back to article Exclusive: Team Trump's net neutrality guru talks to El Reg

The newest member of the Trump's Transition Team sounded bemused by the tech blog headlines when we caught up with her today. As the academic who has conducted more empirical work into net neutrality than anyone else, Dr Roslyn Layton finds herself in demand from telecoms regulators all over the world. This week she faced the …

  1. Anonymous Coward

    another anti-Google rant ...

    ... disguised as a newsworthy interview. This time around with Trump Sauce.

    This Google obsession is getting old.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So, you accuse an article that mentions Google - in passing - twice, of being an anti-Google rant and part of a Google obsession?

      Who's obsessed here?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: ...

        > [...] So, you accuse an article that mentions Google - in passing - twice [...]

        The article is - supposedly - about the incoming Trump Administration's stance on net neutrality.

        What does this have to do with Google?

        > Eric Schmidt was on Obama's transition team, and it took a while before Google controlled the Government. At least a few years.

        I expect to read inflammatory statements such as Google controls the Government at Alex Jones' InfoWars web site. Not here.

        At any rate, what does this have to do with the incoming Trump Administration and its stance on net neutrality?

        A number of Silicon Valley companies - some big, others not so big - lobbied the Obama Administration in support of net neutrality. Google was one of those companies.

        A large number of individuals - not corporations - supported net neutrality as well. Signatures were summitted to the White House in support of net neutrality.

        How is any of this relevant to the Trump Administration's views on net neutrality?

        It appears that the incoming Trump Administration is set to rescind the FCC's rules on net neutraility. I fail to see any redeeming features in this rescission.

        Packet prioritization, bandwidth throttling and tirered pricing will not inherently create a more democratic Internet. A much more expensive Internet for consumers, yes, and that's about it.

        - Anything that Google supports - BAD.

        - Anything that Google might not support - GOOD.

        Reality is much more subtle and nuanced than this. It's not black and white. Just many different shades of grey.

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: ...

          "A large number of individuals - " nearly all of them essentially clueless about communication technology - supported net neutrality as well."

          "Packet prioritization, bandwidth throttling and tirered pricing will not inherently create a more democratic Internet." Maybe, maybe not. It is not entirely clear that "democratic," normally associated with group decision making and choosing government officials, is meaningful in the context of network governance. While these many millions were, by and large, vehemently in favor of net neutrality, it is far from obvious that any of them has benefited from it, or will. But it is fairly clear that large operators, including Google, considered it beneficial to them, as defined by the marginal profit they expected to clear as a result. The Open Internet Order might best be understood as a result of successful rent seeking supported by a moral panic.

          "Reality is much more subtle and nuanced than this. It's not black and white. Just many different shades of grey." Indeed it is.

          It is meaningful, however, to discuss techniques for efficient allocation of limited resources and is quite plausible, if not certain, that requiring all services to receive identical treatment in a packet switched network lead to inefficiency. This may show up, for example, as overbuilding or congestion (or its temporary mitigation, throttling), or possibly both at different times and places.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Re: ...

            > [...] nearly all of them essentially clueless about communication technology [...]

            Well, we have you to clarify it and enlighten all of us, so that's good. You being so knowledgeable about all things Internet.

            It is meaningful, however, to discuss techniques for efficient allocation of limited resources and is quite plausible [...]

            Save for the fact that none of these things are being discussed here. But please don't let me interrupt your monologue.

            1. tom dial Silver badge

              Re: ...

              Of the millions who registered their opinions with the FCC on the Net Neutrality question, a few tens of thousands probably had enough understanding of communication technology and economics to form their own opinions. Most of the rest were acting on the expressed opinions of various "experts" predicting assorted awful outcomes from allowing of "fast lanes" or free services.

              The article, and the paper by Layton and Calderwood, concern economics and the thesis that Net Neutrality is not conducive to efficient network resource allocation, which in the end affects everyone who deploys, operates, or uses a network.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: This Google obsession is getting old

      This Google obsession will be old when Google is a forgotten, last-decade fading souvenir like Yahoo!.

      For the moment, Google is still the privately-owned Internet powerhouse that can only be rivaled in its data-gathering by none other than the NSA.

      Begin obsessed about that seems quite normal for democratically-oriented mind.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This Google obsession is getting old

        The editors state that Google took control of the government. That wasn't in passing, that was pronounced in a statement. Now is that anti-Google or pro-Google. That's up to you to decide.

        As for me, she is a politician, she is a liar. So for me, everything she said is scribble PR that fills journals for the sake of a pay check...means shit (especially since Trump isn't even in office yet).

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: This Google obsession is getting old

        > [...]Google is still the privately-owned Internet powerhouse [...]

        Google is not privately-owned. It's a publicly traded company. It trades on NASDAQ with the ticker GOOG.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: "It's a publicly traded company"

          I meant private as opposed to the NSA, which is a government organization.

          Private meaning that there is no publicly-accountable body that answers to what Google is doing, although the fact that there is supposed to be one for the NSA makes eff all of an effect.

      3. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: This Google obsession is getting old

        Yet Google provides direct utility to users, in the form of Internet indexing and search, that far exceeds that of any the alternatives or, indeed, all of them combined. As a result it earns piles of money for its shareholders. Any positive utility that the NSA and other government intelligence agencies provides is at best indirect and very difficult to define and measure.

  2. frank ly

    Very mixed metaphor

    "The stick holds operators' feet to the fire with the threat that the regulator can take more action...."

    Has anybody tried waterboarding them yet? I know some ISPs who deserve it.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Very mixed metaphor

      I think that BT, Virgin & Talk Talk are all based in the UK, unfortunately.

      Although there is always that rendition thing our government supports, so I suppose it's passingly possible.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Very mixed metaphor

      Will regulator take action when they get funds from the operators? I rarely saw that kind of stick working. Just look at CAN-SPAM. Better regulations (opt-in, for example) were ready, but they were preempted by a law written to suit the advertisement industry against citizens. Remember, also, when the FTC guy told politicians they couldn't call people on mobes for their promotion - a fact they didn't know? Feet to fire? LOL! Operators dance knowing they have "regulators" under control.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Very mixed metaphor

      Have an up vote Frank ly. I literally LOLd.

  3. John G Imrie

    Trump appointments

    Every Trump appointment so far has been accompanied by 'it's the end of the world' headlines, which makes me wonder on who's vested interests is he trampling now?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "on who's vested interests is he trampling"

      I doubt that list is going to be getting shorter any time soon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trump appointments

      The doom and gloom talk you hear about his appointments puzzle me. What's the point of wailing and gnashing your teeth about them before they do anything? With such low expectations for Trump's administration, theoretically they should have room to exceed them.

      I think that the democrats are playing from the same playbook the republicans used against Obama. Declare him the worst president in history before he even takes office and take issue with every appointment and every pronouncement, all the better to unite the opposition party to do their best to try to deny him any accomplishments. Other than the first couple years when Obama had congress, that strategy mostly worked in terms of forcing him to use executive orders to do anything. After having it done to them, the democrats appear to be aiming at the same plan of trying to block anything Trump does, all the better to later claim because he isn't getting anything done that he's an ineffective president.

      If Trump turns out to be not quite as true blue a conservative as he tried to pass himself off as, and has some democratic positions that upset his party and confuse the democrats, I wonder if the democrats will be willing to work with him or if - like the republicans did with Obama on several occasions - they will vote against him just to deny him a success even if it means not getting something they wanted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trump appointments

        It's that same playbook that has party speakers on news programs where no matter what the question asked, the response gets twisted to whatever is on that day's talking point memo. Which explains why I no longer watch news programs.

        1. TaabuTheCat

          Re: Trump appointments

          " matter what the question asked, the response gets twisted to whatever is on that day's talking point memo"

          Well, a good part of that is because the "news readers" (what used to be real journalists/reporters) constantly let them get away with it, either through lack of preparation or the fear of being blacklisted for future interviews. Where's Mike Wallace or Ted Koppel when you need them??

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Trump appointments

            They're also afraid of being accused of bias if they are like Chris Matthews acting like a dog with a bone and asking the same question over and over when the person being asked tries to pull the old topic switcheroo.

            This was probably inevitable when Fox News came along and gave softball questions to republicans, which led to democrats expecting the same treatment on other networks, which made the then-bogus claims of "bias" a reality.

      2. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: Trump appointments

        I do not think Trump ever claimed to be a conservative, at least without backpedaling shortly after. Some of his positions and promises were aimed at those who claim to be conservative, but many or most have been creeping off stage since the election. He is no more a conservative than Hillary Clinton is a liberal (current usage assumed).

        Obama's minions in the Congress further poisoned an already dirty well in various ways, and Obama lacked either the skill or the will to collaborate with the Republicans in Congress and sometimes even the Democrats. That left him the option of trying to expand executive branch reach by issuing orders and hoping the inevitable challenge would not be turned away by the courts. Donald Trump, come January 20 next, will be in position to cancel every one of them that he doesn't like. That may result in a worse outcome in some cases than if Obama had done nothing at all. The most obvious examples are DACA and DAPA, which by now will have produced a very convenient database of deportation candidates. Nonetheless, Trump will have Obama's example going forward in the event of a truculent Congress. And there is no plausible reason to think the next Congress, any more than the last forty or so, will do anything effective to limit him.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: playing from the same playbook

        Tit for tat and all that, funnily enough, even when we play their game they're still not happy.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Trump appointments

      "makes me wonder on who's vested interests is he trampling now?"

      in general, ANYONE who's used increased gummint regulation/presence/etc. to become wealthy.

      The entire idea of Trump's approach is the same as Reagan's approach was back in the 80's: make gummint SMALLER, and LESS INTRUSIVE, but keep sensible regulations that 'level the playing field'.

      So, we can expect fewer restrictions except for those that would allow ISP #1 to block or throttle ISP #2's competing services.

      But _I_ would _LIKE_ to see a tollway on the intarwebs, for those who are willing to pay it, in the form of TOS-like packet prioritization. You could design this in such a way that the impact on normal traffic would be minimal, but the effect on the priority traffic would be incredible. THEN, the fees charged to priority subscribers would pay for infrastructure updates, and MAYBE lower the price for everyone else.

      It's already that way, sort of, for "business class" (unfiltered) vs "consumer class" (filtered, changing IP addresses, NAT instead of direct, etc. etc.). "business class" costs you SEVERAL TIMES as much, and your throughput is often capped, but you can run a name server and a web server and even have people send e-mail directly to your IP address, if you want, NOT having to go through some 3rd party server that might be scanning your mail to target you with ads [for example].

      So if Netflix pays EXTRA to get 'high priority' on all of its packets, then everyone wins. That's how I see it.

      To make this work, you'd have to limit the amount of traffic that can be high priority (let's say 20% of the maximum bandwidth that the pipe could possibly transfer). This way the theoretical maximum reduction in performance is only about 20% on NORMAL traffic, which is probably not going to be any different than real numbers in actual practice. The difference is that priority traffic gets to go FASTER. That's all. So, set the limits [like this] properly, and let the free market do the rest!

      1. Truckle The Uncivil

        Re: Trump appointments

        Your fail occurs when you do not consider that low quality customers require high quality connections - some of the time. I game. I game internationally. It is hard to compete with an extra half a second added to my reflex time. My comms is already 12 and a half percent of my gross income. If I get deteriorating ping times because of all the prioritising ISPs in the way, well I will not be able to be a gamer anymore.

        Any given user needs varied characteristics desired for different functions. Prioritisation belongs at a user level not ISP. When you make an app do you let the ISP decide whether you use UDP or TCP?

        The ISP job is to deliver packets and the only prioritisation should be from information in the packet headers.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The ISP job is to deliver packets

 a timely fashion, preferrably, but yes, that is exactly what I expect form my ISP.

          If some content provider finds itself fortunate enough to garner my prolonged attention, traffic to and from that provider would already be prioritized as far as I am concerned since I am bloody well connecting to it, and not sending requests for other content from other providers.

          Exactly like in your situation, when you are playing a game, you are not interested in other content, and would like to be exempt from sharing the bandwidth you have paid for with real money®, with the kind of fodder the average IP-shill corporation rents out to the sheeple.

          AC because it's the Internet, dammit.

  4. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Evidence based policy making

    Sounds like a good idea.

    Till of course the evidence does not say what the people who hired them wants it to.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Evidence based policy making

      Yes, "hey, this drug kills enough people, let's remove it from the market"....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Random thoughts....

    1) AFAIK, Denmark always had a better software development industry than Netherlands. Even before Internet and "apps". Beware of finding correlations when there may be none.

    2) Prioritizing packets which needs low-latency (i.e. voice) over packet that can allow more is OK - as long as it is done exactly on the type of services, not how much the customer is willingly to pay, or to promote own services against competitors. Same type of services should have the same priority, regardless of origin and destination. IMHO, that's what RFCs writers had in mind.

    3) Rules - as long as they are the same for everybody - don't impact innovation. Innovation is killed when monopolies are able to make a lot of money without innovating - and by rules that allows monopolies to run the game. People grown in countries where there were telco state monopolies know very well how little they innovated - there was really no reason to do so, money kept coming in.

    4) It's a matter of customer choice, I may prefer ISP A because it my area it's faster, but buy contents from B because I believe they are better. I don't want to be forced into "full packets".

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Random thoughts....

      Funnily enough, I know of significant software development in Holland** but I've never heard about anything from Denmark. I think it largely depends on what you call 'software development' and how a native industrial base may soak up available talent and so make it difficult to do small scale 'apps' development.

      (**Phillips Medical, for example. The software needed to drive a CAT scanner isn't something you'd develop in iOS or Android versions but its seriously fact I'd guess that its more complex than a typical social networking application.)(The Danes do nice beer, great cold cuts and stuff....but software?)

  6. Nolveys

    They banned things before harm could be proven, like the approach adopted by Chile, the Netherlands and Slovenia. Layton found that there was more digital application level innovation under neutrality regimes that allowed more experimentation.

    Specific examples that explain the pros and cons of both "hard" and "soft" neutrality in specific cases would be nice. The article seems to allude to a whole bunch of things but doesn't really say anything.

    "You get more locally made innovation under soft rules. Do many people use any Dutch apps? Traffic to apps made in the Netherlands has fallen, while in Denmark it has risen." She noted that Netflix had made Holland its European HQ and Netfix was involved in the policy-making that pre-emptively banned the zero-rating of rival HBO Go.

    That sounds like the kind of crony capitalism that Trump would want to be seen stamping on.

    Zero-rating strikes me as crony capitalism. Wouldn't granting a zero-rating to HBO Go give it an unfair advantage?

    They [net neutrality advocates] don't believe consumers can make their own choices.

    I don't think that most can, I mean, I know that I can't.

    I live in a country with some of the worst cellular data prices in the world. There are two cellular networks available in my area, one of which already attempted to zero-rate their netflix-a-like service (which was knocked down, due to net neutrality regulations). So, assuming the particular cellular company was on the level, sending netflix-a-like data over the cellular network costs effectively nothing while sending Netflix data costs a fortune.

    The above seems to suggest that the source of the scarcity that leads to exorbitant cellular data prices is not the cellular network, but the cellular network's internet connection. Assuming that the free market provides the best services at the lowest prices, why hasn't another company managed to marry the seemingly freely available cellular bandwidth with the somewhat reasonably-priced and high-speed internet service that's available to wired customers?

    Skimming the linked paper it seems that the argument for zero-rated services is that the free market should decide the shape of cellular "internet"* service. This seems to assume that there is a competitive market and that those who want unfiltered internet access at a reasonable and constant price per unit data used will be able to receive it by virtue of said market. The problem is that in many areas, particularly in sparsely-populated areas, there simply is no competitive market and virtually no hope for one to come into existence.

    Having had fairly extensive experience with the cellular companies available in my area I am 100% certain that they use their duopoly in the cellular market to attempt to create and enforce monopolies in other areas.

    I want nothing to do with software or data that's in any way specific to an ISP, a cellular provider or their partners. I have encountered ISP-specific email, web hosting, antivirus, router firmware, video service, etc in the past, they are almost universally of horrible quality. Cellular service companies and ISPs already have far too much power to influence or even force their clients to use inferior services. All I want from a service provider is to be able to purchase the transmission of a certain amount of data at a certain and reasonable price to and from an Internet service of my choosing.

    It turns out soft rules work better because you have the power of the carrot and stick,

    I assume that "you" refers to the government? I have almost no faith in my government when it comes to enforcing anything but hard-and-fast rules, I have even less in the US government.

    * "internet" is in quotes because the linked paper states that many people do not internet access at all and would instead prefer to just have access to specific services as provided by their cellular carriers.

    1. Ole Juul

      Who's interests?

      "I want nothing to do with software or data that's in any way specific to an ISP, a cellular provider or their partners."

      I couldn't agree more. I really get the the impression that Dr Roslyn Layton represents the interests of someone other than me.

  7. martinusher Silver badge

    Consumers for Sale

    The reason why net neutrality is pushed so hard in the US is that the track record of major US ISPs doesn't give people a lot of confidence that they would treat customers as anything other than income stream units, units to be bought and sold and hired out. Its bad enough at the moment but should they become able to interfere with the data stream then we can expect costs to spiral for end users.

    Incidentally, there's really no such thing as competition for broadband in the US. If you're really lucky you get a choice of two providers, usually its just the one.

  8. Fazal Majid

    Net Neutrality is actually the weaker option

    The article makes Net Neutrality sound like an extremist position. It is actually a milquetoast compromise. The real uncompromising position, that I fully endorse, is structural separation, i.e. that network providers are banned from participating in adjacent markets like apps, video services and the like. Network Neutrality violations are hard to prove and police, whereas removing the incentive for them to occur in the first place would be a far more effective.

    The biggest invention in telecom, automatic switching, was a consequence of Net Neutrality violations. Almon Brown Strowger was an undertaker, and his local telephone switchboard operator was the wife of his competitor, who would underhandedly direct his calls to her husband instead. Strowger retailiated by inventing the rotary automatic telephone switch, which would put her out of a job and make the network tamper-free (at least until software-based digital switches replaced electromechanical switches like Strowger's).

  9. pip25


    "Hard neutrality strengthens the incumbent. It makes it very difficult for a startup to compete with Netflix and Google(...)"

    Did she really just say that? Pardon my ignorance, but isn't net neutrality supposed to encourage startups competing with, let's say, Netflix, by forbidding "pay for bandwidth" deals which would basically shut them out of the net without proper bandwidth?

  10. John Sager


    As the article says, that's what the Internet should be. RFC791 is a bit outmoded now and has been replaced by Differentiated Services - RFC2474. It makes sense to classify traffic according to its characteristics and separate/prioritise on that basis. However the Net Neutrality debate has been hi-jacked by commercial entities & anti-commercial activists for their own political purposes. Unfortunately, what we'll probably end up with is a network with totally skewed parameters that don't suit anybody.

  11. Jonjonz

    The competition fallacy

    Yea great theory, if you are willing to accept the fallacy that most consumers have any choice when it comes to internet service. Anytime you have monopolies, without consumer oversight/regulation, your screwed. May be if we had competition in the internet service sector things could be different.

    1. GrapeBunch

      Re: The competition fallacy

      Neighbouring Canada has regulation (CRTC), and the result is also vaguely dissatisfying (going by my own experience and hearsay). We expect to pay more, because Canada, and we do. Here, owning cable TV or ISPs or a cell network is a "license to print money".

  12. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Dr Roslyn Layton...

    ...looks like Dana Scully before she got old and had plastic surgery to make her face even less expressive.

  13. PassiveSmoking

    I'm OK with this

    Because as far as I'm concerned it's the perfect field test of anti-net-neutrality advocates' claims in the wild. If everything is flowers and rainbows then fine, no problem. If it's not (which given the long and inglorious history of the relationship between American-branded capitalism and its vict^H^H^H^H customers seems far more likely to me) then it will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of the world who can then avoid going down that route. Who cares what happens to a bunch of Americans in the meantime? They're just the lab rats as far as I'm concerned. It might even teach them a valuable lesson about just how powerful and dangerous a vote really can be in the hands of the ignorant.

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