Can We Kill This Ridiculous Shill-Spread Myth That CDNs Violate Net Neutrality? They Don't
from the stop-it dept
Okay, so we debunked this silly argument back in 2006 (and again in 2008), but it appears to be back again now that the net neutrality battle is heating up: it’s the idea that because we have CDNs, the internet has never been neutral (for those who don’t know, a CDN is a Content Delivery Network — a system, like Akamai, that allows internet companies to distribute their content geographically, so that download speeds are slightly shorter across the network, since physical distance is not as far). But that’s based on a bogus definition of “net neutrality” that only telco shills or very confused people make. The simplest way of explaining this is as follows: CDNs make the surfing experience better for everyone, by better distributing content to speed delivery to everyone. The efforts by big broadband to break net neutrality is to set up a tollbooth so that they get to pick winners and losers. In short: CDNs benefit end users. Breaking net neutrality only benefits the big broadband gatekeepers. This is about the power of big broadband to pick winners and losers.
And yet… it’s the myth that just won’t die. The worst example comes from Ev Ehrlich. As you may recall, we wrote about Ehrlich’s reality-challenged claims a few months ago (right after a PR person who pushed those thoughts to us refused to confirm or deny whether Ehrlich was being paid by big telcos or broadband providers). Ehrlich’s arguments weren’t even close to accurate back then, and in the intervening months, they seem to have become even more reality-challenged:
It’s great to say that everything on the Net should be equal. But there’s nothing neutral about the Net now, despite what a few strident voices say. When Google caches its content around the world so that its stuff gets to you faster than its competitors, is that neutral? When Netflix buys – or perhaps one day builds – its own, faster private network to take its movies from its servers to your ISP so it can get a competitive advantage, is that neutral?
Again, no one has ever said that internet providers can’t improve the overall experience for all of their end users. The issue is not about that, no matter how badly Ehrlich and other broadband shills would like it to be. It’s about whether or not the broadband gatekeepers can pick winners and losers by setting up tollbooths and fast and slow lanes. When Google and Netflix improve their networks, the benefit goes to everyone. When Comcast sets up tollbooths, the only thing that goes to everyone is… increased costs.
The only thing neutral about neutrality is the price these big websites pay – under Netflix’s “strong neutrality” proposal, it would pay nothing to get access to you. And that means that you pay more than you should.
Bullshit. Seriously. This is flat out bullshit. Netflix pays through the nose for its bandwidth. As we’ve asked in the past, any time a big broadband shill makes the bogus argument that Netflix “pays nothing,” let’s see if Ev Ehrlich will trade his broadband bill with Netflix’s. After all, they pay “nothing” right? Of course, the weasel wording here is paying nothing “to get access to you.” But that’s also bullshit. Netflix pays to get on the internet. People pay to get on the internet to get access to Netflix. If Netflix then has to pay again to get access to you, then it’s double paying for the bandwidth you already paid for. That’s a big part of what big broadband is trying to do: to get everyone to pay twice for the same internet access.
And the idea that you pay more because Netflix doesn’t have to pay tolls to Comcast, Verizon and AT&T is ludicrous. Hell, Netflix recently did agree to pay interconnection fees to all three of those companies. So, according to Ehrlich, now that it’s paying, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T should all be lowering their bills, right? Right? When that doesn’t happen and the bills actually go up, will Ehrlich admit that his argument is ridiculous? Somehow I doubt it. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that if every internet site has to pay once for bandwidth and then a second time to “get access” to end users, that the cost of basically every internet service out there is going to go way up — meaning that end users will be paying a lot more.
But that sort of “logic” eludes Ehrlich.
Why? Think of it this way. The cable, fiber, DSL, wireless and satellite companies that bring you the Internet serve two markets at the same time. They try to attract customers to be their users, and they try to attract websites to be their content. The more users they get, the more content they attract, and the more content they attract, the more users they get.
This is also totally incorrect. It’s as if Ehrlich has never actually been on the internet. The big broadband companies have never tried to “attract websites to be their content.” No internet site in the history of internet sites was created because a big broadband provider said, “Hey, be content for us!” No, internet sites are created because those sites want end users, and those end users are on the internet requesting their content. Hell, based on this ridiculous argument, shouldn’t Comcast, AT&T and Verizon be paying me for being “their content”?
The problem is, however, only one side of that two-sided market pays – you, people like you and me and Selby.
Again, not true. Both sides pay for their bandwidth. What Ehrlich wants is for internet companies to pay again for the bandwidth you already paid for.
Content pays the neutral rate for the neutral service, which means they can keep their advantages (like caching and private-backbone networks) and create congestion, while letting you pay for the Internet, lock, stock and barrel.
Again, those “advantages” improve the internet for everyone. The congestion — as many broadband providers have more or less admitted — is entirely their own fault. They have more than enough capacity, but are letting ports clog to create fake bottlenecks to try to force these companies to pay.
Think about a newspaper – it works the same way. The Chronicle attracts readers so it can attract advertisers. It also attracts advertisers so it can attract readers. What if The Chronicle weren’t allowed to accept money from advertisers because “newspaper neutrality” made it impossible to let some stores advertise and others not? The price of the paper would go up, because the reader would have to carry the entire cost of the paper.
Bad analogy is bad. It doesn’t work the same way, at all. The real analogy here is that imagine if you paid for your newspaper subscription and the newspaper pays the delivery fees and their taxes, but then the guy who paved the road to your house demanded that the newspapers also pay an extra fee to use those roads that he paved (even though he was fully paid for the paving). It’s a tollbooth. And that’s what the big broadband providers are doing.
And let’s remember that the premium signal that the neutrality advocates want would make it harder to get distance learning, remote medicine, live entertainment, gaming and other innovations that need an unbuffered connection. If you have one speed limit, you can’t have ambulances.
None of this is true. It’s outright dishonesty. There is more than enough capacity to provide those services if the big broadband providers don’t deliberately let ports clog, as they’re currently doing.
Ehrlich’s entire piece is incredibly dishonest. And, furthermore, the San Francisco Chronicle does not disclose the fact that he’s paid by a lobbying firm hired by the big broadband providers to spew this sort of misleading crap. I guess if you’re going to be totally dishonest about the arguments for net neutrality, why not also be dishonest about who’s paying the bill, huh?
Meanwhile, a similarly misguided piece appeared in the Wall Street Journal, by the paper’s former publisher, L. Gordon Crovitz. At least with Crovitz, I don’t think that he’s directly being paid by broadband companies. I just think he’s shown a pretty long history of being somewhat clueless about how the internet works and is incredibly gullible to claims made by biased parties about how things work. In the past, Crovitz flunked internet history by arguing that it was created by private companies without government support (not at all true). Crovitz also recently argued that all Snowden had really proven was that the NSA is really, really careful about its surveillance. Once again, here, he’s quite confused on the facts:
But as Internet use grew, sites like Google created their own fast lanes by sending data directly to ISPs such as phone and cable companies via what are called “peering” arrangements. Sites like Netflix created another set of fast lanes using “content delivery networks” to place their computer servers inside local ISPs so that video and other bandwidth-hoggers can be delivered smoothly.
In other words, fast lanes won’t kill the Internet. They’ve saved the Internet.
Again, this is buying into the myth that CDNs violate net neutrality. They don’t. Full stop. CDNs make things better for all internet users equally. Violating net neutrality doesn’t.
If it weren’t for these fast lanes, the Web would have screeched to a halt when photos and video began to supplement text-based traffic. At peak times, Netflix alone now accounts for one-third of all Internet traffic. If it weren’t using its own network to cache video locally around the world, other traffic on the Web would get hung up or delayed. Fast lanes keep everything else flowing smoothly, from email to security cameras to remote surgery.
Again, (yes, I’m on repeat here), CDNs are about improving access for everyone. As others have pointed out, a CDN doesn’t degrade other traffic. It improves the overall experience by moving content closer to the edges of the network. The efforts by Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are entirely different. They’re looking to reallocate traffic to burden some players in favor of those who pay. That’s picking winners and losers. The impact is wholly different. A CDN benefits everyone. The gatekeeper broadband providers are looking to hinder some sites in order to favor those who pay.
Crovitz then goes further, buying into the broadband spin and bullshit about what reclassification would mean:
Activist groups in Washington with benign names like Free Press and Public Knowledge want the Internet reclassified as a public utility, subject to the sort of regulations that micromanaged railroad monopolies in the late 19th century and the phone monopoly in the 20th.
That would spell the end of permissionless innovation on the Internet. Bureaucrats would have authority to dictate how networks operate, which technologies can be used, and what prices can be charged. Regulators would approve or disapprove innovation in business terms as well as in technology.
No, it wouldn’t. There’s a reason we keep talking about forbearance rules in association with reclassification, and it’s because with forbearance, the FCC could restrict all of that bureaucratic mess. And, even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t make a direct difference for “permissionless innovation on the internet” because that’s actually protected by not allowing the big broadband providers to pick winners and losers as it desires.
There are legitimate concerns to be raised about how to best protect the internet and innovation online. But bogus arguments claiming that CDNs prove that there is no net neutrality don’t help. They just make whoever wrote them look clueless about how the internet works. Those claims were debunked nearly a decade ago. To keep bringing them up today requires being willfully or deliberately ignorant of the facts.