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Why Net Neutrality Is Too Important to Leave Up to the ISPs

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Anyone involved in the online video industry has to be chilled to the bone by the recent court ruling invalidating much of the FCC’s authority over broadband service providers.

The court essentially told the FCC that it couldn’t force Comcast to pass all bits equally through its cable modems, in essence allowing the ISP to once again shape packets and slow certain types of traffic with impunity. This is bad news for lots of different businesses on the web, but it’s most chilling to companies like YouTube, Metacafe, Netflix and mine, Revision3, which serve up independent video.

Why? Because Comcast could potentially slow down the delivery of our streaming video. Why would it do that? To protect its multichannel cable-TV oligopoly, and its owned and operated cable networks — including The Golf Channel, Style and G4 –- from web-based competition.

Comcast, along with Time Warner, AT&T, Verizon, Charter and other conglomerates have a lot at stake here. New multichannel services from Move Networks, Sezmi and others promise to use the broadband network to replace traditional cable services. Anecdotal evidence shows that many have already ditched cable for a combination of Netflix streaming, Amazon Video on Demand, iTunes and Internet originals, via devices from Roku, Boxee, Syabas and the new crop of web-connected TVs and Blu-ray players.

Streaming video is not like a simple file transfer, because all the bits have to arrive in order, and on time, in order to ensure a clean and rebuffer-free viewing experience. ISP routers already analyze every packet for source, destination and routing path, and it’s relatively easy to slow down, or shape, packets based on type or source. And if you can’t get a good streaming video signal because your ISP has slowed those services to a crawl, you’ll be forced right back to traditional multichannel video services for your television.

So the courts have handed cable TV operators, along with Verizon and AT&T, a huge tool to keep their customers from fleeing to Internet alternatives. As you would expect, though, Comcast and others are claiming that they “remain committed to the FCC’s existing open Internet principles.” They’re also asking the government to let them self-regulate.

But they can’t be trusted. Comcast lied about its packet-shaping in the past, and I don’t expect it to suddenly change its stripes now. Luckily the FCC isn’t standing still, but is considering a number of different alternatives to ensuring net neutrality, including getting Congress to expand its authority over broadband.

I think the best alternative, however, would be to reclassify ISPs to a Title II common carrier service from a Title I. This would put broadband into the same category as POTS and other telecommunications services. Self-regulation would be bad, and I’m leery about leaving the decision up to Congress in light of how long they can take to make a decision.

Free and clear access is important for consumers, for competition and for creativity. Because without it, we’ll be stuck in a “57 channels and nothing on” world, dictated and enforced by the cable monsters.

Image courtesy of Flickr user rstrawser

Jim Louderback is CEO of Revision3. He was previously vice president of Ziff Davis Media and Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine and

34 Responses to “Why Net Neutrality Is Too Important to Leave Up to the ISPs”

  1. Michael Anderson

    The bottom line here is that no one cares about the net being open to “everything”. You just want it to be open to YOUR traffic. Comcast limited P2P because they have to pay peering charges to the Tier-1 ISPs. Can’t you see how that played out? Some product manager calculated the margins he needed and figured out that the only way to meet his numbers was to limit those expenses some how.

    Jim, your concern is centered around your application, not ‘openness’. So many of the people preaching the need for net neutrality subscribe to the mantra that all traffic is equal, but mine is more equal.

    The answer is simple but no one wants to tackle it. Market your ‘fantastic’ product and tell consumers that their best experience is going to be delivered via some other ISP besides Comcast. Users can and do switch. Quit relying on big government to do your job.

  2. mwendy

    What’s broken now? Doesn’t it work essentially unregulated. hasn’t it grown – you’ve gotten all the fat pipes you wants -because it is essentially unregulated. has the Internet ceased since the Comcast ruling?


    The lack of regulation has allowed the Internet to be what it is now.

  3. Just out: “A study released Monday by economists from George Mason University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Virginia said that the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed telecommunications regulation known as net neutrality would limit further broadband investments and innovation and substantively curtail consumer welfare.”

    This should be obvious.

    • Ah yes, another product of the Mercatus Center. They are remarkable consistent, never failing to reflect the politics and ideology of their donors, Telcos and major Telco shareholders among them. Of course, I won’t quibble with the major conclusion of their “study”; that Net Neutrality may not be in the best financial interest of the telecommunication industry. Net Neutrality isn’t about what’s in the best financial interest of the telecommunication industry.

  4. The nature of business can be greedy because businesses obviously act in their own self-interest. However, business, unlike government, is held accountable by the market. Businesses must please the customer or the market will choose another business. Government on the other hand, has no such accountability. They will make deals with whoever they please and write rules who favor who they please. When the government writes rules to favor certain entities, it makes the market unstable.

    It is easy to forget that the internet, which grew at an unprecedented pace, that is an integral part of our lives, did such with very little government intervention. Why do we want to change that model? Let companies battle at it out, don’t let the FCC come in and make the internet complicated. It is when the FCC steps in that you’ll see the rapid progression slow because businesses can no longer compete in the way in which they had before.

  5. I’m committed to allowing free markets “fix” the issue. As many have suggested, if you don’t like what your ISP is doing, change your ISP. Unfortunately, the prerequisite is a free market. In most of the US, the market for broadband is defined by a duopoly: the cable and phone companies. These companies view broadband as an enticement for expensive premium service packages. Net Neutrality isn’t in their best interests and we shouldn’t expect it to be. Unfortunately most of us don’t have alternatives when it comes to broadband.

    What amazes me is this continuous cry that somehow the politicians and lawyers will make it worse if they get involved. It’s as if they all live in a far away “Fortress of Solitude”, unreachable and untouchable. Well guess what? At least with politicians we can reach out every few years in a very meaningful way and more often than that we can let them know we want information on who they’re talking to, where the money is going, and our feelings on broadband. The fact is the public would be more effective than the lobbyists if they put as much effort into it as they do whining about lobbyists.

    If I may paraphrase that famous line from the comic pages: “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

  6. Wow, Brett, did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Try to focus on the comments, not your opinion of my person.

    First, let’s make it clear – Brett represents the ISP industry, he runs a Wireless ISP in Cheyenne Wyoming. I certainly see how all these bandwidth demands might be crimping your business, but why should you be deciding what I do with the network I’ve paid for.

    For the sake of argument, let’s first decide whether Net Neutrality is a good thing or a bad thing. I think it is good, in large part because I don’t trust the large ISPs to not act in their own interest – and since their multi-channel franchises are where they make a very large part of their revenue, I believe they will move to protect that franchise at all costs. So we need to ensure that anyone can access their IP infrastructure on a fair and equal footing.

    If you say no, then we disagree there, and there’s no need to continue the conversation.

    Second, how are you going to differentiate between “kids downloading illegal copies of movies via BitTorrent” and kids downloading legal copies of TV shows via BitTorrent? And why so harsh on the kids? If you are that concerned about the amount of bandwidth people are consuming, put total bandwidth caps in place and price tiers.

    But let’s go back to NN. If you think it is the right thing to have in place, how should it be implemented? Should we trust the ISPs to police themselves? Brett, I know you, and I believe you would do the right thing. Plus you don’t own cable networks, so you’re not conflicted. But I don’t trust Comcast, Time Warner, Charter, etc to do the same.

    So then we can argue about what the right approach is. I’d like the FCC to ultimately have final say here, and Title II seems to be the way to go. Alternately congress could act, but frankly I trust congress just a tiny bit more than Comcast.

    • Splendid reply Jim. I feel like replying to Brett myself but I’m glad you did the honours.

      Guys, if you are attacking Jim (or any NN supporter), get your facts right. Think with your brains. And have your hearts in the right place. And if you represent the ISP lobby, and want to attack NN indirectly by trying to discredit its supports, at least come clean and say so as a disclosure.

      Those who oppose NN must know this: The phenomenon called Obama supports NN strongly (I’ve his video on my blog: ). So, you guys don’t stand much of a chance. Resistance is futile :) Give up and be good. Or at least do not be evil.

  7. Jim, really well said.

    ‘Was just reading some of the comments here. Those who are attacking you / your post do not seem to understand the need for an “Open Internet”. The fact that they are able to read your post w/o restrictions and criticise you at will in real-time, is entirely due to the beauty of open-ness. What if those attackers were to access the Internet from an ISP who ‘de-prioritised’ ?

    Any way, leaving aside their ill-informed opinions aside, I’d say that the court ruling in Comcast-vs-FCC is a wake up call for all internet startups & entrepreneurs. We either fight back the ISP lobby or sit back and watch the Internet get balkanised. I strongly feel about this and am personally disturbed by the lack of a concerted drive against this threat to Net-neutrality. I’ve started speaking for an open-Internet here on my blog:

    — vsagarv (co-founder, Shufflr;

  8. The whole net neutrality debate is not as simply as black and white, one side is good the other side is bad. We have to carefully weight all of the benefits this will have against all of the potential problems it could cause in the future. Far too often do we have laws rammed thru that have come back to bite us years later: allowing banks to have branches in multiple states, allowing television providers to own television networks, etc.

    keep in mind that many of the people that make these laws won’t be around in two, four, eight years, like clockwork. Who knows what a future administration could do with laws governing the internet and the publics access to it.

    Since the EFF have taken issue with the FCC’s attempts against Comcast, I personally will be keeping an eye on this particular “New Neutrality” bill, not in support or opposition, but to make sure that it is fair for EVERYONE involved.

    And do remember, although Comcast was throttling BitTorrent, they didn’t stop AFTER the FCC got involved, the stopped AFTER there was a public outcry, well before the FCC jumped in.

    The current Net Neutrality bill, if i am correct in believing that it is HR5353, has multiple references to “lawful content”. Todays lawful content can always turn into unlawful content tomorrow. Comcast was throttling “BitTorrent” traffic, because we all know that BitTorrent IS used as a method of piracy, much like FTP had been used as that in the past, and much like Hotline Software was as well.

    We intelligent people understand that it isn’t the technology (BitTorrent) that is at fault, but really the users of that technology. However, look at how universities handle their networks. Students pay to go to college and to universities, yet those schools block access to help them “manage their networks”.

    Comcast tried this, and got scolded for it. Now it is up to Comcast to figure out how to block piracy and keep their network running as smooth as they can WITHOUT doing a blanket ban on BitTorrent traffic (since BT CAN be used for lawful things, like Revision3 content).

    When it comes to a net neutrality law, the wording has to be pin point precise with ZERO room for future mis-interpretation, otherwise we all lose.

  9. A guy who wants the benefit of the infrastructure without the cost. Shocking!

    While I dislike non net neutrality, I don’t have a problem with the people who build the network prioritizing its use.

    NOTE: I do think carriers should be able to prioritize by content type (e.g. video, then phone, then data, etc. as a rough policy) on their own network, but not by content itself (thus, youtube video and internet video company X have the same priority).

  10. Yeah, give the federal government even more power. They are already doing enough damage to the economy, why not let them ruin something else too.

  11. Brett Glass

    Anyone in the bureaucracy industry must be chilled to the bone by the idea that the courts might enforce the rule of law. NOT!

    Jim Louderback, who may have been a flashy personality on cable TV but obviously has never been either a lawyer or an engineer, is apparently ignorant of the fact is that the FCC’s authority was not “invalidated” — it never had such authority in the first place, and was trying to usurp powers that neither we, the people nor our Congress ever gave it.

    He is also apparently ignorant of the fact that if ISPs do NOT manage their networks, many applications — including his company’s streaming video — won’t work correctly. Would Mr. Louderback like it if kids downloading illegal copies of movies via BitTorrent disrupted his service? I doubt it. Yet, that’s exactly what would happen if Comcast and other ISPs did not manage their networks.

    And if ISPs were classified under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — talk about pounding a square peg into a round hole! — he wouldn’t like the results either. The cost of broadband would skyrocket. Many parts of the Net suddenly wouldn’t connect to others until and unless “interconnection” agreements were negotiated, cutting him off from many of his customers. Broadband competition would vanish, leaving him to deal with one or two behemoths. And as for reaching those customers who aren’t currently served by broadband? Fuhgeddaboudit. There’d be no incentive to invest in further deployment.

    Perhaps Mr. Louderback should go back to giving trivial tech tips on cable TV.

  12. How much does it take to set up an independent ISP that operates worldwide and is strictly committed to net neutrality? It looks impossible at first sight but as you can rent almost any service it boils down to making the right contracts with the right people. I see so many people out there campaigning for net neutrality it shouldn’t even be hard to get this enterprise funded.

    • Hey! You might’ve just given away a revolutionary idea :)
      But more seriously, I think you have a point. A pure-NN-ISP doesn’t probably cost too much. In fact looking at the ‘free’ nature of most new age Internet businesses, once can conceive an ISP that gives the bandwidth away for free and makes money by taking a cut of the advertising revenue pie.

  13. Jack C

    I agree. There are extremely strong incentives for service providers to start working closely with their lawyers to craft packet shaping policies that only incidentally disrupt competing products, without blatantly violating antitrust statutes.

  14. Extremely well put; I would like to add one comment: look what happened to the banking industry when we deregulated them. We have to have control over greed and Comcast is greedy.

  15. I agree, democracy just doesn’t work. Disband the congress and let the bureaucracy do its thing.

    We can’t let the rule of law stand in the way of lolcats any longer.