Anti-Net Neutrality Advocates Back To Making Bogus Arguments

from the not-this-again dept

A month or so ago, a PR person sent me a ridiculously misleading (to potentially dishonest) Forbes piece by Ev Ehrlich, former undersecretary of commerce for President Bill Clinton, arguing against net neutrality. The piece was so ridiculous that I asked the PR person whether or not Ehrlich, in his current job as a consultant/think tank person, was working with any broadband providers. The PR person said he didn’t know, and I figured I’d just ignore the piece. However, having now listened to a radio debate on KCRW about net neutrality that included Ehrlich making the same basic argument in a discussion with Tim Lee from the Washington Post, Harold Feld from Public Knowledge and Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, it seems worth highlighting just how confused and, well, wrong, Ehrlich is. Here’s the crux of Ehrlich’s argument:

But what does “open” mean? To some advocates, it means that all the data packets that carry everything over the Internet must all ride at the same speed and cost, a policy dubbed “net neutrality.” But it’s time to question whether that policy really works for all of us.

But this isn’t true. And using it as the premise of his argument destroys any credibility Ehrlich might have. No one has argued that net neutrality means that there can’t be differentiated speeds and costs. We all see this every day. We can all buy internet access at different price points and speeds already. So can the companies who provide services on the internet. No one considers that to be a violation of net neutrality (except, it appears, folks like Ehrlich who want to pretend net neutrality is about something it’s not).

The actual concern is not about that. It’s about the broadband providers then turning around and doing a massive double dip. That is, even if you’ve, say, purchased an access plan with certain speeds and the internet companies have purchased their access and bandwidth at their own speeds, the broadband companies want to also be able to go to those internet services and charge them again to reach you at the level both of you have already paid for. Basically, they’re arguing that when you buy internet access, you’re merely buying the right to reach from your end of the network to the middle. And that’s it. They’re saying you haven’t bought the right to reach service providers’ end points. So, what they want to do is get the internet service providers to pay a second time to “reach you” rather than just the middle. And, if they don’t, they may degrade or even block access.

Ehrlich misrepresents nearly all of this, as he argues for a tiered internet:

And that means that the Internet has evolved in a way that makes it practical for different types of uses to travel at different speeds, the way you can buy Sears’ “best” or Sears’ “good,” or travel in express lanes for a fee. In the modern world, “neutrality” means that a heart monitor that connects a patient to an online medical service crosses the Internet no faster than a video of a cat playing the xylophone.

Again, almost nothing written here is accurate. You can already get higher bandwidth and higher speeds and pay more for them. No one has argued against that. You can also do things to increase speeds like using CDNs to cache content and put connections closer to the endpoints. No one is arguing against that, though if you read Ehrlich, you’d think it was so. Furthermore, no one is arguing that a medical service can’t connect to a faster line (though, it makes a lot of sense to use a dedicated line for such things anyway). They’re just saying that the end ISP shouldn’t be degrading certain service providers to make them pay more. The basic concept is one of preventing discrimination — such that Comcast can’t favor (for example) NBC content over ABC content (or YouTube content). But, NBC, ABC and YouTube all need to buy their own high levels of bandwidth already from their own service provider. What they shouldn’t have to do is then pay again to your service provider just to reach you at a reasonable rate. They’ve already paid their own service provider, and you’ve already paid yours.

I’m at a loss as to whether or not Ehrlich just doesn’t understand this or if he’s being purposefully misleading. From the article and his statements in the interview, it almost sounds as if he’s been misled and is arguing from a position of ignorance. It honestly sounds like he’s been given the broadband providers’ talking points and is just repeating them, without realizing he’s arguing about something entirely different.

If a newspaper wasn’t allowed to take money from its advertisers, the reader would have to pay more. It’s the same with the Internet; if a provider can’t charge the big websites for a premium connection (if they want one) then the consumer has to pay instead, meaning consumers subsidize the companies sending big data packets.

Again, this statement is so inaccurate as to be laughable. No one is arguing that internet services don’t have to pay for their broadband connections and speed. The claim that newspapers are not being “allowed to take money from its advertisers” mistakenly and misleadingly suggests that internet service providers are getting something for free. They’re not. The more accurate analogy here is like saying, imagine if your state refused to let Fedex drive on its roads without paying extra, and instead sells “exclusive” access to UPS. That’s not about someone getting something for free: it’s about the infrastructure provider blocking competition. That’s the issue being debated, and it’s really unclear if Ehrlich even understands this.

The one other laughable argument that Ehrlich lays out in the radio interview, but not the Forbes piece, is the ridiculous claim that most people in the US have four or more choices of broadband providers. He’s again “technically” correct that the FCC has data making this claim, but the reality is quite different. First, the FCC’s data is notoriously bogus. Pop your own address in at and laugh, laugh, laugh at the results. There are generally two major problems with the data in that database, both of which completely undercut the argument made by Ehrlich and others that there’s real competition for broadband, and that if you don’t like what one company is doing, you can just switch to another.

Problem number one is that the speeds claimed are absolutely bogus. I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, and it claims that I can get 10 to 25 Mbps from AT&T. I know that’s not true, because I had AT&T DSL here for many years, and despite me begging them repeatedly for higher speeds, they never offered me but about 3 Mbps (and that was only relatively recently). The FCC’s data is notorious for massively overstating actual speeds. I recently switched off of AT&T to (which is freaking awesome). The FCC’s database claims I can get 25 to 50 Mbps from Sonic. I wish! The best package the company actually offers me is a top download speed of 6 Mbps. And, of course, all of these speeds are “up to” anyway, meaning you rarely see them in real life.

Problem number two is much bigger. What Ehrlich is actually quoting includes wireless services, where he pretends those are competitive. They are not. Basically any actual mobile provider that offers internet access includes incredibly low data caps on broadband access, in the range of 3 to 5 Gb / month. Those networks are simply not designed to be your primary internet access, and pretending otherwise is pure folly. Plus, the speeds on those networks tend to be much lower than advertised. The reality is that almost no one actually has four choices. Most people have two: their cable company and their telco (I’m actually one of the few lucky ones who can also get And, to make matters even worse, the telcos are actively trying to get out of the landline business, even to the point of pushing their customers over to the cable providers as they try to focus just on wireless. That means there may be even less competition before too long.

Now, I’ve made it clear repeatedly that I’m skeptical that the FCC or Congress can come up with a reasonable solution to protect basic net neutrality — so I worry about those efforts as well. But I’m constantly amazed at the absolutely bogus arguments that are regularly trotted out by people who claim to be against net neutrality. There’s a reasonable argument that legislation or FCC efforts could be a mistake that would make things worse — but the arguments usually presented by telcos and their supporters don’t even pass the basic laugh test, and that’s absolutely true with Ehrlich’s talking points in both the article and the radio interview. I still don’t know if he’s working with any broadband providers, but either way, he needs to get past their bogus talking points and argue what’s actually being discussed.

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Comments on “Anti-Net Neutrality Advocates Back To Making Bogus Arguments”

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anonymouse says:


We all know the internet is going underground , most of these blocks will just work on people that try to be open on the internet. Thus pushing everyone onto tor or other networks that give data anonymity, they cannot block or slow down anonymous data as banks and governemetn agencies that provide a service i am sure would be really upset of isp’s were purposefully making their sites too slow to work with.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“And, of course, all of these speeds are “up to” anyway, meaning you rarely see them in real life.”

Meaning if you are uploading as well, that will decrease what you are downloading as the speed pertains to volume. I very rarely see less.

Here is an eastern Ontario speed test:

I am paying for 20Mb/s. My distance is about 90 miles (not kilometers) from Toronto where the server is located. My upload speed is a little slow this am.

I’m on my laptop connecting to my wireless network and my tower is also up and running.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m sorry sir/ma’am, your current internet subscription does not contain the Google Services package. You do, however, have full access to the Bing Bundle at no additional charge.
Would you like to add the Google Services package for only an additional $9.99 a month?

I’m sorry but we cannot just add YouTube to your service, it is part of a package that cannot be unbundled.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Indeed. An old but good example of what they really want to try to do:

They either want the net to be a cable package setup, an AOL walled garden or worse. That’s why they have to lie so much about the reasons for doing so, because nobody except them could possibly want it if they’re told the truth.

Richard (profile) says:

The acid test

Paying for bandwidth, good connectivity etc is fine. What isn’t fine is paying to reduce someone else’s connectivity, bandwidth etc. (In a manner similar to those sales of exclusive rights for sporting events).

That is what the anti-net neutrality people are really arguing for – the right to artificially reduce someone else’s access.

Anonymous Coward says:

I believe the main “reasonable” argument for diversified speeds are based on routing from ISPs. It is costly for them and it contains no current commercial value.

Going from there to blurring the market for customers and extorting websites for a lot more than just the crux of the problem is quite a leap.

There must exist other ways to monetize that effort…

Anonymous Coward says:

Broadband competition

As soon as I read to this point:

Pop your own address in at and laugh, laugh, laugh at the results. There are generally two major problems

I instantly thought “the phone company and the cable company”. 😉

And, to make matters even worse, the telcos are actively trying to get out of the landline business, even to the point of pushing their customers over to the cable providers as they try to focus just on wireless. That means there may be even less competition before too long.

I think a strong argument can be made here for nationalizing the landline infrastructure. Not only is it analogous to the interstate highway system (natural monopoly, publicly maintained, private services like FedEx and buses run over it) but the telcos increasingly don’t want to keep it anyway. Buy it off them and then lease capacity back to them and anyone else to provide service over. Use some mixture of lease money and tax revenues to fund maintenance and upgrades and buildout; have a strong national policy of improving infrastructure. The caveat is, government-owned infrastructure needs to come with some legislative (preferably even Constitutional) strings attached:

1. No discriminating on the basis of packet content, source, destination, etc. — at most, amount, time of day, and QoS flags. This is with either whether-you-drop-it-or-not or pricing.

2. No goddamn spying!! Not without a goddamn warrant.

I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, and … they never offered me but about 3 Mbps (and that was only relatively recently).

Considering that I’m in Backwoods, Canada here with nothing but snow-covered pine trees visible in two out of four window-facing directions and 5 Mbps ADSL from what just about has to be the world’s worst telephone monopoly for shoddy customer service, high prices, and crummy networks, that’s positively shameful. Silicon Valley, of all places, ought to be able to do much better.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

broadband map is definitely a joke...

1. shows 6 providers available for my address

I KNOW that is a LIE for all kinds of reasons: i have called the local cox cable, they have had a map on THEIR website which has shown them servicing a mile or more PAST me for DECADES (repeat DECADES), but they do NOT serve this area…

2. similarly, they show cox as having 25-50 megs, BUT that is ONLY at a VERY SMALL SPECIFIC part of ‘downtown’, over 15 miles away, everyone else is only ‘up to 10’…

3. further i CAN NOT get service from ANYONE ELSE, because whenever i call ANYONE, they tell me they have ‘non-compete’ agreements with my shit ISP… in fact, often, you will be automatically routed back to my ISP when i enter my zip code…

4. a joke indeed, but we are the butt…

5. lastly, the broadband map had ZERO way to contact them to tell them they are full of shit; they *supposedly* had some icon to smoosh to ‘report’ yes/no on the providers, but it WAS NOT on the page as they said…

as an aside, i think the only reason we have fairly consistent 3 megs, is because i am a ‘samknows’ sample…

ISP’s/telcos are scum…
…oh, AND the idiot politicians who sold us down the river, fuckers…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: broadband map is definitely a joke...

“3. further i CAN NOT get service from ANYONE ELSE, because whenever i call ANYONE, they tell me they have ‘non-compete’ agreements with my shit ISP…”
Tell them:
No problem! I will pay you $1/m more than I am paying now.

Then have them explain how Ferrari and Dodge Ram trucks are competing for sales.

DB (profile) says:

Wow, that map is bogus. They must combine the maximum speed offered by a provider, and the bounding box of the service area extremes. In my home area the maximum ‘DSL’ speed is pretty much ISDN (768K or 1.5Mbps), yet it lists 10-25Mbps.

The cost for that is over $60, about 6x what I pay for Netflix. And they want Netflix and Google to start paying for access to “their” network?

Nancy (user link) says:

broadband map/net neutrality

You did a great job of describing what is wrong with relying on ISP’s to tell us how great stuff is. I live in one of those spots that has nice internet service one mile to the north and one mile to the south. The map accurately protrays that. We have satellite internet, and yes, we have limits on it. Once we hit that limit, we go back to dial-up speeds or worse, till the billing month ends. With two kids in a digital world that doesn’t take long.

I don’t want the government paying for isp’s to build out their infrastructure, but if we do, by golly, that line better run right past my house. It’s difficult for people who live in “served” areas to understand that there are a lot of us who live in “underserved” areas right down the road from them.

I spoke with a highly-placed official from AT&T who told me that they had received money from the Gov’t to upgrade and build out their infrastructure, and they expected to be offering dsl to our area soon. Instead they upgraded their wireless offerings in metro areas, so that people could watch more cat videos on their phones, I guess.

To be fair about our internet access relative to that of other nations, the nations that are far ahead of us were far behind us in putting in telephone infrastructure, and so when they were building it out, they weren’t talking about the massive investment that we have here; they started from a closer point in technology, so it didn’t take as much to leap ahead. We will eventually have to rip out the landlines and install fiber.

Anonymous Coward says:

Of course Ev Ehrlich, former undersecretary of commerce, is going to argue against net-neutrality.

What commerce people do is swoop in after the network engineers have designed and implemented the global internet, proceed to tell the engineers their network design is all wrong, and that they have a “better” idea on how they think the network should be designed.

That’s all we need is commerce executives telling information technology experts, how to do their job.

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