Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 24, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NET NEUTRALITY....Matt Yglesias writes the following about the net neutrality debate:

Neutrality partisans portray themselves as trying to block a new initiative from the telecom companies. Neutrality opponents portray themselves as trying to block a new regulatory initiative. In the abstract, there's a case to be made for both characterizations of the situation, but it's hard to miss the fact that almost all (or maybe [literally] all I'm not quite sure how to do a precise head count) of the internet's technical pioneers see neutrality as preserving the longstanding rules of the road.

I'm not the most full-throated defender of net neutrality in the blogosphere, but I think this is a bad case of he-said-she-said evenhandedness. The net neutrality supporters pretty clearly have the better argument here: net neutrality was effectively the law of the land for decades until an FCC decision last year eliminated it. There would be nothing "new" about re-establishing it as a regulatory principle.

The 1996 Telecommunications Act defined two different types of service, information services (IS) and telecommunications services (TS), and cable companies were originally classified as IS and telephone companies as TS. Although both cable companies and telcos provide local internet access, the backbone of the internet is carried exclusively by telcos, which were regulated as common carriers under the tighter TS rules. The common carrier rules effectively enforced the principles of net neutrality on the internet backbone.

A series of court cases between 2000 and 2005 changed all this. When the smoke cleared, the Supreme Court had beaten back a challenge to the FCC and confirmed that they could legally classify cable modem services as IS. More important, though, the court ruled that the FCC had broad technical authority to decide how to regulate various services, and that left the FCC free to classify DSL and the internet backbone as IS too. Which they did. On August 5, 2005, the FCC reclassified DSL as an IS and issued four net neutrality "principles" that essentially replaced the common carrier requirements that had been part of the older TS regime. The whole point of the FCC's actions was to drastically reduce the regulation of DSL, and the FCC's own statement described their action as "consistent with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Commission's light regulatory treatment of cable modem service."

That may or may not have been a good idea. But the fact remains that until August 5 of last year net neutrality was the legal standard that applied to the telcos that operated the internet backbone. There's nothing new about it.

Kevin Drum 12:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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NetRoots !!!

"The internet can be as informative as the library of Alexandria or as crass as a bathroom wall." - GSD-firedoglake.com

Posted by: daCascadian on May 24, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

The whole point of the FCC's actions was to drastically reduce the regulation of DSL, and the FCC's own statement described their action as "consistent with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Commission's light regulatory treatment of cable modem service."

So. You want to "increase" the regulation of DSL (cancel the "reduce" part)and replace "light" regulatory treatment with "heavy" regulatory treatment. Is that it? And the basic argument in favor is "That's the way it used to be" -- is that it?

I favor "light" regulation, and I never regard "That's the way it used to be" as a serious argument. The Carter administration replaced "heavy" regulation of petroleum prices with "light" regulation of petroleum prices; we might want to reinstate "heavy" regulation, or we might not, but reinstating "the way it was for 50+ years" is not a serious argument. And so with other regulations.

It's already illegal in the US for businesses to enact practices that are "in restraint of trade". A specific law for the internet is not needed. The internet will probably grow better, and new services be provided at a higher rate, with a "light" regulatory scheme.

Posted by: republicrat on May 24, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I know you've taken some heat on the net neutrality issue, Kevin, but I appreciate the homework you've done and the concise background summary you've provided. Net neutrality is, and has been, the policy for the Internet. It's important and should not change.

Posted by: JJF on May 24, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK
So. You want to "increase" the regulation of DSL (cancel the "reduce" part)and replace "light" regulatory treatment with "heavy" regulatory treatment. Is that it? And the basic argument in favor is "That's the way it used to be" -- is that it?

No, go read the last paragraph of Kevin's article again. As is often the case, he's not taking a substantive stance on what should be done, only discussing whether the characterization of one policy as "new" is fair or not.


Posted by: cmdicely on May 24, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

"That's the way it used to be" should really be more like "That's the way it's been for 10 years, during which time it's worked AMAZINGLY well."

Why change something that's worked so incredibly? Why do big telcom's want this changed now? I'll give you one guess. No, wait, I'll just tell you myself: profits.

Instead of changing the system that's more than worked, in hopes that the internet "will probably" go better, you could go with the system with a proven record of success.

Posted by: Spamtastic on May 24, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not the most full-throated defender of net neutrality in the blogosphere,

Is what Kevin wrote. He is a supporter of net neutrality. Hence my question: does Kevin favor replacing the "light" regulation with "heavy" regulation. Ten years ago, cable modems were much less common, and the whole web has undergone continuous evolution. With many new products and services becoming available, and with laws already in place to prevent restraint of trade, there is no good reason to introduce "heavy" net regulation. It is an especially bad idea to introduce any new regulations on pricing.

Posted by: republicrat on May 24, 2006 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's not about regulation. That is a classic straw man. It's about censorship. The attack on net neutrality may be an effort by the telcos to increase profits, but their allies in the White House have other reasons to eviscerate net neutrality: Specifically, net neutrality is the best mechanism to force accountability in an era of media prostration before the Bush-Cheney regime.

The complexities of various regulatory regimes are distractions from the main issue: net neutrality is the best bulwark against internet censorship.

Posted by: Splash on May 24, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Connect the dots

http://www.danablankenhorn.com/2006/05/stealing_the_la.html

The Bells agree to hand over user data and the Feds agree to let them have whatever they want in the regulatory sphere.

Quid Pro Quo, people. No tinfoil hat necessary.

Posted by: Dana Blankenhorn on May 24, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

her's a brief summary from WSJ Online:

Net neutrality advocates, including Internet giants like Google and Amazon.com, are lobbying Congress to preserve the status quo in which all Web content is treated the same. Phone and cable providers such as AT&T and Comcast say they should be able to sell premium tiers of service since they are investing billions to build broadband networks.

AT&T and Comcast are threatening to build something that didn't exist before. Since the infrastructure didn't exist before, should it necessarily be governed as the net was governed before? If they are not permitted to bill for the services, will they cancel the investment? Or will they then build an alternate network that is inaccessible from the internet? I predicted that if net neutrality is passed, the high-tier service providers will provide the high tier of service at a higher price, but it won't be available through the internet. It will, however, according to current law, be delivered into the home on the same cable line that carries internet access. So the most likely consequence of the net neutrality will be the opposite of what is intended. That is usually what happens with government controls on prices and services.

Posted by: republicrat on May 24, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

republicrat-

If that were the only possible scenario, then there wouldn't be a problem. However, as I understand it, the regulation change would allow the telcos to control access to services via their backbones. Say AT&T partners with Rhapsody, and Comcast partners with iTunes. Comcast clients who want Rhapsody could be forced to change their ISP, and this would not be restaint of trade, since the clients would be free to get the service from another provider. Why is this not obvious, or do you not think that this is a problem?

Posted by: ueberscheisse on May 24, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

So the most likely consequence of the net neutrality will be the opposite of what is intended. That is usually what happens with government controls on prices and services.

Funny, it's also what usually happens when an industry lobbies Congress to have laws changed in a way that benefits it. They promise all sorts of benefits to consumers, at lower costs, which somehow fail to materialize.

Nicely disingenuous of you, by the way, to frame this issue as "government controls on prices and services."

Posted by: Gregory on May 24, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

1. Effectively there is a best a duopoly for high speed internet access to homes. So we can't rely on robust competition to keep prices down.

2. The ISPs, be they cable or phone company, right NOW, can charge whatever they want for whatever level of bandwidth they want. Traditionally, that's how infrastructure providers get paid--by their fscking customers!

3. This is really an attempt by the ISPs to double dip-to charge those who sell wide-bandwidth data or services, IN ADDITION to charging the recipient (customer) of those services.

How hard is this? Geez.....

Any more questions?

Posted by: vorkosigan1 on May 24, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"But the fact remains that until August 5 of last year net neutrality was the legal standard that applied to the telcos that operated the internet backbone. There's nothing new about it."

Exactly, Kevin! So the whole campaign of the telcos against 'new' regulation, especially the infamous "Don't regulate" ad, is profoundly dishonest and misleading. Net neutrality was one of the principles that today's highly successful internet was based on from the start. Getting rid of it means opening a pandorra's box of blackmailing content providers and dividing the net into haves and have nots. No pasaran!

Posted by: Gray on May 24, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that net neutrality is the status quo ante. However, that doesn't make it a good idea. Slavery used to be the "way it is" now. Freedom is frequently unpopular. The question remains whether we're crass enough to demand a massive wealth transfer away from the telcos to daily kos.

Posted by: American Hawk on May 24, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

"The nation's largest telephone and cable companies including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won't load at all."

http://www.savetheinternet.com/=faq#what

Why move away from net neutrality to the model described above? I mean unless of course you're one of the telcos.

With net neutrality you pay for the bandwidth you use, you don't pay an extra premium on top of that to get your site loading faster than someone else's, and no one gets to block websites from their users.

Now who would want to interfere that? I wonder.

Posted by: cyntax on May 24, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

republicrat wrote, It's already illegal in the US for businesses to enact practices that are "in restraint of trade". A specific law for the internet is not needed. The internet will probably grow better, and new services be provided at a higher rate, with a "light" regulatory scheme.

Clearly written by someone who has no understanding of monopoly power and economic rents, and the fact that the virtues stemming from competition don't extend to situations where there's no competition.

Posted by: liberal on May 24, 2006 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, republicrat, the only reason they want this is to engage in activities that are effectivly "in restraint in trade". They're thinking that as part of the changes, they'll get immunity from such laws, or those laws will be the next to go.

In any case...

Net neutrality advocates, including Internet giants like Google and Amazon.com, are lobbying Congress to preserve the status quo in which all Web content is treated the same. Phone and cable providers such as AT&T and Comcast say they should be able to sell premium tiers of service since they are investing billions to build broadband networks.

Ok. I don't think this is deceptive by the WSJ, to be fair. I think it's just unknowledgable.

But it's still wrong.

Providers such as AT&T and Comcast CAN ALREADY sell premium tiers of service directly to customers. In fact, this has ALWAYS been the way in Broadband...if you go to here, this is Comcasts HSI site. You can clearly see that they have multiple services and plans depending on the service you need.

Verizon is in the process of rolling out a psudo-FITC plan in certain areas, etc.

What this is about is Buisness2Business transactions, a lot of which currently don't even exist. Telcos want to charge competing internet content providers for sending the packets, when they're already charging the customers for receiving them.

Ok. This is going to be a bit technical, so I'm going to explain how the Internet works. What happens, is the top Tier backbone providers, there's a couple of them, they have a deal. They accept packets from the other networks, and other networks accept the packets from them. That's the agreement that makes the Internet work. It's that you pay for your bandwidth, and I'll pay for mine, and our networks will interoperate and allow us to do business.

EVERYTHING that the Telco's want to do with this would be a violation of restraint of trade and anti-trust laws. Everything. There's nothing that this gives them the power to do that's on the up and up, at least that I've heard. If you have any good ideas/examples, I'm all for hearing them.

The closest I've heard is talking about special designation for certain types of time-sensitive packets. But this can already be done technically and legally. It's just that if a competitors service wants to do the same thing, you gotta give their packets the same advantage.

Any questions?

Posted by: Karmakin on May 24, 2006 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Deregulation (which is the telcoms' position in effect) has been an abject failure in almost every facet (with the possible exception of, ironically, telecommunications, at least the "Baby Bell" part). Take a look at your power bills and try to recall what you were paying for electricity before deregulation. Even after factoring in COI increases, the difference is astounding. Was the public interest really served by deregulating the industry?

People act is if capitalist markets solve all ills and it's just not true. The internet levelled the playing field, so that SMB's could compete with large retailers, advertisers and marketers. It is in the public interest to keep the internet neutral.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 24, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Slightly off topic, but how are these changes going to affect users in the rest of the world? Will we only really see any difference on sites based in America (if that makes sense, I'm not particularly net literate)?

Posted by: UKMatt on May 24, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

If they are not permitted to bill for the services

But they are permitted to bill for services!!! They can bill users on both ends of the pipe - content providers and end-users - for the bandwidth they use. isn't that the idea of building a new network? The speed in which a web page lods is directly proportional to how much pipe the content provider procures. If you want faster page-loads, buy more pipe. Net neutrality proponents aren't arguing that.

But when telco start acting as gate-keepers, they are assuming a role they have no business being in. Can they disable websites they find objectionable? Where does that start? Whose the "decider"?

I don't want any telco (the same guys that sold my phone records to the NSA) controlling what I can and cannot see on the web.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 24, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

However, that doesn't make it a good idea.

Careful, Chickenhawk, it might mean the end of you getting porn in your mother's basement.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 24, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK
Slightly off topic, but how are these changes going to affect users in the rest of the world? Will we only really see any difference on sites based in America (if that makes sense, I'm not particularly net literate)?

The changes would potentially affect quality of service and/or cost across paths that crossed wires located in the US, whether or not either endpoint was in the US. I'm familiar enough with the topography of the net to say how significant that is, though I expect it would affect people from, e.g., Mexico accessing servers in Canada frequently, and people from France accessing servers in Germany very rarely, if ever.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 24, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK
I agree that net neutrality is the status quo ante. However, that doesn't make it a good idea.

That's true. It is a good idea, as well as the way things were by law until very recently, but those two points are almost entirely independent.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 24, 2006 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

republicrat-
The Internet's clean design principles should not be cluttered by introducing the complexities of tiered service.

Are you familiar with the end-to-end principle? Before making any final conclusions, I would hope you would read a little bit into the benefits of "Dumb networks"...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumb_network

Posted by: Joe on May 24, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

Or maybe if I used the phrase "bureaucracy," rather than complexity, to describe tiered service, you'd be more likely to agree with me, considering your politician persuasion?

Posted by: Joe on May 24, 2006 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: biu991 on May 25, 2006 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

"The question remains whether we're crass enough to demand a massive wealth transfer away from the telcos to daily kos."

What??? No, the question RIGHT NOW is exactly the opposite, e.g. whether we're crass enough to demand a massive wealth transfer away from daily kos to the telcos." Your way of thinking is so idiotic, I don't oknow where to start. Why do you surf the web? To experience the fantastic way data packets are transferred around the globe? No way. You're here for the content. Ot's the content providers that make the web interesting. The backbones are just one part of the means of transporting that content. And for that backbone, a bit of data is just like another bit of data. There are no differences between content from Daily Kos, Yahoo, AOL, itune or whatever in that regard. The telcos want to implement artificial differences in order to generate different classes of customers, because this would boost their revenue by the billions. If they succeed, the telcos will have the last word in deciding whose sites are to be accessed fluently and who will face delays and traffic jams. What serious person would want to give the telcos that kind of power?

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Posted by: dfdd on May 25, 2006 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

Seeing as i work for Hands off the Internet I obivously dont support net neutrality. Net Neutrality DOES NOT EXIST. Consumers already pay for more bandwidth or faster speed, better quality, etc. Net Neutrality would be taking us backwards!

Posted by: HOTI on May 25, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks cmdicely. That's what I assumed but just wanted confirmation.

Posted by: UKMatt on May 25, 2006 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK
Seeing as i work for Hands off the Internet I obivously dont support net neutrality.

Clearly.

Net Neutrality DOES NOT EXIST.

It has for most of the time the internet existed.

Consumers already pay for more bandwidth or faster speed, better quality, etc.

Which net neutrality would still allow. Net neutrality is not about prohibiting charges for maximum speed in either or both directions, or charging for bandwidth in either or both directions.

Net Neutrality would be taking us backwards!

Obviously, you don't even know what net neutrality is.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 25, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

The "internet backbone" is not the subject of this controversy. The large interstate and international broadband fiber pipes have always been totally unregulated--that was the beauty of the internet, everyone interconnected and set up their own traffic sharing arrangements.

Common carrier regs were never applied to these. The internet backbone pieces owned by different companies have byte caps, privately negotiated peering agreements, etc. Some people didnt want to peer with others and they didnt have to.

Bottom line, content providers have always had to pay their share to ride on the backbone. If you go over your byte cap with another provider you have a connection agreement with, you pay more. everything is a function of bytes/sec, and you pay for speed.

The current net neutrality controversy is over the "last mile" problem, which in the old phone days was a monopoly with common carrier requirements. Common carrier requirements are typically justified by monopoloy type situations.

Now both cable and phone companies have high speed access to homes--a duopoly. Earthlink would love to sell the same product using a cable company's or a telco's lines without paying, or at a regulated rate. Google or Apple would love to offer GoogleVideo or Video iTunes and pump millions of MBs over the internet and pay the backbone operators but not the last mile providers.

Problem is that the last mile is the most expensive part and it is the least built up. The private market of the backbone has given us a glut of long distance fiber. The common carrier rules on the telcos lines have discouraged last mile investment.

Maybe packet prioritization will advantage bill companies over small ones, but then why is MS and Google complaining? Because they want more small competitors? That would be violating their corporate duties to their shareholders. I think they want to reduce costs of their future services, it is a more logical corporate explanation.

And the bottom line is that someone has to pay for fiber to the home. It is too expensive for the consumer to foot the bill alone, and it is not fair when P2P users are eating up all the bandwidth and no one is paying for it. Why would ATT roll out a competing cable TV service, if net neut rules allow Google to offer the SAME service over ATT's last mile lines WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY IN TO BUILD THE LINES?? They wouldn't. Net Neutrality rules seem designed to keep the Internet the way it is today, and stop it from expanding rapidly and preventing phone/TV/internet convergence.

I think the net pioneers are in favor of this because they liked the old net, the nerdy, academic, non-corporate (or at least new, quirky corporate) environment. Well, when the internet is in the home of every American, instead of every smart American, it is going to change.

The internet, as a separate thing, is already going away, as is phone service and cable TV service. They are all bytes and they are all on fiber. Everything is converging into data, and if we are going to keep expanding the pipes for more and more data, we are going to have to pay for it.

These pipes should be governed by rules that ban blocking/degrading access, blocking/degrading devices, or blocking/degrading content. But if last mile network operators can't prioritize content like the backbone already does (if you exceed your byte cap you have to pay more) then we are going to be stuck with today's internet. and once, the internet was about change, expansion, and speed. Now suddenly they have gotten all conservative, pining for the internet of the 1990s.

Posted by: Dre on May 25, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK
Why would ATT roll out a competing cable TV service, if net neut rules allow Google to offer the SAME service over ATT's last mile lines WITHOUT HAVING TO PAY IN TO BUILD THE LINES??

Because AT&T doesn't have to pay to build the lines to provide the service, either.

Your question should be "why would AT&T roll out high capacity fiber to peoples home, when someone else can provide content over that fiber to AT&T's paying customers, without that business also paying AT&T." And the answer to that is the same as "Why would AT&T run phone lines to houses, when other businesses could provide services over those phone lines to AT&T customers over those phone lines without paying AT&T."

The payments from the customers getting access to the fiber are the reason AT&T would provide the wire.

The payments from the customers choosing to use their video service (whoevers wires they were using) is why AT&T would provide video over the internet.

There is no reason for the two to be coordinated, and, indeed, its probably best for society not to have to deal with hundreds of different firms trying to lay cable on the last mile as the only way to get access to consumers (since no telco or cable provider is going to charge reasonable fees to any competitor to user their cable, without regulation forcing them to), but good to have competition to provide service. So it makes sense to regulate the provision of the physical infrastructure in a way which encourages competition in the content market rather than provider-lock-in.

And the bottom line is that someone has to pay for fiber to the home. It is too expensive for the consumer to foot the bill alone, and it is not fair when P2P users are eating up all the bandwidth and no one is paying for it.

First, in any case, the "consumer" is going to foot the bill alone -- there is no one else around to foot the bill.

Either:

A) The "last mile" providers will pay them out of pocket, and pass the cost along to consumers in service costs, or
B) The "last mile" providers will pay them out of pocket, and pass them on to content providers, who will pass the costs along to consumers with fees for content, or
C) Government will pay for them out of the public purse and pass the costs on to the public through taxes.

Second, P2P users aren't using any bandwidth -- in either direction -- that they aren't paying for. So the "P2P users...eating up all the bandwidth...no one...paying for it" is BS.

I think the net pioneers are in favor of this because they liked the old net, the nerdy, academic, non-corporate (or at least new, quirky corporate) environment. Well, when the internet is in the home of every American, instead of every smart American, it is going to change.

The internet is obviously changing, and has been changing for quite some time. That's a pointless truism, and says nothing about the desirability of a policy choice toward a particular kind of change.

The internet, as a separate thing, is already going away, as is phone service and cable TV service. They are all bytes and they are all on fiber. Everything is converging into data, and if we are going to keep expanding the pipes for more and more data, we are going to have to pay for it.

That's not the internet going away -- a content-neutral system for delivery "bytes on fiber" (or, well, copper wires, or carrier pigeons -- the internet isn't all that medium-biased either) is what the internet has always been. So, really, what you are talking about is cable and phone service merging into the internet. And you are right. But none of that provides an argument against net neutrality, indeed, it provides an argument for net neutrality, since de facto neutrality is how the internet has gotten where it is.

These pipes should be governed by rules that ban blocking/degrading access, blocking/degrading devices, or blocking/degrading content.

That's exactly what net neutrality demands.

But if last mile network operators can't prioritize content like the backbone already does (if you exceed your byte cap you have to pay more) then we are going to be stuck with today's internet.

Again, bandwidth and capacity charges, which existed when the neutrality rules were in effect, and exist now in the post-required-neutrality limbo, have nothing to do with net neutrality. Net neutrality does not posit that people owning a piece of internet pipe cannot charge anyone directly connecting to it for the bandwidth actually consumed, as wall as for the speed of the connection in both directions.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 25, 2006 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

The Internet's design and operational principles are recorded in series of 4500 documents called "Requests for Comments" or RFCs. Nowhere in this entire archive is the term "net neutrality" used. Similarly, the term does not appear a single time in the Federal Codes. So what kind of a foundational principle is that?

As Dre pointed out, correctly, the fat pipes at the core of the Internet and the peering arrangements that make them work have never been regulated. Period.

Net neutrality is scam that gives the guy with the fattest pipe control over the last mile. It's wrong on several levels, and nobody who appreciates the way the Internet operates today is for it.

Posted by: Richard Bennett on May 26, 2006 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

"nobody who appreciates the way the Internet operates today is for it."

Actually, nearly everybody who has been working on this stuff for a very long time (say, more than a decade) is for it, with caveats. Old-timers tend to see the environment as meritocratic and want it to continue being meritocratic. Using monopoly powers to stifle competition kind of works against that.

As for the RFCs, the phrase "net neutrality" isn't in there because the phrase is a recent invention, cooked up by political operatives. However, if you go back and look at first principles you'll see that the technology was designed to keep as much state as *reasonably* possible out of the network and that the middle of the network's job was basically to route and forward packets. There's your "net neutrality." That's been changing over the past decade or so with the privatization of the internet - telcos and other traditional business providers prefer to adapt existing business models to new technology rather than try to develop new business models. So, we're finding more protocols and architectures that are built around mediated services than we saw a decade or two ago.

That's starting to change again with innovation coming, not out of the traditional service providers, but from small individual projects like Skype (well, Skype started small, anyway). I think in large part the net neutrality discussions are being driven by the threat that this kind of innovation poses to the older companies. Rather than keeping market share by outcompeting the field, the old companies are trying to keep market share by walling off their customers and denying access to new services provided by competitors. It seems to me that this problem is the real core of the net neutrality debate.

I don't think that this would be nearly the issue it is if there were competition in the last mile.

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Posted by: best resource on May 27, 2006 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, nearly everybody who has been working on this stuff for a very long time (say, more than a decade) is for it, with caveats.

Actually, no. I'm a network engineer who designs protocols for a living, such as the twisted pair cable system for Ethernet and the WiFi MAC protocol, and neither I nor any network engineer of my acquaintance supports the regulations proposed by the network neutrality crowd. Tim Berners-Lee, the web guy, is often cited as a proponent of this kind of regulation, but he's repeatedly said he's OK with the tiered service levels banned by the Sensenbrenner bill.

The Internet as it is today is not a dumb, fat pipe where all the control is at the ends, as net neuts claim. It does active queue management and selective packet discard, and has since the 1980s. The Internet was originally designed in such a way that it could only support file transfer applications and applications that looked like file transfer from an engineering perspective. In the future, we want the Internet to support a large number of VoIP sessions and IPTV, and neither of these is possible (on a large scale) without Quality of Service discrimination.

The US Constitution had to change to allow women and blacks to vote, and the design of the Internet has to change to allow real-time applications to work well. The laws of physics are what they are, and human needs are what they are, hence the Internet has to evolve.

Change is always threatening to entrenched interests, but what's happening here is progress and the attempt by neuts and big monopolies such as Google and Microsoft to stifle it.

Posted by: Richard Bennett on May 27, 2006 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

"Actually, no. I'm a network engineer who designs protocols for a living,"

Me too, although I'm working at the IP layer rather than at the phy layer, and most of my work has been done in the IETF (where I chair a couple of working groups) and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (where I used to chair a working group).

You may not have noted I said "with caveats." Clearly, we want service providers to be able to survive. What nobody I know wants is for service providers to survive by choking off competition and stifling innovation, and as we know from some of the early experiments of IP-based services by some of the Asian and European telecomm service providers, that's exactly what they want to do - walled gardens. That's fine when there's competition in the market and customers get a choice, but it's really not okay in the typical home broadband scenario where the providers have a government-granted monopoly on the last mile, as in the case of cable and DSL vendors.

I agree that nobody who knows anything about the technology objects to vendors providing differentiated quality-of-service, and that's an unfortunate and, I think, largely irrelevant bugaboo that's been thrust into the discussion by alarmists. However, if you go and read the actual proposed legislation it's not even an issue - providing differentiated packet treatment and charging more for things like expedited forwarding is simply not under consideration for regulation.

I work for a very large network equipment manufacturer and the company has come out against the proposed legislation, not for any of the reasons you've raised but because they/we are generally opposed to government regulation and the feeling is that since there's not a problem *yet* the legislation is premature. There's no objection to the actual content of the bill, just the timing. Your assertion that nobody who knows anything about the technology supports this legislation is clearly incorrect, and among people who design this stuff for a living the discussion is considerably more nuanced than you're letting on.

Posted by: Melinda on May 27, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

Melinda, you're wrong.

You say: "I agree that nobody who knows anything about the technology objects to vendors providing differentiated quality-of-service, and that's an unfortunate and, I think, largely irrelevant bugaboo that's been thrust into the discussion by alarmists. However, if you go and read the actual proposed legislation it's not even an issue - providing differentiated packet treatment and charging more for things like expedited forwarding is simply not under consideration for regulation."

But the bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee this week says: If a broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, it must prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service.

That means that DiffServ can't be policed and it can't come at an extra charge.

Now try and resolve the contradiction between your claim about the legislation and what it actually says or I'll have to conclude that you're not merely uninformed but are in fact deliberately lying.

Posted by: Richard Bennett on May 28, 2006 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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