Posts Tagged ‘Net Neutrality’

My last post on net neutrality was in 2015.  Soon after that post, the FCC adopted rules to ensure net neutrality, which means that regardless of its source, all Internet data would be transferred at the same speed.   These rules will be repealed on April 23, 2018.

To lay the groundwork for the repeal, on November 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms.”  The “successful policies” to which he refers are essentially allowing ISPs to self-regulate and the “hypothetical harms” to which Pai refers are not hypothetical.  In 2013-2014, Comcast gradually slowed data from its competitor Netflix to a crawl and demanded that Netflix pay them.  Netflix paid and immediately their data transferred quickly again.  You can read more about this in my blog post here and in my letter in the New York Times here.

Ajit Pai’s arguments revolve around the idea that the market will self-regulate and if a consumer does not like her ISP, she can select another.  Many ISP markets in the US are monopolies or duopolies, so the choice is often Internet access or no Internet Access.  They also ignore the threat of vertical monopolies, i.e. a single company owning the entire supply chain.  For instance, Comcast is not only the largest ISP in the US, it also owns many content producers, such as NBC and Universal Pictures.  Without regulation, Comcast could simply block or throttle traffic from its competition and become a vertical monopoly. Also, an ISP owner could decide to block or throttle content from a publisher who did not share her political views.

Some ISPs, such as Sonic.net and Monkeybrains have net neutrality policies.  When selecting an ISP it is worth asking about their net neutrality policies if they do not have statements about their positions on their websites.  Libraries and schools that support open access to information would serve their patrons well by selecting an ISP that with policies that ensure net neutrality.


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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 — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — 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 “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s 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 — 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 — 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 — 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:


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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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