back to article When 'Saving The Internet' means 'Saving Crony Capitalism'

Entering the BBC today to talk about the net neutrality protests “supported by Amazon and Netflix and others”, I had a dilemma. How in three minutes can you give viewers worldwide a perspective which conveys that the motivations are valid – American fixed-line broadband is pretty rubbish – but what we were witnessing was the …

  1. Baldrickk

    Utility vs Service

    The author of this article is characterising this as a war to define who the bill is paid to, but that seems to be a little odd to me.

    The fundamental issue I am having with understanding this is that I see the two sides as different. One is infrastructure, and the other is a service provider, that operates at a different level.

    In theory, the infrastructure costs should be 'fixed' - in that all you are shovelling down the physical connection is bits and bytes, what they represent shouldn't mean anything at the infrastructure level - it's just transport.

    The same way that a road is uncaring as to whether the lorry passing over it is filled with coal, or the equivalent mass of bottled water.

    (Of course it might be more comparable to a toll road, where the more you use it, the more you pay, instead of just paying your road tax each year, in which case it would be pro-rata, not fixed)

    It therefore shouldn't matter whether a user is watching youtube, or netflix, or just browsing the news, there shouldn't be an additional charge from the infrastructure for carrying those bits, just because of what they represent.

    Or at least, that's my understanding of it. Exactly how that maps onto Title I or Title II I'm a little fuzzy on, as I understand it, neither are a great fit, but Title II is closer to that ideal?

    1. DZ-Jay

      Re: Utility vs Service

      First, the Title I vs. Title II argument is a bit like wanting to tax horses and oxen for being employed to do work. If the argument is "they are beasts of burden, therefore we cannot tax them because the tax code does not support taxing animals"; the solution surely must not be to declare that horses are people. Sure, it may seem expedient, and by doing so at a stroke you enable all sorts of regulations you thought would be useful; but it carries with it a host of implications that should never ever apply in the first place.

      The correct response, should there were one, is to demand from Congress a change in the law to account for cultural and technological changes which may have given owners of beasts of burden an unwarranted or undeserved benefit or advantage.

      Likewise, changing the classification of ISP's to "Common Carrier" (a definition mostly made and applicable to a kind of technology available at some historical point in time) for the sake of being able to regulate them, is problematic and even nonsensical at some levels. As Mr. Orlowski has suggested in the past, the correct response is not to call your Web Browser a "telephone," or your Internet service a "broadcast TV signal," but to demand from Congress changes in law to support and regulate this brave new technological world upon us.

      So that's the problem with the Title definition. Now, on to the analogy you offered.

      Sure, the government should not care whether your lorry carries bricks or lumber; but it does care whether it carries people or things, whether it is small or large, and whether it weighs one or 40 tonnes. The point is that there are indeed classifications for vehicles by class and use, and there are distinct regulations for each. Some roads may not even permit a lorry to drive through -- and this is all by design.

      So it is, in a fashion, with Internet service: although the government or the carrier, or the pipe should not care about the content of the message that the bits carry; they all should care about the class of message contained in those bits. Just like lorries, a movie delivery stream requires more bandwidth, higher quality of service, and faster transmission speeds than, say, a slow poke e-mail or Tweet. In turn, a video conference service requires even more resource and expediency in order to be truly useful.

      These are resources incurred by the transport, the pipes, and the roads -- and those responsible of managing them. Who pays for that is the BIG QUESTION that everybody is trying to phrase to their own advantage. We all agree that it needs to be regulated, but again, just calling it a telephone or a CableTV broadcast for the sake of giving it _some_ regulation is shortsighted, impractical, and inadequate.

      Those fighting for "net neutrality" want to paint everything in black-and-white terms: you are either for or against it; you either want to "save the Internet" or "kill it in a fire." This is disingenuous and misses the nature of the problem. It also masks the motivations of those pushing such an agenda: to avoid REAL regulation of the industry and to have someone else pay for the resources required by the nature of their services. The parties at BOTH sides of the issue (i.e., the pipe owners and the application service providers) are guilty of this, and we should all know better.


      1. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Utility vs Service

        I think your analogies have a lot of value, but the issue gets a lot muddier than they imply. Yes, it makes sense for 40 ton vehicles to have different rules of the road than 2 ton ones. But we're in a situation where some of the vehicles are operated by the people who also make the rules of the road, and they want their 40 ton trucks to have a higher speed limit than everyone else's. The fear isn't so much that content might be billed or routed based on class of content; it's that it will be routed based on *origin*, to enforce monopolies. Comcast would MUCH rather I used their streaming video service instead of watching Netflix, for example.

        1. DZ-Jay

          Re: Utility vs Service

          In other words, we agree that regulation is needed. What we may disagree on is that reclassifying as "Title II" is the correct regulatory approach.

          I agree with Mr. Orlowski: we need Congree to change the law and be specific, and to give it "teeth." What we do not need is to contort the existing non-applicable and inadequate laws just for the sake of "doing something." This invariably results in advantages to some party over another.


      2. Daggerchild Silver badge

        Re: Utility vs Service

        "they all should care about the class of message contained in those bits" - ... eh? Why?

        The lorry analogy breaks down if Netflix are already paying per byte to push their traffic into the Internet. The costs are already perfectly and inescapably proportional to the 'wear on the roads'. Is someone saying they aren't?

        QoS might be worth discussing, but only for live video/audio, as nothing else needs it (including Netflix), but nobody's really talking about that (although perhaps they should). That doesn't leave much else on the table.

        I thought the net neutrality debate was fairly straightforward. It's this:

        Yes, you have other streaming providers, but if you use them, we'll bill you a feckton. Your decision. Feel free to compete for customers who get electroshock if they try and leave us.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Utility vs Service

          As a US Internet consumer in a former life (part of a company with a large number of sales offices across the US), the major challenges that we hit were:

          1. in many locations outside of big cities (and even in some big cities) you had the choice of one provider and what they offered was awful. Typically the reason for the poor choice was local government arrangements with cable companies and/or telcos creating monopolies.

          2. newer ISP's struggling to provide sufficient interconnect bandwidth with incumbent providers. i.e. Cogent's challenges

          3. the difficulties around getting new providers into buildings we were using. This is largely down to local regulations and business practices.

          Most of the net neutrality debate, point (2) is presented as the cause of the problems when, from a consumer point of view, point (1) is the major issue that actually harms the majority US Internet users. If the monopoly on local loop access was lifted or if at least the minimum speed provided was increased and fees for the minimum service levels capped (including extras like wifi routers etc), the increased competition would lead to point (2) being addressed by an actual market. The monopolies on terrible service are the issue...

          Point (2) is largely a contractual issue - companies can sort it out but choose not to to impede their competitors. While this harms consumers, I see the solutions also harming the Internet as QoS can be useful and the rules will likely favour the larger companies that can afford to pay for the bandwidth by passing the costs onto their locked in customers.

          If you are in an area in the US which is well served by fixed line Internet (i.e. 50Mbps+ for under US$50 or better), I can see why you want net neutrality but the majority of the US has sub-12Mbps fixed line Internet access for US$100/month once you bundle in the modem/router, wifi and phone and opt for mobile Internet access instead. As the majority of mobile users are with the large telcos anyway, point (2) doesn't really affect them...

          1. Orv Silver badge

            Re: Utility vs Service

            I think the problem with local loop access comes down to all that infrastructure being privately owned. A competitor is faced with building out their own from scratch -- it's kind of a natural monopoly. Even when they try (as Google Fiber did), they run into another problem -- the poles are also privately owned, and the existing monopolies have legal arrangements that do a pretty good job making it impractical for people to attach new wires to them. Short of running another set of poles down the other side of the street, or digging up every street in town, it just isn't going to happen.

            Now, phone companies were required to unbundle their local loops some time back. But that was a) in a much different regulatory environment that's unlikely to happen any time soon, and b) often ineffective -- competing providers were often either billed unsustainably high fees, or simply had their installation requests slow-walked. (A friend in Southern Bell territory once had a DSL installation ticket for a 3rd party ISP open for over a year before giving up. Somehow Southern Bell just never got around to hooking him up.)

            This is why various terrestrial wireless systems are being looked to as potential saviors. So far capacity problems and low data caps have made those pretty much a last resort.

        2. DZ-Jay

          Re: Utility vs Service

          Let's be clear: a lot of those "loopholes" and inconsistencies stem from using an inadequate legal framework to deal with this issue. It is really not only about QoS or "wear and tear" of the pipes, or pricing, or accessibility. It's about myriad things that affect the entire Internet usage of consumers.

          You are right, it is a complex issue with many facets and needs to be considered carefully to protect consumers and level the market. That means we need new laws and regulations specific for the Internet and its related services.

          The problem is that saying you are either "pro-" or "anti-net neutrality" means absolutely jack shit. That's like arguing you are "pro-" or "anti-regulation" or "pro-" or "anti-equal rights" or "pro-good" or "anti-evil," when arguing about the nuances of specific statutes. It's not constructive. I am neither, or both, depending on the specific argument being discussed.

          Of course I want to lower prices for consumers. Of course I want to improve services. Of course I want to enable future creative uses and business models. Of course I want a fair market place with healthy competition. However, I do not agree that changing classification of ISP's brings those things or at least not in the best or most practical way.

          You can call me "anti-net neutrality," but that obscures the fact that we are on the same side and have the same ultimate goals. Moreover, it pits us against each other which is absolutely convenient to the corporate greedy interests, since as long as you and I are arguing over this, we are not coordinating to pressure Congress to change the law in our favour. This is one of Mr. Orlowski's observations, and as I said before, we should know better.


  2. Paul Woodhouse


    The whole thing is about as spontaneous as the Theresa May Joke Book.


    I need a new keyboard

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Spot on.

    As an American reading from American tech news websites side-by-side with El Reg, you can see a marked difference in the tone and enthusiasm for net neutrality on the opposite sides of the pond. And yet for all the excitement and buzz in the headlines, it definitely seems hollow to me, almost alarmingly so.

    I remember when the SOPA protests resulted in blackouts across the web. Nowadays for those sites participating it's just minimal banners and maybe an article or two that explains net neutrality.

    Not a single one of these American sites participating in the "activism" explain at all how signing a petition online translates to a meaningful change in the government. Nobody is talking about the massive electoral fraud that squelched Sanders and led to Trump winning. Nobody is talking about how to cause Ajit Pai to lose money from this, even though we know that money is the only language that Pai speaks. Nobody is talking about how to scare the shit out of your congressmen and force them to create a Title II bill that usurps the power from the FCC.

    Celebrate freedom by posting your opinion on a petition that nobody will read, meanwhile the government conducts all its business behind closed doors anyway. 'Murica.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Spot on.

      It's not that people aren't talking, it's that they're not talking to each other.

      Let's say you organize for agenda X, who do you talk to with motivation? Notice it is billion dollar corporations doing the communication, the ones that own the communication?

      Don't get me wrong, but if you want to organize and talk about passing new laws on paper, sorry, MegaCorp. doesn't allow that anymore. I'm getting tired of people stating I'm too cynical, especially when the worst of the truth even shows. If I wear a tinfoil hat, these people wear blind folds and ear plugs.

      The issue you describe isn't IT exclusive, but we can keep TALKING about what ever, freedom of speech isn't diluted yet.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smash the monopolies

    But first yanks need to learn what a monopoly is.

    (Spoiler: It's the European definition)

    1. Jedit Silver badge

      Re: Smash the monopolies

      If we're going to play Smash The Monopoly, I want to be the boot.

      And no arguments about how in your family it's the top hat, please.

  5. captain_solo

    If you follow the money, Net Neutrality is about innovative content providers being allowed to continue piggybacking on the common carriers without pulling their own weight on the cost side of infrastructure and last mile delivery - the reason cable companies rates for connectivity and bandwidth was "cheap" was they were subsidising it with their existing market dominance on content. It's difficult for them to adjust their prices because they got everyone used to low internet connection costs bundled with cable/content which was where they made boatloads of cash.

    I'm no fan of the cable/phone providers, but Google/Facebook/Amazon/Netflix have as much traffic flowing through their infrastructure and should be regulated by many of the same laws as the Internet Cable providers if consumers are actually going to be protected from anti-competetive practices.

    Basically supporting net neutrality as it exists today is just choosing which variety of multi-national unaccountable corporate welfare queen you want raping you.

    1. fredfs


      Piggybacking is how modern economies work -- no extra payments are required. You could just as easily say that it is the ISPs who are piggybacking on external content and services. Few would pay $60/mo or more for broadband if it weren't for the wider internet.

    2. Munchausen's proxy

      "Net Neutrality is about innovative content providers being allowed to continue piggybacking on the common carriers without pulling their own weight on the cost side of infrastructure and last mile delivery"

      The problem is -- well, A problem is -- wait let me start again -- among our problems is the fact that cable TV companies in the U.S. for mostly historical reasons now, have very strong regulation-mandated monopolies throughout the communities they serve. And it is entirely disingenuous to conflate "common carriers" with cable TV providers. Net neutrality is all about making them behave like common carriers.

      What I mean is, in many if not most local communities, it IS NOT POSSIBLE for a content provider to legally pull their own weight by providing their own infrastructure. Whichever TV provider owns the franchise has a monopoly on "cables to the houses", mandated by the local city council or state legislature. Any content provider who wants to "pull their own weight" could only do it by paying the

      TV company whatever amount the TV company demands.

      That, in a nutshell, is what the Net Neutrality argument is about -- Does Comcast decide what websites you can usefully connect to? The alternative is to repeal the thousands of local ordinances that currently give Comcast that power, or alternatively, mandate that Comcast transport bytes at a non-discriminatory price for all comers.

      Do we want an internet and a TV viewing system, or just the TV?

  6. VicMortimer

    Seriously? People are buying this garbage?

    If nothing else, the opposite of net neutrality is double dipping. I pay Comcrap for a connection to the internet. Anything that comes down that pipe is something that I have already paid Comcrap to transport.

    Now what they want to do is charge the other end of the connection too. The site sending me content paid for their connection to the net. I paid for mine. Now Comcrap wants to charge not only their customers, but their non-customers too.

    Yeah, Amazon and Google and Netflix are in favor of net neutrality. Yeah, they have a financial interest in it.

    But that doesn't mean it's not also the right thing to do.

    1. edge_e

      That's pretty much my take on it too. The problem, as I see it, is that ISPs don't charge their customers enough to cover their costs. In the UK, you can probably trace this back to Freeserve.

    2. patrickstar

      Huh? The site you are accessing (or their network provider if they don't run that part themselves) might very well already be paying Comcast for peering if they don't qualify for a settlement-free peering agreement. Either because they want to deliver bits to Comcast more efficiently, or because doing it that way is cheaper than sending it over their transit. Or both.

    3. hnwombat

      This, absolutely and completely. Amazon, Netflix, etc. pay a ton for their connectivity to the net, proportional to the bytes they push. I pay a much smaller amount, proportional to the bytes I receive. I am paying for n packets per second, as are they. That's correct use-based pricing. What the non-neutrality folks want is to have a high-cost toll road where you pay to enter *and* to leave, and then stop maintenance on the public-supported road.

      The truck analogy fails badly because Netflix's packets are no more heavy than the packets from my mom-n-pop video site. Netflix has more *volume*, because their rate is faster, and they pay for that. But no individual packet is heavier.

      Feh. The whole thing is absurd. The goal of anti-net-neutrality is, as the previous poster said, simply double-dipping. A pox on all their houses.

  7. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    That article you link to by David Lowery

    That article you link to is clumsily written, and shows a total bias against the concept of net neutrality. It's also obviously written by a hard right wing conservative, even though there was no need to bring left-right politics into it.

    It starts off by saying that his point is valid, because this argument isn't actually about net neutrality, and starts to explain how. This argument soon unravels until eventually giving up and attacking the merits of net neutrality directly. The "evil google/facebook" etc. argument could have worked, but was shown to be a smoke screen.

    And who can pass by this golden nougat:

    Fight for the Future looks like a groovy progressive internet civil rights group. They even have a transgender spokesperson!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...They even have a transgender spokesperson!...

      Taking neutrality to a whole new level.

  8. Borg.King

    You get what you pay for

    I pay more to my internet provider than my neighbors so I can get data from the internet quicker than them. I like having that choice.

    If a company will be more successful by paying more to get their data to me quicker than their competition, then that's part of their business strategy and operating costs.

    The extra income paid to the internet providers will also help their bottom line, and could reduce the rate my personal costs increase.

    1. John1918

      Re: You get what you pay for

      I wanted to post a thoughtful comment on this post, I really did, but then I read.

      "could reduce the rate my personal costs increase"

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

    2. Orv Silver badge

      Re: You get what you pay for

      The question is how do you prevent Internet providers, which are effectively monopolies, from squeezing out competition in favor of their own services? Most cable companies have pay-per-view systems that are inferior to the competition, but if they slow-walk the competition's packets or demand extravagant fees, they can effectively force you to use them.

    3. SImon Hobson

      Re: You get what you pay for

      I pay more to my internet provider than my neighbors so I can get data from the internet quicker than them. I like having that choice.

      That's great - though I gather a lot of US people don't have that choice - but is NOT in any way related to "net neutrality".

      If a company will be more successful by paying more to get their data to me quicker than their competition, then that's part of their business strategy and operating costs.

      And therein lies the problem.

      If you are someone the size of (say) Goobble, or Farcebork, or ... then when you come to negotiate with the likes of ComCrap (as someone above called them) you are in a strong position. ComCrap knows that it needs such companies - it knows very well that the bulk of it's customer just will not accept slow or no access to those service. In fact, if you are one of the few biggest outfits like these, then you probably won't be paying anything at all - you might even counter-threat ComCrap that you'll cut off their customers if they don't pay you !

      But suppose you are some new startup, you've got a great idea, and you're sure it'll take off once people can use it. So you go online and start for the customers to start coming to you ... But before long you find that you are getting more "it's crappily slow" reports than you are getting satisfied users. After some investigation, you find that ComCrap have throttled your traffic - so you contact ComCrap to ask what's going on. At this point, you realise that ComCrap don't give a crap about you or their users - they tell you what you will pay them to unthrottle your traffic (a lot more than anyone else) and your negotiating power is to accept that or walk away. So there you are, trying to get a new service going, while being "asked" to pay massively more than what the big guys are paying - and all the time knowing that someone like Goobble will not think twice in setting up their own version of the service if they think it'll make them money.

      Being a startup, you can't afford to pay the mob's (ComCrap and the like) "protection money" - so your service gets a reputation for being slow. When Goobble launches it's competing service, they get full speed (because they are already paying, but a fraction of what you were asked to pay) and so all your customers defect.

      It may also be that your service competes with something ComCrap offers - and in that case, ComCrap is going to throttle your traffic deliberately to make it's own service "better" and make sure that users don't go to your competing service.

      So the idea of net neutrality is to ensure that all providers get to use the tubes in a fair manner. What it doesn't do is say that anyone should get a "free ride". You will have to pay a service provider to get your bits into the tubes at your end - and the more traffic you send, the more you will find yourself paying. ComCrap's customers are already paying ComCrap to cary the bits they consume, you are paying your ISP for the bits your send - having ComCrap charge you is double dipping, charging two people for the same traffic !

  9. Bruce Ordway


    I still can't tell if he is saying net neutrality is good or bad.

    Or just us telling us to give up because of the powerful groups who have a special interest in the outcome?

    The author is definitely entertaining and accomplished at debating issues but... I get the feeling he really only cares about is being controversial.

    1. DZ-Jay

      Re: Funding...

      You may want to follow the author's links to read his previous comments on the issue.

      His position on the debate is quite clear, he just didn't seem to wish to rehash that on this article, because it's purpose was more to comment on the hypocrisy of the "net neutrality" campaigns being carried out today. This is why it's marked as "COMMENT," when in the past most of his articles are tagged as "EDITORIAL" or "OPINION."

      My interpretation of Mr. Orlowski's position, which I share to some degree is:

      - The market for Internet services, both for access and for usage, is broken and the parties involved are playing political tricks to get their way at the expense of the other -- but mostly at the expense of the American consumer.

      - Because of this, we need Government intervention to set new regulation.

      - Such regulation needs to be adequate and apply specifically to the aspects and uses of the current technology involved and consider implications on the impact they have on the evolving digital marketplace.

      - That the FCC has proven itself incapable of preparing or enforcing such regulation due to either incompetence, corruption, legal constraints or jurisprudence -- or any and all of the above.

      - That using the "Title" classification was a "hack" in order to give the FCC some powers to regulate the industry -- using legal tools created for a completely different industry using a completely different enabling technology; and therefore inadequate.

      - That both sides of the fight are obfuscating all of this by reducing the argument to very simplistic "double-dipping," "highway-toll," "pro- vs. anti-net neutrality," or "us vs. them" scenarios; which is not constructive, it's in fact divisive, and serves to pit the actual consumers against their own interests.

      Mr. Orlowski can correct me if I'm wrong, but this is my understanding of the arguments posed in his articles for the past several years.


      1. hnwombat

        Re: Funding...

        That's all lovely. The problem is, that the American system is now so corrupt that any new regulation would probably be even worse than Title II. *IF* it could even be passed. Most American legislation is now, and has been for years, written by the corporations.

        America is not a democracy (actually, it never has been; but it's no longer even the republic that it was supposed to be). It's an oligarchy, run by the very rich for the benefit of the very rich (there is, IIRC, a Harvard study that confirms this; maybe Yale).

        The best chance the American public has for decent non-oligarchic control of the internet is Title II.

        To pretend anything else is to assume that one lives in a fantasy world where legislation that actually protects consumers happens. While Title II is certainly not optimal, it is the best possible realistic choice.

        (And yes, I am American, have been politically active most of my life, and decided to chuck it all as a lost cause when I turned 50 and moved to France. Permanently.)

  10. kameko

    Wow, it's almost like corporations spend money to provide services that customers want! Who could have thought it, what a novel concept, that corporations see value in using their money to make people happy and provide a more stable and convenient platform for providing other services. I just can't believe it. It's never dawned on me before. Thanks El Reg, I have a whole new view on life. As a suggestion for your next article, I think you should expose how people eat food when they're hungry to provide nutrients to their body. Nobody's ever really called that out before.

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: kameko

      You've gone full cynic. Never go full cynic.

      (We're just reminding folks that it's not the black and white, red v blue, binary situation pro and anti-NN campaigners would have you believe.)


      1. MNGrrrl

        Re: kameko

        On behalf of an avid american reader of el reg, thanks for providing some much needed perspective. I'm not a cynic -- where there is life, there is hope. But I will say this -- our country has some serious problems in the role of media in our society. Our democracy is one in name only. America's business is business -- and it's literally killing us slowly. Our infrastructure is rotting just like our health care is -- life expectancy has tipped the other way now.

        I worry if this trend continues, the economics of the situation will create a very dangerous situation. I'm looking at what happened in Turkey after their economy collapsed and I see very uncomfortable parallels between what happened there, who came to power (and how), and the reaction of the international community when the economic reforms programs were halted or stalled out. That's how democracies fail. We've seen it before, and I fear within my lifetime we may see it here as well.

  11. This is my handle

    OMG! Could it be any slower???!!

    You mean the internet is supposed to be even slower today than yesterday!??? I was WFH yesterday in Chicago and every single time I hit a URL for the first time I initially got a DNS failure, followed a second or so later by resolution. Please tell me El Reg is on vacation in Singapore or somewhere the date is the 13th, and the *Day of slowness* (which I am actually just hearing of!) happened YESTERDAY!

  12. jamesb2147

    Title II is OK

    At least, as long as Congress isn't doing its job.

    The key factors being that services *should* be unbundled, rates *should* be regulated such that copper owners don't disadvantage copper renters, and physical maintenance *should* be regulated to ensure (again) copper owners don't disadvantage copper renters. This is all to say that net neutrality *should* be a moot discussion because users should be free to choose between a competitive marketplace of providers over what limited physical infrastructure is available.

    Until such time as that happens, we're treating internet as if it is *not* a utility. Hint: It is a utility, just not in the same way as water.

  13. zanshin

    Much of the argument as presented by those lobbying is, as is so often the case, presented as a choice between false dichotomies.

    What needs to be regulated here is not so much the speed at which we get to enjoy our streaming or downloads, but the opportunity for monopoly behavior by mammoth incumbents who use their size to create vertical or horizontal integration that restricts competition.

    In my view, the only valid argument for anything like what people are calling "net neutrality" maps well to the case the EU is making against Google: that it abused its dominance in search to drive customers to its own non-search products at the expense of competing services from other providers.

    Translating that to the basic form of what "net neutrality" *ought* to be about, it means that companies like, say, Hulu (to pick a non-FANG company) should feel secure that their service will not be given inadequate treatment by an infrastructure carrier, like Comcast, who also streams their own, in-house content. It's not that there's no conceivable justification for Comcast charging Hulu, but rather that any charges need to be fair and reasonable, and should not be designed to cause structural disadvantage to Hulu relative to Comcast's own streaming services. This is particularly important when the carriers represent an oligopoly or near-monopoly, as they do in the US, since a Hulu has no real choice but to deal with them if they want access to huge parts of the US market.

    The idea that protections anti-competitive behavior by carriers requires "treating all traffic the same" is an abuse of the reality that most people have no idea how internet traffic works, or that different types of internet traffic have different quality of service requirements, sometimes by design.

    There are other distortions at play as well. Conservatives often hate government regulation, and I think there's merit in the idea that Title II classification for internet carriers is, at best a square peg in a round hole. But there's a difference in not wanting the wrong regulation (or too much "correct" regulation) and wanting no regulations at all. Truly "free markets" are a pipe dream - you *always* need some degree backstop against the human tendency towards greed. Time and time again we've seen that when left to their devices, people will relentlessly converge on maximizing short-term personal/corporate profit at the expense of the broader community. (The phrase "this is why we can't have nice things" comes to mind.) So the question should not be whether we need protections, but what form they should take, and who should be responsible for ensuring companies adhere to them in this case (FTC? FCC?). It would be nice if whoever it was wasn't stacked with friends to the industries they supposedly regulate, but that seems to be a perennial issue.

    It doesn't help that, of late, so many of our political parties are highly polarized, and seem more interested in tearing each other down than in actually getting anything done. Compound this with the sides in the "net neutrality" fight in the US seemingly aligning along those partisan divisions in their lobbying efforts and you have a recipe for misinformation, dramatization and, ultimately, failure to really get anything useful done.

    1. Palpy

      RE: "When saving..."

      Well said. Cold one for you.

      The article's author wondered why, if users are upset, they aren't holding 'switch parties". In my part of the country, switch to what? You can switch back and forth between one company offering DSL on phone copper, and the other offering cable. They charge the virtually same. Oligopoly in fact.

      I have no objection to paying for bandwidth used, really. I do have an objection to paying for bandwidth not delivered, either because the provider oversold the backbone, or because -- and this is relevant -- because the provider is giving priority routing to their own content.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comparison with tobacco lawsuits

    Those took over 30 years to happen after the Surgeon General determined that tobacco was deadly, and many years before that where many people believed it but it hadn't yet been proven.

    If the internet companies waited for consumers to act, that would be a long wait. We'd also have to live without net neutrality and seeing abuses (because why would the public care if it is all rosy with no regulation needed like the ISPs claim it will be) for a few decades first!

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Local loop unbundling would of course mean the equivalnet of Openreach being formed.


    1. SImon Hobson

      Re: Local loop unbundling would of course mean the equivalnet of Openreach being formed.

      Not necessarily.

      AIUI New Zealand went for LLU some time ago - but they went "all in" and forced a complete split between the business of providing the connections to premises and the business of providing services over those connections. That's something that the latest changes (forcing OpenReach to be a legally separate entity from BT) still doesn't match.

      Going only from what ElReg commentards write here, it sounds like that has resulted in their equivalent of our OpenRetch being free to innovate without being constrained as our OpenRetch is - it's clear that a lot of OpenRetch policies were designed to protect BT from too much competition.

      Ultimately, providing that "last mile" is a natural monopoly. If you are building a housing estate - no-one would expect multiple companies to come in an built competing road networks, build multiple competing electricity distribution networks, multiple competing drainage networks, and so on. No, people expect one set of roads, one set of lecky supply, one set of drains, and so on.

      It's been shown time and time again that, except for some limited circumstances, it just isn't practical and cost effective to built a competing last mile network. So you have to rely on one company to build one network, and allow all service providers to use that network on fair and equal terms. If that one company is tied to the incumbent service provider in opaque ways that allow that incumbent to direct how the company operates and innovates - that's when you see the sort of problems people complain about with OpenRetch.

      1. patrickstar

        Re: Local loop unbundling would of course mean the equivalnet of Openreach being formed.

        Natural monopoly my ass.

        Here, in the big cities you can frequently choose between several different fiber plants to hook up your building.

        And when you only havve one choice, this is generally an open network where you either can rent dark fiber to your heart's content, or it's lit but you can choose who should deal with your traffic.

        1. SImon Hobson

          Re: Local loop unbundling would of course mean the equivalnet of Openreach being formed.

          The interesting part being that most of the world isn't in "the big cities". It only works in the big cities, and not even in all of them, and in all of each big city.

          My nearest "big city" is 100 miles away, and I don't think much of that is serviced by multiple fibre networks.

          1. patrickstar

            Re: Local loop unbundling would of course mean the equivalnet of Openreach being formed.

            Of course your connectivity options are going to be worse in a sparsely populated area, just like your options for everything else.

            You claimed that 'last mile' was a natural monopoly, without any additional information except mentioning provision of service to a 'housing estate', which to me at the very least implies that it's not a single farm in the boondocks.

            You also claimed that noone would line up to provide multiple competing options for a housing estate, or atleast that having multiple last mile providers wouldn't be practical in the majority of cases.

            Atleast here, and in other countries where most of the population live in/near cities, this certainly isn't the case.

            There are even some very poor countries where you'd be surprised to find several providers line up to hook up your building even when only a small part of the population can afford any sort of permanent internet access. The situation as to whether it makes fiscal sense to build a competing network certainly isn't worse in a country where most/all of the population can afford it.

            Last mile service isn't any more of a "natural monopoly" than cellphone/mobile broadband service. In fact even less so, since there's considerably more room for competing providers in the ground/on poles than in the radio spectrum.

            Fun fact: In the early days (early 20th century) of landline phone service, there were actually several different competing private networks here. It wasn't until years later that the government decided to form a legal monopoly to take over the networks built by private companies and forbid anyone from building a new one. So even back then last mile service wasn't a natural monopoly.

  16. Mark 85

    Changing providers is a solution?

    So switching providers is a tool to change this if I read it rightly. Only en masse, not just one person but whole neighborhoods. Well, that might work where's there a good choice but here in much of the States, there is no choice. You have a provider (usually a cable company). One.. not two. The alternative is the phone company and their offering... DSL which is dead dog slow.

    1. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Changing providers is a solution?

      And that's in the city, in recently built neighborhoods. In old ones the infrastructure can only support so many DSL connections, and when that limit is reached, anyone else wanting to get hooked up is out of luck.

  17. Jim-234

    The problem is to the greatest extent with lying greedy cable & telephone companies

    The cable and telephone companies like to try to spread this lie that somehow the content providers are not "paying their share" it is pretty much a fat lie.

    The reason the internet is popular is because there are places to go to, things to do and the like.

    One of the great problems with the Telco stock crash of 2000/2001 in the USA was that there was not enough content available to bring in enough users of that content to be willing to pay enough to build out the infrastructure.

    Now there is plenty of content, plenty of demand and lots of users. However the cable and telephone companies are stuck in the past, refusing to innovate and desperately trying to cling to the old monopoly model of doing the least for the most possible billing to both sides when you can get away with it. Matched with the standard "customer service" that is it's own hell where you can't cancel, change or get any help with anything other than "give us even more money forever".

    What we need is more of a clean sweep of the laws that the cable and telephone companies have put in place to restrict competition and force them to properly open up, tell the truth to their customers & stop blocking better service.

    If you want good internet then the first thing we need is true competition.

    That means NO laws restricting cities / counties / governments / companies / organizations from setting up internet service for anyone anywhere.

    Require service providers to actually list to the customer how much bandwidth they have total at each point in their network and at max load of all their subscribers online, how much bandwidth would be available to each subscriber from each point.

    Require sign up and cancellation of services to be equally as quick and be able to be done without pressure and in a straight forward manner online as well as over the telephone.

    Require exact price listings for exactly how much data you will be allowed to use at a base bundled price & how much additional data costs & legislate that the additional data costs must closely match the price that it actually costs the carrier.

    Require data service to be offered without the need to bundle any other services & each added service must be listed as a separate option on the bill & removing or adding one cannot change the price of the others. Each service must be easily cancelled without pressure or delay or other

    Legislate that the customer can use their data however they want at full speed and it is unlawful to artificially slow down, restrict or hinder lawful data traffic.

    Now it would be perfectly fine for the cable and telephone companies to make deals with content providers to provide faster access by co-locating cache servers inside their own network etc., as well as providing the option to bundle extra content provider subscriptions with your bill if you wish to do so (much as Amazon and Hulu let you add other pay channels as well), they could even make providers that they co-locate servers for not count towards data usage as long as it is done in an open transparent manner and does not restrict choice and cancelling or adding services is quick and easy both online & over the phone without hindrance.

  18. Howard Hanek


    Alex I'll take Communications for a hundred......

  19. MNGrrrl

    I tried posting this on Reddit in a few places and (of course) it was rapidly buried. The hardest part of getting played, is losing your dignity. Nobody wants to admit they were played like a fiddle. That's what's happened here, and this isn't about which side of the debate you're on -- the finances are shady as f*ck. It's like finding out your charity for sick children was being funded largely by the KKK. It's a kick in the balls nobody wants to admit to.

  20. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "If Pepsi Co launched a “day of protest” and wanted to enlist your help to weaken regulation"

    Oh $DEITY, it's back-to-front time again. Net neutrality is strengthening regulation. It's everyone playing by the same rules, not bandwidth sold to the highest corporate bidder that quarter meaning people will never see your video without buffering unless it's on YouTube.

    (Obligatory addition, as is so often necessary: QoS is not anti-net neutrality, it's setting the technical rules by which things are transported so they arrive at their destination in the most useful way for the user otherwise whatever it is being transported it's just wasted bandwidth. E-mail doesn't need to be realtime, games do, audio and video needs to not buffer every 10 seconds, interactive terminal sessions need to be interactive.)

  21. captain_solo

    The real issue here is that Title II does not equal net neutrality. We basically here have a government body using powers it doesn't have to solve a problem that doesn't exist by applying a law from the early 1900's written to address the Ma Bell system.

    The real reason Netflix,Facebook,Google,Amazon are on board with this is not just to fight the cable companies, but to make it harder for the next Netflix,Facebook,Google,or Amazon to come at them. In the process, it eliminated the ability of the consumer protection agency to deal with the cable companies and set up a perfect scenario where they can lobby the FCC to help them raise prices as well as collect new fees that were formerly not applied to internet providers.

    If there is a threat to the freedom of the internet it is by regulations from the FCC and other governments more than from companies who have an interest in the continuing innovation and growth of the market.

    When Google and the rest stop funding academics to argue that "neutrality" is sensible for carriers but not for them, and agree that "neutrality" is good for everyone including search providers and internet services, I will consider their position, but I still don't think FCC regulation of the internet is the fix we are looking for, its just adding another problem, likely a more serious one when considering the freedom and innovation made possible by the internet.

  22. steelyw

    Well that's derptastic

    TL;DR: Net neutrality is bad because the companies that stand to lose the most if net neutrality ends are organizing opposition to attempts to end net neutrality. Bonus round: There's no way an idea can be good or bad on its own; an idea can only be judged by the people that support it.

    Call us when A) Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc. support net neutrality and B) you accept that ideas have their own pros and cons apart from support or opposition.

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