Third Party & Independents Archives

What is Net Neutrality?

Before I started researching “Net Neutrality”, I thought I already knew what it was all about…

Then I learned a little more and became very confused

Now I’ve cleared up the confusion, but I have even more questions…

What are they actually talking about?

We've all heard the basics, but the stories sometimes conflict and none of them are complete...

Telephone and cable companies have been putting out the money for the infrastructure of the internet and they want a bigger piece of the pie from the companies that rely on their "pipes"...

This Yahoo article mentions a multi-billion network investment by Verizon. In my opinion, they do this in their own best interest - for competitive advantage.

They want to charge internet providers using different tiers of service...
By bandwidth utilization? By data type?

    This issue confused me because it seems like we already have versions of this.
  • I can pay for DSL, my friend can pay less for dialup and some people see any home internet access as an unaffordable luxury
  • I can get free email or pay more for a larger archive size
  • I can pay for different levels of usage with a server hosting company. If I get too popular, I have to pay more.
  • They are already charging everyone – including content providers – in ranges. I don't think Google is hosting with a dialup.

I skimmed some of the documents on the industry-funded website first to get an idea of how this would be different.

From what they say in the Background section of "The Efficiency Risks of Network Neutrality Rules", the intent is to move from a "stupid network" concept to a "smart network" design. In other words, instead of just continuing to blindly add bandwidth, the network providers want to add intelligence to the network to obtain better performance with what they have. The study goes on to project the societal costs of keeping our current internet structure.

Adding "smart" routing to give priority to certain data types or improve their quality doesn't seem to have anything to do with charging specific web companies though…

If their goal is cost efficiency, wouldn't it be easier to change the whole network over instead of maintaining the existing design into perpetuity because "that company didn't pay us yet"??
Many news articles have the telecomm execs pledging not to block or degrade anyone's service.
Of course, they're referring to existing service. The quoted comments do seem to leave that next quantum leap wide open...

I also note that we already have independent developers making quantum leaps in performance from time to time, what are they going to do about that??

Next, I went to the website for the coalition promoting Network Neutrality. That site says that the issue is about maintaining parity between the largest company and the smallest blog. They also have specific examples of internet providers blocking content and competing services on their FAQ page.

I'm on the fence about the "costs of entry" issue – partially because I still don't entirely understand what they plan to charge extra for at this point...
But, the increased control that a "smart network" would give the internet providers did worry me. I don't like the "controlled environment" internet access companies I've used. I like the chaotic, lawless environment that is the internet. I think too much control will stifle innovation. Maybe this "smart network" will even be optimized to upload straight into all of those Homeland Security databases they're building to learn about us...

It turns out those fears were misplaced (so far)

I went back to the industry funded website to skim the really long Harvard Study because I was still confused.

"Beyond Network Neutrality" is very comprehensive. Skimming doesn't do it justice, but I think I understand now. The network providers want to end the regulations that standardize the structure of the internet. With the end of the mandated structure, they would be free of the current interoperability rules and they would be able to create and sell differentiated, proprietary networks.

For the technical part concerning the way TCP/IP routes packets – they make a good case. Instead of treating everything anonymously and the same - new protocols would allow audio streams and other time sensitive data to be sent with a higher priority. They envision a scenario with multiple protocols that can be chosen based on what the purpose of the site is - emails, video, VoIP calls...

However, I am not convinced that "public policy would be better served if Congress and the FCC were to embrace a "network diversity' principle that permits network owners to deploy proprietary protocols and to enter into exclusivity agreements with content providers."

    Why do they need to be proprietary and exclusive?
  • They don't want to compete solely on the basis of price and bandwidth size.
  • They also say this potential for " short-run supracompetitive returns" is necessary to stimulate investment for development of these networks
  • They also warn that regulation could actually cause market failure because of the combined effect of entry by new providers / technologies and reduced investment incentives... They lose me a bit there - I thought all the large companies were pushing for a totally "free market"...

There is a lot more but I think I'll stop here - At this point, I understand the issues of "network diversity" enough to synthesize my previous research.
I know this is just an academic study so I don't know if this accurately represents the current position of actual industry leaders right now, but everything that I read does fit with the pieces that I was trying to put together...

What is the perspective of each of the government committees that are working on this?

To me, the urge to support Net Neutrality comes from my fear and distrust of the eventual effects of the growing trend of monopolization. Throughout our history, overriding attitudes about many opposing cultural issues can be seen to swing from one extreme to another. One attitude is taken too far and the opposing idea begins to take over through a natural pulling back of the middle majority.
In my opinion, corporate regulation/deregulation is a little different because is seems to happen less naturally. The corporations have a lot of resources to take their issues to the courts, and they also tend to have access to governmental decision makers and lawmakers if that doesn't work. The middle majority doesn't move the pendulum except through decreased resistance to the continual pressure on the system when they don't feel abused (yet).

One of the reasons for the Net Neutrality debate is increasing telecomm consolidation. Last year, the mergers of AT&T Corp and SBC Inc and of Verizon Inc and MCI Inc were approved under the condition that the principles of Net Neutrality be upheld until 2007. Of course, the mergers aren't stopping: In March, AT&T Inc (from a previous merger of SBC and AT&T Corp) and BellSouth applied for approval to merge. Comcast and TimeWarner Inc also want to buy Adelphia Communication Corp…
Since the government never seems to stop the consolidation anymore, I'm happy that they're at least trying to tie it to evaluate related issues to hopefully protect our interests...

MultiChannel News: Copps on 'Neutrality'
Fox News: AT&T Head: 'Net Neutrality' Not Necessary

It may be possible that Net Neutrality is "an attempt to solve a problem that does not exist" for the head of AT&T - but if it means what I now think it means, the "superhighway" vs. the "dirt road" may not be an exaggeration.

To address the merger concerns, the House Committee of the Judiciary has approved an amendment for the Clayton Antitrust Act to ensure competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the internet. (HR 5417)

    Summary of recent content:
  • Unlawful for broadband network providers to fail to provide services "on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions" such that any person can use the network the same way that the provider or its affiliates can with no surcharge

  • Unlawful for broadband network providers to refuse to connect its facilities with the facilities of another provider "on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms and conditions"

  • Unlawful for broadband network providers "to block, to impair, to discriminate against or to interfere" with any lawful content, applications or services. Also unlawful to impose an additional charge for it

  • Unlawful for broadband network providers to prohibit a user from attaching or using a device on the network that does not physically damage or materially degrade other users' utilization of the network

  • Unlawful for broadband network providers to fail to clearly and conspicuously disclose terms, conditions and limitations

  • Finally, if the broadband network provider "prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type", the same offer must be made to others without a surcharge

  • The broadband providers would still be able to protect the security of its network, give priority to emergency communications and work with law enforcement

Even before I knew the real issue, I didn't think this bill actually addressed whatever it was…
When a subsidiary of a large corporation is paying another part of the same corporation to offer content, is there really an equal playing field just because they're paying the same fee as other content providers?
If most people have one or two choices at most for broadband services, who decides what pricing is "reasonable and nondiscriminatory"?
What about all the free stuff we love? Even the small sites are moving towards commercialism, and I understand it, but it makes me sad. User created content is what made the internet what it is. On that note – who's getting this "free ride"? The people putting those sites out there are paying for bandwidth for their server connections already – nobody I know with a website actually has a "free ride".

I was also bothered by the Judiciary Committee bill because another congressman (Ed Markey - D) in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce was already working on a bill that went farther...
The Net Neutrality clauses were proposed as an amendment to HR 5252 (which is an amendment to the 1934 Telecommunications Act) but it was defeated. The version of HR 5252 that was approved by the committee only had one prohibition: "A broadband service provider shall not require a subscriber, as a condition on the purchase of any broadband service the provider offers, to purchase any cable service, telecommunications service, or VOIP service offered by the provider."
As this didn't quite go far enough, the proposed amendment was introduced on its own as HR 5273. I won't summarize it here because the wording of this one is very similar to the Judiciary Committee bill that I summarized previously. One obvious difference between the two is that there is nothing about "terms and conditions" in HR5273. In this bill, the broadband network provider just has the duty to offer their services, with the same quality, to everyone.
In addition to that, they put deadlines in for the FCC to put rules in place for enforcement.

Multiple articles speculate that this may have spurred the Judiciary Committee's action. Maybe they do not want an additional layer between themselves and enforcement of anti-trust issues?

ars technica posting

While that may be the issue, I don't think it is.

By adding those provisions, the Judiciary Committee completely changed this bill in context to the real situation. By adding the possibility to sell these "agreements" as long as they were offered to everyone, the way is open for them to continue working on the internet standards because they will have enough "incentive" to develop the new protocols to implement the new tiered, sectioned internet...

Also, I should mention that the Senate has also added statements about this to their proposed amendment to the Telecommunications Act. (Both chambers of Congress are working on this to accommodate changes to fix issues with network integration for first responders and VoIP emergency services.)
In the Senate bill (S 2686) the section concerning network neutrality only asks that the FCC report to the Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce annually for 5 years concerning developments in the technology of the internet and how these developments are impacting the free flow of information. The FCC would also need to report on business relationships. If problems are found, recommendations would be made at that time...
(Bunt)

So, that's where we stand. Hopefully someone who knows how the internet works will post a comment that makes me feel better...


For text of all bills

Posted by Christine at June 1, 2006 7:04 AM
Comments
Comment #153307

“Verizon is in the midst of laying a multi-billion dollar fiber optic broadband network throughout the country. Dubbed FiOS, the network is capable of offering access at speeds of 10-30 MB per second. Verizon says it expects to offer FiOS access to over 20 million customers by 2010.”

The standard office network (intranet) runs at 100MBs and some are now at 1000MBs. Obviously the telcos have an enormous bandwidth to deal with, however I would not be surprised if they charge a fortune for their “speedy” 10-30 MBs in 2010.

Posted by: europheus at June 1, 2006 9:46 AM
Comment #153321

Competion brings lower prices,we see it clearly in the cell phone market. Do we have a inalienable right to life,liberty, and the pursuit of the elusive web page? No,but in the very near future,www access will be very cheap and easily available. I say more power to anyone who wishes to offer an alternative access the internet.

Posted by: jblym at June 1, 2006 10:27 AM
Comment #153367

Frankly, I don’t really undestand this issue. I read an article by one of the inventors of the internet in Europe, who is pro net neutrality. Clearly the game is on for content. Search Engines are currently the game for access. As TV, phone, radio and internet become one, I think neutrality makes a lot of sense. If someone wants to offer a premium service, let them build it at their own risk. I don’t want a coporation, with it’s hand on my wallet, directing my interests more than do now.

Posted by: gergle at June 1, 2006 12:50 PM
Comment #153388

I *believe* the issue here is that telcos want to start charging the web sites on a class system for better speed and service.
For example, if watchblog refuses to pay its dues, your browsing of watchblog will be slow compared to paying web sites.

When I drive to work I use the toll expressway and my ride is much faster than the free route. I can’t imagine the expressway attempting to pass a law allowing them to charge my employer in addition, using promises of getting me to work earlier.

Posted by: europheus at June 1, 2006 1:40 PM
Comment #153429

I think you got it straight when you mentioned “control.”

Control is what it is all about. Telecoms want to be in control. They plan to do it by controlling content providers. This is why they want to be free to charge as they please. This is also why outfits like Google and Yahoo are against them.

Of course, companies can charge more for better service - and they do. But telecoms can easily make their money without having control of content providers.

Net neutrality means that those who provide the pipes have no say in what their customers, the content providers - by the way, this includes me and you as bloggers - place on their sites.

Net neutrality is the reason the Internet has grown by leaps and bounds. It is also the reason why it’s so free and that anyone can express his opinion on it.

Get rid of net neutrality and you get rid of the Internet as we have it today. Don’t be fooled by this increased-technology bull. We can get better technology without giving control to the telecoms.

We don’t want centralized control. It contradicts everything the Internet stands for.

We need unadulterated net neutrality.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at June 1, 2006 2:51 PM
Comment #153511

Paul,
Not being that savvy about it, my inclination is to agree. They don’t want to change this for “us”. It’s never about “us”. It’s always about cash in the pocket. I prefer a chaotic internet.

Something that I found disgusting recenly, was a developer I was working for in the suburbs of Houston was recieving federal grants to place fiberoptic lines to increase rural internet access. Well, it used to be farm land. These projects were half million dollar home developments in an area that is the fastest growing part of houston. Glad they are helping out those farmers in the ‘benz. More corporate welfare, can’t let those desparate housewives suffer can we?

Posted by: gergle at June 1, 2006 6:16 PM
Comment #153525

Christine, buried in the minutae of the bills and proposals is the heart of the matter. Simply put, the push by the industries is a wedge issue. They want to wedge the door open for later efforts to follow the model of our postal service, in which, corporations and business and government uses, needs, demands for innovation on the internet are born through disparate pricing schemes in which the common individual user is forced to become a consumer of marketing and advertising by business and government while charging a premium rate (current plus inovation costs) to consumers while discounting services at lower rates to commercial and government content providers.

Our postal service floods our mailboxes with useless reams of advertising at 13 or 15 cents per item while the consumer pays 39 cents to send an envelope. This is the model they are after. To open the door to a pricing schema in which consumers bear far higher cost of commercial and government services discounted to commercial and government marketers, advertisers, and content providers.

Whenever legislation is involved, one must “Follow the Money” for the money is what drives 99% of all legislation, who will pay, who will benefit, and by how much. Once upon a time there was copper wire and phones for communication. Business wanted fax, conference calling, audio and video combined services but, wanted to be assured that the general public bore the long term underwriting of this innovation. Hence the public got what ignorance deserves, a monthly bill for phone, a monthly bill for broadband, and monthly bill for wireless, and overtime commercial marketers got both discounted rates and free and open access to the public to market and advertise to the consumers in each of those billed services.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 1, 2006 6:44 PM
Comment #153542

Paul,

E-Bay has now weighed in as well. I received an e-mail form letter from Meg Whitman, CEO of E-Bay;

“Today’s Internet is an incredible open marketplace for goods, services, information and ideas. We can’t give that up. A two lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies — the companies that can’t afford the high fees — will be unable to succeed, and we’ll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them.

The power belongs with Internet users, not the big phone and cable companies. Let’s use that power to send as many messages as possible to our elected officials in Washington. Please join me by clicking here right now to send a message to your representatives in Congress before it is too late. You can make the difference.”

Are we worried yet?

Posted by: Rocky at June 1, 2006 7:29 PM
Comment #153566

Even Christian Coalition supports net neurality. CC’s president Roberta Combs said, “Under the new rules, there is nothing to stop the cable and phone companies from not allowing consumers to have access to speech that they don’t support. What if a cable company with a pro-choice Board of Directors decides that it doesn’t like a pro-life organization using its high-speed network to encourage pro-life activities? Under the new rules, they could slow down the pro-life web site, harming their ability to communicate with other pro-lifers - and it would be legal. We urge Congress to move aggressively to save the Internet — and allow ideas rather than money to control what Americans can access on the World Wide Web. We urge all Americans to contact their Congressmen and Senators and tell them to save the Internet and to support ‘Net Neutrality’.”

Posted by: Hooman Hedayati at June 1, 2006 8:58 PM
Comment #153567

First - a correction - europheus prompted me to follow the FiOS link in the Yahoo article - and it’s not even about the internet.
Apparently, this big investment concerns Broadband TV… Sorry for taking them at their word without following the link.

Also, sorry for cramming so much in this posting - I finally discovered what the issue actually was very late in the article writing, but I thought my earlier writings during the journey were an interesting commentary on difficulty of researching and peicing together all of the half-truths.
Instead, I found out my husband tried really hard to understand me but I still lost him…
I know he’s not the only one so I want to summarize my points:

The network providers are trying to change the regulations that ensure that all of the components on the internet can talk to each other. Interoperability is a term that refers to this common, known set of rules or protocols used to transfer information.

The network providers are using the desire to create “smart networks” to try to justify the removal of this common platform. But, the regulations do allow for adding new protocols for specific types of data -
For example, UDP is a protocol that was added to accommodate streaming data (so you can still play the movie even if it’s slightly lower quality because the application is missing some of the data packets)

The network providers want to develop new secret network protocols and extort the large web providers to purchase the new networks or suffer competitive disadvantage when their competitors do. This why many of the large internet companies (like eBay as Rocky mentioned but there are many others) are lobbying for maintaining the openness of internet standards.
They got where they are using the level playing field that we currently have.

I am naturally worried about monopolies, corporate power, what this control will do to individuals, etc - but from what I can see right now, they are targeting the large web providers for this. We are not their intended target.
That may be short-sighted though. David’s anology is interesting to me.

As for the Congressional bills - one partisan culture fight that I continually notice in our country is Corporatism vs. Consumer Protection.
In this case, both bills prohibited the network provider’s plan of “exclusive partners” for these offerings. Instead, network providers have to offer these networks to all who can pay.
That is a step forward but, when the Judiciary committee swooped in and added their clauses - it didn’t just mean that these new networks will not be free.
It also made the difference between keeping open, public network protocol rules and allowing separate proprietary, secret protocol rules.
If it’s open and public, how are they going to charge a premium and differentiate by it?

Christine

Posted by: Christine at June 1, 2006 9:02 PM
Comment #153615

Frankly, I see this as just another corporate scheme to separate the consumer from their money.

Somebody will undoubtedly write that these corporations will then re-invest the capitol, and create more jobs.

I disagree. The money will probably be split between whichever CEO came up with the scheme and the stockholders of those corporations that benefit the most, leaving the consumer holding the bag once again.

Posted by: Rocky at June 2, 2006 1:03 AM
Comment #154214

Common Cause, a non-partisan lobbying non-profit says of this legislation:

The absurdly named Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act (COPE) would place control of the Internet in the hands of a few powerful corporations, end consumer protections against abuses by cable companies and expand the digital divide by allowing telecom giants to discriminate against rural, minority and low-income neighborhoods. Tell Congress to stop this dangerous bill in its tracks!

I support Common Cause and respect their legal research team and papers.

Posted by: David R. Remer at June 4, 2006 8:43 AM
Comment #154387

I’m not a lawyer, but I always prefer going to the source anyway.
That’s the name of HR 5252. I just read it again and I can’t find any of that in there.
The Senate version of the Telecommunications amendment (S 2686) does have some clauses that may be read to justify the rural part but I’m happy that I can’t find any evidence of the rest.

Maybe they know something “backroom” that will be added during the conference committee to reconcile the bills. Maybe they’ll be printing out the new version 4 hours before the vote again…

Christine

Posted by: Christine at June 5, 2006 12:40 AM
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