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Archive for the ‘Net Neutrality’ Category

The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, developed its own broadband Internet service. Through the service customers can purchase a 1-gigabit connection per second for $70 per month and 100-megabit connection for $58 per month. The average US broadband speed is about 9.8-megabits per second for an average of about $47.50.

The Obama Administration and now the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, are proposing that access to the Internet be regulated like access to a public utility. The project in Chattanooga began in 2008 and uses infrastructure that was built to also route electricity. In many ways, broadband in Chattanooga is literally a public utility rather than just regulated like one. It provides much faster connections for about the same price.

This may be a good model for other municipalities. During the last eleven years various cities have attempted to make free Wi-Fi available for everyone. These attempts have been largely unsuccessful or the Wi-Fi has only been available at a few specific locations in the cities. There are three key differences between Chattanooga’s approach and these other attempts. First, in Chattanooga Internet access is not free. Second, the other cities subcontracted to private companies to provide Internet access. Third, these other cities were attempting to provide wireless Internet whereas Chattanooga provides wired Internet. Incidentally other ISP’s unsuccessfully sued Chattanooga to try to stop them from developing the service.

On a personal note, in the mid 2000’s I read about the SFLAN, a free “citywide” Metropolitan Area Network in San Francisco and was excited to try it. The only way I could get a connection was to take my laptop to my roof. On the roof, it took several minutes to open the home page of the New York Times. Despite the James Taylor song about the wonders of being on a roof, I decided that this was unworkable. ūüėČ

More information can be found about Chattanooga’s network here:

http://money.cnn.com/2014/05/20/technology/innovation/chattanooga-internet/

Additional information about cities’ attempts to provide free Wi-Fi can be found here:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2013/07/wireless-networks

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This blog has included four previous posts about the importance of Net neutrality. In November of last year President Obama released a statement describing the importance of Net neutrality. I agree with his statement and wrote one of the nearly four million public comments mentioned early in the full statement. An excerpt from the middle part of the statement is posted below.

Prior to reading the excerpt though please consider an example of what happens when what happens when what the President describes as the “gatekeepers” decide to throttle certain content on the Internet in order to extract more profits from content providers. Starting during the summer of 2013 Netflix subscribers’ accessing the Internet using Comcast found that their movie streams gradually slowing. Comcast wanted Netflix to pay to have them upgrade their capacity. Then in February 2014 Netflix paid an undisclosed amount to Comcast and the problem instantly stopped. Obviously it is not possible for a cable company to upgrade its capacity where no capacity existed before. Doing so would be like building a 12-lane highway overnight.

Here is the excerpt from President Obama’s Statement:

I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:

  • No blocking.¬†If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player ‚ÄĒ not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP ‚ÄĒ gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling.¬†Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others ‚ÄĒ through a process often called ‚Äúthrottling‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ based on the type of service or your ISP‚Äôs preferences.
  • Increased transparency.¬†The connection between consumers and ISPs ‚ÄĒ the so-called ‚Äúlast mile‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization.¬†Simply put: No service should be stuck in a ‚Äúslow lane‚ÄĚ because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet‚Äôs growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

If carefully designed, these rules should not create any undue burden for ISPs, and can have clear, monitored exceptions for reasonable network management and for specialized services such as dedicated, mission-critical networks serving a hospital. But combined, these rules mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.

The rules also have to reflect the way people use the Internet today, which increasingly means on a mobile device. I believe the FCC should make these rules fully applicable to mobile broadband as well, while recognizing the special challenges that come with managing wireless networks.

To be current, these rules must also build on the lessons of the past. For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business. That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information ‚ÄĒ whether a phone call, or a packet of data.

So the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act ‚ÄĒ while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone ‚ÄĒ not just one or two companies.

November 10, 2014

For the entire statement please click here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/net-neutrality – section-read-the-presidents-statement

For all of the posts in this series about Net neutrality, which include additional examples of problems with a non-neutral Net please click here:

https://ethanannis.wordpress.com/category/net-neutrality/

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In late 2010 the FCC enacted a set of rules known as the Open Internet Order to stop deals between Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) and content providers. ¬†This meant, for example, Giant Movie Provider could not pay an ISP to have its HD movies stream fluidly while Itsy Bitsy Movie Provider’s films were only given enough bandwidth to appear like pixelated images shot while using a stroboscope for illumination. ¬†Or imagine Bank Q’s homepage opens in a millisecond, whereas Bank B’s homepage opens in 20 seconds. ¬†Or even imagine that Bank B’s content, which is entirely legal, is blocked by your ISP. ¬†Having such commercial arrangements would give businesses with deep pockets a major advantage. ¬†

Today,¬†the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled that rules that bar ISP’s from charging content providers are invalid. ¬†This will give ISP’s incentive to make deals with whoever can pay them the most. ¬†Although plaintiffs argued that this was necessary for innovation, as far as I can tell, providing the wealthiest content providers with the fastest access to customers will further ossify the existing structure thereby reducing competition, which in turn will diminish innovation.

In the press, an aspect I have not seen mentioned is that much of the backbone of the Internet in this country is paid for by our taxes. ¬†ISP’s provide some of the infrastructure but mainly what they provide are onramps for people like you and me. ¬†They charge us monthly fees to use those onramps. ¬†Of course for traffic/content¬†coming from content providers such as Netflix, the¬†on-ramp you are using is their off-ramp. ¬†Now ISP’s have a means of charging for traffic going in both directions. ¬†This could restrict or make difficult access to certain information. ¬†If you wish to learn more about this, please read the other posts in this series which can be accessed using the following link:

https://ethanannis.wordpress.com/category/net-neutrality/

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Twice before I have written about the effects of a non-neutral net in the abstract. ¬†This week, courtesy of News Corp., which owns Fox, we have seen an example of what a non-neutral net would look like. ¬†Recently Cablevision and News Corp. could not come to terms regarding how much Cablevision would pay for airing Fox television programs. With no agreement in place, Fox programming no longer appeared on Cablevision. ¬†In addition, Fox blocked Cablevision¬†subscribers¬†from accessing any Fox content on Hulu’s free service, which is partially owned by Fox. ¬†In this manner, News Corp. prevented Cablevision subscribers from simply streaming Fox’s programming from Hulu. ¬†This gave News Corp. leverage in its negotiations with Cablevision. ¬†In effect, News Corp. said that if Cablevision subscribers wanted Fox programming they should either reach an agreement or go to a different service provider.

Technically, the Hulu content runs over a neutral net. ¬†The network over which the content flows is neutral. ¬†The content provider is preventing certain users from accessing its content, based on their ISP. ¬†Effectively though, this is like a non-neutral net. ¬†Certain customers are not given access to certain content. ¬†Incidentally, the customers who paid for Hulu’s premium service had uninterrupted access to all content.

In effect, Fox’s action hurts Fox as much as it hurts Cablevision. ¬†The free content on Hulu is funded by advertising. ¬†By blocking Cablevision customers, Fox eliminates some of its audience. ¬†The blocking has the greatest impact on the customers though. ¬†As mentioned in an earlier post, when access to part of the Internet is restricted, the customers lose. ¬†Imagine if Cablevision had a problem getting a loan from Bank of A and retaliated by blocking access to the Bank’s website. ¬†Existing customers could not access the website and potential new customers would not be as likely to open an account with the bank… ¬†As the Internet’s importance increases, the potential impact of restricting access increases dramatically.

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When I ride the bus in San Francisco, most passengers are interacting with their cellphones.  Recently, I read on my own cellphone that Google and Verizon believe in Net neutrality for the wired Internet (e.g. DSL and cable lines) but not on cellphone networks.  Net neutrality, as described in an earlier post, means that all Internet traffic, regardless of the content provider, has equal access to bandwidth.  In other words, to use a highway metaphor, all traffic has access to all lanes.  On a non neutral network an Internet Service Provider could give some content providers access to more bandwidth and could block others.

With a non neutral net, the Internet will become a toll road. ¬†Internet Service Providers, like Verizon, will be able to charge the content providers, such as Amazon, Google and the New York Times, to have access to our computers. ¬†Of course ISP’s already charge us for access to Internet service.

If the deal proposed by Google and Verizon went through, Google would also stand to win. ¬†Microsoft’s Bing could be pushed into the slow lane or even blocked on all Verizon cellphones. ¬†Bing, MS Office online, Hotmail and Yahoo Mail could be slowed to a crawl, while Google, Google Documents and Gmail are allowed to whiz by. ¬† Of course, small startups would not have a chance in such an environment unless they were backed by deep pockets. ¬†ISP’s could also double dip by demanding that consumers who want unrestricted Net access pay extra money.

At this point, I can’t help conjuring up images of bullies demanding tolls for access to roads built largely by public funds. ¬†ISP’s, let us remember, only provide the on ramps to the Net. ¬†The Internet backbone is mostly hosted by government and academic network centers.

Besides retail and service providers being able to buy access to networks, news organizations could buy or block access. ¬†Suppose a news organization decided it didn’t like this blog entry, it could pay Verizon to block my entire blog. ¬†Since many consumers have either no choice or very limited choice of ISP’s, if the ISP’s can control the content of the information they provide, effectively, the ISP’s could prevent balanced news from reaching the electorate.

But Google and Verizon argue that their proposal would only effect wireless traffic. ¬†For the wired Internet, they want a neutral net. ¬†Of course, as anyone who has ever ridden a bus or used a cellphone knows, the world is moving toward a wireless state. ¬†So, this proposal that ISP’s control wireless traffic would give the ISP’s and their partners even more power and of course more money and it would diminish the power of “we the people.”

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Net Neutrality means that all traffic flowing over a network is given access to the same carrying capacity or bandwidth. On April 6th, the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority by requiring Internet Service Providers to provide equal bandwidth to all traffic.

This opens the possibility that ISP’s can cut deals with certain businesses. Suppose, for example, an ISP, such as Comcast, cuts a deal to send Amazon’s traffic to its customers at five times the rate that it sends Powell’s Books’ traffic. In fact, an ISP could effectively block traffic from certain websites. Imagine if Comcast decided to block all traffic to online bookstores besides Amazon.

Of course, the implications of this go well beyond commerce. Imagine if certain news sources were blocked. Since people now rely on the Internet to stay informed and democracies rely on an informed electorate, this could have serious impact on the functionality of our democracy!

The plaintiff in the case, Comcast, argued that a few customers were using the lion’s share of the bandwidth. These customers were using Bit Torrent to transfer very large amounts of data such as movies. Comcast had other means of stopping these customers from using so much bandwidth. For example, they could have charged customers for every megabyte they transferred across Comcast’s network after reaching a certain threshold. In fact, in some local markets, Comcast is already doing this and it works.

Eventually, I believe the FCC’s ruling will not work in ISPs’ favor. By having the right to regulate the traffic that flows through its network, Comcast also opens itself up to lawsuits. For example, Internet gambling in the US is illegal but it is very difficult to enforce the law. Since the ISP’s now have the right to regulate traffic, they are also now open to lawsuits when they do not block illegal traffic.

Overall, I think that this will have a negative impact on our society. Other means were available to solve the problems stated by Comcast. The court ruling solved one problem but in so doing created other, much larger problems.

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