Save The Internet. Why? And For Whom?

31 Comments

Net activists have launched a Save the Internet campaign, hoping to build a grass roots groundswell in order to maintain the status quo over network neutrality.

You can read about the reasons in great detail here or simply watch a two minute video here to get a sense of why network neutrality effects everyone.

I admire the work being done by the activists, but I have some what will be unpopular observations. For instance, the campaign has a very US centric view of the Internet, especially at a time when the global Internet is becoming bigger and bigger. Shouldn’t the campaign be, Save The US Internet – after all most of the problems are very US centric.


While the campaign tries to reach out to Joe & Jane Citizen, the leading web companies are not taking the issue seriously. In reality they should be reaching out to Silicon Valley. Everytime I have a chat with folks in the Valley, there seems to be little awareness of this issue.

Similarly, the start-ups that are most likely to affected seem to be in the dark as well. Niall and I have discussed this time and again in our pod sessions. And its the big web companies who have to step up and state their position on this issue, and not just pay lip service.

Word from sources in Congress say that the major companies arguing for network neutrality have failed so far to demonstrate they are seriously committed to seeing legislation passed. While the CEO’s from the Bell companies, we were told, glad-handed members of Congress, leading online companies have been largely MIA. [ from Jeff Chester’s Democratic Media]

These companies are fighting a battle against highly organized phone companies, who use their immense knowledge of legislative procedure as a competitive strategy. The real innovation, for oligopolies is lobbying. The big web companies it seems are busy fighting the petty battles, when they stand to lose the war.

I cannot but agree with Jeff Chester, the author of this essay:

“Yahoo! and Microsoft also have deals with many of the phone and cable companies. They and other online giants will need favorable access to their broadband lines, network neutrality or not. Perhaps it’s concern over their business relationships that have contributed to their political timidity.”

One can argue that they are doing right by their shareholders, just like the phone and cable companies. And they should, after all that is capitalism 101. Given that they have a big cash hoard, maybe vanishing network neutrality would also help get rid of competition.

Any even as your listen to the messages from the net activists, it would also be wise to pay heed to words of former FCC chairman Michael Powell.

It is too facile to say the Internet belongs to the public. People are married to the metaphor of the public space, but they run into trouble when it comes to who should pay for this stuff. They think it should be the government. That’s not going to happen. The government is broke, It’s going to stay broke.

What do you folks think?

31 Comments

Madhukar Daftary

Whenever I try to learn some subject from the internet, I end up getting links. On connecting to links, all you get is just another list of links and this passing the buck exercise goes on. A collection of useless links assembled in an unorganized manner and quickly launching a website has become fashionable these days. Another problem is that of dead sites and dead links. What we need is a lesser number of more useful websites usable for free – quality and not quantity.

Paul Elosegui

With regards to who pays for the infrastructure.
Network neutrality is a cheap way of fostering innovation and technology. Given what most governments are budgeting for fostering competitiveness and innovation, the network neutrality costs seems a pretty cheap bill to me.

Also, consider that the costs of backbone bandwidth is dropping continuously. The “who pays for this playing field” is a very short term argument which will dissappear in under a decade.

Removing the right to unhindered connectivity will cost society more in the long run.

Richard Bennett

Tom, you should read Jeff Carroll’s comment carefully because it’s the most insightful thing that’s been written on this discussion.

The current controversy over Internet regulation has been wildly distorted by a group of entrenched semi-monopolies (Google, Microsoft, eBay, Amazon) who don’t want to see any change in the playing field now that they’ve carved out the most profitable chunks.

The Telcos would like to upgrade their cable plants and offer services that can compete with the less-regulated cable companies, but they’re nervous because so many people seem to think that Broadband is a natural right, like free speech or something.

The Telcos figure they’ll offered tiered service, at one price for basic broadband and at a higher price for higher speed and lower delay. Nobody has a problem with that, as far as I can tell.

Where it gets controversial is that they’d like to make service bundles available, probably at intermediate prices, that give you the high-speed boost in certain applications and not in others. One example is some sort of VoIP service.

Now it seems to most of us that bundling is a pretty common practice and they ought to be able to do that, and it’s also reasonable to allow sites to subsidize the broadband used by their customers. It’s not really all that different from what Google and Microsoft and eBay do with advertising today, and it’s similar to what Google plans to do on their own broadband network, Muni WiFi with ads.

What’s good for Google is good for the Telcos, so it’s awfully hypocritical of them to be stirring up all this paranoia and getting so many simple-minded people nervous just to maintain their de facto monopoly on search. Maybe they should spend their money improving their search algorithms instead of trying to muscle the Congress around at their whim.

I’m no big fan of the Telcos, but in this instance they’re being a lot less evil than Google and their phony grass-roots coalition.

Tom

Ursus,
That’s some generic statements. Can you actually outline what I’m too stupid to understand in more detail?

Ursus

I’ve finally gotten around to reading about this, and from what I can tell this whole movement is ignorant populist nonsense. The proposed legislation simply implements a regulatory environment with the FCC being able to decide when and where an exception should be allowed. Uh, that sounds like a pretty good idea to me fellas.

Jeff Carroll

I often disagree with you, Om, but you’re right on the money here. I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with Luddites with law degrees who want to dictate routing algorithms to telcos and backbone carriers.

If this “next generation Internet” you keep talking about is ever going to become a reality, it’s going to have to incorporate not only IP QoS, but also multicast, broadcast, and non-IP transports; and ways will have to be found to achieve intercarrier peering of all these services. Unicast transmission of a dozen copies of a single video stream down the same DOCSIS channel, or twenty thousand copies from the same server farm, makes no worldly sense (no more than it did seven years ago when I built such a farm), but that’s what I more and more repeatedly hear the agitated masses calling upon Congress to enact into law.

The internet is not a publicly owned resource; it’s a retail business. ISPs buy bandwidth from backbone carriers at wholesale rates and resell it to consumers at a profitable markup. The fact that there’s an internet out there to connect to at all is made possible solely by cooperation among telecom companies.

We’ve already been through the age of segregated islands of online service. Minitel, Prodigy, Compuserve, and GEnie are all things of the past, and soon AOL as a proprietary dialup service will be too. The marketplace rejected these services when unhindered internet connectivity became available, and the marketplace will not go back.

Telecoms who degrade their current service offerings for the sake of priority traffic will soon find themselves out of the internet business. There’s no reason to do so; practically everyone in the backbone business has scads of dark fiber, and there’s actually bandwidth savings to be realized in building a more robust routing architecture; when video distribution can eventually be moved from unicast IP to multicast distribution, or to a cached CDN, gigabits per second of backbone bandwidth will be freed up for other applications.

As the number of applications of the World Wide Web continues to grow, the more it will become apparent that although IP is a truly wonderful technological achievement, it is not a magical panacea for all problems, all media, and all applications. Other transports and other means of resource access will have to be incorporated, and we can ill afford legislative nannying that shackles us to 1990s technology.

Tom

Rick,

I was playing with Apple II’s in the early 80’s. I was working with TCP/IP stacks in 86 and started reading the usenet in 87. I know my history.

It was originally ARPAnet until 1971, and then changed to DARPAnet. It’s gone back and forth because ARPA and DARPA have been renamed several times.

Most people fail to understand the version of the Internet we currently use wasn’t started until about 1995, and that was because of several factors one of which was Al Gore’s pioneering efforts with the NSFnet.

Here some’s links that might illuminate you:

http://searchnetworking.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid7gci213782,00.html — ARPAnet information
Vint Cerf (Of course I know of Vint Cerf) in defense of Al Gore’s — http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interesting-people/200009/msg00052.html
Wiki Information on the Internet — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History
oftheInternet (focus the NSFnet)
Snopes on Al Gore — http://www.snopes.com/quotes/internet.asp

While Al Gore didn’t “invent” (by the way that was something he never said) the Internet, he definitely had a hand in the creation from the original hand off ARPAnet to the NSFnet, and then in the second version with Bill Clinton in 1993 to hand off from the original NSFnet to businesses; and that is what it is today.

Even Microsoft acknowledge it:

“In 1991, Vice President Al Gore, then a U.S. senator, proposed widening the architecture of NSFNET to include more K-12 schools, community colleges, and 2-year colleges. The resulting legislation expanded NSFNET and renamed it NREN (National Research and Educational Network). This bill also allowed businesses to purchase part of the network for commercial uses. The mass commercialization of today’s Internet is the direct result of this legislation.”

One of my biggest gripes in the early 90’s was that I felt that we all deserved free access as the backbone was created with tax dollars.

PS: Owned!

Patrick Mullen

As I post this from my VX6700 via mobile, I had many choices to read and post here. I could have posted from my cable provider or a dsl account. Soon, Iwill probably be able to buy broadband over power, wifi, wimax and who knows what else. Choice? Seems to be lots of choice to me.

It's not clear John is right.

It’s not clear John is right, or that Quality of Service works. I just read a story about Internet2 and QOS. It seems as if they had complicated algorithms for giving video and real time data preference, but they didn’t work, and they just slowed down everything. They got better performance from making their underlying network faster for everything. That’s generally my strategy when I try to make something run faster. I try to make everything simpler. I only do software tools, and not networking applications, but I suspect it’s similar.

John

The issue isn’t so much ideological as dynamic.

The current internet is (mostly) first-come, first-served. Everyone waits their turn in line. The current fracas is about Whitacre et al. wanting to prioritize packets for a price. What that means to the rest of the net is that if you pay AT&T you can cut to the front of the line. Everyone else stays at the back of the line until all the “premium” customers move through.

The first-come, first-served internet incents a big overprovision of bandwidth so that there are few moments of bad congestion. Overprovision leads pretty quickly to falling prices. The Bells don’t like commodification.

The pay-to-cut-in-line version of the internet introduces an alternate way to make “monetize” the net: make the “best effort” internet so pokey or unpredictable (congested) that you can convert cheapo customers into more lucrative premium ones by NOT upgrading the net until you find the most profitable balance between premium and best effort parts of your income. Then you try and keep congestion at that level.

The dynamics of cut-in-line should scare us all regardless of our personal ideological flavor…it’s a recipie for making congestion profitable.

It’s not petty to work to get the grassroots stirred up about something like this. In the end congressfolk care most about being re-elected. Lobbyist money is a means to this end. It’s not a good argument that the web companies are lacking–its a means to catch the ear of the legislators. Because there is no way that any company can match the phone companies lobbying prowess at this time (that has to be developed over time) getting serious about passing legislation requires both public support and lobbying. Even the phone companies realize how vulnerable they are to grassroots outrage. The phone company funded astroturf organizations are an attempt to insulate legislators from legitimate grassroots anger. And that anger can defeat the Bells–that’s basically how BellSouth lost the fiber referendum vote in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Not fighting on both fronts is to conceed the battle.

Cameron Reilly

Om, what happens in the US will happen elsewhere eventually. Witness the wrath of the RIAA as it spreads across the globe. The Microsoft anti-trust suits. If telcos in the US get away with this shit, the telcos in Australia will be jumping on the bandwagon within nano-seconds.

However, Doc Searls and David Weinberger and I talked about this late last year in a series of podcasts and I came away hoping that capitalism will, in fact, save the day. If some telcos start screwing with open access to sites, then new players (Google, etc) will rise to fill the gap.

Still, we can’t sit around and live in blind faith that good will win out. We need to fight tooth and nail for the Net.

Rick

I see where ISP’s have to charge for extra usage on the net. I read yesterday where if everyone downloaded 2 movies per month, then the current traffic would double. Someone has to pick up that tab. Assuming bandwith is near capacity.

Wanna talk oil and gas now? Don’t get me mad!!

Scott

Hey Tom,

You might want to do a little more “research” on internet history and get your facts straight. Ever hear of Darpanet? It was the precursor to the Internet.

Where was the first communication sent to and from where? Who sent the messages and who was the person who did the work on the protocol?

Here is a hint to the last question. He currently works at Google. Was recently knighted. Where does her originate from?

Tom, do more research.

DL

I say bring it! Let AOL, SBC, Comcast wall off the internet. Give Google all the ammunition they need to harness dark fiber and wireless nodes and let the consumer decide what we want.

My bet…Google will kill ’em all off with pure marketing power and good riddens. Google might wall off some parts of their infrastructure, but Google has web DNA and that’s better than the anti consumer lobbyist crap we’re getting shoved down our throats by the Bells and “toadies” in DC.

Angry… Hell yes, the toadies and the Bells have taken our competitive advantage and technology and whored it out.

Not only are consumers angry, consumers have the juice to get even…with their choice and at the polls.

moritz

hey scott. just in case you forgot. the blood www thingy you use their – you know who created the blasted thing? or, as it is phrased in the famous ads campaign “wär hets erfunde?” (who invented it?). yeah right. “die schwiizer.” (the swiss people.) or to be more precise. an international team at CERN, which is in geneva (which is in switzerland – not to be confused with sweden).

full disclosure: i’m not swiss, just living there currently

Tom

Wow, when I read Matt’s comment, I was blown away by the incisive thoughts and thorough analysis of the situation.

Wonder if you actually know the history of the modern incarnation of the internet? Probably not.

I agree with Om though. The major problem is that so many larger Internest based companies have their hands tied somewhat because of their affiliations with the Telcos.

Scott

So what if it IS saving the US internet. After all, who created the blasted thing? Do you think it’s going to stay a US issue forever Om? If you do, I have some realestate in Dehli and Florida. The Dehli land is priced out of this world and the Florida land is on the downslide, but much prettier!

Geez, so it’s a US problem. When dealing with the net, as you’ll soon learn, a US issue sooner, or later becomes a world issue. Doh.

Matt S.

Actually, the ‘net neutrality proponents are not arguing for the status quo, which is an absence of regulation. They are asking for new regulation to lock down the current state of the net.

It is a classic example of good intentions trumping good ideas. Neutrality legislation would empower the federal government to enforce a certain network architecture. They have no such power right now.

Please don’t believe the neutrality hype. It is new, punitive regulation wrapped in a vague populism.

I believe the net is much healthier when it is allowed to grow and adapt and that requires experimentation. Neutrality legislation, no matter how well intended, would make that legally risky and remove incentives for investment.

Jesse Kopelman

I have a one word answer to the idea that Net Neutrality is a US issue — China. Pretty hard to claim you want open access to that market if you do not have open access to your own. Of course, China is just the big name, there are dozens of smaller countires with restricted markets. This is much like human rights. You can’t go around ousting dictators when you are torturing prisoners and spying on your own citizens and retain any credibility.

Michael Powell is a Tool. I don’t remember him asking Congress to cut the FCC’s funding as his part to help the “broke” government. I wish people had to disclose who they’ve taken money from before they are allowed speak in public.

me

I think it would be great if europe enforced some kind of draconian ‘net neutrality’- that way, things will stagnate over there and our networks will improve, with the side benefit of making it harder for people to say the us is falling behind.

moritz

even though i agree with you that this video is US centric the issue is nevertheless global. we have the same discussions going on in europe and i would believe that at least in europe net neutrality will be enforced legally. i think you should see the issue from the perspective of oligopoly prevention. if one network provider forces its customers to use a specific search engine, this is producing an unlevel market access. right now web development is highly dynamic because the entry costs are extremely low. if this should change, we’d see a completely different and probably very boring market space.

these kind of issues can not be handled by any small start up alone. some big players have to take the lead and fight for network neutrality (google, amazon, ebay you hear me!). best would be a open and global lobby, which could be joined by small market entrants as well.

last but not least one has to wonder if network neutrality is not self enforced by the users. often when one network provider offers unstable service of is firewalling certain services, the public opinion believes them to have “just bad service”. we had such a case in switzerland, where a cable provider in the beginning blocked online gaming and IM (for security reasons – yeah bullshit me). even users which never game or chat did chose other providers because the cable provider came to be known as unreliable, and hard to use (of course there is always ways to circumvent firewalls). in the end they gave up and opened their system. it took them years to get rid of their bad image…

my 2 cents
moritz

Juha

Something’s not right with your server either, Om…

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Juha

How will this affect my CPM rate? That’s the most important thing.

(Yes, tongue-in-cheek, etc.)

GregR

It is indeed true that when it comes to lobbying, the Phone companies are very experienced and well managed as opposed to the content providers.
However an analogy can be made with electricity. Internet access has substantial public good and it has the benefit of rising all ships the more ubiquitous the access. To allow the utility companies to decide who gets access to the grid and on what terms is unacceptable. The analogy is that your local utility would be allowed to decide who can supply the grid electricity, and even worst by blocking or degrading a service like Skype, they can dictate what appliance you can plug into the power socket. They can decide that you have to use brand X toaster from your local Bell retailer.
There is no technical reason (all though they will try to make up some) to control what applications consumers use, they can already control bandwidth utilization, some already block bit torrent traffic.

moo

According to Light Reading, the national video franchise that the Bells desperately want might come through this year. http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?docid=93017&WT.svl=news13

Some of the cable-sponsored network neutrality language was also eliminated.

Some of the US-centric access problems could become worldwide tomorrow. BT or NTT could start enforcing their own ‘tiered’ rules just like the Bells.

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