Net Neutrality Jujitsu Puzzles Regulation Advocates

from the unlikely-allies dept

Last week, the AT&T-backed group Hands Off the Internet coalition sent a letter to the FCC asking that they investigate Comcast for violating network neutrality for blocking BitTorrent traffic. Given HOTI and AT&T’s very public position against any regulatory efforts to require network neutrality, this seemed like a strange position. Naturally, folks like Harold Feld at Public Knowledge are suspicious of HOTI's motives. Feld suggests that Verizon, which has poured millions of dollars into building a residential fiber network, is hoping to give Comcast (one of its biggest competitors) a black eye for trying to over-sell the capacity of its network. I have no doubt that Verizon is happy to highlight these differences, since it recently rolled out symmetric FiOS service that allows equal upload and download speeds. But it doesn't appear that Verizon is a HOTI supporter, so that doesn't seem likely to be a major motivation. AT&T has been less aggressive with its fiber rollout than Verizon, so it has less to crow about in the performance department. Another possibility is that AT&T is just irritated at Comcast for sparking a renewed round of network neutrality debate by violating network neutrality principles in such an obvious and bone-headed fashion.

Feld's argument also suggests that the real problem here isn't a lack of network neutrality regulation so much as a lack of transparency and accountability. The millions of Comcast customers in Verizon's service area do have at least one meaningful alternative in broadband access. The problem is that Comcast has oversold its service and refused to give straight answers about its routing policies, leaving a lot of customers with the mistaken impression they were getting unlimited Internet service. What's needed, then, is to require Comcast to tell customers the truth about what they're getting so customers can make an informed decision. The FTC already has the authority to investigate deceptive marking practices and fine companies that mislead their customers. Of course, while Verizon might not block your BitTorrent traffic, they are likely to turn your private information over to the government. So that's not a great option either. The ultimate solution here is to find ways to enhance competition in the broadband market.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, hands off the internet

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Comments on “Net Neutrality Jujitsu Puzzles Regulation Advocates”

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Rick Matthews says:

Irrational Statements Impact Credibility

In “Net Neutrality Jujitsu Puzzles Regulation Advocates” you make the following statement:
“Of course, while Verizon might not block your BitTorrent traffic, they are likely to turn your private information over to the government.” Let’s examine that.

“… while Verizon might not block your BitTorrent traffic…”
How many complaints have you seen from FIOS customers about BitTorrent throttling? Zero? Doesn’t that qualify for “will not block”?

“…they are likely to turn your private information over to the government.”
According to, Verizon has 7.7 million broadband subscribers. According to the article linked in your story, Verizon has “…turned over customer records of telephone calls and Internet activities to federal officials more than 700 times since 2005…”
Seven hundred out of 7.7 million is 1 in 11,000… and that is a “likely” event? (I bet you are a regular lottery contributor!)

Sounds like irrational thinking to me!

mkam says:

english nazi

In the second paragraph, “leaving a lot of customer” should be leaving a lot of customers.

Can we please get more competition for broadband access in America? I have Comcast (OK for speed but using sandvine to mess with my torrents) or Verizon DSL (which is really slow). When FIOS comes I will have 2 choices. America needs competition or we will be further behind the rest of the world. At least the telcos will be happy and the politicians will get their lobbying dollars, so someone is benefiting.


Clark says:

Speaking about the telcos and the FCC, apparently Broadband Reports think their relationship is cozier than should be. They argue that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has been unfairly regulating cable to suit the telcos, not the consumers he is constantly trotting out to demonize cable.

Dave Burstein (profile) says:

Competition unlikely in U.S. Broadband

Mike’s comment “So, the real debate (which Thierer ignores) is whether or not there’s real competition in broadband access.” makes good sense. But Tim’s thought “The ultimate solution here is to find ways to enhance competition in the broadband market” is impractically Utopian.

For the next decade or more, most of the U.S. is likely to have only two successful high speed suppliers, telcos and cablecos. There’s overwhelming evidence their competition is real but limited, including prices far higher than countries with more competition (France, Japan, now UK).

Wireless service is great for mobility, where it’s taking over for wired phone service for many people. But it’s at best a partial substitute. As Stagg Newman (ex-FCC chief technologist and now a wireless specialist) explains, there simply isn’t enough capacity in typical spectrum allocations to match DSL and cable speeds. Wireless towers with today’s economics need to support thousands of people, but can only offer a shared effective bandwidth of 20-40 megabits. That means that a wireless service with substantial usage can’t offer most users megabit speeds. As DSL and Cable go to 10 and even 50 megabits, that makes wireless a poor substitute and very weak competitor. Great to have connectivity everywhere, but wireless is too slow for most homes as the Internet becomes “fast enough to watch”.

The other possibility, new wired networks, is even less likely. I asked Simon Flannery of Morgan Stanley, one of the best U.S. analysts, whether there was any chance of another wired network being funded in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. “No” was his simple answer.

I love to solve problems through competition but the U.S. for the foreseeable future will essentially have 2 1/2 broadband competitors, not enough. That could be changed through serious unbundling or structural separation, but neither is likely in the U.S.

Which leaves the U.S. the choice of either more regulation or something close to an unregulated monopoly. For seven years we’d essentially had the later, with results you’ve often reported.

It’s time to face up to the choice, rather than dreaming of competition that isn’t abuilding.


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