This post was syndicated from: Errata Security and was written by: Robert Graham. Original post: at Errata Security
There is no reasoned debate over NetNeutrality because the press is so biased. An example is this article by Timothy B. Lee at Vox “explaining” NetNeutrality. It doesn’t explain, it advocates.
1. Fast Lanes
Fast-lanes have been an integral part of the Internet since the beginning. Whenever somebody was unhappy with their speeds, they paid money to fix the problem. Most importantly, Facebook pays for fast-lanes, contrary to the example provided.
One prominent example of fast-lanes is “channels” in the local ISP network to avoid congestion. This allows them to provide VoIP and streaming video over their own private TCP/IP network that won’t be impacted by the congestion that everything else experiences. That’s why during prime-time (7pm to 10pm), your NetFlix streams are low-def (to reduce bandwidth), while your cable TV video-on-demand are hi-def.
Historically, these channels were all “MPEG-TS”, transport streams based on the MPEG video standard. Even your Internet packets would be contained inside the MPEG streams on channels.
Today, the situation is usually reversed. New fiber-optic services have TCP/IP network everywhere, putting MPEG streams on top of TCP/IP. They just separate the channels into their private TCP/IP network that doesn’t suffer congestion (for voice and video-on-demand), and the public Internet access that does. Their services don’t suffer congestion, other people’s services do.
The more important fast-lanes are known as “content delivery networks” or “CDNs”. These companies pay ISPs to co-locate servers on their network, putting servers in every major city. Companies like Facebook then pay the CDNs to host their data.
If you monitor your traffic, you’ll see that the vast majority goes to CDNs located in your city. When you access different, often competing companies like Facebook and Apple, your traffic may in fact go to the same IP address of the CDN server.
Smaller companies that cannot afford CDNs most host their content in just a couple locations. Since these locations are thousands of miles from most of their customers, access is slower than CDN hosted content like Facebook. Pay-for-play has, with preferred and faster access, has been an integral part of the Internet since the very beginning.
This demonstrates that the Vox example of Facebook is a complete lie. Their worst-case scenario already exists, and has existed since before the dot-com era even started, and has enabled competition and innovation rather than hindering it.
Vox claims: “Advocates say the neutrality of the internet is a big reason there has been so much online innovation over the last two decades“.
No, it’s opponents who claim the lack of government regulation is the reason there has been so much online innovation in the last decades.
NetNeutality means sweeping government regulation that forces companies to ask permission first before innovating. NetNeutrality means spending money lobbying for government for special rules, surviving or failing based on the success of paying off politicians rather than surviving or failing based on the own merits.
Take GoGo Inflight broadband Internet service on airplanes. They block NetFlix in favor of their own video streaming service. This exactly the sort of thing that NetNeutrality regulations are supposed to block. However, it’s technically necessary. A single person streaming video form NetFlix would overload the connection for everyone else. To satisfy video customers, GoGo puts servers on the plane for its streaming service — allowing streaming without using the Internet connection to the ground.
If NetNeutrality became law, such things would be banned. But of course, since that would kill Internet service on airplanes, the FCC would immediately create rules to allow this. But then everyone would start lobbying the FCC for their own exceptions. In the end, you’d have the same thing with every other highly regulated industry, where companies with the most lobbying dollars win.
Innovation happens because companies innovate first and ask for permission (or forgiveness) later. A few years ago, Comcast throttled BitTorrent traffic during prime time. NetNeutrality proponents think this is bad, and use it as an example of why we need regulation. But no matter how bad it is, it’s a healthy sign of innovation. Not all innovations are good, sometimes companies will try things, realize they are bad, then stop doing them. Under NetNeutrality regulations, nothing bad will happen ever again, because government regulators won’t allow it. But that also means good innovations won’t happen either — companies won’t be able to freely try them out without regulators putting a stop to it.
Right now, you can start a company like Facebook without spending any money lobbying the government. In the NetNeutrality future, that will no longer be possible. A significant amount of investor money will go toward lobbying the government for favorable regulation, to ask permission.
3. What’s Taking So Long
Vox imagines that NetNeutality is such a good idea that the only thing stopping it is technicalities.
The opposite is true. The thing stopping NetNeutrality is that it’s a horrible idea that kills innovation. It’s not a technical idea, but a political one. It’s pure left-wing wing politics that demands the government run everything. The thing stopping it is right-wing politics that wants the free-market to run things.
The refusal of Vox to recognize that this is a left-wing vs. right-wing debate demonstrates their overwhelming political bias on this issue.
4. FCC Bypassing Congress
The Internet is new and different. If regulating it like a utility is a good idea, then it’s Congress who should pass a law to do this.
What Obama wants to do is bypass congress and seize control of the Internet himself.
5. Opponent’s arguments
Vox gets this partly right, but fundamentally wrong.
The fundamental argument by opponents is that nothing bad is happening now. None of the evil scenarios of what might happen are actually happening now.
Sure, sometimes companies do bad things, but the market immediately corrects. That’s the consequence of permission-free innovation: innovate first, and ask for permission (or forgiveness) later. That sometimes companies have to ask for forgiveness is a good sign.
Let’s wait until Comcast actually permanently blocks content, or charges NetFlix more than other CDNs, or any of the other hypothetical evils, then let’s start talking about the government taking control.
6. Red Tape
Strangling with red-tape isn’t a binary proposition.
What red-tape means is that network access becomes politicized, as only those with the right political connections get to act. What red-tape means is that only huge corporations can afford the cost. If you like a world dominated by big, connected corporations, then you want NetNeutrality regulations.
While it won’t strangle innovation, it’ll drastically slow it down.
Vox claims that startups like YouTube would have difficulty getting off the ground with NetNeutrality regulation. The opposite is true: companies like YouTube would no longer be able to get off the ground without lobbying the government for permission.
8. Level Playing Field
Vox description of the NetFlix-Comcast situation is completely biased on wrong, taking NetFlix’s and leftist description at face value. It’s not true.
Descriptions of the NetFlix-Comcast issue completely ignore the technical details, but the technical details matter. For one thing, it doesn’t stream “across the Internet”. The long-distance links between cities cannot support that level of traffic. Instead, NetFlix puts servers in every major city to stream from. These servers are often co-located in the same building as Comcast’s major peering points.
In other words, what we are often talking about is how to get video streaming from NetFlix servers from one end of a building to another.
During prime time (7pm to 10pm), NetFlix’s bandwidth requirements are many times greater than all non-video traffic put together. That essentially means that companies like Comcast have to specially engineer their networks just to handle NetFlix. So far, NetFlix has been exploiting loopholes in “peering agreements” designed for non-video traffic in order to get a free ride.
Re-architecting the Internet to make NetFlix work requires a lot of money. Right now, those costs are born by all Comcast subscribers — even those who don’t watch NetFlix. The 90% of customers with low-bandwidth needs are subsidizing those 10% who watch NetFlix at prime time. We like to think of Comcast as having monopolistic power, but it doesn’t. The truth is that Comcast has very little power in pricing. It can’t meter traffic, charging those who abuse the network during prime time to account for their costs. Thus, instead of charging NetFlix abusers directly, it just passes its costs to NetFlix.
Converting the Internet into a public-utility wouldn’t change this. It simply means that instead of fighting in the market place, the Comcast-NetFlix battle would be decided by regulators. And, the result of the decision would be whichever company did the best job lobbying the FCC and paying off politicians — which would probably be Comcast.