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Tuesday, March 3. 2015
Bigger than ISIS? Maybe or maybe not, but not as hair-raising. Bigger than Hillary using her personal email? Absolutely, but not as top-of-mind or intriguing. Bigger than Immigration Reform? Probably not, but interestingly the topics which are involved would play a role in hopefully reducing the influx of illegals by opening up markets more.
We are smarter than you, and we know what's best for you. Don't worry that you never voted for us, or that we are completely unaccountable. It's in your best interest.
Ultimately, it's a kind of boring topic. Which is why I like it, because it involves politics, law and economics. Economics being 'the dismal science', Net Neutrality has often been misconstrued and misunderstood in the media because it doesn't attract much thought beyond a populist angle. After all, most reporters and bloviators who comment on the topic work for companies that will benefit from Net Neutrality. Of course, they were never harmed without it, but hey, these populists are busy looking out for your best interests. Because, of course, nobody else will and you're simply not smart enough to know better. I'll be clear, I work for a company that supports Net Neutrality and conceivably benefits from it. Which is one reason the small level of anonymity which blogging provides is beneficial when writing pieces like this.
The passage, last week, by the FCC of a policy which treats broadband providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act basically means they are now utilities. Not completely, but close enough to make that claim without much disagreement. But what sparked this vote, why is it needed (or why do populists feel it is needed), and what does it potentially do?
Oddly, there is no one thing that sparked this debate or the vote itself. There was no overwhelming problem in search of a legal solution. There was a minor business tiff between Netflix and Comcast which was resolved in a positive fashion. It was primarily driven by a non-existent fear that these broadband providers may 'throttle' traffic, based on their whims or - worse yet - the ability of content providers to pay! Shocking stuff. The implication was that Google, or Netflix, could buy so much bandwidth because they had cash, and prevent potential competitors from entering the space. Seems plausible, if you assume that Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision or any of the other broadband providers (which is really only 'last mile' service) aren't actually in some form of competition with Google or Netflix or any other content provider and had a good reason to shut down access to suit their needs
But they are in competition, and regulating the last mile would injure them in the long run, whereas having content providers pay for 'fast lanes' would open avenues for innovation and greater speed for all.
The argument that 'throttling' was a potential problem ignores many issues, of course. For example, the simple problem that 'throttling' happens every day, everywhere, and is essential to managing heavy traffic in confined spaces. The best solution always carries a cost of some kind. The question is what the FCC's solution is to how it will be handled here. With no incentive to develop faster lanes by collecting higher fees, what's the benefit to the broadband providers? All content providers must be treated equally, regardless of ability to pay for faster upload speeds.
Consider these scenarios. I was on a plane this past weekend, and the process of boarding is based on....ABILITY TO PAY! Shocking, I know. But First Class gets on first, then Business, then Economy. Now studies have shown that there are more efficient ways to board a plane. Perhaps the FAA should step in to lower boarding times - getting improved service for all - by shutting down this practice and enforcing the absolute best method? Maybe, but let's consider some other situations. On my way home from the airport, I took a train, and the train ran fine until it reached a portion of track that was shared with Amtrak and Conrail. Since Amtrak runs the 'common carrier' rails, Amtrak and Conrail have first crack at the rails, while commuter lines have to wait. There is no option to bid on access. This obviously wise political solution is clearly one reason rail service has advanced so dramatically over the years, right? Let's consider another, HOV lanes. We've all been stuck in a traffic jam while the HOV lane is open and empty, haven't we? This is clearly an example of the government imposing a "fee" for a fast lane, isn't it? The cost of the extra passengers is what makes HOV lanes work (depending on your definition of the term 'work' and what you think HOV lanes are meant to accomplish).
I have friends who argued that it's not fair if Comcast 'throttles'. "I paid for 5 gigabytes of download speed, they don't have a right to slow me down if I'm downloading a video." That's not precisely true. They aren't slowing down your download speed. They are slowing down the content provider's upload speed. It's a critical point. After all, if a certain content provider becomes so popular that it overwhelms the internet, shouldn't the providers have the right to 'throttle' that content, knowing they have a contract with you that is inviolable? Well, that's what Comcast worked out with Netflix - a contractual solution to a seemingly intractable problem. But the government took this away from them - a business solution is always worse than a political one, isn't it?
What's intriguing is that if all bits and bytes must be treated equally, then how does this vote handle email spam? All providers have throttling of spam, and for good reason. The stuff was clogging the bandwidth. Without some kind of arrangement to manage this stuff, 'free email' was going to overwhelm the pipes. So 'last mile' providers put spam filters on to block as much as they could. Technically, this is now not possible, since all bits should be treated equal. However, there may be carve-outs for certain sectors. We have yet to see.
So the idea that bidding for the option of faster use of constrained space is a bad idea? Well, let's consider that under Title II, the likelihood of innovation is almost non-existent based on history. Yet Tom Wheeler seemed to have a moment of 'clarity' when he 'realized' it could still work and spur innovation, if you look at the wireless providers. This is curious, though. Wireless providers may be innovating like mad, but not in the one area that they are regulated by Title II - voice. Their data is not covered by Title II, and that is where growth is taking place. If he is honest, it seems Wheeler is responding to White House pressure to regulate, particularly since he changed his mind shortly after a White House request to regulate.
Finally, there is the question of whether this actually 'levels the playing field' for new entrants. There was a fear, somewhat warranted, that those content providers with money would pay to choke off access so any potential competitors would need deeper pockets to compete. However, this implies that deep pockets are unavailable and that the only real cost is access to the 'last mile'. Sadly both of these are flawed arguments. Any good idea will find deep pockets somewhere (and many entrepreneurs are hoping to get picked up by Google anyway), but the real cost to a new innovator on the web is infrastructure. Either building it or getting access. Guess who controls the access to infrastructure? Google, Amazon, and the other big companies who supported Net Neutrality. Well, gee, why'd they support it? Out of the kindness of their hearts for the little guy? Heh. Fact is, Net Neutrality allows them to shift their focus from a potential cost center to other areas where now they have more control. Which makes one wonder if it was wise for them to support Neutrality to begin with. In reality, is this just a call for more regulation? Indeed, it is. There is no way this can work without more regulation, and that is the endgame here for Obama, the chance to go after the Googles and Amazons of the world, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation realizes this.
This was hailed as a victory of 'populism over monied interests'. That's bizarre in the extreme. While it's true the broadband providers have strong lobbies and plenty of cash, so did the supporters of Net Neutrality. The only difference is that the Googles of the world realized they could win by keeping their mouth shut and letting it seem like a populist movement. The fact of the matter is this regulation helps nobody, reduces innovation, and is purely politically motivated. I won't predict what the final outcome of this will be. Predictions are hard things to make and rarely meet expectations. But if history is any window, it's clear this is not a good decision and the internet will suffer as a result because the regulations simply won't be enough to make anyone happy.
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You are way ahead of me Bulldog.
I would still like someone to quote chapter and verse where Congress has granted the FCC the legal authority to regulate the internet.
Looks to me like a lawless power grab.
Half of the government (not stuff like SS, etc.) is illegal as it is regulations that have the effect of laws rather than laws voted on by congress.
As for the "Net Neutrality" regs. There is no telling what is in them as very few have seen the entire regulations. The fact that it was kept secret is the first troubling thing about them, the content will probably be the next. We'll just have to wait and see - sort of like the "Affordable Care Act" which was more act than either affordable or car!
It's not unusual for this stuff to be kept quiet, though it's not absolutely necessary.
The whole thing stinks, and while I respect Consumer Reports, they are hardly knowledgeable on the topic. In supporting this, there is every indication that very little thought or study of history was put into their position.
They play an important role, Consumer Reports, not unlike Underwriters Labs - but they should remain without opinion in areas they lack expertise.
I understand it is not mandatory to publicize the regulations ahead of time (though this IS supposed to be the most transparent administration in history), I would thing given the enormity of the impact on almost everybody they would release them. I agree. The secretiveness of the whole process is VERY disconcerting to say the least!
As for Consumer Reports, they are a data point but I stopped paying much attention to them when they tested cars by going 50mpg and then quickly turning the steering wheel 90 degrees. That is an asinine test.
Consumers Reports considers this a victory. But then, CR never met a government regulation it doesn't like. Their writers must have a shortcut key for: "The government needs to..."
"They are slowing down the content provider's upload speed. "
No, they are not.
The way it works--especially with the Netflix--is that they are restricting the *PEERING*.
Netflix moved to using L3 as their network provider. L3 had a peering agreement with Comcast that allowed for a certain ratio of bits exchanged between them. L3 consistently exceeded this ratio because of Netflix traffic and routing decisions both L3 and Netflix made.
So the diagram would be Netflix content producers -> Netflix Servers L3 Comcast Customer.
"upload" here is meaningless, and as far as I can tell Comcast didn't distinguish what to restrict based on URL/hostname, only on originating *network*.
I will admit to having some insider information, and some of that could have either been misrepresented to me, or I might have garbled it in my brain since I heard it last year.
However, Netflix does not "upload" to Comcast, it's a peering arrangement.
"So the diagram would be Netflix content producers -> Netflix Servers L3 Comcast Customer. "
Should actually be:
So the diagram would be Netflix content producers -> Netflix Servers < - > L3 < - > Comcast < - > Customer.
I work in the industry, so I'm familiar with the arrangement. It's a technicality which I 'dumbed down' for the purposes of understanding the issue. Most people have no clue what the process is.
Yes, you're right - but nobody understands that. The process of 'peering' isn't really a common discussion point. While 'uploading' isn't the proper term, it's the understandable one. What they are really doing is creating a direct connection through their pipes. Either way, the point is made - they aren't slowing down the download speeds, they are limiting the connectivity at the source.
For what it's worth, the explanation is meaningless, really. When you consider that Comcast (or Verizon, or Cablevision, or anyone who supplies the backbone) built out their own infrastructure (actually not entirely true since my tax dollars helped pay for Verizon's fiber backbone here in NJ), they should have the right to manage the traffic on their infrastructure, particularly if that traffic regularly exceeds levels which were expected.
'Throttling' is/was the only way broadband providers could manage their leverage. It's also the only way they could handle excessive use of bandwidth on peer-to-peer sharing sites (especially when the gov't started getting wind of some less than savory activity on certain ones, then they really cracked down, though that's an entirely separate issue as far as I'm concerned).
Point is, now the broadband providers no longer have the leverage they once had....at least until this is sorted out in the courts.