promises and misinformation perpetrated by many broadband service providers in order to get favorable treatment, special dispensation, and competition-free access to residents across the United States. One of the most damning indictments, that United States residents have already paid for upgrades to our existing broadband infrastructure — being charged for services never delivered — and not a small amount either, but actually to the tune of $200,000,000,000. When you break it down, that’s roughly a $2,000 refund for every household that’s due for contractual obligations never fulfilled.


Our ad policy

Is something along the lines of "patently offensive," which is to say that we haven't rejected any ads based on their content except in one case where the politician seeking to advertise was espousing hate.

Brian, I'm not sure that I understand the second sentence in your second paragraph. What exactly belongs to all citizens?

Why do you want to be

Why do you want to be communism?

Why do I want what?

Hi Oggie,

There once was a man named Benjamin Franklin who this really super idea. It was called the public library. The idea was that an informed citizenry required equal access to information.

Think of the internet as the largest public library anyone could imagine, the greatest manifestation of Franklin's idea.

Ben Franklin a communist? Hardly.


And, as far as hosting the advertisement, I see it the same way I see Kissell holding on to Rachael Hunter's campaign contribution - it's turning money into opposition of whatever the donor had hoped to promote.

Hosting an anti-Net Neutrality ad while espousing net neutrality is certainly confusing on its face, but ultimately, we'll defeat them with their own money.

Scrutiny Hooligans -

Dos Vadanya, Oggs

1 small ripe banana
2 slices white bread
3 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons butter

In a small bowl, mash to banana with the back of a spoon. Toast the bread lightly. Spread the peanut butter on one slice of toast and the mashed banana on the other. Fry the sandwich in melted butter until each side is golden brown.

Cut diagonally and serve hot.

Scrutiny Hooligans -


The airwaves and public land belong to all citizens. Both resources that are used for digital communications.

To elaborate... Airwaves are one public resource. Our government licenses them on our behalf. Businesses are simply caretakers of this resource. If the caretakers should abuse our resources we should do something about it. Our main ally in this should be government.

Public land that fiber optic cables run thru and telephone and cable TV lines run over is also one of our public resources. We all have a right to communicate with whom ever we wish using public resources.

If businesses, who are granted the privilege of facilitating communications, profit from the use of public property and don't live up to the our expectations they should be reprimanded.

This way of thinking is not anti-business. It is simply a balancing of the partnership that exists between the public and corporations.

This relates to net neutrality because public resources are being used by the very companies that could restricted how we communicate.


Thanks for the clarification. What you say makes sense. I don't think that you and I disagree that businesses shouldn't be allowed to restrict how we communicate using public resources. I think that providers can offer tiered service such that no tier constitutes a restraint.

Heading off a potential response: of course, if you offer a regular pipe and a super pipe, stuff relegated to the regular pipe is necessarily restrained to the extent that if it isn't allowed in the super pipe. When I say "such that no tier constitutes a restraint," I'm saying that communication on all pipes takes place reasonably well.

People don't like terms like "reasonably," but they have the definitions we give them. Everyone who has joined into this discussion is obviously bright (Oggie's not here, right?). I bet any of us could come up with a definition of "substantial impairment" that would work in a sentence like "you can have tiered service so long as no service or communication is substantially impaired by being on a low tier."

Coming up with a definition

isn't the problem. But enforcing it in an environment where free-market mania reigns supreme is all but impossible. Just look at how screwed up the system of challenges to broadcast licensees has become. We the People have literally no say in who gets what licenses . . . it's must more big bidness back scratching. I imagine it would be a thousand times worse on the Internets. In fact, it already happens. The cable company blames the phone company blames the wireless router blames the user blames the public utility commission blames the town councils blames Al Gore blames the billing department blames . . .

You see what I mean.

I thought Gore invented the web...

juuuust kidding. Thanks for the link. That sure simplifies things and his blog posts makes some good points. I'll be making more phone calls today.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Very excellent, Brian

This makes perfect sense even to me.

Berners-Lee says...

"Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn't pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will."

I don't get it. How is it ok to pay for a higher quality of service, but not for providers to offer different levels of service?

"levels of service" is a smoke screen

I don't believe that when providers say "levels of service" in relation to net neutrality that they mean different bandwidth speeds. They mean content throttling based on who paid them more.

For example:
Lets say you have free wifi that's paid for with ads in a world without Net Neutrality. Because the NY Times has a deal with your wifi provider their content will travel to you faster and more reliably than a site that does not. Imagine BlueNC were to write something that was breaking news *before* the NYTimes. With the “level of service” that the NY Times has the BlueNC story may not make it to me via the free wifi in a timely manner or at all. This would be a form of unfair competition.

Lobbyist for the telecommunications companies are trying to set this scenario into law. Its a 21st century guarantied monopoly. This is illegal now and unethical.

This scenario is why companies like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, etc. are behind Net Neutrality being built into our laws. It allows entrepreneurs to set up companies online and compete with the big old brick and mortar era companies. Big companies are scared and using their power and money to preserve their hegemony of earning power.

The above may seem like parinoia but there is nothing in the law preventing companies from doing this, or worse. (to the best of my knowledge) This is why we need good Net Neutrality built into Federal law.

Throttling - basically a traffic cop that sits at a data switch and controls what data goes thru the stop light and what data does not.

Six one, a half a dozen the other

What's the practical difference between throttling and offering two different bandwidth levels? Anything that goes on the lower level is effectively throttled. What you want the law to do is to make sure that there's enough bandwidth available for lower-level traffic to thrive while allowing for-pay growth at the high end.

You write: "The above may seem like parinoia but there is nothing in the law preventing companies from doing this, or worse." So put it in the law.

This is where Anglico steps in and says "it would never work in a corporate-friendly environment." But there are lots of laws that corporations would eliminate if they could that continue to work nonetheless. How well they work is entirely a function of how well they're written and how well they're enforced. Of course you can't express the intent to protect basic network access and then walk away and hope things will be fine. But a rocky road going forward is not reason enough in itself to rule out out of hand an effort to ensure network flexibility in the coming years.

I love that you're so optimistic

but I can't go there with you. I've been dealing with telcom companies for 25 years in business . . . through all kinds of administrations and policies and regulatory environments. They will find a way to turn your rocky road into a sheer cliff and consumer protection will be the first thing to fall.

One fallacy you're buying into is the crying wolf syndrome that telcos always fall back on. "If we don't get our way the net will go to hell and innovation will be stifled." That's total BS. Regulation is simply the cheapest and easiest path to higher profits, but if they don't the get policy they want, don't worry. They'll find another way to drive higher profits and innovation. That is their prime directive - and we really don't need to lie down on the tracks as they speed ahead.

I don't think I'm buying in

I just want my streaming HD movies ASAP.

Imagine a spectrum running from total packet neutrality on the right and total ISP control on the left (political conventions notwithstanding). I'm saying that the optimal situation is a little to the left of the far right endpoint. You're saying that we can't take even a single step from the right without being dragged all the way to the left. Either that, or your saying that we shouldn't try to find the optimal point because we'll never hit it exactly.

Either way, you're passing up the chance to fight for the right balance in favor of an absolute standard that isn't the worst possible answer. I'm not sure what the opposite of that point of view is called, but it isn't "optimism."

I'm saying

we'll get everything you want without industry sponsored regulation.

throttling vs different speed levels

What's the practical difference between throttling and offering two different bandwidth levels?

Throttling is specific control at a bit level. You can write sophisticated rules to do lots of things with data traveling around. Blocking data outright is only one thing. Manipulating data is another.

Bandwidth control is much more general. It effects apps like streaming and file download/upload. Its an inconvenience not to have enough bandwidth.

I rather be inconvenienced than restricted to real content. Or worse sent manipulated content that i can not verify if its what the creator meant to send to me. (this is already possible but not codified into law to make it legal.)

Oh, well then.

Yeah, I'm not talking about throttling as you've defined it here. (To be clear, I don't know any other definition, and I take no exception to yours.)

I'm just saying that high-bandwidth low-latency apps should have a freer channel.

maybe not the right word

I guess I should be using the phrase packet filtering instead of throttling. My bad. I think my argument still stands.

I'm enjoying the discussion Lance. :)

I am too, and I'm learning a lot in the process

But I'm less sure than I woke up this morning where we disagree.

Here's what is taking shape as my sense of where we should be: the industry agrees on a taxonomy of packet types and how to tell them apart. They can form an industry association for this, if they don't have one already. That is, they'd agree on what kind of info qualifies as movies, or voip, or whatever. The industry as a whole is bound to stick to these definitions.

ISPs can then offer tiered service, with the only permissible criterion for discrimination being the category of content a packet falls into. If movies go into pipe A, then all movies go into pipe A. If static web pages go into pipe B, then all static web pages etc. Discrimination based on content within a category is prohibited.

Then you need a rule ensuring that the bottom tier never gets too small to be of practical value for people who only subscribe to it. There are a few ways to do that that I can think of right now, and there are probably quite a few that more qualified individuals can come up with.

(For example, I'm thinking that a rule could be set saying that if any existing tier of service gets a bandwidth increase, the lower tiers must get a proportional bandwidth increase. And under no circumstances can the top tier have more than 200% of the bandwidth of the bottom tier. I just pulled these numbers out of my ass, so if they stink, that's why. But I fully confess to being unqualified to come up with good numbers.)

So there's one model for legislation that would allow me to get my streaming HD movies faster while leaving good and sufficient bandwidth for people who won't/can't shell out for such luxuries.

So: am I a bad man? Am I plain ignorant? If so, please correct me! :)


What's the practical difference between throttling and offering two different bandwidth levels?

A: (I meant to write packet filtering rather than throttling)
Throttling Packet Filtering is specific control at a bit packet level. You can write sophisticated rules to do lots of things with data traveling around. Blocking data outright is only one thing. Manipulating data is another.

Bandwidth control is much more general. It effects apps like streaming and file download/upload. Its an inconvenience not to have enough bandwidth.

I rather be inconvenienced than restricted to real content. Or worse sent manipulated content that i can not verify if its what the creator meant to send to me. (this is already possible but not codified into law to make it legal.)