Why Bram Cohen Isn't Actually Against Net Neutrality

from the missing-the-point dept

There’s lots of buzz this morning about how BitTorrent’s Bram Cohen supposedly said that he’s “against” net neutrality. That could be interesting if it’s true, but reading through what he actually said, it becomes clear that his point is focused on a basic (though, often repeated) myth concerning the concept of network neutrality: that it would ban things like Akamai or Cachelogic. The claim is that the telcos really are just trying to offer their own versions of Akamai or Cachelogic, which isn’t really true. There’s a big difference between caching content and quality of service — and part of the difference is in how you view the internet.

For most of us, when we buy internet access, we assume that we’re buying access to the entire internet — from our own computers all the way out to everyone else’s connected computers. That is, we’re paying to connect the endpoints. After all, it’s what’s available at all those end points that makes the internet valuable. The telcos have a different idea in mind. True to their traditional centralized service view of the world, they think we’re only paying to connect back to the central backbone that they control. The other half of the connectivity (from the middle out to the other endpoints) is a free ride. This ignores, of course, the fact that if we were only getting the first half of the connection, the whole thing is pretty much useless. What caching companies do is make the value of the overall bandwidth much higher for everyone. It recognizes the end-to-end connectivity by trying to bring the ends closer together. What the telcos are talking about in breaking net neutrality and ending the “free ride” is not about improving the connectivity for everyone, but about charging an extra fee for the second half of the equation: from the middle out to the ends.

If I’m a big content site like Google, and I do a deal with an Akamai or a Cachelogic, I’m improving the service for all users by improving the value on the side of the equation (from me to the end users) that I have control over. It doesn’t matter who the ISP is for users. It doesn’t matter who’s in the center. What the telcos are talking about doing is trying to insert themselves in the middle of this and add an extra, unnecessary, toll road from the middle out to the endpoint — effectively adding fees for the connectivity that’s already been paid for. Caching solutions provide end-to-end improvements for all users. The telcos are simply adding an extra tollbooth halfway up the route for some content or service providers, to try to squeeze extra money for no real value. So, the idea that Cachelogic and Akamai are no different than what the telcos are proposing is simply wrong — and Bram Cohen’s statements are not against network neutrality (as the BBC reporter claims), but against some phantom that isn’t even being discussed.

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Comments on “Why Bram Cohen Isn't Actually Against Net Neutrality”

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Scott says:

weird question

So, by their own logic, we should still be paying for incoming calls on top of the monthly fee we pay for phones?

I understand that voice calls are very different from data, but the concept is the same. I would only be paying for a connection to the CO according to the phone company, so who pays for the in between phone connect when I call someone on the other end? Isn’t the person on the other end getting a free ride?

Russ says:

The pipes are calling

The whole thing about net neutrality that Ithink motivates the Telco’s is that the Telco’s are more than a pipeline. I agree that they are trying to charge twice for traffic going back and forth. I most certainly agree with the notion that they don’t understand the network effect.

But I think what they really see is the ability to provide content (VOD, etc.) and have someone ELSE pay for the pipes. Historically, the telco’s have not been able to share their lines in an economically neutral manner. Either they over charge for access compared to the operating costs or they are forced by requlation to sell at a price that may not reflect true costs. (costing in the telecom industry is like accounting in the movies, its there in black and white, just don’t expect to understand it)

So we have a company that owns both the road and a trucking line. If you want the express lane expect to pay for it, but BTW don’t get in the way of our trucks.

Joe Smith says:

Wrong analogy

Your comment that a user is paying for end to end connectivity rather than just half way does not hit the nail on the head. It may be a better view to say that you as user pay for your access to the backbone – half way as you say – and Google is paying for its access to the backbone – from the mid point to the other end.

Between, the user and Google, the full path is paid for. If Google can arrange for more cost effective use of the backbone by buying caching services then that is the market in action.

If the telcos are losing money providing backbone services then they should shut down or sell out.

WRONG says:


Am I missing something here?

There is no free ride people. There never has been a free ride nor is there ever going to be a free ride anywhere for point-to-point connections. At every possible point on a network someone somewhere flipped the bill to connect.

Now, if they want to double-charge for the exact same result, then that would be questionable.

It’s false logic to think that for connecting “A-Z” “A” should pay for connecting to “Z” AND “A” should pay for “Z” connecting to “A.”

What kinda shit is that? It’s illegal and it’s called double-dipping.

JM says:

/rant on

When I buy service from my ISP (cable) I want primarily 2 things.

One: That they provide reasonable and hopefully consistent uplink/downlink rates to any public IP address I wish to connect to. I pay for the Up and Down streams. That is negotiated and built into the terms of the service.

Two: My packets should be private. Gaming/VoIP/Googling should all be transparent to my ISP. I expect the same service no matter what information my packets contain.

The whole debate that the big content providers should pay should not matter considering that I am PAYING for the downstream service into my house. There is NOTHING preventing the ISP to negotiate a slower downstream rate, except that we want faster service.

Google pays for their upstream service (content sent by them to us) And the ISPs negotiate with the backbones for thier carrier fees. The problem I see is that the backbones and the ISPs are becoming in many cases the same thing. But this all leads to the fact that the negotiated rates need to be modified, and if the market won’t bare a particular rate, then the market will choose a carrier with the best rate.

The ISPs want to manipulate (monopolize) the market. They want to dictate the content, cost, and delivery method rather than letting the market decide.

/rant off

Anonymous Coward says:

You’ve missed the point I fear. Cachelogic’s BitTorrent solution involves SELECTIVE caching. Authorised commercial torrents will be greatly accelerated, and they will be serviced even if the seeds disappear.

Neither of those things, as I understand it, would happen if the cache encountered a BitTorrent that didn’t subscribe to the service.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’ve missed the point I fear. Cachelogic’s BitTorrent solution involves SELECTIVE caching. Authorised commercial torrents will be greatly accelerated, and they will be serviced even if the seeds disappear.

That has nothing to do with anything. It’s still an end-to-end solution, not a middle-to-end one.

In the meantime, you might want to say where you’re posting from, Mr. Anonymous — as your IP address suggests why you might be disagreeing with us.

Anonymous Coward says:

Apologies – I should have made clear I wrote the original article – but I was merely repeating the point I already made in the Digg forum.

If I may expand a little, if you go to iTunes and download last week’s Newsnight podcast you can hear that I asked Bram if he thought there was a difference between speeding up commercial content and slowing down non-commercial content. He thought so, which perhaps supports your thesis. But he also thought that the cachelogic system contravened some defintions of net neutrality. That’s his words, not mine.

I found your article very thoughtful and interesting, and take your point about how the ISPs might see things, but I also think it’s a perfectly respectable notion that, against a background of ever expanding bandwidth, if that bandwidth is reserved for commercial downloads, then you’re still creating a two tier internet whichever way you look at it, and that goes to the heart of the network neutrality debate. The real focus of my piece was whether a two tier net was a good or bad thing, and I hope that was addressed in a balanced way.

I also think that the selective caching of commercial material that we’re talking about here falls right into your definition of “charging an extra fee for the second half of the equation: from the middle out to the ends” since that is where the acceleration takes place, and the consumer will, one would expect, have to pay for it, whether that’s directly to the ISP or indirectly in increased prices on the content.


chris (profile) says:

the real issue is stopping a price war

the cable and phone companies don’t make huge profits on internet access, they profit, i am sure, but not like they do on TV or voice communications. they use internet access to tie you in to their primary service.

in most cities you need to get a phone line to get DSL or cable TV service to get highspeed internet access.

in the future, it will all come down to internet access, which is currently not priced at a premium the way locally monopolized phone and television services are priced.

this is why the cable and phone compaines want to tack on extra charges to internet access.

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