Yes, Net Neutrality Is A Solution To An Existing Problem

from the plenty-of-examples dept

While AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have argued -- with incredible message discipline -- that network neutrality is "a solution in search of a problem," that's simply not true.

There are many concrete examples of network neutrality violations around the world. These network neutrality violations include ISPs blocking websites and applications, ISPs discriminating in favor of some applications and against others, and ISPs charging arbitrary tolls on technology companies.

We have seen network neutrality violations all over the world.

Even in the U.S., there have been some major violations by small and large ISPs. These include:
  • The largest ISP, Comcast, secretly interfering with peer-to-peer technologies, including some of the most popular basic technologies used to distribute online TV and music (2005-2008);
  • A small telephone ISP called Madison River blocking Vonage, a company providing competing telephone service online (2005);
  • Apple blocking Skype on the iPhone, subject to a secret contract with AT&T, a company that competes with Skype in providing telephone service (2008-2009);
  • Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile blocking the functionality of Google Wallet on Nexus devices, while all three of those ISPs are part of a competing mobile payments joint venture called Isis (late 2011- +today);
  • and Comcast's disputes with Level 3 and Netflix over termination fees, and the appearance that Comcast is deliberately congesting its network connections to force Netflix to pay Comcast for an acceptable connection (2010- +today).
In other countries, including democracies, there are numerous violations. In Canada, rather than seeking a judicial injunction, a telephone ISP used its control of the wires to block the website of a union member during a strike against that very company in July 2005. In the Netherlands, in 2011, the dominant ISP expressed interest in blocking against U.S.-based Whatsapp and Skype.

In the European Union, widespread violations affect at least 1 in 5 users. That is the conclusion of a report issued in June of 2012 by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), a body composed of the regulatory agencies of each EU country. Most of these restrictions were on online phone services, peer-to-peer technologies (which are used not only by copyright pirates, but also in a variety of well-known technologies, including Skype and several Amazon cloud services), as well as other specific applications "such as gaming, streaming, e-mail or instant messaging service."

ISPs block and discriminate against applications and websites even in countries that require disclosure of the violations and even in countries with far more competition among ISPs than the U.S. A recent Oxford dissertation on the topic explores the wide-scale blocking and discrimination in the United Kingdom, a market with both considerable competition among ISPs and robust disclosure laws.

Essentially, a specific rule that would be upheld in court is necessary protect network neutrality and address a major, global problem.

* Footnote: Thanks to Stanford professor Barbara van Schewick, whose recent letter to the FCC inspired my thinking in this post.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 4:44am

    For as long as I've been on Verizon, to this very day, Verizon continues to block irc connections on their mobile network with no explanation at all.

     

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    Anonymous Howard (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 4:47am

    The problem

    The usual excuse of ISPs is that certain services are 'congesting' the net with their high bandwidth content (let's call it Youtube for now), and they should pay more.

    But! I as a subscriber paid for a certain bandwidth, as did Youtube for a certain upload bandwidth.
    In theory, they can't send more traffic than they already paid for, so what's the problem?

    The problem is the ISPs are selling more bandwidth than they can really provide, trusting in that their subscribers together won't use more than the real capacity at any given time. Let's call this actual capacity usage.

    High bandwidth services raise the actual capacity usage, because more and more subscribers use their line to full capacity by watching Youtube.

    So, the ISP comes to a decision:
    1. Either fix their current maximal capacity to the sold value (and spend money on expanding the infrastructure)
    2. OR charge Youtube for "premium lines" and dissuade other services from 'clogging up the lines' (not spending but earning more $)

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 5:05am

      Re: The problem

      The problem is, greedy scumbags lie through their teeth.

      They sweet talk whilst stabbing in the back and then claim someone else is responsible.

      Of course this is not limited to one particular market, it is pervasive. A sustainable, functional economy does not run open loop as this would crash. There is ample evidence in support of this. Real regulation, not hot air, might help although it too is susceptible to the corruption which ails our society.

      What these buffoons fail to acknowledge is their greedy practices are killing their enterprise. It is not sustainable. I guess they are only in it short term and expect a taxpayer bailout when they crash and burn.

       

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      BernardoVerda (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 6:12pm

      Re: The problem

      The problem isn't (in this case) "oversold bandwidth".

      The choke-point isn't even occurring on the classic "last mile" connecting to residential/consumer's home computers (where it just conceivably might be somewhat expensive to fix, even though the upgrade would eventually be needed in any case). The customer is general paying for at least five or ten times as much bandwidth as a Netflix stream requires -- and despite the infamous over-subscription rates, those customers connections are actually able to handle that traffic.

      The choke-points are elsewhere -- namely, those ports where Netflix traffic enters the ISP's own network. Often, additional ports are already installed and need only be switched on, when "negotiations" with the ISP result in capitulation to the ISP's demands. This is "throttling" on the sly, using deliberate, clumsy but "plausibly deniable" infrastructural means, to accomplish what they're forbidden to do with more surgically precise means such as DPI (Deep Packet Inspection). And in the meantime, those customers who have a little technical savvy can easily reroute their Netflix stream to detour around the choke-point, and regain a reliable netflix stream.

      No, the problem is that the Verizon, Comcast and AT&T are pretending that they can't cope with the volume of traffic coming into their network from "outside" that network, which Netflix is trying delivering to those ISP customers (at least, not without being paid extra for the service).

      This is despite the inescapable fact that the ISP customers have already paid for that traffic, themselves. Talk about double-dipping. The ISPs are spouting a lot of smoke-and-mirrorstechno-babble about "peering ratios" -- but this is arrantly nonsensical flim-flam: peering ratio calculations have never included "terminating traffic" (ie. traffic that "terminates" inside the network at network users) for the simple reason that this wouldn't even make sense.

      What this is about, is holding access to the ISP's customers hostage -- simple extortion for access to customers -- to the market whose access is controlled by that ISP. ("That's a nice internet video business you have there; it would be a shame if those packets didn't make it to your customers.")

      This is a blatant attempt to re-write the rules of the internet (and the current head of the FCC, with his approving noises about turning the ISP business into a "two-sided market" is being openly complicit).

       

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        Anonymous Howard (profile), Apr 16th, 2014 @ 12:04am

        Re: Re: The problem

        We agree mostly.

        Of course I don't believe the ISPs can't handle the traffic, but it's what they consistently use as an excuse to justify their extortion schemes.

        About the ISP backbone and handling Netflix traffic:
        x user paid for a y bandwidth line. The equation is this simple: backbone minimum bandwidth = x*y (omitting overhead and the like). If at any point they can't produce this, then they oversold their bandwidth.
        They don't sell their packages by saying something like "Oh, you can access our router with a blazing 50Mbps! The rest of the internet.. well.. 10kbps"

         

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    DannyB (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 5:47am

    A solution in search of a problem

    Net Neutrality is a solution in search of a problem. Of several problems. Specifically, problems such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, etc.

     

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    DannyB (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 6:06am

    A prediction

    AT&T will come to Netflix, asking for money. We will hear "AT&T should not have to bear the cost of Netflix's business model". AT&T has to spend significantly to grow its neglected infrastructure in order to handle increased internet video streaming. Netflix should have to pay AT&T the full cost of these infrastructure upgrades.

    Verizon will come to Netflix for money. We will hear the same thing. Netflix should have to pay Verizon the full cost of building up Verizon's network to carry Netflix traffic.

    Other ISPs, ditto.

    Next . . .

    AT&T will come to Amazon asking for money. Amazon should have to bear the full cost of building up AT&T's network. (But wait, didn't Netflix have to pay that?)

    Verizon will come to Amazon asking for money . . . etc etc

    Next . . .

    Each ISP will come to each video streaming service. Hulu. Yahoo. Vimeo.

    Next each ISP will come asking for money to set top boxes. Roku. Amazon Fire. Google TV. Apple TV. Etc. Apple should have to bear the full cost of building out AT&T's network. (Is this starting to sound familiar?)

    Here is my first problem with this. If AT&T needs to build up it's infrastructure, then CHARGE ME for that cost. Not Netflix. After all, I'm going to have to pay for the network upgrades either way, either directly to AT&T or via Netflix.

    My second problem with this is that if I pay indirectly through Netflix to upgrade AT&T's network, then I am subsidizing network upgrades for my l33t neighbor's terabytes of torrentz.

    My third problem is that if I pay indirectly through Netflix to upgrade Comcast's network (which I am now doing thanks to Netflix / Comcast deal) I am paying to upgrade a network I don't even use.

    My fourth problem is the very likely double, triple dipping. AT&T will want to recoup the costs of its network upgrades multiple times.

    The point of net neutrality is that every end pays for bandwidth. Period. Not for what type of traffic. Not for where it connects to. Just for the amount. It's like electricity. If I draw a certain large amount, it doesn't matter what I am using the electricity for. Similarly for water. They don't bill me differently for wither I drink it or water the lawn with it.

    Each endpoint pays its own freight. If my Netflix viewing is causing AT&T to need to upgrade its infrastructure, then CHARGE ME DIRECTLY for that. Don't charge my other neighbor who only uses email.

    Next prediction: AT&T will come, hat in hand, to Google, asking for money. AT&T should not have to bear the cost of delivering Google's search results to end users.

     

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      Anonymous Howard (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 7:48am

      Re: A prediction

      They're already charging you for network upgrades. It's called subscription fee for a service they sold you and a lot of people but unable to provide to all of you at once.

      Why should Netflix or any service provider would have to pay more for their bandwidth then you?

      This is what I find ridiculous in the ISP's argument: you and Netflix and YT and Hulu already paid for the bandwidth you're using. Then humbly fuck you and provide what you're paid for.

       

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        DannyB (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 8:20am

        Re: Re: A prediction

        Netflix may not even use AT&T. But make no mistake that Netflix is paying for its network connection.

        And I pay my ISP. (Not actually AT&T for internet service.)

        What Comcast, AT&T and others want is to get paid again from Netflix. But my argument is that if I have to pay (let's say AT&T) to upgrade their network to carry my Netflix traffic, then AT&T should charge me directly for that. It's only fair that I pay for network capacity that I use. I expect to have to pay for the generating capacity and line maintenance for my electricity.

        If each ISP charges their own customers to enable that ISP to carry the traffic the customer wants, it gives more transparency to how much it costs for various levels of service, and those prices can be compared in the (currently non competitive) market. Furthermore, this eliminates all sorts of games to hide what it actually costs to build the network, or how much AT&T wants to collect above and beyond what they actually need to operate the network capacity their customers need.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 8:26am

        Re: Re: A prediction

        No, the correct response from the FCC is, "Why should we give you any more money when you have failed to deliver on every single promise you gave in order to obtain billions of tax dollars for upgrading the infrastructure of the time?"

         

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      Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 10:38am

      Re: A prediction

      The problem is the ISPs are selling more bandwidth than they can really provide


      Yes, that's exactly the problem.

      When you sell something you don't have, that's usually called fraud, and is highly illegal... unless you're an ISP or an airline, apparently.

       

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        DannyB (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 12:32pm

        Re: Re: A prediction

        A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

        AOL was prosecuted or threatened with prosecution (sorry, don't remember) for overselling its capacity. The quote of someone (prosecutor, AG, etc) at the time was something about how it would clearly be fraud to sell 10,000 tickets to a theater that only had 3,000 seats. I think it was a state AG. AOL customers were bitterly complaining about signing up and never being able to get connected.

        Maybe the FCC or someone should quantify how much capacity an ISP has and whether they are overselling it? This would affect their advertising in a good way. They could sell more subscriptions, but then their ads would have to say:

        Join ComCraptastic Now!
        Enjoy download speeds up to* 200 Kbps!


        * under ideal unrealistic conditions

         

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      That One Guy (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 10:42am

      Re: A prediction

      Here is my first problem with this. If AT&T needs to build up it's infrastructure, then CHARGE ME for that cost. Not Netflix. After all, I'm going to have to pay for the network upgrades either way, either directly to AT&T or via Netflix.

      Here's where it gets really infuriating, and showcases their greed perfectly: you already have and are paying for network upgrades, whether you use their service or not.

      The government has given them massive tax breaks through the years, supposedly to 'incentivize' them to upgrade their networks, and naturally they instead channeled it all straight into exec and CEO bonuses.

      So the whining about how their networks just can't handle all the 'new' traffic unless everyone pays out the nose so they can 'upgrade' things is complete and utter rubbish, they just want more money for the same gorram service.

       

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        Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 1:29pm

        Re: Re: A prediction

        "The government has given them massive tax breaks through the years, supposedly to 'incentivize' them to upgrade their networks, and naturally they instead channeled it all straight into exec and CEO bonuses."

        Maybe we should ask for an accounting? Whom could we get to do that, that might actually tell the truth?

         

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    Baron von Robber, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 8:19am

    What I find amusing...

    ... is that this what the original Robber Barons did back in medieval times. The Robber Barons would setup shop along a river or road and force travelers a toll that the local kings did not give their consent to.

     

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    Bob, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Google Wallet Information incorrect

    Google Wallet has worked on all carriers since Sept 2013. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile simply do not directly support or pre-install the application like Sprint does.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 9:50am

    Canada reporting in.... still waiting for Skype In and Google Voice to arrive. There must be some technical reason why those products won't work up here. Our telecom market is so *cough* competitive otherwise...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 10:14am

    When they have you over a barrel

    You're bent over in front of them. What do you expect ISPs to do?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 15th, 2014 @ 10:52am

    You forgot Comcast imposing usage caps on certain customers, then allowing certain IPTV services to not count against the cap, while discriminating against Hulu, Netflix, etc.

     

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    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), Apr 15th, 2014 @ 11:22am

    Net Neutrality and the dawn of telephony

    Not only is it an existing problem, it's one that goes back at least until the 1880s. Telephone numbers were invented as a way to bypass network control and subversion by telephone operators.

    If you don't know about the Strowger switch there's a not very good wikipedia page on it here.

     

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    Dr Suresh Lalwani, Aug 3rd, 2014 @ 10:42am

    Internet

    Internet is not doing

     

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