back to article Net neutrality, Verizon, open internet ... How can we solve this mess?

So President Obama chimed in this week over the issue of "net neutrality" – arguing that in order to protect netizens and keep the internet "free and open", cable companies should be reclassified as "Title II common carriers". "Whether you use computer, phone or tablet, your internet provider should have a legal obligation not …

  1. dan1980

    The simple truth that everyone must accept and understand is that cable providers have a vested interest here that makes it very advantageous to be able to identify and prioritise traffic in this way; they provide television services that are in direct competition with the online offerings delivered over their Internet services.

    An equivalent would be a transport firm that owned and operated a network of toll roads. In both instances, the company has been allowed to build their infrastructure on public land with the understanding that they will provide necessary services that the government is unable or unwilling to provide directly.

    With cable providers, their conflict of interest is not so problematic so long as there are other vendors that one can use - preferably ones that are not, themselves, major content providers and thus are not in competition with the services traversing their links.

    Unfortunately, this is not the case because there just isn't much choice, if at all.

    Services with vested interests are one thing. Services with vested interests in the position of monopolies are quite another. Services with vested interests running as monopolies while providing essential services through, over and beneath public land is yet a different thing and is the position right now.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Toll road analogy has the same fault that is about or currently exists from the ISP's... on toll roads, at least here in the States, there's tiered pricing. Cars pay one price, buses another and trucks another. Which is basically what were getting via the Big ISP's. Seems though that they want to have a "fast lane" or a "heavy weight" lane for heavy bandwidth but at some level there's the fear that the higher paying clients will be given preference at the expense of the lower paying clients.. The biggest problem is that you can't get from point A to point B by any other method in most places. There's only one provider.

      1. dan1980

        @Mark 85

        Yes, I did think about that and I wrote something on it and then deleted it because it seemed a bit of a ramble. (I know I've got a problem and I'm trying . . . )

        The thing about the tiered pricing of toll roads (and we have that in Australia, too) is that it is based, really, on one thing alone - size. Trucks and buses are 'big', cars are 'normal' and motorcycles are 'small'.

        One might think of this as simply an analog of bandwidth or download usage. The analogy isn't perfect, of course, but, sticking to it, a truck from Joe's Haulage, carrying fruit from Farmer Bob's cherry farm to the local grocer for mums and dads to buy to put in the fruit bowl pays the same toll on that road as a truck from Costco transporting pallets of toilet paper to the local warehouse for preppers to snap up. Likewise a parent driving a hatchback taking Billy to soccer practice is charged the same as a corporate Mercedes taking Buck McBucksville, CEO of MegaBucks Crystal Door Handle Emporium, to his Mansion, which is the same price paid by Mary to go and buy a TV and the same price paid by Burt Hustlepants driving to his latest porn filming.

        The (belaboured) point is that on a normal toll road, you are not charged based on what - or who - you are transporting, only how much.

        But it's not a perfect analogy.

        1. Terry Cloth

          Pay for the steak, not the sizzle

          Boo-hoo, Netflix uses more so they should pay more.

          Absolutely. But they should pay the same per byte as every other user of the pipes.

          The distortion that net neutrality must remove is the selling of alleged bandwith (``You get up to 3Mbps for this low, low price.'') rather than actual data.

          As it is, the carriers don't have to build more capacity so long as they can sell ever-shrinking slices of pie at the same price. Pay-by-byte would mean the customer got fair value, and the carrier could only get more by making more product available.

      2. Ole Juul

        Seems though that they want to have a "fast lane" or a "heavy weight" lane for heavy bandwidth but at some level there's the fear that the higher paying clients will be given preference at the expense of the lower paying clients..

        It's hard to tell exactly what people's fears really are. I don't see a problem with anybody being given preference as long as I can still get what I paid for with my lower payment, in terms of bandwidth. My worry is that there isn't enough available. The higher paying fast lane types will be taking it all, and I'll be sitting on the ramp waiting to get in the line. I think this is a real worry because the incumbents haven't shown themselves to be particularly gleeful about the prospect of building more infrastructure.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I see what you did there, @dan1980

      @dan1980

      * Big Cable is a vested interest that lobbies like fuck

      * Silicon Valley is a vested interest that lobbies like fuck

      * Google is a vested interest that lobbies like fuck.

      * Netflix is a vested interest that lobbies like fuck.

      Your vision is a bit partial. Some might even say blind.

      If I park my car on your land that doesn't entitle you to own my car, or design all future cars based on what you feel. No cigar.

      1. dan1980

        Re: I see what you did there, @dan1980

        @AC

        "Your vision is a bit partial. Some might even say blind."

        My vision is what it is but what my post was relevant.

        I fail to see how, say, Netflix is relevant in the way you present it, which is that these cable providers are no different to Netflix because they both lobby and have vested interests.

        Well, the big - core - difference is that Netflix is not the only provider of content, whereas the cable providers are, in many cases, the sole providers of Internet connectivity.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Vested interest

      What about MY vested interest?

      I pay the bill, I am the one paying for the bandwidth, and the ISP is reducing that bandwidth to a service that I decided to interact with. The ISP has in effect sold a fraud; charging me for the bandwidth but not actually providing it.

      There is also the fact that I pay for the electricty, the time I have to manage the email spam, the junkmail, the advertisements, all being delivered at MY expense.

      The data is MINE, not their's.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Vested interest

        There's a practical solution to that as well. Write a law that allows the typical user to easily take the ISP to court over failure to deliver services. Of course, that too would require actual legislation which would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President.

    4. Tom 13

      Re: government is unable or unwilling to provide directly.

      This is exactly the point where all you Progs go off the rails. Government is not, and never was intended to be the sole source of everything we say and do. Until you get that straight you can't propose rational solutions to existing problems.

      Like it or not, the internet as it exists today WAS created by private industry, not the government. If the government had been created solely or even mostly by government those who could use the internet would still be using Gopher to access text files on government or university systems, which would also be the only locus of the systems from which they'd be accessed.

  2. chris lively

    I truly don't understand the FCCs problem of classifying them in the same way as phone lines. Nobody really gives a damn about these so called "services" that ISPs have. Just the lines thank you very much.

    Hell I have FIOS and I'd be hard pressed to tell you what services, if any, Verizon has beyond getting the fibre to my house. I think they forced me to create an email address on their system, but I'm not entirely sure as it's been 5+ years since inven had to deal with them directly.

    Also all that crap about how it's data being transferred instead of a voice is just dumb. To the ISP it should be no different. I pay them so I can have a conversation with google, Dropbox, Netflix or whatever. The contents of that conversation isn't their concern. If they can't support all these "conversations" going on at once then that's their problem to add capacity or to sell services at reduced rates.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's all about who pays for carrying the traffic.

      All "conversations" on the Internet are not equal in cost. Your ISP has to pay more to transit Netflix than a Google docs session. So it actually costs cable companies - ISPs in this case - hard cash to let you use a competing service.

      As a customer, you want a service from your ISP that enables you to use other OTT services, whether it's VOIP or Netflix. This spat is about who pays for the QoS of 3rd party providers using your ISPs network.

      Power and water are utilities that charge according to how much you use, although there's no premium level of water or power offered. If QoS for all 3rd party services is ruled to be part of an essential minimum standard - aka Net Neutrality - then everyone will have to pay for that higher capacity and spec whether it's bandwidth, low latency or packet loss.

      If OTT services are treated differently, then the question is whether the ISPs charge for QoS to the end user, or whether Netflix does and pays ISPs for transit at a minimum QoS level.

      This wasn't an issue with dial-up.

      1. eldakka Silver badge

        "All "conversations" on the Internet are not equal in cost. Your ISP has to pay more to transit Netflix than a Google docs session. So it actually costs cable companies - ISPs in this case - hard cash to let you use a competing service."

        Not correct.

        It costs the ISP the same for me to download a 1MB document from netflix as it costs to download a 1MB document from Google.

        If costs the same for an ISP for me to stream a 100MB video from youtube as it costs to stream it from netflix.

        It costs the same for an ISP for me to download a 100MB document from google docs as it would to download a 100MB document from netflix.

        The type or source of data is irrelevant, it's the SIZE that matters.

        1MB is 1MB whether it's a .doc, .jpg., .mp4, .mkv etc, whether it's from Netflix, Amazon, youtube, facebook, my work's VPN.

        1GB is 1GB whether it's a .doc, .jpg. .mp4, .mkv etc, whether it's from Netflix, Amazon, youtube, facebook, my work's VPN.

        Downloading a 1GB file should be the same 'cost' no matter where it's sourced from.

        If I have 500GB/month, then I should get 500GB/month irrespective of the source of the data.

        1. theblackhand

          ISP costs

          "It costs the ISP the same for me to download a 1MB document from netflix as it costs to download a 1MB document from Google."

          Are you sure? And if it is valid for 1MB, it's likely due to a rounding error - does it still apply for 1GB/1TB/etc?

          Content from providers directly connected to an ISP will almost certainly be cheaper than content that has to transit one or more other providers.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ISP costs re: theblackhand

            Cheaper for whom?

            1. theblackhand

              Re: ISP costs re: theblackhand

              Cheaper for the ISP - ISP's will typically not pay for data transmitted via a peering arrangement (a direct connect between the ISP and the content provider) but will have to pay a volume based fee for transit traffic (content that traverses one or more ISP's and a peer to reach your ISP's network).

        2. Tom 13

          Re: The type or source of data is irrelevant, it's the SIZE that matters.

          Also incorrect. If you have one group of 100 users and a second group of 100 users and each person in the first group transfers a 10GB file to a person in the second group at 5pm, it is vastly different than 100 users downloading a 10GB file from Netflix at 5pm. This is precisely the crux of the QoS question.

  3. jamesb2147

    My 2 cents

    So I took the time to read that 24-page white paper (thanks for the link, author!).

    There are some strengths and weaknesses. Let's cover some strengths first:

    "Under the plain terms of the statute, mobile broadband Internet access cannot be CMRS.

    CMRS is a mobile service that makes “available to the public” an “interconnected service”—i.e.,

    a service “that is interconnected with the public switched network.”"

    "public switched network" used to imply the PSTN, which is a legitimate point. The only flaw being that it doesn't explicitly *state* PSTN. Still, it's a strength for Verizon's argument against treating wireless under Title II.

    "Reliance interests are especially relevant here because the avowed and express purpose of

    the Commission’s prior classification orders was to induce the billions in investment that have

    now occurred.6

    Although the Supreme Court suggested in Fox that an agency may receive more

    leeway for a policy change when its prior views on the question were equivocal, 556 U.S. at 518,

    for almost two decades, the Commission has done precisely the opposite when it comes to

    classifying broadband. The Commission has repeatedly and unequivocally interpreted the 1996

    Act to exclude broadband from Title II."

    Yeah, that one's going to hurt. The justices like doing economic analyses to decide law, and this is going to be painful for the FCC. On the other hand...

    WEAKNESSES

    "...(reasoning that an agency must provide “a more complete explanation” when

    changing its position either on “particular factual findings . . . or . . . on its view of the governing

    law,” because then “one would normally expect the agency to focus upon those earlier views of

    fact, or law, . . . and explain why they are no longer controlling""

    That's a weakness, believe it or not. The justices didn't close the door, but again stated that they would need a reasonable argument, which might be challenging, but is probably possible to achieve. There are a lot of really smart lawyers out there in the world!

    "Unbundling would create prohibitive complexities in delivering separate services;

    customers would have to pay for both types of services, which would raise consumer costs; and

    all of this would drive away consumers and providers from broadband service, thereby harming

    the Commission’s goal of promoting broadband deployment."

    I don't think there's any other passage in the entire paper that's more fluff. This is completely a matter of interpretation. All they have to do is redefine "broadband" (say, as 25Mbps) and suddenly deployment numbers drop, and unbundling COULD lower costs for some subset of users, meaning greater deployment. This one is way too easy to wipe away.

    "There still is no way to use the Internet and to

    access, utilize, retrieve or process the stored information available through web sites around the

    world “without also purchasing a connection to the Internet,” "

    This is both untrue and also because of bundling. Unbundle it. He goes on, though...

    "Indeed, given developments in the nature of broadband services offered since the time of

    Brand X, the conclusion that broadband Internet access is an integrated offering is even more

    true today. The typical broadband Internet access services today use telecommunications to

    perform even more information service capabilities than they did when Brand X was decided.

    New parental controls, for example, allow customers to identify and filter inappropriate content.

    Multiple e-mail accounts allow customers to store, access, utilize and make available

    information. And on-line storage services are a common part of broadband Internet access

    offerings and allow customers both to store information they retrieve on-line and then to access,

    utilize, and further process that information. All of these information services are “functionally

    integrated” services that “transmit data only in connection with the further processing of

    information” and require the use of telecommunications."

    None of the examples cited are fundamentally a part of the internet connection/access, therefore are not "functionally integrated," in spite of what Verizon wants you to believe.

    Give me my IP address, or even just my L2 modem via Title II, and I'll bring you competitors for your L3 business. Here's to hoping the FCC sees it the same way.

  4. solo

    You are over-reacting

    ..and you had thought that the Internet is all about television and you can force each of the billion websites to pay to you just like those dozens of channels.

  5. Mr C

    nice article

    Easy to read, and it had some information in there that i was not aware of.

    It would've been better if there was a bit more info on vested interests at stake here and the economics and hall-way politics that come with it, but i guess that's for another story.

  6. A J Stiles

    Forbeared?

    Forborne, surely.

    (Bigger question: What's the past tense of "beware" ?)

    1. 404

      Re: Forbeared?

      'Mostly dead' - Darwin

  7. eldakka Silver badge

    WTF are you on about?

    "An internet connection, a modern-day communications system, is vastly more sophisticated, allowing people to store, transfer, process, retrieve and use the data sent across through the connection."

    Huh?

    'The internet' does the same things as the 1934 telephone network.

    In 1934 I (well, the notional I, I'm not that old) could hook up a recorder to the phone line and record (store) the conversation.

    In 1934 I could play the recording back down the phone line and listen to it at the other end, 'retrieving' it, and if I had a recorder at that end, i'd be storing it again, processing and using it.

    Hell, BEFORE 1934 this could be done. When it was the telegraph this could be done. Telegraph operators would receive morse code and 'store' it by writing it down on a piece of paper or other writing material. They'd then 'process' it (or perhaps process it BEFORE storing it) by converting the morse code to the relevant spoken language. Depending on the requirements of the message, they may 'process' it again and send it in morse code along to the next operator.

    In the 60's, 70's and 80's I could connect a modem to the telephone system and transfer digital data by having it modulated/demodulated. I could store, retrieve what have you.

    Neither 'The internet' or 'the phone system' allows you to store, retrieve or process data. It's the devices that are connected to the internet that do all that. The internet, just like the phone system, is merely a way of transmitting information. The old phone system had low bandwidth, high latency, and was analog. The internet is merely a faster, digital version that does the same thing - transfers information.

    Everything else (storing, processing, 'using') is done by devices at the ends of the connections, and was done using the phone system pre-internet.

    1. Terry Cloth

      And remember how you paid?

      Not so long ago (at least for old geezers like me), you paid for long-distance by the minute. Which is identical to pay-by-byte, with increments at (3 kbps1 * 60 sec / 8 bits per byte =) 25 kB.

      And then it got too cheap to meter.

      ---------

      1 Remember, this was before Hz had been invented.

  8. John H Woods Silver badge

    In case you guys haven't seen it ...

    The Oatmeal to Senator Ted Cruz

  9. Panicnow

    US policyalways follows the money

    US policy is governed by how many $s a lobby is prepared to spend to get the laws they want. ( Get rid of any ideas that the US is a democracy, or rational decision making, or indeed policy for the benefit of the US public!)

    SO who has the deepest pockets/prepared to pay the most to the "lobby"?

    The Cable companies have the cash flow, but the service providers have the share price.

    My bet is the Cable companies as they have been playing the lobby game for longer and know the buttons to press.

  10. tom dial Silver badge

    I do wonder if this is an attempt to solve a potential problem more than an actual one. Part of the push seems to be to disallow sale of quality of service, which was put into standards for a reason As a Netflix user I have been quite irritated from time to time by "buffering" that might have occurred during times of network congestion, and note with some pleasure that it has not been noticeable since they made a deal with Comcast. In general, I do not have a problem if Comcast delays someone else's (or my) email, file downloads, or web page loads a bit to ensure that my (or someone else's) TV or audio streaming or voice conversations to go without interruption or choppiness.

    And the argument about the next YouTube or whatever being squelched because they could not afford the right kind of internet service also appears to be in the nature of a bogeyman more than a real worry. It seems fairly unlikely that a garage workshop service that looks capable of profitable operation at volume would be unable to raise venture capital to buy adequate internet service. Certainly there have been many startups that went through one or more VC rounds before vanishing into the nothing, so anything even remotely plausible is likely to get a chance.

    There is a difficulty, too, with trying to apply 80 year old and largely inapplicable law to a problem, whether it is a real or imagined one, with the inapplicable parts "foreborne", even aside from the glut of litigation that almost surely would ensue. Declining to apply the laws in a reasonably full and transparent way undermines respect for the laws and legal process generally, something we surely do not need more of.

  11. Tom 13

    So a creative solution is needed.

    Yes, and based on your description it sounds like Mozilla have provided just such a solution. I would find their proposal acceptable as a law. I would however require that the proposal be passed by Congress as the Constitution requires. Admittedly I also have some reservations about the vertical integration of content production with content delivery as it produces an inherent bias. But I could live with a real firewall between the two sides of the house.

    To it I would add a set of regulations that prohibit local governments from granting monopoly permits to ISPs. And I mean that it in the sense that it should not only be theoretically enforceable, but practically enforceable.

  12. lucki bstard

    On these sort of conversations it would make life a lot easier if the country of the poster was identified. There is a lot of difference from country to country and this seems to cause confusion at times.

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