50 thoughts on “Net Neutrality Not An Optional Feature of Internet”

  1. I could not agree more. We can either have smart end points and dumb pipes or dumb end points and a smart pipes. We cannot have them both smart or both dump. Leaving innovation to the smart pipers (AT&T, Verizon and cable companies) is a bad idea. It is bad economically, technically and really every other way.

  2. First, the net isn’t neutral right now. Both telcos and cablecos have equipment that “favor” their traffic versus traffic from others. Secondly, the infamous bandwidth glut is over, right now. The culprit? Cisco. Even though lambdas are cheap, the “big iron” it takes to route 10Gbps+ is extremely expensive and will likely continue to be. And let’s not forget deep packet inspection takes a lot of expensive horsepower and glass to the home ain’t cheap either. Next up, strategic partnerships between ISPs and content providers. Think broadcast TV and the affiliates network. BTW, the only way out of this mess was the muni wifi nets and we all know who stomped them out.

  3. …on second thought there might be another way out. If users could band together (using a social network?) and demand a net neutral Service Level Agreement with specific metrics from their ISPs they might use that purchase power to move their subscriber base to an alternate provider if they don’t get what they want.

  4. or grasroots wireless mesh nets (where density suffices) or Google’s growing inventory of fiber – or we revert to dialup BBS’s 🙂

  5. Google is offering “FREE wireless” ? Is it purely free ? is it collecting data?

    Metro fi is offering ad suported wireless.

    Cable TV is offerign ad subsidised TV.

    Similarily , maybe, verizon will offer a subsidised dsl access.

  6. While it may not be something they’re eager to do, all Google (and Yahoo and others) need to do in order to make this issue go away is to buy transit from SBC/AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon. Right now, it seems that they mainly buy transit from Sprint and Level3 – so all this is just maneuvering by the telcos to get Google to buy pipes directly from then.

    Google brought this on themselves (and everyone else) by making that stupid $1B ‘investment’ in AOL – once the telcos woke up and realized that for some reason, Google thought AOL’s user-base was worth $1B, surely -their- user-bases were worth a few millions/year, as well, right?

    I don’t understand why nobody gets this. If Google would just buy transit from these ILECs – i.e., become a customer – all this would go away. Yes, it’s a form of extortion, but one Google can afford.

  7. I’m convinced this is all about jealousy on the part of the Bells. They wish they were in Google’s sneakers, but they aren’t. So they want to make it difficult for Google. Why don’t they get into a new business? Theirs’ is going down the sink.

  8. Thank you Daniel, well said. I became alarmed about this a couple of months back when Mr. Whitacre became rather belligerent /adamant about wanting to double charge his customers for access to content.
    I doubt that the Senate Commerce Committee will reverse their support for “service providers” controlling their assets. FCC ruling 05-150 points the way for abandoning network neutrality.
    We’re going to need a economic train wreck on the right coast before Washington DC will do anything.
    California’s congressional delegation doesn’t seem to care, at least from the responses I received from Boxer, Feinstein, and Stark (my rep). You’d think they’d be a little concerned about someone choking the financial daylights out of tech in SF and SV.

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  10. What if instead of your example of a passenger taking Time magazine onboard, Time Warner wished to stuff every seatback bin with their published reading materials, would the airline have the right to charge under that scenario ?

  11. The other day when Whitacre started talking about charging content providers, I had the same reaction in my comments there… telcos have a right to be in the content value chain. Moreover, the content producer benefits by sharing their revenue with the telcos.

    To see it any other way is adversarial and short-sighted and flies in the face of retail economic models. Content providers who see themselves as a “separate service” from access are just as blind as the telcos who insist on trying pointless “walled garden” strategies.

    I put together a good, thorough, description of this on my most recent blog post.

  12. Imagine HBO, ABC, ESPN, etc. providing content directly to the consumer. Imagine receiving free programs from companies like Coca Cola. Imagine not having to pay a fee for phone service such as the one charged by the telcos. Imagine not having to pay extra for caller id, call waiting, voice mail, etc.

    Now imagine the revenue streams that will disappear for the telcos and cablecos. Are they scared you bet they are.

    I started an ISP when dialup was in its infancy. The local phone company fought us every step of the way. Why? Because internet customers stayed on their telephone longer than the average voice customer. This threw off their customer to lines ratio and they were forced to add lines. They didn’t consider that they were more than making up for this by charging my company business rates of $79 per phone line.

    When we started using $10 alarm lines to do DSL the telcos quickly realized that this internet thing had potential. They stopped offering access to alarm lines and started their own DSL service.

    We applied for access to resell their DSL lines. They gave us a price of $39 per line. This might not have been bad except they were selling it to the public for $39.95.

    We took our case to the state public service commission. We thought we had won a major victory when the public service commission required them to sell us the lines for $28. But they appealed and finally the price was raised to $33. This for a line that they once let us have for $10. This did not include our loop charge to their network which was in the neighborhood of $3000.

    The telcos then went to the public service commissions and ask for rate increases to help pay for expanding their DSL and fiber network into the rural areas. They got the rate increases but didn’t follow through on their promises. You can read all about it in a new book entitled “The $200 billion Broadband Scandal”.

    They then went from state to state and finally to the FCC getting broadband deregulated. Which means now the states can’t even penalize them for breaking their promises.

    They have taken to court cities for trying to create citywide wireless networks. They control the telephone poles, recently increasing monthly fees from $5 to $50. Our own city passed a bill charging anyone who had cable in the ground running through the citys rights of way a per foot fee monthly. Well everyone except the phone company.

    The phone companies have built their networks with profits guaranteed by the local public service commissions but still claim they are not monopolies.

    A second cable company was granted a franchise in our city in 2000. They have been in court ever since with the current cable company. City law says they can’t start laying lines until all court cases are settled.

    Satellite has to much latency for voice. Unlicensed wireless can’t provide enough bandwidth for video. So we are left with the wired solution. Even if other providers could get through the court cases the telcos and cablecos would throw at them it still would not make sense to have every provider running wire to every home. Just as there is not enough room to run multiple road systems there is not enough rights of way for more than just a few last mile providers. Imagine if MSN, Google, AOL, Earthlink, etc. wanted to put their own little green boxes in every neighborhood.

    When I read that SBC and Bellsouths CEO said they wanted to charge companies like Google for using their networks I couldn’t believe it. I thought their arogance had finally gone to far. But no once again their lobbying efforts and the lack of concern by the general public is paying off for them.

    Instead of the phone and cable company being the pipe provider they will now control what goes over the pipe.

    These companies didn’t build the internet and in fact they hindered it’s progress. Now they want to totally control it. Do we want to leave what may be our most critical infrastructure in the hands of these hypocrits?

  13. Did anyone ever think that maybe the reason the US has such low broadband penetration is because we limit the potential of the pipe owners?

    Why should I take a beating from Wall Street to lay fiber when I probably won’t be able to sell my voice and video services to the end user?

  14. Mull,

    You can’t be serious. The Bells have gotten $200 billion in government guanranteed revenues just for that purpose and they still haven’t built these networks. They don’t need Wall Street.

  15. The investment incentive argument that Mull refers to is the biggest myth/outright lie in the whole debate. What bells are blocking hardest (and/or overpricing outrageously) is access to the local loop. The local loop was built decades ago while the bells were state-enforced monopolies with state-guaranteed profit margins. They bore no investment risk. These days, the bells are not investing in the local loop – no need to, it is already there. In order to block access to the local loop – which for all intents and purposes was basically built with the public’s money – they use all sorts of red herring-ish specious arguments. Jealous companies are trying to “steal” and free ride off their “hard earned” success (hah!). Or, I won’t invest in fiber unless I am allowed to milk by copper assets and pre-emptively get rid of any competitors. The irony is that if the bells actually allowed proper access to copper, and competition thrived at that level, people might actually start to believe that a fair playing field had occured, and any new investment (say in fiber) should be left competitive and free of regulation. But as long as the bells hold a stranglehold on copper, it is difficult to see why one should allow them to extend that monopoly into other areas (including, now, apparently, downstream content).

    It is interesting to note also how the Bells’ arguments morph over time. Just a year or two ago when they were arguing to get UNE regulations lifted, they were arguing that basically competition at the physical layer was no longer important, because competition had moved to the services layer, and anyone could offer services over the internet (no monopoly power here). Vonage was much noted. Now that they have won over the FCC on that argument, they are trying to reverse the basis for it, by now restricting competition at the service layer. Is there any forem of competition that Bells’ can accept?

  16. I agree that purchase power may work, however there is a growing ignorance with the underlying technology in the customer base. Many may be already ‘addicted’ to the usage, and have no idea that they are about the be unwitting subjects to data-mining and traffic-shaping.

    It is the efforts to limit or ban the creation of ad-hoc wireless networks that is the true indication of intent. If they truly wished to manage the pipe they own and not generate a monopolistic business model; I would expect to see a common carrier service agreement level offered.

    I cannot see how anyone could enforce limits on ad-hoc networks. And I’d gladly go back to BBS’s if necessary, but I don’t see how this will hurt them in the long run. When they cooperate or (co-own) the actual content creators and distributors… the end result is our ‘culture’ is no longer ours freely, but a commodity to be manipulated for a gain of the paltry few.

    Our only hope: In our renewal (new generations born daily), we will see more ‘underground’ culture being re-invented again and again.. And the giants will realize only failure. It is the slow and the old that will be the ultimate victim. Will they ever learn?

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  18. Maintaining “net neutrality” is an issue that both consumers and businesses care about and are on the same side on. The only enemies are the telcos and cable companies. Millions of US businesses sell goods and services on the internet. These buisnesses, which are small, medium and large, had better ban together fast to stop the telcos and cable companies from charging consumers to come into our internet stores.

    Our Congressmen and Senators should look after the interests of their consumer constituents and their real business constiuents, and not just those of the telcos and cable companies who are lobbying the heck out of them, in order to make sure consumers get a fair shake and US business is not hampered by two special industries.

    Somehow, US business needs to get together on this, US consumers need to get together on this and then both constituencies need to make Congress do the right thing.

  19. Great column. The pathetic aspect to this is the telcos are willing to hamper innovation and, thereby, destroy the US’ technological lead in Internet applications (e.g., Google, Digg, Vonage, eBay, Amazon).

    My hope is that — even if these rocket scientists manage to erect these useless tollbooths — technologies like Tor, OpenVPN, SSL VPNs, mesh networks, etc. will merge and thrive to prevent deep-packet inspection and traffic shaping.

    Here’s a recommendation for the telcos: try competing at layers 4-7, where real value can be created. Oh, that’s right, you’re a bunch of unreformed monopolists who prefer that the entire country suffer under your innovation-killing infrastructure.

    Click my sig for a hypothetical telco ad from the future… in a world without network neutrality.

  20. Guys you are worrying over nothing, if you have reasonable government in your country or any amount of public activism this will not be allowed to happen, In 10 year technology will have advanced so much that we will look back at the “paltry” amounts of data we shuffled around and laugh. Data transferring will become a national infrastructure commodity in each country, like electricity. Information access is the pride and joy of the information age society. Its just a scaremongering story

  21. I keep hearing references to “the Bells”. As separate entities, do they exist anymore? My recollection of history is that the old AT&T was broken into the one long distance company (AT&T) and the 5 ‘baby’ bells. Southwestern Bell created SBC (doesn’t stand for anything, just a catchy 3-letter name) to own them and other interests. At the time I was hired by Pacific Bell, they were being bought out by SBC… and by the time they laid me off to ship my job to India later that year, they had more than 13 telcos under their belt – they just buy them wholesale. Now that you have Pacific Bell, Southwestern Bell, and Southern New England Telephone (all parts of the 13 I referenced above), how many individual Bells are left out there? This is like the Borg collective just re-assembling itself.

    The telcos and the cable companies are fighting like hell to keep local communities from offering co-ax or wireless broadband service, and to keep anyone else that might compete with them out of the market. They essentially get paid by everyone with net access for the privilege. They get paid by the content providers for their internet access. With people on both side of the pipe paying for what gets shipped through the middle, why should they have to pay for it a third time? Why do they think they should get paid for the content that other people work hard to create and make valuable? This is like the airlines charging the magazines in the chairbacks based on how well the passengers like the articles… crappy articles get charged a dime, riveting articles cost the magazine a buck.

    Mr. Whitacre (heavy scorn and contempt content in those last two words), should your evil plot succeed and you do start charging content providers for access, that will be the day that I cancel my DSL connection with your company, and find some other provider for my voice services. Truck drivers get paid by the mile they drive, not by the value of the goods they ship. The same goes for the postal service, UPS, FedEx, DHL, Etc… You are nothing but an overpaid postman with delusions of grandeur. Wake up to that before it costs you your job (and everyone else in your company as well).

  22. as someone says earlier, this is 99% of business and the public against a bunch of companies in a single industry which is already (or was already) heavily subsidized.

    If we can’t maintain net neutrality, it’s an utter failure of our democracy as a whole.

  23. This will only be a serious issue when consumers do not have a “net neutral” option. The new AT&T promised to uphold net neutrality until 2007 as a condition of SBC’s acquisition. Analysts also believe that pledge will be extended through 2009 to gain approval for the acquisition of BellSouth. The free market will take care of net neutrality for the next couple of years, who knows what the technological landscape will look like by then. Let the government regulate something else in the meantime.


  24. And you thought this “freedom” would last how long? It’s been over for a while now. Get over it. Now you will pay for what you’re paying for.

  25. PS I wonder how Blunkett would feel about the fact that this same person explained how she understood this way of using words by saying ÓitÒs the kind of thing Haider does in AustriaÔÅ

  26. Not related to internet, but see how some concepts that are against net neutrality made sense and really worked for Indian Postal Service:

    I believe in realization of net neutrality, but it may be little unrealistic to get it sooner, unless the ISPs follow bandwidth criteria than blocking applications totally as mentioned in wiki:

    “For example, if file sharing programs use up too much bandwidth, this argument suggests, a network operator should be allowed to slow it down. The typical answer to this argument goes as follows. There may be more and less distortionary ways of managing bandwidth — and blocking or disfavoring certain applications is more distortionary. A more neutral way of managing bandwidth is to manage bandwidth at the consumer side – i.e., to limit the users to, say, x gigabytes per month after which their transfer rate is reduced, instead of banning peer-to-peer applications (systems of this type have been employed in other countries, e.g. Australia).”

  27. The Internet today seems larger than life. It is the digital roadway for the economy and the individual. In twelve or so short years, it has evolved into an essential means of communicating that encourages discussion, innovation, and democracy. This economic and personal driving force is now under attack by big businesses and needs its users to defend it. I am in complete agreement with you that “the Internet does not exist without net neutrality.” How can it? If we were to lose network neutrality, all of our remarkable progress as a global society would be reversed; our standard of global communication would be propelled backwards in time. It is essential that neutrality of the Internet be maintained. It is more than a current or applied concept of technology; it is a First Amendment right no different than any other form of communication, digital or otherwise.

    Those that believe this is a modern issue of global communication networks are greatly mistaken. Impartialness has been a long standing foundation for communications for centuries. As far back as the telegram in 1860, an act was passed to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph. It stated that “messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority” (Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860). This vital paradigm was carried forward with the development of the Internet, and around 1983, the end-to-end theory was central for defining protocols that would be responsible for the traffic (Halfhill 9). The Internet was to be “dumb,” not knowing the difference from one packet to another. It is appalling to see such an important, long-lasting foundation for communication be under so much pressure to be undermined.

    Sometimes it can be confusing trying to understand what kind of network the cable and telephone companies envision. You completely see through their lies when you say they “have in mind creating another type of customer not a class of service.” On their network, not only would end users, like you and me, and content providers, such as Google and Yahoo, pay for the connection to the Web, but would also pay for the content being delivered. This is akin to a tax on packets containing certain data. Due to the desirability to have low latency, high bandwidth for VoIP, online games, and music and video services, the communication companies make it seem they are struggling to meet the demands. They also complain that bandwidth is being consumed not by legitimate companies, but by file sharing. Wired magazine confirmed this in their January 2005 issue: “Analysts at CacheLogic, an Internet-traffic analysis firm in Cambridge, England, report that BitTorrent traffic accounts for more than one-third of all data sent across the Internet” (Thompson 52). They’re required to facilitate illegitimate traffic that could instead be used for their quality voice and video services. While this is a legitimate concern, they feel the only way to address the problem is with some kind of “intelligent” system. Well, there is another word for “intelligent system,” and that is Quality of Service, the antonym of neutrality. “Quality of Service (QoS), a networking concept describing the technological methods for guaranteeing that some network traffic is serviced better than traffic, is the key. Customers will soon pay for premium service options to see specific kinds of traffic…” (Fisher) Yes, Quality of Service would help demands by allowing sensitive traffic priority, but as we can see, communication companies won’t stop there. Only people who pay top dollars will be benefited in this new, tiered Internet.

    The existence of a tiered Internet would have other interesting outcomes, such as smothering innovation. You clearly understand the issue at hand when you say, “Forcing innovators to change the network in order to implement an application means an end to innovation.” Google would be nothing more than a fancy idea today if not for the neutral Internet. Once a small startup, as many Internet companies begin, Google relied on the freedom to deliver its service relative to its demand. On the ideal Internet that phone and cable companies want, Google would not only have to face the competition within search, but also that of connectivity. Big corporation have the cash to buy the fast-lanes, or the “HOV lanes” as you stated, leaving small companies unable to keep up with the costs. At the 16th Annual Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Phoenix, Senior VP and CFO, Rick Lindner dismissed this concern saying, “It’s no different today from what you see going on today in other parts of the industry. As an example, content providers are entering into agreements everyday with wireless providers to provide content…” True, but the fact still remains that everyone pays an equal share for how much they consume anyways. In addition, “providing” content is considerably different than enhancing availability of content, which really what the goal is.

    After an innovative company or service establishes itself, neutrality can then ensure a fair and competitive market. In recent years, the economic world has relied upon the Internet to provide a foundation for this market. The loss of neutrality would mean the loss of capitalism. How could a company survive if its competitor’s data was overriding its own? The packets of information would triumph the network, beating all opposition in its path. A business’s ability to communicate is just as important at their ability to use the roadways for delivery. Imagine company trucks being stopped to let others go through. Products not being shipped on time or in a competitive manner would mean sudden death. Market forces are finely balanced. If the network shaped or distorted traffic, the balance would be thrown off, causing sever negative effects on economic growth. Just recently in Dubai, telecommunication regulators cut all access to a popular Internet calling service, Skype. The result: “…prices of international calling skyrocketed” (Krane). It is the customer’s right to decide what services on the Internet is worth their time, the basis of a fair market. As you said, “Network neutrality allows end users to choose winners and losers…”

    As anyone can see, these facets of net neutrality extend far beyond economics, it holds within the idea of freedom and democracy. Citizens of China and North Korea have slowly felt the pressure by their government to regulate Internet access. The Web experienced in these countries is far different than that of the Western world. We enjoy the freedom to communicate knowing that nothing has been tampered with along they way, that everyone on the Internet has a fair change to hear and be heard. This form of communication embodies democracy and ensures our First Amendment rights.

    Works Cited

    Fisher, Ken. “AT&T Sees Benefits to Tiered Internet Service.” Arstechnica. 12 Dec 2006

    Halfhill, Tom. “The Myth of Net Neutrality.” Maximum PC July 2006: 9.

    Krane, Jim. “Users bemoan loss of Net phones in UAE.” The Associated Press 18 Oct 2006.

    Thompson, Clive. “The BitTorrent Effect.” Wired Jan 2005: 52.

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