Posted by Jerrod @ 11:13 pm on February 28th 2011

Continued Republican doublespeak on net neutrality

The net neutrality debate is pretty simple and straightforward and anyone who understands it immediately recognizes that net neutrality is an essential part of the world as we know it. Yet the Republicans have succeeded in convincing many of their constituents that net neutrality is somehow a bad thing. What most infuriates me is the constant repetition of key words and phrases like calling it a government takeover of the internet or positioning anti-net neutrality positions as on the side of freedom.

The net neutrality argument isn’t about the government trying to take over the internet, it’s about corporate takeovers of the internet. The internet is awesome because its open to everyone and everything and as soon as we lose that, we lose the internet as we know it.

I will concede that there is one constituency who’s innovation is stifled by net neutrality, namely those who stand to profit from controlling access to the internet, i.e. ISPs. For the price of denying that single form of business “innovation” to the gatekeepers of the internet, in return every single user of the internet has unlimited innovative potential. This is what has given us the obvious Youtube, Wikipedia, podcasts, (and yes, even chatroulette). Yes, its true that some business models are excluded from a neutral net, but in return you get just plain awesomesauce. The alternative, a net with high access costs, greater corporate control over content, and higher barriers to entry for new products (future youtubes, wikipedias, podcasts, and chatroulettes), isn’t anything worth considering.

The only reason that Republicans wrap up their argument in language that portrays their anti-net neutrality position as a defender of freedom and innovation and demonize net neutrality as a government takeover is because if they didn’t wrap it up in a flag, there’s no chance in hell that anyone would get behind it. The fact is that net neutrality legislation only ensures that the system that has worked so well for so long (actually a surprisingly short amount of time, thanks to how well it works) doesn’t get broken by private interests.

22 Comments »

  1. The net neutrality argument isn’t about the government trying to take over the internet, it’s about corporate takeovers of the internet.

    Well, let’s be fair here. “Corporate takeover of the internet” is just as much a frame.

    Passing net neutrality would indeed charge the government with taking over the internet – that is, in fact, the essence of it. Government enforcement, i.e. the government telling people how they can and cannot use their ISPs, is the exact proposal. Oh, the motives, I’m sure, are fairly represented by your statement there, but, in point of fact, the actual law itself is not. I’m not sure how you at once demand the government begin regulating the very foundation of internet usage in one breath, and in the other decry someone characterizing that as “government taking over the internet”. You might not like the connotations of the phrase – and why would you? – but it is certainly accurate.

    What’s more, it’s not just the government adding regulation; it would be entering the government into a sphere in which it has not had a strong presence before. You talk of ensuring “the system that has worked so well for so long doesn’t get broken by private interests”, but it’s at least worth noting, even saying out loud for your own benefit at least once, that the system you’re lauding is presently entirely composed of private interests, and is presently absent government enforcement of community standards. And that this is precisely the system you say has worked very well for a long time now. It did not require government intervention to work as well as does, and indeed there’s every reason to think that it works so well in large measure because of the absence of a strong controlling government presence. We have not had net neutrality so far, up to 2011, and the system has seemed to get along just fine without it. If you’re going to charge opponents of net neutrality with being unclear in their characterization, let’s at least be clear on that. The system you propose is a massive change from the status quo – the opponents of that change, by definition, wish to maintain the status quo. It is the proponents of net neutrality that are seeking to change The Way the Internet Runs.

    So here is a very reasonable question: why not just leverage government to cement the principle of net neutrality and give it the force of law, thereby thwarting the still-entirely-hypothetical wishes of corporate masters to leverage broadband power entirely to their capitalistic interests? And here is the opponent’s answer: aside from, again, the fact that the system seems to have worked – nay, thrived – in the absence of government control so far, there is also the very real, very pragmatic, and very well-founded fear that entering the government into a domain which has largely, up to this point, operated without it, may fundamentally alter that domain. Indeed, the government fundamentally altering a market it has been charged with overseeing is not the exception, it is the rule, and that has always been the case regardless of the stated motives (i.e. it is true even when the government’s stated interest is “to make sure everything stays the same” or “make sure things are fair”.). That is the connotation opponents are linking to when they say “government control”, and that is not “unfair” of them – it is indeed the very essence of their opposition, and it is a perfectly rational, literal argument.

    Demanding the government step in to become the new sheriffs of the internet in the name of equality strikes me as a little like inviting the mob in to your underground poker network to make sure nobody cheats. It is the zenith of naivety to not think you’re making a deal with the devil on some level, or to not possibly fathom that they (new government regulators) might make the exertion and expansion of their own authority the entire point of the exercise. If you want to see examples of how the government trying to dictate fairness just winds up handing more power to the people the government wants to please (their superiors; interest groups; corporate money), I would just ask you take a look at every other realm of government intervention, from the SEC to the EPA to the DOD. And, by the way, one of the primary reasons “corporate interests” have become as monolithic and powerful is precisely because they are able to leverage the government to make and enforce laws in their favor. I.e. when you suddenly hand levers of control to people in power, it usually winds up benefiting the powerful at the expense of the rest of us. It is not entirely unreasonable to fear that might be the case as it concerns net neutrality.

    One of the primary reasons the internet remains as free as it does is because in the absence of the government leveraging its authority to benefit the biggest corporate interests, the principle of the free market actually works pretty well – competition is so multiplicitous that no single corporate interest can screw you too badly, and too many people have too much of a vested interest in the meritoriousness nature of it that ISPs and the like have a vested interest in enforcing net neutrality themselves.

    But corporate influence – the long history of the government being the enablers of corporate interests screwing the little guy – is just a piece of it. Think the government wouldn’t bring their own other agendas, based on whichever party was pulling the levers at any given moment, to the table? Think peer to peer would come out unscathed? What about electronic privacy, given how much the government has already, from the outside, made ISPs do their bidding on that one? WikiLeaks? You comfortable having the Palin administration make determinations about what constitutes a reasonable basis to take down a site or redirect traffic? Government intervention is, in general, a terrific example of the law of unintended consequences, and by definition it results in the politicization of everything it touches. You want the backbones of internet traffic to be in part guided by political decisions? Ask the government to regulate it for you.

    I really appreciate the fervor behind the net neutrality movement. But it seems to me in a way fundamentally misguided. All that advocacy, gnashing of teeth, and idealism, would be far better served not to try to convince the fox to enter the henhouse lest the fattest hens peck the others to death, but rather to keep the internet free from the inside, in large part by DILUTING central authority, not MANDATING it. Expand ISP offerings, put pressure on companies to keep the values and ideals inherent in the internet front and center in their minds, invest in open source companies and collectives, make sure that everyone has options.

    But let’s call a spade a spade: what net neutrality advocates are asking, indeed begging, for, is a government takeover of the internet. Whether you’re comfortable with that phraseology or not is a little beside the point.

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2011 @ 10:57 am

  2. Surprisingly, for someone as opinionated as me, net neutrality doesn’t get me worked up as much as other issues. It seems to me that it boils down to a debate on how much power government and corporations should have in governing a newly developed commons. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And while I occasionally see ISPs going too far, I don’t have a real sense that the commons has fallen totally to corporate enclosure.

    But I suspect I need to start caring about net neutrality because this sort of debate is just what we may settle into in American politics. You have a clear bloc of corporate interests that would like to oppose net neutrality in order to keep the door open to new policies and methods of doing business. You have another bloc of high end tech consumers and maybe a few innovative companies that are opposed. This sort of special interest factionalism is what politics has become. And in order to get the rest of us to care both sides will have to paint the fight with the rhetoric of freedom and liberty.

    Comment by FreedomDemocrat — 3/1/2011 @ 11:06 am

  3. I tried my best in the comment above.

    Truth be told, I’m mostly on the fence regarding NN as well, although I think I lean more towards the “it’s a solution in search of a problem” camp, at least for now. Hence my playing devil’s advocate, although mostly agreeing with myself.

    Truth is, I kind of think the government is getting this right so far. Explicitly state openness and equality of access as core values as the government sees it, and let industry know that you, as the government, will take that in consideration in all future decisions over which the government does have some sway (FCC stuff, broadcast licensing, merger decisions, etc.). But avoid the creation of an explicit regulatory regime to sweep in and gets its hooks in.

    The government is, all things considered, straddling the fence pretty productively on this issue. I hope they continue doing it that way, and only re-evaluate when there is an actual harm present, i.e. when corporate interests really are doing what net neutrality advocates keep hollering that they might do.

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2011 @ 11:16 am

  4. I would say my primary problems with the post, as opposed to NN itself, is 1) the assumption, stated in sentence numero uno, that anyone who studies the issue will come to the obvious correct answer, i.e, Jerrod’s. 2) Another broad brush condemnation off all things that might dare to seek a profit from an investment risk.

    Also, all that stuff Brad said in #1.

    Comment by Jack — 3/1/2011 @ 2:59 pm

  5. i.e. telling people how they can and cannot use their ISPs, is the base essence of it.

    Except that’s not what NN’s about.

    Comment by macker — 3/1/2011 @ 3:54 pm

  6. Well, then I need to be corrected. Correct away – this isn’t really my usual whipping horse, so I’ll freely cop to only the shallowest of understandings here.

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2011 @ 4:01 pm

  7. Yeah i would be happy to hear more about the actual legislation, because I took Brad’s comment as short hand rather than a specific sort of description. We are talking about NN establishing a federal law and associated enforcement body that prevents ISPs and other financial stake holders in the data communications architecture/infrastructure from establishing pay structures that favor those willing to expend more for faster speed, wider availability and/or easier access, correct?

    Comment by Jack — 3/1/2011 @ 7:06 pm

  8. Brad, I stopped reading your response to respond when you said “We have not had net neutrality so far, up to 2011, and the system has seemed to get along just fine without it.” This is completely and entirely wrong. We have had net neutrality up to this point, that’s all the internet has ever had, but now the ISP want to stop having a neutral net. You talk of government regulation but the only regulation is a prohibition on ISP practices that destroy neutrality. The regulation you speak of is simply codifying the status quo that has worked so well for us.

    Jack, I did glimpse your comment #7 while I was writing so I’ll respond as well. You’re kind of right, except that there is nothing stopping ISP from charging people more for faster connections, expanded availability today. That’s just basic ISP business. What the ISP want to do is change the system so that the content providers (insert some website here, say Fox News, CNN, MTV, whatever) can pay for their content to get priority on the intertubes. This nightmare scenario that gets waved about (and I’m not claiming this would happen but it illustrates the dangers) is that some website would make a deal with an ISP (say Bing and Comcast) such that competing websites who don’t have such exclusivity agreements load much slowly. As a user, we don’t know what’s going on, but Google and Yahoo are slow to respond but Bing seems to fly. You can see where this is going.

    THAT is what the fight is about. THAT is what would keep future youtubes from emerging. If MySpace had this, Facebook might have had a harder time, for example.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/1/2011 @ 7:25 pm

  9. OK, I read everything else.

    I’ll concede that legislators can fuck up anything but I’m basing my argument on the premise that they get it right. I’m opposed to them fucking it up just as much as anyone.

    Jack, you complain about my initial premise but I stand by it, as it seems that both you and Brad don’t understand what is at stake here nor what net neutrality advocates want from the government.

    But I just got called away from the computer to help with some stuff around the house, so I’ll be back.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/1/2011 @ 7:33 pm

  10. We have had net neutrality up to this point, that’s all the internet has ever had,

    except that there is nothing stopping ISP from charging people more for faster connections, expanded availability today.

    ….so…we don’t presently have net neutrality, yes?

    What you mean is we right now have the end state you desire, but without the intervention you’re demanding.

    Why am I voting for this again?

    I’ll concede that legislators can fuck up anything but I’m basing my argument on the premise that they get it right.

    Just understand that that has been the case for every government intervention ever. It is a very fundamental and essential premise here. If I trusted the government were hypercompetent and incorruptible, I would be in favor of net neutrality too. If I trusted even that they were +1% more competent or incorrutible than the system we have now, I would also likely be in favor.

    I just have no idea how you could advocate an intervention of this scope—the government quite literally declaring its regulatory authority over the entire transmission of electronic signals and networking of computers, and declaring itself in charge of the internet—by accepting that premise on what amounts to blind and unexamined faith. Faith which even runs counter to how good a job you feel the government is doing in all kinds of other interventions, from education to the environment to financial stability to income equality to the Wars in the Middle East to health care to the War on Drugs to…

    Comment by Brad — 3/1/2011 @ 10:25 pm

  11. Net neutrality has nothing to do with the kind of services you buy when you sign up for internet services at your home, yo. It is unrelated to paying more for faster service.

    Net Neutrality is about how the network processes the information traveling over the tubes to get from the content provider into your home. It’s about allowing websites to pay ISPs to get preferential access for their product.

    To use your example of a poker game:

    Let’s start with a poker night and there are no rules associated with it. Anyone can come, anyone can play any game they want, etc. It turns out to be really popular and lots of people start coming and there are always many kinds of games going on, new variations being tried out, etc.

    Over time, some people want to suggest certain rules. Maybe they want to limit who can come or maybe they want to influence what kind of games can be played, whatever. Up to this point that have been no rules, not even a rule prohibiting new rules, so they claim “There’s no rule against new rules, so we should be able to add our rules!”. That’s the point where we’re at right now, so we can either let them make up their new rules and change the poker room entirely in the process or we can make 1 rule to rule them all: No other rules other than this one can be made. Now the unwritten rule that governed the birth and growth of the game is simply codified to protect the status quo.

    Another example would be the asylum, where the only rule was really that there were no rules. Initially it was unwritten that there were no rules but then it became easier to just make it explicit as an administrative policy.

    Net neutrality advocates don’t want a regulated internet, they want an unfettered internet. Unless the government regulates it to the degree that ONLY protects unfettered internet traffic, we’ll lose it. But this isn’t “government regulation” in the typical sense. If they do it write, the law will simply say that ISP are required to treat all data packets on the internet equally. That’s it. ’nuff said.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/1/2011 @ 11:44 pm

  12. I think we all understand the basic concept, although macker still has a correction outstanding.

    And, like I said, I don’t mind so much when it’s just the government saying, and enforcing only in the areas where it already has authority (contracts, FCC stuff, whatever), the principle of net neutrality. And in principle, I don’t even really have a problem with the solution as you define it, in the best case scenario.

    My point is twofold:

    1. I that I think it’s incredibly naive to just assume “That’s it, ’nuff said.” There is every reason to worry that giving the government regulatory authority over how data is transmitted over the web is inviting the vampire into your home. And there is a long, long path of destruction for industries that went crying to the federal government to enforce what they assumed would be a minimum standard of fairness only to find, once it got its hooks in, the government had its own agenda, or developed one later. Just ask victims of the financial industry. Or hair dressers. Or small farmers. Or upstart media companies. Etc. etc. etc.

    2. Thus, in the absence of a clear problem, one ought not invite the government in. And, as far as I can tell, the internet is working just fine without it – indeed, it has positively thrived without it, for many years now, most of which it was also a big business. Your poker analogy works, but as far as I’m aware there’s nobody clamoring to change the rules. So instead, the better analogy would be if somebody became big stack, and all the other players got paranoid that he was going to start cheating. They can’t prove he’s been cheating – he’s given no sign that he intends to cheat. But fuck, man, he might, and then we’re ruined RUINED!

    I think that government intervention ought to be a last resort. And as far as I can tell, the harm of not passing NN is entirely hypothetical as yet. It is more than hypothetical, actually – it is quickly disproved by looking at the internet today, which as you say is in an ideal state and has gotten that way without government intervention. It becomes a very quick exercise in logic:

    Government intervention is required for the net to be free.
    The net is currently free.
    There is currently no government intervention.
    Ergo, statement is false. (not to sound all Laugner).

    If the prospect of government intervention were utterly without risk, I might say “ah hell, why not then?” Which is where you’re coming from. You’re taking that more or less as a given. But government intervention, from where I’m coming from, is not without risk.

    So, the responsibility of the net neutrality advocate is to explain why net neutrality has not been needed so far but why things have changed to make it necessary – without resorting to hypotheticals and paranoia.

    The second responsibility is to explain why government intervention ought to be our first recourse, above and beyond, say, expanding competition privately or, as a consumer, exerting your rights.

    Then we can have an argument, rather than just a comparison of hopes and fears.

    Comment by Brad — 3/2/2011 @ 10:58 am

  13. NN is about the enforcement of what has, until recently, been a gentlemans agreement: the agreement that any two users(where user can be a home user or a full blown content provider like YouTube) who paid for a certain level of access, get to talk to each other at that level of access. A good example is the early Compuserve days. For a certain fee, you got access to their walled garden, and could freely talk to other Compuserve users and they could talk to you. For an additional fee however, you were allowed to access content outside of that walled garden: the internet itself. At the same time, content providers had payed their own local ISP for unfettered access to the internet and so both the higher fee paying Compuserve user and the content provider could talk to each other without interference.

    It’s not about keeping the internet free, but rather about keeping the internet free of interference by the ISP. It’s a subtle distinction, but quite important.

    As an end user, you are free to, say, continue blocking access to Google to anyone who uses your internet connection. By the same token, Google may decide that your custom is unwanted and block you. In both cases, it’s the final endpoints that make the decision as to how the traffic is handled. The ISP(s) remain a common carrier of information, merely providing the access that they have been paid to provide by their users.

    The reason NN has come up however, is that ISPs have started to interfere with user traffic, generally under the guise of “network management”. The first big example being Comcast forging RST(connection reset) packets between users that were using BitTorrent to download things.

    In addition to this, several large ISPs, primarily in the US, started threatening to charge content providers for access to what is commonly referred to as the “last mile”. This is point between traffic entering the users ISP and reaching their home. Note, content providers have already paid a large chunk of the costs to get the traffic to the ISP itself(transit isn’t free), based on the assumption that the ISP would then deliver it to the end user, as the end user themselves have paid the ISP for access to their network already. The ISP, however, would like to “double dip” and charge both parties for delivering content over the final leg.

    I think that covers most of it, but if I’ve not been clear about something, say so.

    Comment by macker — 3/2/2011 @ 4:14 pm

  14. So it sounds like I understand net neutrality just fine, although I’m not very fluent with the jargon. None of what you’re correcting here is, I think, misunderstood by anybody. We all get the distinction between directly censoring user decisions, and the more subtle version of that which is creating tiered levels of data flow (or whatever the jargon is). The distinction is, frankly, not all that relevant. Maybe this is what threw you:

    telling people how they can and cannot use their ISPs, is the base essence of it.

    When I say “people”, here, I mean “the people who own the ISPs”, not the end users of those ISPs.

    But your correction is interesting, because I could throw it right back to you.

    I am not necessarily saying, when I say “the government will be taking over the internet”, that the government will be censoring what had previously been free decisions of end users. I am making the same distinction you are – that they might nefariously and subtly control the flow of data in a way that suits their own agendas (or any number of other unintended consequences).

    Look at it this way.

    If a Republican Congressman from Alabama were to float a bill in the United States Congress that read simply “The United States government has regulatory authority over the internet and all flow of data within United States borders,” would you be in favor? I’m guessing, in a vacuum, that such a move would be wildly unpopular with the exact same crowd agitating for net neutrality. You guys would go apeshit.

    BUT THAT IS PRECISELY THE UNDERLYING PREMISE THAT A NET NEUTRALITY LAW CONCEDES. You are essentially granting that premise to the United States government, before they even asked for it. You are pushing that power over to the United States government and saying “here, take this. Please only use it for good”. My point is: why would anybody be so quick to do that? ESPECIALLY if it’s a solution to a problem that frankly isn’t much of a problem yet, and to which we do theoretically have private, non-governmental recourse. You’re essentially making the bet that if we hand the government the authority and enforcement mandate to determine what’s “fair” in the transmission of data, that they will only exercise that authority as NN advocates themselves would, and they would never use that foot in the door to try to grab more authority. And again, I’ve no idea why anybody would make that bet – but I certainly have no idea why they would do so and demand it was a sure thing.

    Comment by Brad — 3/2/2011 @ 4:41 pm

  15. When I say “people”, here, I mean “the people who own the ISPs”, not the end users of those ISPs.

    Thanks for the chuckle Brad, but even you have to admit you’re stretching the English language beyond snapping point there.

    You seem pretty happy to dismiss the technical nuances of the problem, under the wonderful guise of it just being “jargon”, but its that very dismissal which leads you to propose hypothetical solutions which have little basis in reality.

    The government doesn’t need to mandate what is and isn’t fair, a term which you’ve decided to insert into the debate. They could simply codify the rules that ISPs need to follow to preserve their common carrier status, which could be as simple as no interference of user traffic, which buys them a whole raft of protections under certain laws like the DMCA. ISPs could then choose if they wish to remain common carriers or if they would rather have the option to interfere with user communications, accepting the legal risk this exposes them to.

    Comment by macker — 3/2/2011 @ 9:54 pm

  16. Thanks for the chuckle Brad, but even you have to admit you’re stretching the English language beyond snapping point there.

    Did you think when I said “telling people how they can or cannot use their ISPs”, the subject in that sentence was not, in fact, “the people that own or operate ISPs”?

    Out of sheer curiosity, who did you think I meant?

    Or do you just reject the premise that ISP owners are, in fact, people?

    You seem pretty happy to dismiss the technical nuances of the problem, under the wonderful guise of it just being “jargon”…

    But I’m not dismissing the technical details. I asked what you wanted to correct – honestly thought maybe I had been mistaken – and you just reiterated what both Jerrod and I have been correctly representing as how NN will work.

    Nobody – and I mean nobody – in this thread has been mistaken on the technical gist here. Nobody has said that what the government will do in enforcing net neutrality is overtly force users to make specific decisions – nobody’s said it, and I’m pretty sure nobody has thought it. We’ve been arguing about whether we ought to put the government in charge of regulating the flow of data over the internet. I think that’s been clear to all involved.

    So again, what exactly do you feel has been stated incorrectly here? What distinction do you feel is not being accurately made?

    You seem to be insisting that I don’t understand something, but your correction is exactly how I understand it. You correcting me where I was not, in fact, mistaken, is a little like telling somebody who doesn’t laugh at a joke that it’s because they didn’t get it. It might be that they got it, and just didn’t think it was funny.

    In this case, I think maybe the thought is that I must just not understand, because if I did than surely I would agree with you – that the only possible way to disagree is to be objectively mistaken. Perhaps entertain the notion that maybe the people who disagree aren’t objectively wrong, they just disagree?

    but its that very dismissal which leads you to propose hypothetical solutions which have little basis in reality.

    How is it hypothetical if it is the status quo? I’m pretty sure that’s, by definition, the opposite of hypothetical. I am advocating we leave the internet alone – that we make no intervention or change whatsover, because the risks, in absence of harm, are not worth it (if it ain’t broke…). Jerrod is advocating that we assume there will be a problem (a hypothetical one – it is not presently true of how the internet is or has been operating, as he concedes), and so to stave off that hypothetical problem we enact an untested solution which will hypothetically prevent us from reaching that hypothetical state that he fears – that the risks of inaction, in other words, are worse than the risks of action. But either way, it is I who am saying we do nothing (for the sake of argument – I actually did be more specific in saying I think the government is straddling the fence productively here). In other words, I’m not ignoring reality as it exists presently – I’m citing it. It is the PRO-net neutrality position that asks us to disregard the present reality and instead imagine a future world in which that reality has gone awry.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with that btw – all legislating is, in some sense, proposing a hypothetical. But let’s at least be clear. Jerrod et al are offering a potential future as the crux of their argument. I am offering the present as my counter argument.

    The government doesn’t need to mandate what is and isn’t fair, a term which you’ve decided to insert into the debate.

    Well, yes it does. What is fair is treating all data equally, yes? And what net neutrality asks is that we codify that concept of fairness into law, i.e. mandate it.

    Again, what am I mistaken about in that? I’m using plain language here.

    They could simply codify the rules that ISPs need to follow to preserve their common carrier status, which could be as simple as no interference of user traffic, which buys them a whole raft of protections under certain laws like the DMCA.

    Well yes they could – nobody is arguing that. I am very positive the government could codify rules as to how ISPs must operate. The question is whether it should. If you want my arguments as to why perhaps it should, see the entire rest of the text in this thread, as that is presently what we are arguing about.

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2011 @ 12:40 am

  17. Did you think when I said “telling people how they can or cannot use their ISPs”, the subject in that sentence was not, in fact, “the people that own or operate ISPs”?

    The English language includes useful words which remove any ambiguity when it comes to referring to certain subjects. “people” and “use” in a discussion that includes a service based industry will generally lead one to think that you’re referring to the actual consumers of the service.

    When referring to the owners of a business and their steering of said business, the common colloquialism is “operate”. As such, using the sentence, “…government telling ISP owners how to operate their business…” makes it completely unambiguous as to who the subject of the governments intervention is.

    …in absence of harm…

    I gave you an example of harm that has already occurred in my first clarification. You’re welcome to ignore it.

    Well, yes it does. What is fair is treating all data equally, yes? And what net neutrality asks is that we codify that concept of fairness into law, i.e. mandate it.

    Fairness has a very specific technical meaning when it comes to internet traffic, in that it would mean all packets are treated equally. It has little direct relation to whether two end points can actually talk to each other, which is what NN is primarily about. NN makes no demands on the ISPs to not create tiered services(if they want to sell a high priority packet service, where your packets will get preference for reaching destinations first, they can do so). NN is about ensuring that ISPs may not arbitrarily decide that because Google hasn’t paid them $x, you, as an end user, may no longer use their search services. Or that YouTube competes with their local TV services package and, as such, you the end user may not access it. Or NetFlix competes with their own inhouse on-demand service, so you, the end user, may not use NetFlix streaming.

    NN is an attempt to enshrine the ISP as a common carrier, somewhat like the postal service. If you want to pay more for a high priority service, you are free to do so and the ISP themselves are free to offer such a service. However, even as the lowest priority user, the ISP itself may not determine whom you can and cannot talk to(absent them not having an address the ISP can reach), simply that it might take you longer to get to Googles home page than the higher paying “high priority” customer.

    There is a technical argument that ISPs could, under the above framework, re-prioritize traffic to the point that certain services become unusable, but it’s tangential to the core NN debate. It’s entirely possible it will eventually need a solution, especially as the US broadband market is effectively a duopoly in a large part of the market, with the rest being made up of monopolies. But I suspect you’ll find most NN advocates aren’t hugely interested in pushing this part of the debate because it *does* throw the government into playing the fairness game.

    Anyway, this is the last post I’m going to make on this. If the above doesn’t clarify NN for you, I’m afraid you’ll either have to continue believing you have the correct line on the issue or find some other source of elucidation.

    Comment by macker — 3/3/2011 @ 5:53 am

  18. The English language includes useful words which remove any ambiguity when it comes to referring to certain subjects. “people” and “use” in a discussion that includes a service based industry will generally lead one to think that you’re referring to the actual consumers of the service.

    When referring to the owners of a business and their steering of said business, the common colloquialism is “operate”. As such, using the sentence, “…government telling ISP owners how to operate their business…” makes it completely unambiguous as to who the subject of the governments intervention is.

    You stand corrected then.

    The phrasing is actually part of the point. Follow it from the beginning. Jerrod says “we need net neutrality to prevent corporations from screwing us!” I said “I am not sure government intervention in the internet is wise.” Jerrod said “It’s not government intervention, it’s net neutrality!” I’m boiling it down to very plain language here for a reason. If I say “government will regulate the actions of corporations in how they conduct their business”, that does not register with some people as being “government intervention”. If I state it in its most casual form “telling people what they can and cannot do with their own equipment”, that usually hits the nerve I’m going for. Actually, you sort of demonstrated what I meant – when I just said “telling people how they can and can’t user their ISPs”, your assumption was that the plain meaning must not have meant what it meant – I must have been misusing a word, or been mistaken in concept, because net neutrality doesn’t tell people how they can and can’t use their equipment – it tells ISP owners how to operate a business!

    I gave you an example of harm that has already occurred in my first clarification. You’re welcome to ignore it.

    No that’s fair, and I’ve conceded elsewhere that I’m sure there are relatively isolated examples of the kinds of harms you’re talking about. The question is, do those isolated incidents in and of themselves justify the level of government intervention you’re asking for? I don’t think they do – I bet you don’t think they do. What you’re basing your argument on is the fear that those things become widespread. Although, again, correct me if I’m misrepresenting you.

    As to Bit Torrents, that’s actually kind of an interesting example, because my understanding is a large reason ISPs have dealt heavy handedly with peer to peer and bit torrenting is for fear of government intervention. I.e. they’re afraid that they are in fact hosting illegal activity – and let’s all be honest, they are – and so they are trying to at least give a veneer of acting proactively against that lest they eventually be held to account by the government. It’s a voluntary self censorship for the sake of staving off what they (quite legitimately) fear might spur a larger, non-voluntary censorship. It’s not just them being dicks for the sake of it.

    The question is: do you believe that your ability to illegally download things using BitTorrent or peer to peer or whatever would be more, less, or the same, if the legal authorities were the ones ultimately in charge of the data flow instead of private enterprises?

    My whole point in this thread is I think it’s kind of naive to just assume we put the government in charge of maintaining a neutral net, and ladida the web stays free. It reminds me of the joke about releasing hundreds of cats into a field to clear it of rats…and then having to release hundreds of dogs to get rid of the cats, until eventually you’re forced to release the T-Rexs with rocket launchers attached to their arms and shooting lasers out of its eyes.

    You are not ridding yourselves of a master with NN – you are trading one master for another. That is the entire point of my argument in this thread.

    Fairness et al

    I appreciate the elucidation here. It’s a very good explanation. I have indeed been focusing more on the re-prioritizing traffic bit rather than explicitly barring various services, but the points are really the same – at the end of the day you are giving government regulatory authority over how private entities (i.e. non-governmental; private business or individuals) use the internet or the equipment at their disposal.

    I understand that the assumption of the advocates is that this is enormously cut and dry – as Jerrod put it, all you’re doing is codifying an unwritten rule and boom, that’s all, you’re out of there. My argument is the advocates may be vastly underestimating the ability and propensity of the government to meddle, once given an opening. In the history of United States governance, I am very hard pressed to think of an instance where the government was given just a little bit of authority over something, and then either stayed at that level or eventually gave it up. No, by far the rule is they are given a little bit of authority, and then use that little bit to dig their heels in and expand their authority farther. Indeed, that is what the government does – it is a self-perpetuation engine that operates as often just to justify and expand its own existence as it does for any greater good.

    Sure, it seems easy – just have them write the words “all data must be treated equally” and voila, problem solved. I am not mistaken in that I know that’s what you think. I am saying you may want to consider that you have the capacity to be wrong in that, and you being wrong may put the internet in greater danger than private companies ever have.

    Comment by Brad — 3/3/2011 @ 11:32 am

  19. Brad, first off, thank you for a coherent argument against legislating net neutrality. It’s honestly one of the first time I’ve heard it argued in that manner and I get where you’re coming from. Usually net neutrality is argued against by republican congressmen and content producers/ISP not from a legislative perspective but from a business or economic one. When you hear anyone talk about how net neutrality will stifle innovation, that’s what being talked about.

    Two points back at you:

    1) Macker has pointed out cases where non-net neutral behavior has happened and even more than that, ISP have made it very clear what they want to and intend to do. This isn’t a purely hypothetical OHNOES! discussion. There are plans on the books for this stuff as soon as the dust settles.

    2) The “regulation” that I’m in favor of in terms of net neutrality legislation is pure technical and because of that, I don’t perceive it as entailing the risks you are pointing out. I understand the point that legislation sets a precedent that can be abused in the future, but one safeguard that I’m comfortable with is that any changes beyond the limited and explicit technical standards associated with ISP as common carriers will be vociferously opposed by the entire net neutrality crowd and likely the ISP side as well. NN advocates won’t tolerate anything other than pure NN, which doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, of course, but it isn’t going to be as easy or likely as you seem to fear.

    Comment by Jerrod — 3/3/2011 @ 7:39 pm

  20. Saying net neutrality advocates will prevent future abuses because of their vociferousness in online debates is a little like saying Ron Paul is President.

    Anyway, back at you at the coherent argument thing. I’ve been reading about net neutrality for years but never actually put my thoughts together to make an argument, so the exercise has been helpful. And, I should add again that I really sympathize with the pro-NN argument – and frankly if it came down to it would probably vote for it myself. But it’s one of those things that makes me inherently uncomfortable – just creates a libertarian itch in me. I think in large measure because any time somebody comes to the government to help them settle what had previously been a market matter, what you usually wind up with isn’t a settling of the matter, but rather adding a new, powerful force to the battle, one which can be unpredictable, one which is inherently a political animal, and one which isn’t aligned to your motive, but rather its own – which is chiefly about justifying and then expanding its own authority.

    For some reason an analogy that keeps coming back to me is licensing. In the same way, an industry comes to the government and asks them to write and enforce a very simple concept – hairdressers need to be qualifying along basic sanitary lines, or engineers need to meet a minimum threshold of training, or whatever. In theory, that sounds incredibly cut and dry – assuming you already bring to the table a definition of the standard (which NN advocates do). And frankly, who is again safe hairdressing and engineering? Just throw it on the books, and voila, now hairdressing and engineering become safer, and that standard is codified into law!

    Except it doesn’t always work as intended.

    And the inherent problem is, as soon as you put that power in the hands of the government, the government has the power to change it. And in general, it is easier to change laws than markets. So many parties use the former to accomplish the latter – most significantly, the richest and most powerful members of the markets in question.

    I can think of a million scenarios where what begins as a simple rule winds up subject to carve outs, exceptions, explicit waivers, and the like until, 20 years down the road, the internet, from a regulatory standpoint, is unrecognizable.

    And I’m just not buying that without it, the free internet falls. It is free not because big companies have thus far deigned, of their own accord, to not enslave it. It is free because they have never been able to figure out how. There have thus far been too many competing interests, too much capacity for consumer choice, too little control over the modes of production, and too diffuse a power base, for Big Internet to ever really come into being.

    A good way for that to change is to suddenly centralize regulatory authority.

    Anyway, that’s about all – I see the points in favor, but that’s my case against. Cheers for the conversation.

    Comment by Brad — 3/4/2011 @ 11:02 am

  21. Remember this debate? This was a good debate.

    The current position of the Obama administration, as of yesterday, is that the FCC should declare public broadband–all of it–to be a public utility, and regulate it accordingly. That’s the position being defended as “net neutrality” in 2014, and it sure doesn’t sound like what Jerrod was describing.

    Kinda makes Brad’s objections more understandable, as far as I’m concerned.

    Comment by Rojas — 11/11/2014 @ 2:59 pm

  22. I miss this blog. :(

    Comment by Brad — 12/12/2014 @ 4:15 am

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