The False Promise Of Net Neutrality

I wasn’t there when the Internet was invented, and I wasn’t around for the first e-mail, but I do remember Eternal September.

In the fall of 1990, one of my professors at Miami University signed me and the rest of the students in my class up for access to the school’s VAX minicomputer. The idea was that we would use e-mail to send him our papers and to communicate with each other. To do this, I had to walk across the quad to the 24/7 computer lab in MacCracken Hall, where I used a gutted IBM PC/AT as a video terminal.

Our professor gave us explicit written instructions on which options in the VAX menu would let us get our work done. My classmates were befuddled. Most of them had never touched a computer before, unless you count an Atari 2600 or a NES as a computer. About four weeks into the semester, the VAX requirement was walked back. We could go back to using typewriters or writing by hand. Everybody went back. Everybody, that is, but me.

By the time I left for winter break I’d figured out quite a bit about the VAX, including how it connected to other systems of what started as the DARPAnet but with the addition of various educational and commercial enterprises had come to be known as the Internet. I stayed on the VAX for the rest of my time at Miami. I was there for Eternal September, the day that AOL users were given access to USENET discussion forums in September of 1993. (It was actually September 11, 1993, but history has retconned it to just “some time in September” for semi-obvious reasons.) By 1996 I was working in the business, as a network engineer for Litel. In May of 1997, I opened up my “BMX Basics” website. In late 1999 I founded a web-hosting cooperative. In 2000 I joined the Free Hardware Project at MIT, only to see it fall apart in the aftermath of the other September 11th. In the years that followed, I made the majority of my living selling, developing, and implementing a variety of systems and solutions that were based on the principles of Free Software as laid down by Richard Stallman, whom I met around the time the AI Lab became the Media Lab.

Why tell you all of this? Simply as deep background for what I’m going to tell you next: I believe in a free Internet, I believe in software freedom, I believe in data freedom. But I don’t believe in “Net Neutrality”, and I’ll explain why.

What is Net Neutrality, anyway? As implemented under President Obama’s guidance, Net Neutrality is a fairly complex set of regulations with a single admirable-sounding goal: to prevent your Internet Service Provider from selectively blocking, editing, or slowing down the websites you visit. Mr. Obama’s “bright-line” rules, not to be confused with any “red lines” he may or may not have laid down elsewhere, went like so:

* No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
* No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
* Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
* No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

All of this sounds pretty good to me. So why, then, do I have no objection to the FCC’s vote against Net Neutrality today? It’s simple. President Obama’s net neutrality laws were designed around an Internet that no longer exists, and they merely shift the power of censorship from one set of corporations to another, less accountable set of corporations.

Let’s start by looking at what the Internet used to be, and what it actually is nowadays. When I started on USENET in 1990, the Internet was a wide-open international community of people who traded ideas, challenged preconceptions, discussed big concepts, and also occasionally engaged in some really bizarre behavior. It was the Net that gave rise to the furry community, as an example. But the vast majority of data that flowed between the VAXen and UNIX systems of the day was educational in nature. Through the early Internet, I learned about everything from how to build a staggered-spoke bicycle wheel to how to diagnose whether power steering fluid had been boiled badly enough to need a change. I communicated with people around the globe, people who would have forever been distant and unreachable to me otherwise. My BMX Basics site helped me meet riders from Singapore to Bolivia. In 1999, I had a group of riders in South America contact me and ask if they could come hang out for a while. One of them never left; he’s a director at BMW Financial Services now. That’s the power of the Web when it’s used to connect people and exchange ideas.

In 2017, however, that old egalitarian Internet is long dead. According to ReCode, today’s Internet traffic is:

* 51% video. That’s right. The Internet is more than half videos now.
* 22% IP phone and voice service.
* 18% “web and data”. That includes your Carbnonite backups, your Amazon Glacier, and all the FTP traffic out there.
* 8% filesharing.
* 1% gaming.

By 2021, the “web and data” portion will be down to eleven percent. Video and phone services will represent 82% of traffic. Are you surprised by that, in an era where the euphemism “Netflix and chill” has become omnipresent? The vast majority of people use the Internet as an advanced form of cable television.

I’m not particularly sympathetic to companies like Time Warner, Comcast, and Verizon, but you have to admit that they have a semi-reasonable gripe with a legislative framework that basically forces them to serve as a conduit for Netflix and YouTube. Imagine, if you will, a law called “dealership neutrality” where you could go into your local Ford dealer and they would be forced to deliver and service a Chevy that you bought over the Internet. Or how about “medical neutrality” where you could buy your pacemaker on the open market and then your doctor would have to be responsible for installing it at no charge?

As written, Net Neutrality has nothing to do with freedom from censorship. It’s the transfer of income from ISPs to Silicon Valley firms by government fiat. Netflix and YouTube are free to set up nice, tidy, tax-deductible offices and staff them lightly with H1-Bs. Then their water is carried at no charge by everybody from the backbone providers to the dirt-poor rural connection providers in West Virginia, who have to do the dirty work of making sure that their switching hardware is up to the demands posed by eighty-two percent Netflix and chill. The Silicon Valley firms enjoy hockey-stick valuations and billion-dollar paydays while the ISPs deal with everything from unionized workforces to acts of God. Nobody has cable TV any more. Nobody has a landline, either — but the local network providers are still on the hook for all that infrastructure. I haven’t had a landline in the house for a decade but if I sell tomorrow the new owner will expect that he can get 911 service on Day Two. More importantly, the government will stand behind him on that expectation.

Oh, but Netflix isn’t the only free-rider on Net Neutrality. Facebook, Google, and Amazon use the web to provide you with “free” services where your personal data is the real medium of exchange. They use the Internet to suck retail jobs out of your neighborhood, they kill your marriages by “reconnecting” wives with college boyfriends and first loves, they drive you into depression then sell you the products you think you need to climb out of it. Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media are bona-fide addictions for the vast majority of Americans. Eight years ago, a friend of mine complained to me that his wife was back on her iPhone in less than a minute after they finished having sex. It was the exception then but it’s the rule now for most couples.

You can make the argument that the Silicon Valley crowd is a lot like the tobacco industry or the high-fructose-corn-syrup industry. They make a product that is provably bad for people and they rely on other entities to bear the costs while they make the profit. Of course Google and Reddit and all the others are going to be in favor of net neutrality. It’s good business for them. They earn money using a network that was built with public funds and maintained by a public-private partnership that is entirely external to them.

Yet I could personally live with every last bit of the above if it meant we had a truly censorship-free Internet. Alas, such is not the case. Not only do the Silicon Valley firms play favorites with everything from PageRank to Reddit bans, they are actively and effectively censoring organizations and people that don’t accept their views. Even the loony-left crowd at Slate sees an obvious problem with GoDaddy’s and Google’s decisions to “unregister” politically “offensive” sites. I don’t personally care much for the Daily Stormer and other openly anti-Semitic sites, but I am deeply troubled by the idea that a “coalition of the willing” among private companies can effectively censor unpleasant or offensive viewpoints.

The worst thing about Google’s decision to censor offensive websites is that ordinary citizens have no appeal. If your local ISP censors a website, you might be able to get them to back off. But you’re not gonna do anything about Google. They are beyond your ability to affect. And they are committed to the “no-platform” doctrine that is increasingly making speech in America a one-sided affair. This year it was Daily Stormer. Next year it will be Heartiste. The following year it will be Vox Day, then Mickey Kaus, then the Washington Times. As a man with a Jewish son who has right of return, I find it absolutely horrifying that “no-platforming” is now being used to silence pro-Israel voices across the West.

The Silicon Valley crowd is not truly interested in a neutral Net. What they want is nothing more or less than an open pipeline through which to deliver the content that they believe to be appropriate. That’s why all the propaganda out there is about “OMG YOU MIGHT HAVE TO PAY TEN DOLLARS A MONTH TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA.” So what if you did? Most of us would be better off if we had to pay for social media. It might cause us to reconsider our use of it.

Trump’s FCC was right to slap the wrist of the Net Neutrality types. It’s a bad law. It doesn’t protect the Internet and it doesn’t prevent censorship. All it does it make the conditions of Eternal September truly eternal. It reduces the Internet to cable television, web shopping, and cybersex. It helps to destroy the original purpose of the Internet, which was to exchange ideas and knowledge rather than consume Hollywood movies and YouTube narcissism. In fact, I can’t help but hope that the ISPs out there make it ruinously expensive to watch Netflix and visit Facebook. I hope they make it so expensive that people decide to give up on the Netflix, give up on the chill, and try reading something for once in their lives. Wake me up… when September ends.

86 Replies to “The False Promise Of Net Neutrality”

  1. Bryce

    I’d been waiting for weeks for you to write something on Net Neutrality, and so has my IT manager father. You didn’t let us down with this one.

    • silentsod

      I had heard it but I did not actually understand what it meant (have sex!). I literally thought it was watch something on Netflix and hang out.

      I am the appropriate age that I should have understood what it meant yet I am still enough of a dork and disconnected from pop culture that stuff like this flies right on by.

      • -Nate

        It sailed right past me, too .

        I think sitting and watching a movie is great but those who need the TV on when doing the do, are missing out .


  2. Sean

    Great article. I work for AT&T and understand this issue better than most. The amount of fear mongering on the subject is unbelievable, especially considering most people’s ignorance on the technical and economic workings of the internet.
    But like every other cause of the moment, people will have forgotten of it by next week. Meanwhile, the internet will continue to function just as it had before and during the Title II regulation. For better or for worse.

    • phr3dly

      To be clear, if you work for AT&T you have a biased viewpoint on the matter. There are a great many people who understand the technical details extremely well but do not work for one of the handful of companies with a massive corporate vested interest who disagree with your assessment.

      I work for a major semiconductor firm. During some of our dark years when the competition was kicking our butts we had some very intelligent PhDs, people who, all else equal, would be supremely qualified to comment on the state of the industry, and would advocate for the superiority of our products.

      Funny how stock options can have that effect on people.

      • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

        Explains why Reddit, Google, and the rest of the Valley hivemind is all pointing in the same direction. Follow the money.

        • Kevin Jaeger

          Indeed. Someone from AT&T has every bit as much right to an informed opinion on this topic as anyone from Silicon Valley. I certainly understand why the likes of Google and Amazon have the opinions they do.

          I fail to see why a typical consumer should agree with them, and there are a great many reasons either consumers or other businesses SHOULD disagree with them.

          I’m quite impressed at how much hysteria the tech companies have managed to generate on the issue. I don’t agree with them, but I’m impressed at their ability to stir up a mob.

  3. Felis Concolor

    I’m surprised you didn’t touch on peering agreements and how Netfix’s crappy attempt at creating its own CDN by contracting transit providers who were being given free channels into Comcast’s network resulted in the data throttling which made it squeal and start using the F-word.

  4. Johnny

    I would agree if it weren’t for the lack of competition among service providers. Most Americans have 1-2 ISPs to choose from meaning ISPs have zero incentive to upgrade their ancient infrastructure or offer competitive pricing to their customers. The big providers moan that net neutrality will make it financially impossible to improve infrastructure, yet after 20+ years of zero regulation the US still has some of the worst broadband infrastructure, slowest access speeds, and highest prices in the developed world. ISPs will now be able to charge essentially whatever price they choose to both customers and content providers for not only bandwidth, but also content. Will this windfall be used to altruistically improve infrastructure and lower fees? Nah, it’ll end up in executive pockets and be paid out in shareholder dividends. Don’t like it? Fine, don’t access the internet.

    I seem to remember an old western in which a group of bad guys were pursing the escaped hero across a river. The ferryman, not realizing he was dealing with some bad hombres, offered to take them across the river for an exorbitant fee. The bad guys promptly shot him and took the ferry for themselves. In this case the bad hombres are Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al and it won’t be long until they put their massive stacks of cash to good use building out high speed fiber networks and the like to cut the old school service providers out of the loop. If this happens, look out. The petty battles between Amazon and Google over device and casting interoperability will seem like a quaint relic of the past.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Google already did this, with the much-ballyhooed Google Fiber.

      Turns out being an ISP is harder than they thought.

      Furthermore, with current long-range wireless tech there is an argument to be made for people building their own competing networks anyway. And if those networks want to let Netflix ride for free, they can do the math and set their prices and see what happens.

      • Johnny

        It wasn’t harder than they thought, just less profitable. If and when Big ISP starts poking the content provider bear with throttling and fees, the business case for Google finishing what it started becomes much more attractive. If this happens, “internet” access would become cheap, if not free, since it would give Google the opportunity to mainline its and only its products and services to customers sans middleman.

    • phr3dly

      I’m 50/50 on NN. I agree with the anti-regulation angle, but my concern is that the regulation that effectively provides monopoly service is still there.

      I like Jack’s dealership analog. But let’s extend that. Let’s say that a dealership rams through legislation that prohibits other dealers from opening shop. That dealer ensures it is the /only/ dealership within 100 miles. And that they’re only going to sell Kias. Now while I loathe legislation that says a dealer must sell all cars, I also loathe legislation that prohibits Ford from opening a dealership. Now that’s not actually the case with internet providers. There is satellite, which is the dealership equivalent of being in a bad part of town and getting forcibly gang-banged by the sales staff while you pay too much for a 1982 Fiero. There’s LTE; same story but at least you’re getting a nicely appointed Fusion out of it. But for the last 20 years my /realistic/ choice of ISP has been no choice. In 2001 I had 1.5Mbps downstream, 384Kbps upstream. By 2016 they had lowered that to 1Mbps down, 256 up. That’s the reality for a large portion of America. And that’s a few minutes from Silicon Forest.

      That lack of competition is what irks me. Solve that, and I’m pretty OK with prioritizing bits differently.

      The thing that irks me about NN is the contention that all bits are equal when this is demonstrably not so. Even in my household, I’m OK with deprioritizing youtube bits so that my VOIP bits experience fewer drops and lower latency when I call mom. Knowing that bits aren’t an infinite resource, I’m OK with deciding to pay a bit more to ensure that my VOIP bits take precedence over the basement dweller’s bit-torrent bits.

  5. Orenwolf

    Jack, you entire analogy falls apart because customers don’t pay dealerships for access to cars!

    If users were getting ISP services for free and only paying the Netflix’s of the world, you’d have a point. But that’s not so. I pay FAR MORE money every month to my ISP to cover transit fees and expenses, and It’ll be a fucking cold day in hell before I have them try and tell me that somehow gives them the right to charge me more for one kind of bits than another, *especially* when these same ISP’s *also* charge Netflix for peering to get to me in the first place.

    Having managed networks that handled tens of gigabits/second of data and relied on the good will of ISP’s to offer our nonprofit favourable transit pricing to do so, I’ve seen the other side of this, and you are wrong in this case.

    You would not let a car dealer you paid upfront for access to a generic service garage tell you you had to pay a premium to service your Honda there instead of your Chevy, especially if *you* we’re doing the work yourself, just because the garage had a deal with Chevy.

    It’s not like the ISPs have to work harder to let one websites bits reach you than another. It’s all just peering. And paid peering for the big boys.

    • rwb

      This, here. I’m somehow supposed to feel bad for Verizon and Comcast because the bulk of internet traffic is now more demanding than usenet was, and as such these poor ISPs are so unduly burdened by modern traffic demands. Then, I’m supposed to worry that, even though it has always been entirely their prerogative to do so, if given equal access to infrastructure, the most apparent result will necessarily be an epidemic of censorship on the part of content hosts and providers.

      Seems like there are a few logical leaps of faith in there.

        • Duong Ngyuen

          No, but eventually when you can only pay bills online it will be just as important.

          Once the boomers age out you can bet call centers will be a thing of the past.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I disagree.

      If a local Chevy dealer goes through the trouble of building a Chevy dealership at his own expensive, to sell you Chevrolets, he shouldn’t be forced to sell you a Ford for less.

      The ISPs built their infrastructure with the expectation of paying for it by selling cable. Then they were “disrupted” by Netflix et al. It’s their fundamental right to resist that disruption.

      • phr3dly

        They asked for, and were granted, monopolies. If you don’t want competition, that comes with pretty serious strings attached.

      • Power6

        Cable has done just fine adapting digital to their analog world. Instead of paying $75 for cable, you pay $75 for Internet. And some pay $150 for both. They were never hurting.

        My understanding is their problem with the disruption is more the business model. They were never set up for a-la-carte pricing in their price structure with content holders. They have the stranglehold on local and live content (sports). You can’t buy live TV on the internet until very recently.

      • Orenwolf

        “The ISPs built their infrastructure with the expectation of paying for it by selling cable. Then they were “disrupted” by Netflix et al. It’s their fundamental right to resist that disruption.”

        This is utter bullshit and doesn’t pass the smell test.

        I should know. I was there in the room.

        In the dialup days ISPs had nothing to do with telcos. we purchased PRIs from telcos (designed to handle analog signals, and later, ISDN), and instead used them so people could use devices to modulate then demodulate their digital signals on analog lines. This was not the intended use of the telco networks and a great big fucking deal was made by telcos when users called in because their MODEMs couldn’t get full bandwidth by reminding them they had no fucking business moving data.

        Then, DSL appeared, using the inaudible portions of the analog signal on the wire to provide data, and boom, everything changed. In the intervening years (around 93-95) the internet became a thing and telcos reluctantly began to realize ISPs were a thing and were buying them up. Now, though, telcos could BE the ISPs, thanks to this new technology, and let me tell you, they tried *really fucking hard* to lock out the ISPs from this new tech. I was in the negotiating room for one of the city’s largest ISPs where the telco was literally telling us there was no fucking way we could put our own DSL equipment anywhere near their COs – they were the only ones getting this tech and we could fuck right off.

        Thankfully when the government realized ISPs weren’t suddenly going to tear up the entire nation running new phone cables to every house just to provide data, they required ISPs to provide either shared access to their COs (so ISPs could put their gear in there), or allow them to resell their DSL services elsewhere.

        Because you see, Jack, no one had *intended* or *expected* for phone lines to suddenly be used this way, and thankfully there had been enough foresight by those who realized that the barrier to entry for more *physical access to homes* was just not going to happen, and the telcos were regulated. You *could not ignore the reality of the infrastructure cost*, even if it was all private money.

        Now, during all of this, cable was happily selling signals they got for free from the networks down a cable and keeping all the money for themselves (again, all analog). The networks were quite obviously pissed about this setup and the government eventually required the cable companies to pony up for retransmitting their over-the-air broadcasts. This is where cable stayed for a long time. But then, after the massive success of DSL, they realized there was a market to move *generic internet data* as well and started the WAVE consortium to start providing this service. Their coax was, of course, a much better medium for this and they were able to smoke the telcos speeds, pretty much dooming DSL to also-ran. They were also even more successful than the telcos in keeping any third parties out of their networks.

        And again, no one was about to go run a second cable to every home just to compete, were they?

        So no, it’s *bullshit* to suggest this infrastructure was created for so-called IPTV services. That came because customers wanted INTERNET data service. It was many years until any sort of resonable IPTV was possible, and the telcos eventually started offering it *on top of* their data offerings, because maintaining their legacy analog networks was far more expansive and troublesome.

        These networks were created to carry *internet data*. The reason these same telcos now sell VOIP offerings or IPTV offerings is because managing their DATA network is more important than their old cable or analog POTS networks. Their expectation isn’t to sell those services, they WANT people on IPTV, but that’s a *consequence* of offering data services, not the other way around.

        If I paid my local chevy dealer for “repair bay access”, then yes, I’d expect to repair what I wanted in there, thankyouverymuch. Especially if there was zero chance that the honda dealers could ever offer a competing service due to costs of entry.

        To ignore that fact is to ignore the very history of data services to the home, which you are conveniently doing here. You cannot separate the very sound reasoning of why telephone and cable networks are regulated from the current situation of data.

        To anyone who can look back more than ten years, it’s perfectly obvious to see the same cycle repeating – the same cycle that at one point had you buying CPE gear only from your telco, and the same cycle that governments literally decades ago realized couldn’t be corrected by “the market” because the days of someone literally running new cable were never going to come again.

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          I appreciate the detailed background for this. I was referring however to the last mile cable run by the cable companies and their competitors.

          It’s possible that I’m blinded or misguided by local conditions and my own history. I’ve seen multiple cable runs done plenty of times. I worked for companies that ran their own copper to businesses and subdivisions. That’s not universal as you’ve pointed out.

          With that said, I think it’s disingenuous to base an argument on the potentially contradictory ideas of

          A) there will never be last mile competition because it’s too much hassle to go that last mile


          B) the companies that *did* go last mile should roll over for Netflix and anybody else who wants to profit from their work.

          To me, that’s like nationalizing British Leyland.

        • Kevin Jaeger

          I suspect that story wasn’t even in the United States. It sounds more like the battles some companies had in Canada to force Canadian telcos to make their infrastructure available to competitors (via CRTC rulings).

          This is still happening in Canada. In spite of most places in Canada having a choice between broadband providers – most places are covered by a cable co, at least one local telco, and multiple wireless providers, the CRTC STILL mandates that new fiber investments also be resold to competitors at wholesale rates they determine.

          But in any case, this is a regulatory framework that is entirely separate from the recent FCC rules, even if they have some similarities.

  6. Dirty Dingus McGee

    I’m not sure who to root for in this fight, as I’m reminded of a show I saw on Nat Geo years ago; 2 dung beetles fighting over a turd. Out here in the sticks, I have a choice on ISP’s of one. 15 years ago it was ran by the local government, then became Charter, now Spectrum. The service varies between decent (I have access) and piss poor(no service for 1-3 days), and I pay $60 a month for it. It’s about the same as ISP access in some hotels, now you see it, now you don’t.
    However, I’m no fan of Google, Tracebook(never had an account, never will), et all. Their policies bother me, and I don’t care for their politics. As far as I’m concerned all I am to them is an advertising target, down to what brand of toilet paper I use. Ixquick is my default search engine, but if I turn off my ad block, I will STILL get ad’s based on a recent search. Not being very tech savvy, I assume it’s some form of collusion between Windows and Google’s Adsense.Or it could be aliens (probably aliens).

    • Bark M

      Turning on AdBlock doesn’t prevent data miners from storing your search data or your contextual history, unfortunately.

      • hank chinaski

        There is quite the arms race in that regard. I consider a bare bones browser install as FF, private mode, first party isolate:true, noscript, httpseverywhere, ublock with almost everything blocked, and sometimes a user agent spoofer. Up a notch to Tor on occasion, and I’m on the fence on a router level vpn. Why? Because ‘eff ’em.
        Either way, the alphabet agencies have your ass if they truly want it. We’ll all be at the struggle sessions in one form or another at this rate, most likely the corporate version if employed.

        The topic of NN jibes well with the recent acquisition of one mega-media conglomerate of another. Is it three companies that own essentially everything now?

        • Dirty Dingus McGee

          ” bare bones browser install as FF, private mode, first party isolate:true, noscript, httpseverywhere, ublock with almost everything blocked, and sometimes a user agent spoofer. Up a notch to Tor on occasion, and I’m on the fence on a router level vpn”

          If I knew what any of that was, I might try it. As it is, I’m happy to know which button turns this box on.

          (Luddite, goes out to holler at them damn kids on the lawn)

  7. Bigtruckseriesreview

    When cable bills rose, people started ditching cable for “streaming sticks”.
    I barely watch TV anymore, yet I spend $200 a month for tv/internet/phone.
    I REFUSE to pay more for the services I already get.
    I REFUSE to put a dime into Zuckerberg’s pockets, beyond what he gets already.
    I DON’T CARE about Net Neutrality.
    If you attempt to jerk me I WILL leave your customer base.
    I WILL SHRED or BURN every advertisement you mail me.
    NONE OF YOUR CONTENT is worth my time or my money.

    People VOTE with their FEET and with their WALLET.

    At the end of the day, if they refuse to pay and then don’t pay, the losers will have to meet the market at the point the market will meet them.

    • Mopar4wd

      That’s one of the reasons for the fight in many places in the US there is only one choice fro broadband hence no competition given this it needs to be regulated. If we had 50 ISP fighting for business this might be different. But right now wired broadband is basically a utility and should be treated as such.

        • everybodyhatesscott

          Vs google which can and will just shut off your gmail. I keep hearing about this terrible ISP censorship when I’ve seen Google and FB (and probably apple but I haven’t seen it) censor people.

    • Danio

      That’s the beauty of the internet. Information is not a commodity that must be moved by a single means. Even when I lived in a rural area with no land based internet, I still had the choice between a line to sight tower provider, satellite and a 4G through a router. If all 3 truly sucked, I’d go without and so would many others. Especially the older demographic that made up the area.

      I didn’t have a water line either, and the well was poor. I had water trucked in once a month. If I paid extra, the water truck would come in the middle of the night or on xmas fucking day. Where’s my water neutrality!?

  8. ScottS

    Thank you for this. It’s all but impossible to get accurate information on this topic (and most others) from any so-called news outlets. We haven’t had a landline or cable subscription for years, and the internet is my main conduit to the greater world. I am concerned about who will control it in the future.

  9. Mopar4wd

    While jack is right this is mostly non issue of wealth transfer between ISP and the big boys in the valley, it also does have some possible issues for future competitors to the silicon idiots. For that alone it would have better to just leave the rules in place.

    • vaujot

      Valid point. Facebook, Netflix et al. can afford to pay the local ISPs to deliver the content. A startup who challenges them to be the next big thing can’t.

  10. Daniel J

    If we are going to deregulate, then DEREGULATE.

    Entry into into become an ISP is really expensive. Forget about the servers. Forget about setting everything up. Its all about greasing the wheels at county, city, and state levels to bury fiber, bury copper, or even put up a new cell tower. I am all for free markets, but the current climate of ISPs is that with the end of net neutrality, “free internet” does not win. Most people have 1 or 2 choices for getting proper broadband, and ISPs and the Governement (ie lobbyists) are holding us hostage. Net Neutrality was just a bandaid on a bigger problem.

    As a software engineer, I firmly believe data is just data. If Comcast has a problem with the type of data, then they need to get out of the ISP business, plain and simple. Your issue, at least the way I read it, is about Google and their practices. Again, data is data, just like electricity is electricity. I will argue on the side of ISPs in one area, though. ISPs were designed in the past to set their servers up in such a way to deal with data evenly across the network. When millions of customers are hitting one site and one site only for data, this becomes a huge problem for ISPs because they were never setup that way to begin with. They do have a legitimate complaint there.

    However, the car analogy with Ford and Chevy is terrible. Lets look at better example:

    We have two large shipping companies, who own barges, who ship products from everywhere in the world. The Federal, local, and state governments have deemed that the only way to be another shipper is to pay lobbyists a grease the wheels. Then there is company called IMakeChinesePhones. But guess what? Both the shipping companies also make phones, and 60 percent of their business is delivering said phones. Why in the world would either shipping company want to ship phones for another company? The only choice here is for IMakeChinesePhones is to pay the two shipping companies to make it worth them to deliver competing products.

    This goes back to the Rail Road, that had to become heavily regulated simply because they were monopolistic and they in many cases had the ONLY transport point of goods. Some rail companies were heavily invested in water, oil and coal, and would charge tolls for competing companies to ship water, oil and coal. Why did the rail roads need to be regulated? Because they were already a monopoly. The only thing that saved us from the railroad was the Automobile and the Interstate Highway system. If those two things never happened, our lives would be very different.

    We truly DO NOT have a free market. A free market would allow ANYONE to setup their OWN shipping company to ship their products. Walmart has their own trucking company, Toyota has their own shipping company…the list goes on. The question is though, how much public infrastructure and money is used, and how widely does a new shipping company affect that infrastructure? Pretty much down to specific local areas.

    What about an ISP? Well, that requires putting poles up or burying cables on thousands and thousands of miles of public right of way land. Just like the rail roads.

  11. Tristan W Weary

    When I was paying $20 per hour to use text-only CompuServe in 1989, commenters were a lot more concise, respectful, and factual. I’m not saying I want to go back to that, but making people pay *something* to play is certainly a way to cut down on the bs.

    • Tristan W Weary

      (I’m aware that the issue isn’t about consumer subscription to internet access – it’s about large conglomerates taking advantage of government regulations to get free rides on local ISPs, but my point still stands)

    • Daniel J

      They are paying. Nothing is for free. Just like Canadian really don’t have free healthcare, consumers pay to use these *free* sites by watching annoying popup videos, Amazon click links, and the data mining of the user.

  12. Daniel J

    “The Silicon Valley crowd is not truly interested in a neutral Net. What they want is nothing more or less than an open pipeline through which to deliver the content that they believe to be appropriate. That’s why all the propaganda out there is about “OMG YOU MIGHT HAVE TO PAY TEN DOLLARS A MONTH TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA.” So what if you did? Most of us would be better off if we had to pay for social media. It might cause us to reconsider our use of it.”

    While agree with this completely, shouldn’t it be up to the consumer to determine which companies they choose to let censor them? Shouldn’t be up to the consumer of Google or Reddit to decide whether they want to be fleeced by? I don’t have a choice of which ISP to get fleeced by, but damnit, I better have choice of which social media outlet I want to me fleeced by!

    I mean, if I buy crap from China thats broken before it leaves the warehouse, shouldn’t it be my choice that I’m buying something broken and not stomped, tossed, rained on, and lost by UPS?

    Sarcasm, of course.

  13. rich

    At least your friend’s wife waited for him to finish before getting back on her iPhone. She wasn’t watching TV during it, changing channels with the remote control !

      • Ronnie Schreiber

        We once tried a new position… we moved the tv set from the dresser to the nightstand so she didn’t have to keep looking over my shoulder.

  14. Remi

    I might agree with you if we had a choice in ISPs – I do not – I am disappointed that you let your political views cloud your judgement on technical matters.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      If it helps, my technical judgment is that video should go to the back of the line regardless because it violates the founding principles of both the Internet and the World Wide Web.

        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          They should be forbidden and punishable by death!!!!!!!


          I was one of those people.

          • -Nate

            There are some who still use it for this…..

            I almost never look at videos, tech info and parts is my game .


        • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

          The founding principle of the Internet was to facilitate communication between military installations.

          The founding principle of the World Wide Web was low-cost exchange of information. It was meant to remove the costs traditionally associated with distributing knowledge.

          As silentsod says, it had nothing to do with watching TV. It was kind of a revolution AGAINST that.

          when you comment on this site and I respond and you respond and others respond, that’s the Internet at work. When we are all slouched on a couch watching Game of Thrones, that’s just television.

          • Ronnie Schreiber

            Where would that place YouTube videos? There’s response and comment (okay, so YouTube commenters are often the dregs of humanity) and a lot of educational stuff, some spot on, some that is based on nonsense.

      • Eric H

        The Internet’s founding principles also included “best effort” delivery of data. Throttling is counter to that ideal.
        Also, if you want to throttle things so your VOIP has priority, that’s what your router is for.
        * Owner of a type C subnet since 1993.

  15. James

    It is worth pointing out that all of these big Internet companies–Google, Facebook, and Amazon–are heavily invested in Free Software.

  16. Orenwolf

    The thing is, Jack, it costs them less to steam me Netflix than to access your blog.

    Netflix pays the ISP to peer with them, and they host a local cache, so the ISP doesn’t have to pay for transit from them (or YouTube, or any of the other big guys).

    Your blog uses transit the ISP’s have to pay for. This is also true of any startup video service that comes next (or indeed any other service we haven’t thought of yet).

    You leave out the other issue here: what if the Chevy dealer is the only game in town, and the startup costs so prohibitive that the chance of someone else coming along to service your car is near zero. Still ok with it?

    I think folks have forgotten that we’ve been here before – with telcos. Before forced network access, you could *only* use bell devices on their network, and there was no alternative. It almost ended up being this way in cellular, too, but the government stepped in and said that 1) any device that meets spec may use the network, and 2) LNP was mandated so you could keep your phone number between carriers.

    We pay ISP’s for transit. See all those bandwidth caps appearing? That’s them compensating for the rise of streaming video. (Cellular as well as cable!)

    The big video boys pay the ISP’s for peering. They also host the video locally so the ISP’s don’t use their own paid transit to send you video. It costs them less, not more, to send you that data.

    Lack of net nutrality will end up, long term, with ISP’s discounting traffic to the big boys and their own offerings (because it costs them less to provide it) while charging full price for new, or local, or non-mainstream content (because they have to pay for that peering). This will virtually guarantee that the *next* big service to appear will either be stifled, or require the blessing of these monopolies to gain any traction.

    All because you felt like Bell should control what runs across their wires, regardless of who pays. Fun!

  17. Pingback: QOTD: Are You Ready For Showroom Neutrality? - Techheadlines

  18. Orenwolf

    The problem with both of these mentalities is that they are also “excellent” ways to discount people with actual knowledge, too.

    I could argue Jack’s Honda comments are biased because 1) I believe he owns one and 2) IIRC Honda significantly contributes to the economic stability of his state.

    But I would lose a great voice if I did so.

    One must be careful not to discount opinions (or consensus) *just because* they may benefit from what they are saying. Like all things, it should merely serve to assist one in making up their OWN minds.

    In this specific case: follow the money: are telco’s suffering financial issues today? No, of course not – people would’t buy 100GB plans and hundred-megabit connections without streaming. Are they currently double-dipping by charging end users for transit, AND content companies for peering? Yes. Would they like to have less oversight in how they do this? You better believe it.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Quite a few small telcos are suffering. Just because Comcast and Verizon are doing well doesn’t mean that the valley-co-op LECs are okay. Many of them are emphatically NOT okay. I spent a decade talking to LECs and I saw them go from fully-staffed to partially-staffed to “we have a network engineer every Wednesday”.

      The fact of the matter, however, is that Google alone is worth more than all the telcos combined. As bizarre as it is to comprehend, Verizon, Comcast, et al are the underdogs here.

  19. jcain

    Since you’ve touched on the big platform companies here, I’d recommend taking a look at some of the stuff that Ben Thompson at Stratechery has been writing about how powerful they (mostly Facebook and Google*) really are. His theory is that the internet is fundamentally demand-driven and since those companies control demand they have a huge amount of power over content producers. Being blocked by the big platforms can be the kiss of death for a publication that relies on traffic from those companies’ users.

    * Full disclosure: I worked for Google last year, but not on the products that are most relevant here and thus don’t have any inside info on their content blocking policies

    Ben used to think that economic dis-incentives would be enough to check that power but is no longer convinced of that given some of the things Google and Facebook have been saying and doing. This piece is an interesting read on it:

    Anyway, I haven’t thought about the ISP question that much but this particular line in your piece stood out to me:

    “In fact, I can’t help but hope that the ISPs out there make it ruinously expensive to watch Netflix and visit Facebook. I hope they make it so expensive that people decide to give up on the Netflix, give up on the chill, and try reading something for once in their lives.”

    I don’t see that happening. People want their video and social media feeds and someone’s going to give it to them. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have all made significant investments in content and media businesses. Like you said, they know that 52% of internet traffic is video. They want a piece of the action that’s higher up the stack and higher margin. If the ISPs do end up making Netflix ruinously expensive it’ll be for the benefit of AOL/HBO/DirectTV Now/Go90/etc.

    • silentsod

      I didn’t read the article but I was around some reddit threads were the subreddit (maybe? I don’t remember the exact scoping) rules against self-promotion were more or less killing some eSports reporting sites. As in, if they couldn’t promote their own content there they would miss out on revenue and it actually did cause some sites to have to shutter.

    • rwb

      “internet is fundamentally demand-driven and since those companies control demand they have a huge amount of power over content producers”

      This is an interesting point because what Google specifically has done is not just control demand but make the ability to express demand accessible. I remember a time really not that long ago where search engines weren’t that great, and even though the signal:noise ratio was better than it is now, it still took some trying to find the best information. Now, you can literally slap your keyboard in an alcoholic stupor and Google will make an excellent guess at your intent.

      I’d say that even moreso than controlling, what they do is facilitate us to indulge the impulses that arise in response to convenience, and direct us where we want to go. Whether that’s toward empty calories or red meat is up to the user.

  20. Charlie

    Re your point “They earn money using a network that was built with public funds and maintained by a public-private partnership that is entirely external to them.”

    What about all of the tax breaks ISP’s received to expand last-mile fiber, and all of the before-last-mile fiber that the government laid down. I would tend to agree with you more, if the ISP’s appeared to care about maintaining their infrastructure. In addition, when municipalities attempt to set up their own internet service, the large ISP’s spend gobs of money on lobby efforts to prevent this. Am I correct to assume that you do not think internet bandwidth should be treated like utilities electricity or water?

    • rwb

      That it only took seven hours for this dispute to be resolved, when in most cases is takes days at least, makes this complaint look a bit precious.

      Comedy doesn’t come from a place of petulance and disdain; the fact that the video was a display of clumsy humor from a cynical perspective was what actually made it remarkable to a broad audience.

    • Sonny Stitt

      I am not in favor of censorship no matter how repugnant the message. That said, I did not realize the YouTube has an actual monopoly on the web. If only their were other video services available…

  21. Vic Mik

    If we are to be ideological about this then NN should be reduced to a private property argument.

    The ISPs privately build and maintain the infrastructure – in the land of capitalism why would the government have the right to regulate what traffic flows over that infrastructure?

    It’s not exactly like the public airwaves, which have limited capacity.

    The internet has as much capacity as companies are willing to build. It’s not a limited spectrum for government to license and regulate as with public airwaves.

    Oh, and it’s private property – back off.

      • Vic Mik

        Sonny, the initial network infrastructure was indeed developed with public funds – we’re well beyond that. The backbone owned by Verizon and Spring was not publicly funded. The last mile is private as well – in my case it’s Verizon fiber for home/business and T-mobile wireless for everything else.

        • Sonny Stitt

          Of course there have been updates paid for privately. The technology the network was built for was also built on public funding. If ISP choice was an actual thing, net neutrality would probably not be necessary. In the $CURRENT YEAR, ISP choice is the exception and not the rule. Due to the high barriers to entry in the ISP market, some regulation in this case is probably prudent.


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