Move Over, Series Of Tubes, The Internet Is Now A Bridge Over A Creek For A Dozen People?
from the senators-say-the-darnest-things dept
What is it about Senators and their awful internet analogies around net neutrality? It's been just over a decade since the late Senator Ted Stevens gave his infamous "series of tubes" analogy in which he tried to explain the internet and net neutrality. Remember?
"I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially... They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."
Given how viral that went, and how widely mocked Stevens was, you'd think that any competent Senate staffer would prepare their bosses not to make a similarly idiotic statement. But, no. Not the staffers of Senator Ron Johnson. They sent him out to a hearing with the current FCC commissioners... and had him say that the internet is like a bridge between neighbors. Or something. I've watched this clip over and over again and I'm still trying to figure this one out:
Let's break this down, because the level of wackiness is hard to comprehend without exploring each and every beautiful inane thing said. First, the transcript of Johnson's key "analogy":
We all agree that we want greater innovation. We want expansion and greater access to high speed broadband. I think one of the things that inhibits that is all the rhetoric and slogans and buzzwords and I want to cut through a little bit. I know net neutrality sounds great. And in trying to convey why that harms investment and innovation, I've come up with analogy. I kinda want to run this by you and see if this is pretty accurate.
Let's say a group of neighbors want to build a bridge over a creek so they can cross over and talk to each other a lot, so it's really for a neighborhood, maybe a dozen people. But then they find out that the local government is going to require that that bridge is open to the entire community of a million people, no prioritization whatsoever. They don't get to cross first to go see their neighbor. A million people can come onto their property, ruin their lawns, and walk over that bridge.
Isn't that kind of a similar analogy, is that a pretty good analogy in terms of what net neutrality is all about, not allowing for example a company that is going to invest billions of dollars in the pipeline, not allow them to sell a prioritized lane, for, oh, I don't know, doctors who want to prioritize distant diagnostics? They're going to have to share that same pipeline, no prioritization, with for example people streaming illegal content or pornography? Tell me where that analogy is maybe not accurate.
Whoo boy. For someone who wants to "cut through" the "rhetoric and slogans and buzzwords" he sure chose to come up with what may be the dumbest analogy for the internet so far. It actively makes people less informed on the issues. It's that bad. Literally nothing about the analogy is even remotely accurate. This isn't a situation where a small community is building a tiny community bridge and is suddenly overwhelmed with millions of people "ruining their lawns" without allowing the little community over the bridge. None of that makes any sense at all.
Net neutrality is about how massive, giant internet access providing monopolists and duopolists want to double dip and double charge for the value provided at the endpoints, rather than being satisfied with getting paid for the value they provide in connecting the end points. The issue has nothing to do with millions of people rushing through a "pipeline" that was built for "maybe a dozen people" and somehow "ruining lawns" (?!?) while doing so. Nothing in net neutrality has anything to do with over-clogging local pipes. In fact, it allows for standard network management. And again, going back years and years and years, internet backbone experts have pointed out that there's capacity to spare. There are no ruined lawns. There are no distraught home owners wishing to "talk a lot" to their 11 closest neighbors, dismayed that a million people are trampling their lawns.
A more correct analogy is that the government granted some private companies land and rights of way and massive subsidies in terms of grants and tax rebates to build giant highways. And to pay for those roads, they could charge tolls to get on the road. So far, so good. But then, after the highways were built, the corporate owners of these highways saw that others were using the roads themselves to make money. They saw lots of UPS trucks and FedEx trucks. And they decided that it "wasn't fair" that UPS and FedEx got to make money by delivering stuff, even though each UPS and FedEx truck was paying the proper toll to enter the road. So they decided that from now on they'd cut deals. Maybe, FedEx would have to pay double. Or maybe FedEx would have to cough up a piece of the cost of every package delivered to the road company -- let's call it the American Road and Runway company (AR&R for short). Or, maybe, AR&R would decide to just buy up one of those companies, like UPS, and allow it to travel on the roads for free, while telling FedEx, it couldn't travel along those roads at all. Or maybe it wouldn't let FedEx off the road at prime locations where most of its deliveries were targeted. Or maybe it would let UPS use faster lanes while telling FedEx it could only ride on the shoulder.
All net neutrality did was say, "hey, you can't do that." If you're building a road, especially, with all this government support, you have to provide it equally to everyone. You can't pick and choose which companies to favor. And you can't block some companies from getting on the road because they compete with some other business you have.
As for the whole telemedicine vs. pornography thing, that's just pure bullshit. Someone fed Senator Johnson that line and him repeating it is basically proof he has absolutely no clue what he's talking about. Because the very FCC net neutrality rules that he's attacking, explicitly say he's wrong. As Jon Brodkin over at Ars Technica points out:
there is a way for telemedicine offerings to get paid prioritization under the FCC’s existing rules. The FCC distinguishes between “Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS),” the usual type in which all Internet content shares the same network capacity and “Non-BIAS data services,” which are given isolated capacity to ensure greater speed and reliability. VoIP phone offerings, heart monitors, and energy consumption sensors qualify for this category, which is exempt from net neutrality rules. Telemedicine (another word for remote medical diagnosis) can also be exempt if it’s delivered over the network in the same way.
“We note that telemedicine services might alternatively be structured as ‘non-BIAS data services,’ which are beyond the reach of the open Internet rules,” the FCC’s net neutrality order said. The FCC reserved the right to scrutinize non-BIAS services to ensure that they don't harm competition, but the specific reference to telemedicine indicates that the FCC would not oppose isolated network capacity for remote medical diagnosis. The FCC did not provide any similar allowance for pornography.
Isn't this the kind of thing that a sitting Senator discussing net neutrality is supposed to know? Or is quoting from the actual FCC order that "rhetoric, slogans and buzzwords" Johnson was talking about?
Now, here, was a point in which FCC Chair Ajit Pai had the chance to show some intellectual honesty. I know that we've criticized Pai a lot in the past, but I genuinely think that he's a smart and knowledgeable guy who isn't some clueless drone. I've met him a few times and always found the conversations thoughtful and enlightening. But he blew it here. Big time. He could have, and should have, noted that while he dislikes the current net neutrality rules, the analogy presented is not an accurate description of the issue at all. Instead, he says:
I think you put your finger on one of the core concerns...
But, uh, he didn't. He made up a silly analogy that has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the debate at hand. But, okay, go on...
... which is that all of us favor a free and open internet, where consumers can access lawful content of their choice.
And what does that have to do with the inane analogy that Johnson put forth? Absolutely nothing. Yes, I know, Pai is being political here and it's not a good idea to tell a sitting Senator who has oversight powers that his analogy may be the dumbest thing you've ever heard about net neutrality. But, we're not done yet. Pai jumps to his easily debunked talking points about net neutrality decreasing investment:
We also want to incentive the construction of these networks, which requires massive capital expenditures -- especially as we go into the future with 5G networks and the like. How to balance those concerns is something I think people of goodwill can disagree on. But our goal is obviously, to make sure -- to use your analogy -- that those bridges continue to be built. That they continue to be maintained and upgraded as traffic modernizes over time.
Except that wasn't Johnson's analogy. In Johnsonland, twelve neighbors get together to build a bridge, and net neutrality brings a horde of millions to trample their lawn. That's not about getting more bridges built or maintaining them. These things have nothing to do with one another.
But Johnson's not done yet:
Yeah, in my example, I don't think too many neighbors would chip in to build that bridge, when they realize, we're not ever going to be able to use it, or certainly not get priority on it.
(That last half of the sentence didn't make it into the video clip above, but that's what he said). But, that's... just wrong. Again. First of all, nothing about net neutrality says that the people building the network can't use it. What the hell does that even mean? I mean, you could just as easily turn much of this analogy around on Johnson and argue that it's him expressing strong support for municipal broadband -- something I'd almost guarantee he's against. Indeed, Johnson signed a letter slamming municipal broadband not too long ago. And that's even though it's basically what he's describing: a group of neighbors getting together to build their own bridges to the internet.
But getting back to the net neutrality argument, Johnson's statements are ludicrous. The "bridges" he's discussing aren't being built among neighbors. What's happening is that the giant companies (AR&R from above) have already built the bridges, and are telling the neighbors that FedEx won't be able to deliver to them any more in a convenient, timely or cost effective way... unless FedEx agrees to pay up (meaning that the community will have to pay more since the costs will be passed on). And, again, his claim that investment would go down under his analogy that has nothing to do with net neutrality is just... factually wrong because all of the big broadband providers are public companies where their capital expenditure data is public. And it shows that they've increased spending on their networks with the open internet rules, rather than the opposite.
How is it that a sitting Senator can make statements so ridiculously wrong and no one calls him on it?