February 14, 2011
Although I remain a huge admirer of Lawrence Lessig, I am ashamed to admit that I never fully understood the importance of net neutrality until last week. Mr. Lessig described network neutrality in these urgent terms in 2006:
At the center of the debate is the most important public policy you've probably never heard of: "network neutrality." Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant "end-to-end" design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good: All of the intelligence and control is held by producers and users, not the networks that connect them.
Fortunately, the good guys are winning. Recent legal challenges to network neutrality have been defeated, at least under US law. I remember hearing about these legal decisions at the time, but I glossed over them because I thought they were fundamentally about file sharing and BitTorrent. Not to sound dismissive, but someone's legal right to download a complete video archive of Firefly wasn't exactly keeping me up at night.
But network neutrality is about far more than file sharing bandwidth. To understand what's at stake, study the sordid history of the world's communication networks – starting with the telegraph, radio, telephone, television, and onward. Without historical context, it's impossible to appreciate how scarily easy it is for common carriage to get subverted and undermined by corporations and government in subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways, with terrible long-term consequences for society.
That's the genius of Tim Wu's book
The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.
One of the most fascinating stories in the book is that of Harry Tuttle and AT&T.
Harry Tuttle was, for most of his life, president of the Hush-a-Phone Corporation, manufacturer of the telephone silencer. Apart from Tuttle, Hush-a-Phone employed his secretary. The two of them worked alone out of a small office near Union Square in New York City. Hush-a-Phone's signature product was shaped like a scoop, and it fit around the speaking end of a receiver, so that no one could hear what the user was saying on the telephone. The company motto emblazoned on its letterhead stated the promise succinctly: "Makes your phone private as a booth."
If the Hush-a-Phone never became a household necessity, Tuttle did a decent business, and by 1950 he would claim to have sold 125,000 units. But one day late in the 1940s, Henry Tuttle received alarming news. AT&T had launched a crackdown on the Hush-a-Phone and similar products, like the Jordaphone, a creaky precursor of the modern speakerphone, whose manufacturer had likewise been put on notice. Bell repairmen began warning customers that Hush-a-Phone use was a violation of a federal tariff and that, failing to cease and desist, they risked termination of their telephone service.
Was AT&T merely blowing smoke? Not at all: the company was referring to a special rule that was part of their covenant with the federal government. It stated: No equipment, apparatus, circuit or device not furnished by the telephone company shall be attached to or connected with the facilities furnished by the telephone company, whether physically, by induction, or otherwise.
Tuttle hired an attorney, who petitioned the FCC for a modification of the rule and an injunction against AT&T's threats. In 1950 the FCC decided to hold a trial (officially a "public hearing") in Washington, D.C., to consider whether AT&T, the nation's regulated monopolist, could punish its customers for placing a plastic cup over their telephone mouthpiece.
The story of the Hush-a-Phone and its struggle with AT&T, for all its absurdist undertones, offers a window on the mindset of the monopoly at its height, as well as a picture of the challenges facing even the least innovative innovator at that moment.
Absurdist, indeed – Harry Tuttle is also not-so-coincidentally the name of a character in the movie Brazil, one who attempts to work as a renegade, outside oppressive centralized government systems. Often at great peril to his own life and, well, that of anyone who happens to be nearby, too.
But the story of Harry Tuttle isn't just a cautionary tale about the dangers of large communication monopolies. Guess who was on Harry Tuttle's side in his sadly doomed legal effort against the enormously powerful Bell monopoly? No less than an acoustics professor by the name of Leo Beranek, and an expert witness by the name of J.C.R. Licklider.
If you don't recognize those names, you should. J.C.R. Licklider went on to propose and design ARPANET, and Leo Beranek became one of the B's in Bolt, Beranek and Newman, who helped build ARPANET. In other words, these gentlemen went on from battling the Bell monopoly in court in the 1950s to designing a system in 1968 that would ultimately defeat it: the internet.
The internet is radically unlike all the telecommunications networks that have preceded it. It's the first national and global communication network designed from the outset to resist mechanisms for centralized control and monopoly. But resistance is not necessarily enough; The Master Switch makes a compelling case that, historically speaking, all communication networks start out open and then rapidly swing closed as they are increasingly commercialized.
Just as our addiction to the benefits of the internal combustion engine led us to such demand for fossil fuels as we could no longer support, so, too, has our dependence on our mobile smart phones, touchpads, laptops, and other devices delivered us to a moment when our demand for bandwidth – the new black gold – is insatiable. Let us, then, not fail to protect ourselves from the will of those who might seek domination of those resources we cannot do without. If we do not take this moment to secure our sovereignty over the choices that our information age has allowed us to enjoy, we cannot reasonably blame its loss on those who are free to enrich themselves by taking it from us in a manner history has foretold.
It's up to us to be vigilant in protecting the concepts of common carriage and network neutrality on the internet. Even devices that you may love, like an iPad, Kindle, or Xbox, can easily be turned against you – if you let them.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
"Net Neutrality" destroys innovation. Sure, a big dumb pipe sounds fun, but what if the only way to get YouTube to rural areas is to treat streaming video differently than the bits being sent to update someone's push email?
What about VoIP, or Skype?
If you don't like the railroad, buy some road and lay your own tracks. If you can't turn a profit and get investors, then no one wants your railroad anyway.
Yes, we should pressure companies to "not be evil" via boycotts, information campaigns, and buying from competitors. Federal legislation is not the means of achieving this goal, however, as it restricts innovation and prevents technological growth we can't imagine today.
Keep your regulations out of my Internet. Please.
I'm curious to know how you even came to believe that net neutrality was "fundamentally about file sharing and BitTorrent" in the first place.
The Brazil/Hush-a-Phone connection is pretty neat. Brazil is one of my favorite movies, and I'd known about the Hush-a-Phone story (and was just recently thinking about how it relates to net neutrality) but didn't realize the Hush-a-Phone creator's name was Harry Tuttle.
Some of the vocabulary surrounding Internet policies is a bit confusing, and it seems like the fear of corporate control is obscuring the idea of government-regulated communication. The issue isn't: "we have to protect ourselves against malevolent monopolies." The Internet is a service established and maintained by companies that earn profits by being useful.
The best aspect of the net neutrality debate is rising consumer awareness. If Time Warner decides to kill NetFlix traffic, consumers will speak with their blogs, BBB complaints, and their wallets. Most populated areas have a choice between multiple ISP's, and the current Internet infrastructure doesn't make competition impossible. I am personally happy to accept minor throttling of less-demanded traffic so that the Internet can continue to innovate at the rate of consumer demand.
Obviously emergency systems should be free of throttling, and educational facilities have a strong demand for neutral and reliable ISP's - companies and contracts will be more than happy to step up to this demand. I have a hard time seeing how a "right" to the Internet has any place in our law - is it because we need to regulate anything that passes a certain threshold of usefulness and profitability?
The answer to increased innovation is NEVER to take the decisions out of the hands of both the providers of services and the consumers. They are the only ones that should be involved and you have decided a third party should make these decisions on their behalf.
Once again, con men arrive, instill fear by telling stories about how providers will victimize the consumers and offer to save us all if we will only turn control over to them. Consumers are not victims and creating regulation to solve imaginary problems has never worked out.
Contrary to popular belief, equipment belonging to a company does not magically belong to everyone once a lot of people make use of the service it provides.
It is easy to see the stories about the imaginary monsters but much harder to see the great advances and businesses that none of us can see today that never get created because of short-sighted fear such as this.
So the FCC made a deal with a Corporation to reduce competition, and you think the answer is to give the FCC more power over the internet? Regulators get 'captured', and so the less power they have the better. Net neutrality legislation/regulation will just be another roadblock for innovators, just as the FCC's agreement with AT&T was.
Stefankendall: "Net neutrality means simply that all *like* Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. "
I heartened by the fact that the first couple comments have cut through the fear-mongering and anti-corporatism that is pervading this issue.
"Net Neutrality" legislation (not the principle) is an excessive in turning over more power to a bureaucracy in order to fight some problem that might occur in the future Note: not happening now, anywhere, at all.
And as any coder, engineer, or even plumber will tell you, when you try to solve a problem that doesn't really exist, you're far more likely to create new REAL problems that are even worse.
Since the dawn of the internet, the only positive innovation we have seen from ISPs is simply increasing bandwidth. All the other real innovation has come from the endpoints. I see no evidence that ISPs are going to provide any positive benefits from allowing them to censor and filter our communications with these endpoints. We wouldn't stand for the US gov't enacting a 'great firewall of china', I don't see why we should allow the ISPs to set up a private version either.
Further, we have utilities for things like water, sewer, electricity, etc. because it becomes a mess if we try to run these basic infrastructures as competitive markets. It just doesn't work for these industries. Internet connectivity falls into this category as well, most people simply don't have a competitive ISP market in their area, so arguments that consumers have can vote with their wallet if they don't like corporate policies are moot.
So you want a law that says "The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate."
Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do to my wires?
Did this post get mentioned on a libertarian website or something? Weird that the comments to a net neutrality post on a tech blog are running 75%+ pro-ISP.
@Croton No, but it got mentioned at Hacker News. Not sure if any of the comments are from those users, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were. Entrepreneurs are self-starters who don't believe it's the government's role to get involved in or protect things they create, even though corporations are hell-bent on using government to hurt the competition, just like AT&T's "special rule that was part of their covenant with the federal government".
The comments aren't "pro-ISP", they're anti-corporatism. Corporations may benefit from the sentiment of these comments, but they'll benefit more if politicians carve out special rules for them.
The free-market has created the internet we know and love. So, why get special-interest "protection" when there hasn't been any real threat?
@Patrick Szalapski Your argument would stand if the distinction wasn't completely artificial. I have no problem with my ISP limiting my bandwidth, which is already the case anyways (we're three in the house happily living with 40 GB a month); however, them deciding certain bits weight more than others is absurd. Coming next to you, crippled Internet for no technical reason.
I'm confused by the definition of "network neutrality". Does that mean all bits get treated alike (email, streaming video, VoIP, bittorrent), or all bits of a like class get treated alike?
I'm fine with the concept of giving bit streams different QoS treatment based on their latency, jitter and throughput requirements, so long as the provider doesn't look at where the bits come from or go to. For example, all VoIP traffic might be queued ahead of bittorrent, but it shouldn't matter whether the traffic comes from Google Voice, Skype or my home-brew phone app. Is that what you mean, or do you mean no network provider may use traffic shaping or QoS for any reason?
There's a separate issue of core providers paying edge providers for transit rights, or vice versa, which is complicated enough that I totally don't understand it. As near as I can tell, that's something completely different from net neutrality.
@Jeff, looks like most of your commenters have more information on this one than you, this time.
As one said, I too am surprised you fell into this naive trap, designed to grab the imagination of the non-techies.
One VERY important element, absolutely inherent and critical to proper functioning of well-performing networks, is Quality of Service (QoS).
Net Neutrality effectively makes QoS illegal. And that's really the only thing it can accomplish.
If an ISP really wanted to harm your bandwidth, it would be trivial to do so, and in such a way that it would be impossible to prove it. This is just like it is impossible to optimize metrics on programmers...
Hmm, now you got me thinking, could it be that it's secretly AT&T that's behind the Net Neutrality? That's one way to kill all the VOIP traffic (which depends on QoS, and would be practically impossible - or at least unusable - without it)... And thus get back control of the Bell monopoly...
Really, that's the only thing that makes any sort of sense (except maybe a soviet plot to destroy our infrastructure).
Please, Jeff, look into this again, and come back with a retraction / correction.
You don't need to control the communications link if instead you control the users gateway to that link.
Their is a company who has figured out how to do that. It has designed a product so desirable that users were prepared to give up control over their gateway to their communications link in order to get it.
The company, set up a system which allowed them to choose which third party applications could run on their gateway. And take a 30% cut on any people attempting to make money off producing applications running on the communications gateway.
The company started blocking the most common form of multimedia content available on the communications link, not by blocking the data on the communication link but by not allowing the application used to display that content.
If this company gains full control over our access devices for the communications link, Net Neutrality will be powerless to stop them, because they don't control the link just our gateway to access it.
This company has a name.
It is Apple
It seems that the people arguing against net neutrality are leaving out a very important point. The organizations that are supplying access to the Internet are also creating their own content networks and would likely charge other content providers for improved bandwidth to their consumers (assuming they don't compete directly with them, in which case they will be run out of business).
Capitalism only works when there is legitimate competition. I don't know about you, but there are only two lines coming into my home, the phone line and cable line. Both types of companies have a long track record of monopolistic practices. Considering the cost of creating the infrastructure necessary to provide a new way to access the Intenet without having to use the phone or cable companies wires, I would consider Internet access to be a non-competive service.
The only reasonable way to ensure that capitalism and innovation thrives on the Internet is to ensure that the companies that control our access to the Internet can't decide what information we get to consume or how we consume it.
Tim Wu offered some interesting insights into the US internet position when speaking about Australia's National Broadband Network (NBN):
"Cable companies are about television. Phone companies, they didn't like the internet, it kind of came out of nowhere. And so they're not native-born internet companies, they're sort of begrudgingly doing this because it's a certain alternative service and they're always a little nervous it'll take over in a way they won't control," said Wu. "It actually has taken over."
The simple version is that cable companies want to kill online video and the telcos want to kill VOIP.
"Unlimited internet" is the real force opposing network neutrality - a cable company or telc can't use financial means (billing you) to stop you from using their competitor (NetFlix, Skype etc.), so they resort to selective bandwidth throttling. Australia doesn't have that problem because there has been no such thing as "unlimited" until the last 12-24 months (with several ISPs being taken to court by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission for misusing the term) and our two cable companies, Telstra & Optus, only offer services to a very small proportion of the population.
The people opposed to Net Neutrality talk as if we can just switch ISPs if we don't like their "bandwidth shaping" policies. I have only two choices, many people have only one.
If you don't like the railroad, buy some road and lay your own tracks. If you can't turn a profit and get investors, then no one wants your railroad anyway.
Bollocks. “Infrastructure” is something you only need one of, and that innovative services rely on. Once it’s there, you can’t practically compete with it, and it would be an enormous waste of resources to do so — resources that could be better spent innovating. Some things aren’t best provided by pure competition, and infrastructure is one of them. Thus it needs to be managed as a shared resource, so that there’s a solid, reliable, fair base for everyone to innovate on top of.
Well, you seem to think that wires are the only way to connect are to the internet (and competition between those wires are indeed limited). But this is a current situation which will most likely change in the future to radio waves. So the answer is more competition, especially between wireless carriers, rather than more government control. Once government takes control over something, it will be very difficult to persuade them to give up this control.
> "Net Neutrality" destroys innovation.
Scenario: to get some of that sweet fast bandwidth, you need to pay every major ISP an amount of money. Depending on your service, bandwidth needed and the economical position of your product relative to the ISP's or mother company's, this can amount to some serious cash.
Google can pay up. Microsoft can as well, as can Apple, major newspapers, media portals etc.
Internet startup Great Idea Inc. cannot. The startup cost will just be too high. Since we're moving to more bandwidth hungry apps like online video instead of lean ones, costs will rise. Great Idea Inc. has a web2.0 tagging social video cloud (as you can see, it IS a great idea!) so it will use up a lot of bandwidth. Large ISPs now hold this small company ransom; if they want their new product to be usable or even reachable by the subscribers, they'll have to pay up. And no, they cannot move to another ISP because we're talking about ISPs on the receiving end.
Yet you argue that NN somehow stifles innovation.
For a real world example, see YouTube. Now part of the Google empire, but would have failed if they would have had to pay for bandwidth twice (not just on their sending end).
Also, to all the people arguing that "the pipe belongs to the ISP" I thought the pipe was largely paid for and maintained by tax payer money.
Well, this topic certainly seems to be a controversial one!
Personally I am surprised at the amount of pro-ISP, anti neutrality comments I'm seeing, especially for a tech blog.
I'll just throw this graphic in as I think it paints a particularly disturbing possible future if ISPs continue to have their way. (I did not create this image and I don't know who did - I'm just hosting my own copy as I find it comes in handy quite often).
The "Hush a Phone" needs to be resurrected for cell phones for people talking very loud in public places. The plastic part wouldn't be able to attach to a small ceel so would need a "Bluetooth Hush a Phone" which, when worn, would look like one of those funnels worn by an injured dog ;).
I'm surprised that no one has pointed out that net neutrality* kills babies. Surely that's a more important argument than "net neutrality** requires all packets to be treated the same way" or "net neutrality** makes QoS illegal."
* Assuming you incorrectly define the phrase net neutrality to mean "killing babies" in order to win an argument.
** Assuming you incorrectly define the phrase net neutrality to mean "treating all packets the same way without regard to QoS issues or protocol" in order to win an argument.
I find it interesting how a good number of you are stating "regulation destroys innovation!" Please cite some examples, because it sounds like you are hiding behind the "slippery-slope" fallacy.
I quite agree with Remmelt, while the concept will probably not hinder those sites that already have traffic, new sites or services will now have additional costs that WILL hamper innovation.
You missed the whole thing. The problem facing the hush-a-phone was regulation, not lack of it. Regulation rarely actually enhances freedom. I am all for net neutrality. I just doubt that the government regulation is the right way to get there. Most likely, it will look like neutrality, but have huge unintended consequences. The real answer is competition. I have at least 4 ISP's that can serve my house. This is even more amazing considering that I live on several acres 15 miles from the nearest town. That is how you really fix the problem.
One of the Telecom industries greatest weapons against Net Neutrality is misinformation.
For instance, as shown in the comment above, the Telecoms have successfully managed to confuse not discriminating based on the source of data (i.e. Google or YouTube) with not discriminating based on the type of service (VoIP, HTTP).
True Net Neutrality is the former, not the latter. It's fine to discriminate by traffic type as long as you don't discriminate based on source.
And before you claim this is a "problem for the future," Comcast and AT&T have already tried to charge Google, etc... for the Google traffic Comcast/AT&T deliver to their customers.
This is despite the fact that Google has already paid (or not depending on the agreement) with its peers to interconnect with them.
See: Interconnect agreement on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interconnect_agreement
I think it is probable that a lot of the anti-neutrality, pro-huge-corporation comments are astro-turf, being payed for by huge cooperations.
Sorry, Jeff. I couldn't disagree with you more.
In fact, let me be blunt. You couldn't be more wrong if you tried.
Government intrusion and regulation is always a limiting factor in the growth of free enterprise. Yes, it's necessary in events where you might otherwise kill or harm someone, or where the very lack of regulation might inhibit such growth.
None of those cases apply in even the tiniest way here.
You might look at these, but some of it is far too overtly political, and the truth here really has nothing to do with politics:
I can sum up in just a couple sentences why Net Neutrality may be one of the worst ideas in recent history.
Net Neutrality advocates claim that they need internet freedom to protect them from evil ISP's controlling what they can and can't see and from making them pay extra in order to see certain parts of the web, but not others.
However, every net neutrality idea proposed does absolutely nothing to solve that issue. In fact, they almost certainly make the situation worse. All that happens under net neutrality is that the control of what you can do on the internet moves from public companies who have a vested interest in making you happy and making as much accessible as possible, to the government, which has no interest in doing either.
The only vested interest ANY government ever has is increasing its own power by control of information. Net neutrality is a big step in that direction. And I submit that if you think that's a good idea, then you have lost your mind.
I will fight against net neutrality until my last dying breath.
As a bit of an aside, I'm really glad you mentioned Brazil. It would have really bothered me that I recognized the name, "Harry Tuttle," but couldn't quite figure out from where.
Now, had you mentioned Sam Lowry, on the other hand, I would have gotten it right away. (So here's a bonus question, who the heck was Jeremiah Tuttle? (ereiamjh was the password to the director's office) Maybe not everything has a secondary meaning though)
The Internet politics is done by coding, not by talking or passing laws (which are still very important, but just as oil is still very important).
That does not mean, as you can imagine, that programmers will rule the world (thank god). The fact that you can get a piece of code to run doesn't mean you have any idea of its real impact in the world. In fact, chances are you don't.
Having said that, things are probably gonna get worse before they get better, when we finally discredit software production as an industry, and understand what is our responsibility.
So we have unelected bureaucrats at the FCC deciding unanimously that it can regulate one of the most important innovations in the history of humanity.
The FCC, which went ape*t over Janet Jackson's flapjack was broadcast on the Superbowl, which has a history of standing in the way of innovation (re: Sirius/XM merger) and a long love of censorship.
And, to top it all off, we have politicians TRYING to give the power to the President to turn it all off with a flick of a switch. Kinda like is happening in the middle east, right now.
And its all based on exactly what? The possibility that a company may do something bad?
I'd trust Anonymous' DDOS more than some unelected sycophantic bureaucrat protecting us from some crony-capitalist company that gave the party of the bureaucrat a million during the last election cycle.
This. Is. A. Dumb. Idea.
"Net Neutrality" is bad. As a phrase, it's too easy to distort, confusing the vital issue of equal access for everybody's data. I want my VOIP to be high priority and low latency, but I don't even care that much about bandwidth when torrenting the latest Ubuntu distro, just as long as I get it reasonably fast.
"Common Carrier" would be a much better phrase, because people have an idea what it means, and there's real-world examples. A railroad may have different rates and requirements for hauling shoes as opposed to jet engines, but they'll haul anybody's shoes for the standard shoe rates, and anybody's jet engines for the standard jet engine rates.
Those people relying on the free market may as well rely on unicorns, at least in the US, since they're about as real. Almost all residential internet access is through lines owned and operated by either the phone company or the cable TV company, creating a duopoly with special interests. The phone company would rather you didn't use VOIP, and the cable company would rather you didn't stream NetFlix. Neither is primarily in the Internet business. Similarly, their aren't all that many long-haul carriers, and they aren't necessarily just in the Internet business.
In the absence of a free market, the alternative is government regulation, which works well for utilities. My power hardly ever goes off, and never stays off very long, thanks partly to supervision by the Public Utilities Commission. Internet access could work the same way.
Oh, and to counter Matthew Scouten above,
I think it is probable that a lot of the pro-FCC-takeover, pro-statist comments are astro-turf, being payed for by political organizations that stand to reap power from the takeover and fat cash from their cronies by ensuring their competition gets weeded out.
"Net Neutrality" as a slogan may be a good idea, but I have grave doubts about it as a matter of law. I have grave doubts about the government's ability to enforce it.
Or rather, I fear that any legislation that gives some group of government bureaucrats the authority to regulate "net neutrality" will end up with their establishing a corporate oligarchy with rigid control over content, in the "public interest".
Just because the FCC is supposed to use the powers we'll have given it to promote openness, doesn't mean it will use them to do so. Or at least, not according to any definition of the word that we'd recognize.
If we were discussing water and the suggestion was that a person can pay to severely restrict their neighbor’s access to the public water supply in order to improve their own supply, you’d hear a unanimous uproar.
Even though internet access unimportant compared to life-sustaining water, the same rules of fair play exist. The ISP and the water company perform an identical, neutral function. For a fee, they each can provide you with better access, but can’t accept your payment to hobble someone else. If they can’t meet the total demand then they need to impose a unilateral restriction until they can increase the supply.
The “government intrusion” argument is invalid. The point should be to prevent ISPs from offering services that promote unfair business practices among their clients. One can hope that any legislation written will correctly address the issue. God knows some of these people are dumb as dirt and need all the help we can give them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes
The “YouTube wastes bandwidth” argument is false proof by example and it allows ISPs the ability to take access fees and invest too little of it in infrastructure upgrades. Among developed nations, the US is middle of the pack in terms of average bandwidth, but at the top in terms of cost.
I continue to find it amusing how after the gross malfeasance of companies like MCI, Tyco, and Enron, people continue to think that corporations are good and just and the government is evil. I wonder what it will take for the masses to finally understand that corporations are interested in one thing and one thing only, profits. If they can get them by laying us all off, shipping our jobs to India, and making us pay for anything beyond email traffic, they'll do it. They need to be reigned in.
"I wonder what it will take for the masses to finally understand that corporations are interested in one thing and one thing only, profits."
Of course they are. If they were interested in anything else, they'd be far more dangerous.
"If they can get them by laying us all off, shipping our jobs to India, and making us pay for anything beyond email traffic, they'll do it."
Why should they bother to do that, when they can just dream up some attractive buzzword and use it to push a bill through Congress that will allow them to eliminate their competition in a perfectly legal manner?
"They need to be reigned in."
Trying to use big government to control big business is a contradiction in terms. They are two sides of the same coin.
We can't regulate ourselves to freedom.
No! A thousand times no!
Net neutrality is yet another in the long list of federal laws that is a solution in search of a problem. We need to stop passing laws that are not necessary and will no doubt have unintended negative consequences.
This is all about control; not about freedom (and the desire by it's proponents to shape content in their favor). In the case of Comcast, they were doing what they thought was best for their consumers on their own networks; exactly as they should be. As long as we can keep government away from the industry, consumers can be free to choose - if you think you're provider is doing something bad, just choose a competitor.
This ARPANET itself demonstrates that we don't need more laws. They went on to create great new things without new laws.
Let's please stop the mindset that the answer to most of our problems is more government control.
Ah yes, if the government just adds more rules and forces people at gunpoint to follow them then things will be much nicer for everyone.
This is kind of the "No child left behind" for the Internet. We all get to move at the speed of the slowest user.
Don't consider the cost that will come because if a company wants to carry any data they must carry all data. At some point since there is no profit there will be companies that won't play any longer. Yes companies exist to make a profit. What do people think they are for? But you will notice that there is no individual or charity group building international data links.
Forcing everyone to build handicapped access into all new construction and renovations sounds good as well. Until the lifeguard station at Clearwater Beach can't fix their second floor observation room unless they make it wheelchair accessible. Now you would think that someone would give them a pass since only lifeguards are allowed up there but such is not the case. They must make it wheelchair accessible or do without.
> So we have unelected bureaucrats at the FCC deciding unanimously that it can regulate one of the most important innovations in the history of humanity.
Speaking of unelected officials, I don't remember ever electing the CEO of AT&T or the CEO of Verizon.
Why don't we just elect them out with our wallets, right. Since they operate in industries with little competition and high barriers to entry, it's virtually impossible to do so.
They are entitled to make a profit, but given the critical nature of their assets, they should be forced to make a profit in the most equitable way possible. In this case, that means Net Neutrality.
Furthermore, the real innovation is at the endpoints not the middle. If the internet didn't start out as neutral there would be no Google, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Twitter. None of us would be here today commenting on Jeff's post, either. None of those startups would have had enough money to pay the packet premium charged by the providers.
Wow, looks like the telco lobbyists are out in full force today.
More seriously, network neutrality is a more complicated subject than it first appears. Most people can't even define it properly.
I think a big reason for the Internet's success is the fact that network neutrality has been a de facto principle to date. We can lament the fact that some intervention may be needed to keep the Internet neutral, but I think it is critical to do so. However, any regulation should be measured and only target clear and present threats to neutrality.
The Internet has leveled the playing field -- everyone can have an equal voice on the Internet. This clearly makes some of those in power uncomfortable. That's exactly why we need to preserve network neutrality.
>Don't consider the cost that will come because if a company wants to carry any data they must carry all data.
What cost? All I'm asking is that my phone company gets my data through their system both ways, which is what I'm paying them to do. Why would it cost more if they had to pass through a megabyte of this data versus a megabyte of that data?
The alternative to carrying all data is that the phone company examines what I want to use the Internet for and decides to let me do that or not itself. That would cost the phone company extra, and would dramatically reduce the value of the connection for me.
Wow. This post was so frustrating that I actually clicked out of my Google Reader tab--a rarity--so I could come leave a lone comment in dissension, saying how you had everything completely backwards, and that regulation and enforced monopoly was *halting* innovation. And further, that Net Neutrality is a Trojan Horse concept, sounding like a panacea to geeks at the endpoints, so long as they don't think too deeply about its devastating, innovation-destroying consequences for the network.
But instead, I'm heartened by the number of your responders who clearly get it, so I'm going to go back to Google Reader to enjoy the rest of my day.
We're really stuck. Neither route is good. Big Government can't be trusted. Big ISP Corp can't be trusted. Centralization of power leads to abuse. We need another model. Monopoly sucks, no matter if it is business or government or a combination of the two that runs the monopoly.
Let's start innovating right here and right now. Who has an idea for a model that decentralizes control? Push it down as far as possible, to the end user, ultimately. C'mon, don't bloviate, innovate!
> The real answer is competition. I have at least 4 ISP's that can serve my house.
I'm in a fairly large city in New York state, and we've essentially one option for decent broadband, Time Warner. There's DSL, but it's shit.
> The real answer is competition. I have at least 4 ISP's that can serve my house.
That's great, and you can find one that doesn't prioritize Comcast's shitty built-in video service over YouTube and Netflix. Unfortunately, a carrier halfway between your ISP and Netflix does prioritize it. So you're out of luck anyway.
Also, you just had a great idea, but the only way you can monetize it is by getting a patent and becoming a troll because you don't have the VC connections to pony up the millions of dollars it will cost to payoff every ISP to carry your bits at a decent speed. Thank god net neutrality was defeated and we're free to innovate.
The concept of Net Neutrality sounds great at first glance. I'm mean, who could possibly be against it?
Well, I am. Proponents fear large companies like AT&T, Verizon, Com Cast etc regulating their bandwidth, therefore crushing competition on the internet and therefore the freedom of creativity. The answer to their fears is the FCC. Who will ensure the net remains neutral.
The flaw in this logic is the FCC is neutral. It is not. The FCC is influenced by those with political power. These large companies spend large amounts of money in Washington protecting their interests. When threatened, they will use their power to stop the competition.
Crazy? The FCC initially ruled IN FAVOR of AT&T and against Hush-A-Phone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hush-A-Phone_v._United_States.
FCC != Net Neutrality
For all the people saying most people live in an area with multiple ISPs available:
I live 8 miles from a gigantic mall (Great Lakes Crossing, Auburn Hills, MI). My road is paved, I live in a subdivision with 75 homes. (It isn't backwoods America.) And I have exactly one ISP available to me. Comcast. Oh wait, unless I want to use dialup. But that isn't really the internet. I don't even have access to DSL.
Comcast is a terrible ISP regarding service and price. And if you recall, they were one of the ISPs caught traffic shaping BitTorrent.
Internet is has become a right. Why? It is a mass mode of communication. Like Newspapers, Radio, and TV before it. Are those industries regulated? Yes. I'm not for regulation that says what you can do. I'm for regulation that says what you can't do. Comcast should not be able to say I can access youtube.com for an additional fee. *THAT* does not stifle innovation.
Also, I'm a card carrying Libertarian. No party gets everything right.
Net Neutrality ignores the fact that bandwidth is a scarce resource and as such is governed by the normal laws of economics; it is simply price control re-branded. All pro Net Neutrality arguments ultimately boil down to: "we want it, and at someone else's expense." Net Neutrality is immoral because it is a violation of property rights. c.f. http://bit.ly/HygEc
To all those talking about corruption within FCC and congress, the only way to make fix that is to:
Fix Congress first and then let's talk about Net Neutrality.
If I sent a letter to my congressman and the postal carrier threw it out for political reasons, I would be upset. If I emailed my senator and my ISP rejected it for political reasons, I would be equally upset. I'm not sure if I'm on the same page as everyone else here.
Also, just because you own something doesn't mean that your business can do whatever you want with it. For example, in the US it is illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, gender, or age.
I look at it this way, a byte is a byte and it doesn't matter if it is an audio file or a web page. I should be charged for the bandwidth that I use and if that is not enough then I should have the option to purchase more. Being charged for the TYPE of bytes I transmit is completely wrong.
It is like Telco is looking at certain types of bandwidth, and wanting to capitalize on the success of that usage by adding yet another tax upon it. This is nothing new. Back in the 80's I had a similar battle against their flawed logic (http://cd.textfiles.com/thegreatunsorted/texts/bbs_legal_info/flaprb.txt). I was a "heavy" bandwidth user (my single bbs line was occupied over 80% of the time) and they found a loophole to abuse by twisting their definition of a business. They saw a difference between teenagers using modems to communicate, to using their voices. In both circumstances the amount of telecom hardware being used was the same.
"Was AT&T merely blowing smoke? Not at all: the company was referring to a special rule that was part of their covenant with the federal government."
Does no one see the irony here? AT&T could only make good on their threat precisely because they were complying with regulatory controls that the federal government instituted. Net Neutrality's solution? Force ISPs to comply with regulatory controls that the federal government institutes! Never once is it acknowledged that the problem is the evil symbiotic relationship between the corporate moochers and government looters.
Jeff, I also support Net Neut!
But, the main topic of concern is priority access. And in the end it comes down to two things.
1) There will be an incentive to keep bandwidth as it is and offer a premium service to websites willing to pay for more. Not only is blocking content illegal(It depends who is blocking from/to whom), but it would actually hurt internet providers to offer a lower quality service to their customers.
2) The only reason why websites would pay for a premium service for their content is if there was a noticeable improvement. Which means a noticeable lower quality of service for other websites.
But when it comes to the internet, no one can truly predict the future.
Unexpected commentary here, for sure. Regulation is evil? Regulation that prevents monopolistic practices is good. Regulation that promotes monopolistic behavior (see Hush-a-Phone) is bad.
The network has been neutral for most of us to date. Let's keep it that way.
Jeff, I respect Lessig too, but I think he's off in the woods with this this concern, and he's misguided too many techies with him.
There is some excellent background on both sides of the story here:
Please read that Jeff, and post a follow-up if your position changes even subtly. It boils down to your whether you believe competition delivers better results than the "intelligent" designs of bureaucrats.
If you look at the track records of each, yes markets have their friction and their occasional pathologies, but asking the FCC (or any regulator) to keep it fair is trusting the fox to guard the hen-house.
You took the wrong lesson from Hush-a-Phone. It wasn't the maniacal actions of a monopoly that stifled this innovation and limited consumers choices it was the initially-well-intentioned regulation of these networks that invited this lunacy.
I'm surprised that the technical aspects of enabling filtering based on originator (not just protocol) haven't been brought up more in this discussion.
With net neutrality, each router must:
- look at the destination IP address.
- look up the destination IP address in a routing table to determine which port to send it on.
- send it on that port.
Once the ISP is allowed to filter based on the site it came from.
- look at the source IP address
- look up the source IP address in a table of preferred customers
- if not present, wait, or maybe just throw the packet out.
- if it is present, look at the destination IP address.
- look up the destination IP address in a routing table to determine what port to send it on
- send it to that port
Oh yeah, and by the way, with that scenario, every time you (the new awesome web4.5 innovative company) bring a new server up, you must make sure to update your list of IP addresses with each and every ISP you have preferred status with. Or we can add a reverse DNS query into the above list of steps, but then I hope you weren't planning on using any sort of cloud computing service like heroku where all of your IP addresses reverse map to proxy.heroku.com.
Bottom line is that filtering like this will result in worse performance for everyone, though maybe it will spur some innovation in faster db lookups, since we're doing several for every single packet that gets sent.
I find some sort of net neutrality desirable because the providers most of us are stuck with have an inherent conflict of interest when it comes to the type of content that goes through their pipes. Either they are phone companies which would rather sell you overpriced phone service instead of letting you use VOIP, or they are cable companies interested in selling you overpriced access to TV and movies.
The same problem arises whenever someone is ostensibly selling you one kind of good or service when they really want to sell you something else. A meatspace example is movie theaters which bar you from bringing outside food and drink in the hope of selling you their overpriced junk food. Locked cellphones sold by phone providers are another example.
In all these cases you can argue that the unwanted, overpriced product is subsidizing the desired product or service. That is not bad *if* the providers are transparent about it. Some phone companies let you buy unlocked phones at a higher price, which lets you see the size of the subsidy and decide whether you want it or not. Some restaurants let you bring your own bottle of wine for a fee. I don't know of theaters which let you pay extra to bring your own food or drink. And I wonder whether ISPs would let you pay a reasonable extra fee for a neutral connection.
So you want the Internet to be managed by Central Services?
It's actually funny that the example presented in this post used to justify 'Net Neutrality' was only a problem because of the government.
The answer then is more government involvement?
I believe in Freedom and I also believe that NetFlix can do more good by shamming miscreant ISPs than any, generally clueless, FCC bureaucrat.
Net neutrality, like climate change, is one of those political topics that is a documented target of astroturf campaigns by incumbent players (Comcast, AT&T) who want to ensure the gravy train keeps rolling:
So take any hysterical anti-regulation comments with a grain of salt.
Net Neutrality is about preventing ISPs from engaging in various monopolistic practices. This is about consumer protection. Nobody is suggesting that they be prevented from managing their networks, but ISPs should provide all bits that customers request with best effort and not deliberately slow-walk competitors services.
People seem to forget that the marginal cost of providing bits is very near to zero; once the infrastructure is built and the network admins get paid, it doesn't cost anything more if your network is running at 5% or 50% utilization. If the network is at 5% utilization and the ISP still decides to throttle a competitor's service, that is a monopolist using their position to strangle innovation. That is what net neutrality is intended to address.
I'm officially ignoring every comment on this thread where the Typepad account was just now created to comment on this thread. "is now following The TypePad Team" as of February 14th.
The network neutrality "issue" was invented by AT&T. There was no discussion until Whiteacre announced that he would like to charge Google etc. for access to his customers. Of course, at the time, there was absolutely nothing stopping him from doing that, except that it would have been commercial suicide -- so AT&T never did.
Network Neutrality, as in the end-to-end principle is just good engineering, because it means you don't have to do anything to the network to use it in new ways. Just modularity, nothing more, nothing less. We should all be in favour of it because it's good engineering. Having a regulatory body enforce this good engineering practice will do more damage, in terms of restricting how the network can be used, than abandoning it would, not that it is at all likely to be abandoned anyway.
Some of you guys are nuts.
The guys arguing that net neutrality blocks innovation are presupposing a working marketplace of ISPs doing battle to capture customers. The idea of that happening isn't just absurd, but also adorably naive. I think, if anything, it's getting more and more monopolistic. Building/maintaining these networks is very expensive. And the only reason a corporation is going to do it is if they think it'll raise next quarter's earnings report.
One example of this going awry is the ISP Clearwire. They EXPLICITLY blocked ports that enables you to video/audio chat as a way to push PREMIUM INTERNET PACKAGES to their customers. "Want to do a completely normal thing on the internet? Well, PAY UP!"
I do agree that we have to be careful of the government having too much control (regulatory our otherwise) over the net though. Look at what happened with social networking and the government's response in Egypt.
@Cjbreisch, "companies who have a vested interest in making you happy and making as much accessible as possible".
Companies don't give a single droplet of shit about their customers's happiness. All they care about is MAKING MONEY; the scope is to MAXIMIZE PROFITS. It may be easy to say you can always pick another ISP because you live in the major city, but a massive part of the world DOES NOT HAVE ACCESS TO SEVERAL ISPs.
Look at what has happened to the television and telephone industries. TV networks charge you extra for more channels. Telephone companies charge you extra for more free/cheap locations. Do you really want your ISP to charge you extra because you found a nice website on Google that isn't on your package? If net neutrality is hampering innovation, how has the Internet evolved so MASSIVELY over the last decade, with it being completely neutral?
I think it's perfectly legitimate for a regulatory body enforce good engineering practice; you don't want to drive over a bridge or live in a house that isn't up to code. Computer networks are increasingly considered critical infrastructure, why shouldn't it be regulated where the public interest is concerned? [*]
[*] Of course there is a slippery slope argument here, so let me be clear I am 100% against any kind of censorship by government or corporation.
An interesting special case that hasn't really been mentioned is network security. Verizon DSL blocks outgoing port 25 to fight spam botnets; however this is incredibly annoying if you want to use a mail agent via a legitimate relay. Personally I think they should not be allowed to block ports without cause, but should be able to disconnect customers who have been pwned.
@Nicholascloud, "Net Neutrality ignores the fact that bandwidth is a scarce resource and as such is governed by the normal laws of economics;"
No it isn't, bandwidth is not a scarce resource. Fiber has very little bandwidth limitations. We have yet to saturate 100 Mbit Ethernet, let alone Gigabit Ethernet - all these are dirt cheap from chipsets to wires. The reason is ISPs making obscene profits; it costs them next to nothing / MB, because the infrastructure cost is amortized over a HUGE amount of traffic.
"it is simply price control re-branded."
Exactly. Tell Comcast or any other ISP we don't want to be charged extra for some websites. We want a flat rate for access to the WHOLE Internet, or go to hell.
"All pro Net Neutrality arguments ultimately boil down to: 'we want it, and at someone else's expense.'"
No, we PAY for the bandwidth we get, whether we actually USE it or not. But don't just drop it to 20GB/month either. Few people use hundreds of GBs a month, but some DO. You can easily do the math and see that those are not an issue.
"Net Neutrality is immoral because it is a violation of property rights. c.f."
No it isn't a violation of property rights. It has become a UTILITY, like power, water, etc. You can't easily switch power companies or water companies, same for the Internet: few people can easily switch them, if they can at all.
I can certainly appreciate the differing points of view here and understand why people feel the government has to stop in to protect the people from profit minded corporations and blatantly unfair treatment.
There are places where this has already happened and the politicians continue to stand up for the little guy. I think there's many people would be much happier there since the political environment more closely matches their own.
May I suggest Venezuela, or even China.
@Boatseller.wordpress.com, right, it's easier to move to a completely difference country in a completely different place of the planet, on my OWN money and time. Uh, what? I am a citizen HERE, I have elected you to SERVE ME (politicians), not the companies I'm already paying. By your logic 95% of the world would be in a separate country. Why? Because they aren't in the top 1% wealthy, so they should go somewhere else where it's uniform. RIGHT.
I've listened to a lot of people make the sort of libertarian argument that well, they don't much like the idea of corporate monopolies controlling the internet's physical infrastructure, but damn it! I don't want "The Government's" filthy regulatory hands all over it either!
But none of this group has answered (or asked?) the obvious question: if not via public policy, how do you plan on avoiding monopolization? Shall we just ask them nicely?
I'm curious how all the free market fans feel about the fact that the cable companies and phone companies built their networks through extensive use of regional monopolies, easements over public land, and government power of eminent domain? That was then, this is now?
As far as the impingement on net neutrality being a "what if" fantasy, have we already forgotten the spat between Netflix and Comcast two months ago? I don't want free bandwidth. If I use 10OMb/sec for an hour I'm happy to pay for it. I just don't want to pay one rate for the Disney Chanel and another rate for WikkiLeaks. If the ISPs want to charge differential rates by content source, at the very least they need to give up their common carrier status, and give back all those lovely easements.
Great, a libertarian flashmob, all working out from their dogma that regulation must always be bad. I particularly like the comment that calls Atwood uninformed, although not a single commenter to that point had shown signs that they understood the scale of government subsidies to the telcos and why infrastructure is a special case where it can be argued that competition doesn't work. I mean, you could disagree with it and say that overall the pro-net neutrality arguments are outweighed by the anti-neutrality arguments, but instead we get to see the cretinous trait of our species called dogmatism and people arguing an ideological standpoint.
While I support Jeff's right to express his opinion on his blog, I choose not to give him his advertising revenue if he is going to promote government regulations. I have deleted my RSS feed to this site.
The Brazil reference to me is what led me to your site, I made a couple of cryptic tweets just to remind of myself of my thought at the time. My premature conclusion on net neutrality is this, Matroyska dolls. Since infrastructural ownership isn't the final straw due to the symbiotic aspect of interactivity through choice as the internet's root characteristic, Google shows a strength for cartographically creating a route regarding the seas of data. However, if tiered internet (which i personally have no issue with) is what net neutrality is, and the idea of slower internet being the real centralized type power leverage, then, the "container" industry will become the next Google, since it will be innovative though inspired by diametric opposite intention. What this means, containers will trick packet sniffers, and it will be a see saw bunch of recess BS, though will result in a Divx style legitimacy when it's innovation to deceive creates an efficiency that is unintended initially.
I wish the myth of ISP competition would finally just die. Yes, for some people there may be more than a single ISP available. Those of you that live in affluent neighborhoods in suburbs of large cities probably have at least 2 providers, I'll grant that.
Me, I live in the middle of Boston, right between Harvard Medical and Harvard Business and *I* have exactly 1 ISP to choose from, Comcast. If me, a user in one of the tech friendliest cities in the country can't get a choice of ISPs who can? If Comcast were to do anything I don't like I'd have to grin and bear it.
I have no problem keeping the government out of the Internet the day we actually have a choice 4 or 5 providers in the big markets. Until then we treat ISPs like we treat electric companies, as regulated monopolies.
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I was frustrated with my waste service provider so I cracked open the phone book and found 3 advertisements, 2 for my existing provider. So I call up the 3rd and ask their rates. To get the process of switching over to them rolling they ask for my name, phone number and address. It turns out I was already in their system. It was the same company but advertising under a different company name for a different location in my area. What I thought was a choice turned out to not be one. I have 2 choices of internet providers in my area. I've used both and they both have bad customer service and poor billing practices. If we want to change anything it should be regulating their business practices, not throttling bandwidth. The internet is a utility in my opinion and should be treated as such since tax dollars are what got the whole thing in place to begin with. We the people paid for the infrastructure.
Many have tried to explain this, but I'll give it a shot as well. If the internet isn't regulated by the government, ISP's will have the ability to treat content from opposing companies different than their own. This will almost certainly lead to less companies able to create new services and will stifle innovation.... at first.
What we will see as soon is that happens will be the quickest technological revolution the United States has ever seen. The internet is the most important thing to happen to civilization, and the people will reject anything that makes it less useful. Many people don't have a choice of service provider, but that will change drastically when a market opens up for a different kind of ISP. I could easily see wireless technology exploding, perhaps even a decentralization of wireless infrastructure in populated areas, where everyone possesses a transmitter/repeater. Maybe a torrent style of wireless distribution between peers to transmit information across this network based on open standards. That's just one thought, and it may not even be possible, but it certainly will not happen if regulations are passed that maintain the status quo like net neutrality will do.
I think it is short-sighted to regulate against problems without considering if they might be solved by themselves.
I love the fact you got astroturfed on this issue. I for one hope that all the astroturfers have their ISP taken over by a media company ideologically opposed to their own and that media company decides to be "non-neutral" with regards to access to their favorite watering holes.
The howls should change then, especially when the learn what their "alternative ISPs" really are like in terms of performance.
In my case I can get a 50 Mbps cable company (that I use, actual performance more like 25 Mbps) *or* a 1 Mbps DSL (assuming I'm willing to take a "bundle" of unwanted services) *or* a dish based provider at 512 kbps with a low download cap.
Yeah, thats some excellent "choices" there.
Of course net neutrality is important [if the legislation is worded correctly]. Look at it this way... do you want someone else telling you what you can look at on the net, controlling what you access?
Unless net neutrality is protected it will be destroyed. The Government wants regulation, because they are paid by the industry lobbyists to want it. The media companies and ISP's want to be able to discriminate what you get to see, because then they can sell you a premium package 'upgrade' not to.
Basically, the net at the moment is like radio used to be, competition at source, while the user chooses what they want to listen to. The companies want to move more to a cable Tv like business model, and divide up the content so they can sell it to you more than once. In order to do that, they need to be able to control the delivery system.
HACK: Write end to end apps that transform the packets to a cheaper alternative over the wire. Problem solved regardless of what happens. With the right P2P app we can build an internet on top of the internet. lol
"The free-market has created the internet we know and love"
That is tooo funny, ARPANET free market??? Defense department == the biggest socialist experiment ever. You see "socialism" works ;)
A good next step after understanding the decentralized design of The Internet is to read Protocol, by Alexander Galloway. It is a cultural and technical criticizsm of protocols used over the internet, using RFCs as a critical text.
It does contain some obvious references to DNS and Paul Garrin's decades long platform to free DNS from root authorities but the remainder is much more surprising and insightful.
To everyone saying "regulation destroys innovation" I say good riddance. I don't want my ISP innovating new ways to get money from me. I want them to buy fatter pipes. Their one and only answer to all usage problems should be "More bandwidth!". No innovation on their part is necessary or desired.
so this statement sums it up for me on NetN.
Was AT&T merely blowing smoke? Not at all: the company was referring to a special rule that was part of their covenant with the federal government.
so you think creating a monopoly with the Gov will keep the consumer safe? is this the same Gov that made sure EVERY single phone sold was a Bell? isnt that kinda the monopoly your afraid of and think NetN will solve? is this the same Gov that required right wing radio stations to broadcast left wing programs with the excuse of fairness? is this the same Gov that will not allow UPS & FedEx to transport envelope sized paper because it will trample the established monopoly of the USPS?
getting the Gov involved in regulating a worldwide network is a.) technically retarded and impossible b.) asking for lobbyist to basically take over the internet. lobbyist pay congress to get what they want, congress passes bills to reward lobbyist, next thing you know, microsoft controls the internet in the name of Net Neutrality.
the internet is the greatest single invention to human beings allowing sharing of knowledge freely. the reason why? the Gov has not had a chance to screw it up with regulations, taxes and politicians.
Not to trample on an ideology that I agree with on almost every issue, but clearly one answer (government == bad) is insufficient for all economic questions. It just does NOT hold up to reality, even if you define the "good" answer as the one resulting in the greatest economic growth!
The FASTEST growing major economy in the world (by an order of magnitude to the USA) is China, hardly a bastion of libertarianism. Economies with more banking regulations, like Canada, have huge leads in job and GDP growth over lax countries like the USA.
As someone who gets frustrated with government meddling on a near daily basis, I understand the point some commenters are making. However, the issue isn't quite as cut and dried as they seem to imagine it to be and net neutrality may need to become regulation at some point in the future if industry does not "play nice".
So why bother even discussing it now when it's not even a problem? When was the last time the government did anything fast without messing it up even worse? Clearly we need to have this discussion and figure out the risks before it becomes an issue!
So you want a law that says "The owners of the Internet's wires cannot discriminate."
Yep, in the same way most public utilities don't allow you to discriminate. I pay for my bits, and it shouldn't matter where I'm sending them too and from. If you can't provide the bandwidth you offered me, then that's your problem, not mine. QOS should be handled at the local end, not in aggregate - just because I'm using torrents shouldn't mean I lose out compared to all your Skypers out there.
Here is what a world without Net Neutrality looks like to me.
- When I pull my car onto a toll road, I have to declare where I'm going. Walmart? Well, then it's $1 and I can drive 100kph. Tim's General Store? Oh, he's not one of our Preferred Sponsors, so you'll have to pay $5 and can't drive more than 50kph. Are you sure you wouldn't rather go to Walmart instead?
- I pick up my phone to make a call, and get a recording saying that there'll be a delay because their phone company isn't my phone company.
- I call to complain that my lights are flickering, and get told that the company who owns the wires is throttling current to certain electricity providers.
I don't think I'm asking for much - I pay for a connection, and it's none of the ISPs business what I'm using it for.
Net neutrality means all bits are treated alike. Some people here argue that this is bad, because it has a negative impact on innovation. However, what shall I prioritize? If I prioritize everything, I'm back to no prioritization at all, so that is pointless. E.g. YouTube videos might need more bandwidth to play fluently, VoIP may need low latencies to work correctly and so on. And already here we have the conflict. Either I prioritize YouTube traffic (gets more bandwidth) or I prioritize VoIP traffic (gets better latencies); I cannot prioritize both. If I go for YouTube, videos will transfer quickly, but they will eat so much bandwidth, VoIP becomes impossible. If I go for VoIP, telephone calls will work nicely, but now videos may not be able to download in realtime any longer. It's always bandwidth vs latency. And what about people that don't care for either one? They never watch YouTube videos, they never do VoIP calls. However, they may use another service, e.g. video chat via Apple's FaceTime. Every user of the Internet has other requirements and if I prioritize his services, he will probably be very happy, but if not, his Internet experience will suck. Assuming I am an Internet provider, who gives me the power to decide which services should run fine for my customers and which services should suck? Do I even know what for my customers are using the Internet and why they have bought a broadband access to it? Should I even care? ISPs are only against net neutrality for a single reason and it is not to bring innovation to anyone or improve anyone's Internet experience, it is "making more money". If you are allowed to discriminate traffic, you can *blackmail* (and IMHO it is just that, blackmailing) a company like Google, eBay or Facebook and tell them "If you don't pay us $... per month, we will set your traffic to lowest priority; BWAHAHAHAHAH". If the law says, traffic must be neutral, this kind of blackmailing is simply impossible. Traffic Neutrality does not mean that an ISP must treat every customer equally. Of course not every customer gets the same bandwidth, but only what s/he paid for and of course a customer wasting an excessive amount of traffic might get throttled if his contract with the ISP allows to the ISP to do so, but in every case, this happens for ALL traffic of this customer and not traffic for specific services.
Merci pour ces bons moments sur votre blog. Je suis souvent au poste pour regarder (encore et toujours) ces merveilleux articles que vous partagé. Vraiment très intéressant. Bonne continuation à vous !
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As for all the "keep your gubbamint hands off mah internets" posts, here's my thoughts.
Is Net Neutrality stifling innovation? If innovation means dropping my bittorrent packets and throttling my netflix, then you can keep your innovation, and I think you know where you can put it too.
Telling that most of the top Pro-ISP comments are from accounts just created the day the article showed up. I'm sure these people don't have a vested monetary interest in this at all.
This article is horribly confused. The author attempts to use a tragic story of how a government-sanctioned telecom monopoly malevolently enforced government regulations against small private innovator as evidence that the government should have more of a role in crafting a national internet policy. Judging by the comments, I'm not the only one who sees this as lunacy.
It's also telling that the author references an urgent call-to-arms from 2006 that went unheeded, but he can't identify any actual negative event that's taken place in these last five years in the absence of the desired government restrictions. This whole net neutrality thing seems like a fear of some potentially undesirable potential future that there's no evidence to suggest is coming to pass.
"but he can't identify any actual negative event that's taken place in these last five years in the absence of the desired government restrictions"
I take it you haven't paid attention to the Comcast lawsuits, eh? Where they were packet shaping and performing the exact behavior that Net Neutrality is designed to prevent?
I encourage the readers of Coding Horror to remember that part of their public relations policies of major ISPs are to pose as normal consumers, commenters, and bloggers in order to support the official positions of their companies on issues such as Net Neutrality.
I find it interesting that the vast majority of the anti-NN comments on this blog entry are accounts that were created on the same day or a few days after the article was published and have no subsequent activity or profile information.
Just to get this out of the way, I wasn't paid to write this and I'm not affiliated with any teleco or anything. This is the first comment I have left on this blog in my three years of readership because I am passionate about the issue. I find it almost insulting that people would try to de-legitimize their opponents' arguments like this, and I hope we can debate on the merits of our positions rather than impugning each others' motives. Anyway.
I take it you haven't paid attention to the Comcast lawsuits, eh? Where they were packet shaping and performing the exact behavior that Net Neutrality is designed to prevent?
No, I'm well aware of it. I'm even a Comcast customer so it affects me every once in a while. The question is, why should I care? What's so evil about these policies? I am an almighty data hog, and I admit it. I download a *ton* of stuff. So I don't really see the catastrophic harm of them slowing down my connection from time to time when I'm consuming the most. I'm not actually prevented from doing anything; it's just that every once in a while when I'm torrenting while watching netflix, I'll have to turn off the torrent or the picture quality will decrease. Talk about a zero-th world problem!
Here's the way I see it: we can't have it both ways. Either we keep our "unlimited" plans and accept traffic shaping, or we move to metered internet so that people pay for exactly what they consume. Because as much as we'd like to believe it, nothing is truly unlimited, and if we behave as though it is, the fiction falls apart for those who consume the most. It was easy to maintain in the days before bittorrent and streaming video, but the capacity of end users to consume bandwidth has dramatically risen. I know we'd all like to believe that competition will solve this problem by providing fatter pipes, but to the extent that's true, consumption will simply keep pace with the size of the pipe as new bandwidth-intensive activities become more possible. We're going to have to accept some kind of usage-curtailment system, be it paying by the unit (as we do for water and electricity, the public utilities people often say the internet should be treated as), ISP-based traffic management, or government rationing (as with public-utility tap water in the American southwest).
So the options are really 1) paying proportionally to what your consume, 2) private resource rationing (traffic management), or 3) government resource rationing. I am personally much more keen on options 1 or two than option 3.