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February 22, 2008

Comments

Net neutrality – I’m generally for some rules but I’m also afraid that it will stifle the innovation and development that would take the net to the next level. If I’m in charge of a broadband provider why would I spend the money to upgrade my network to the next level of “teh awesome” if the government dictates (limits) how I might profit from the investment?

On the general question of a Democratic FCC – how do you personally feel about a return of the Fairness Doctrine? Because I certainly see that happening…

If I’m in charge of a broadband provider why would I spend the money to upgrade my network to the next level of “teh awesome” if the government dictates (limits) how I might profit from the investment?

Because you want people to keep registering with your broadband provider, rather than with your competitor. So you keep right on upgrading your network to the next level of teh awesome, because your competitors are busy doing the same.

Not actually relevant in this game whether the government has set limits on how much money you can gouge from your customers, providing they're the same limits for everybody: it's like minimum wage. Benefits everybody, win-win situation. (Including the shareholders: they may complain that increased levels of funding for upgrading or employee wages cut into their profits, but that's just typical capitalist limited thinking: more awesome broadband means more customers, better-paid/better-treated staff means lower turnover and staff who are out there boosting the economy so more people can sign up to awesome broadband. Good all round, really.)

Benefits everybody, win-win situation.

That assumes I agree that minimum wage benefits everybody. ;)

Right now I have basic cable (not that I would pay for that but it’s bundled with something else so I’m stuck with it). If I want HD content I have to pay more (a lot more) for that.

If I apply the same principle, then the government needs to intervene right now to force the cable company to deliver HD content for the same price I’m paying for basic access.

I’m generally for some rules but I’m also afraid that it will stifle the innovation and development that would take the net to the next level.

Doesn't it depend on where you see the locus of innovation occurring? To draw an entirely new analogy that I'm sure no one has ever used to the interstate system, (ha) if you think that the locus of innovation is going to occur on road bridge building techniques, you don't want the government to get in the way of that. But if you think that the locus of innovation is going to occur in the expansion of smaller towns located on the route, then you want to government to force the building to the roads. I think you have a similar situation here, in that innovation is not going to be in making the pipes that move the data but what goes thru those pipes. Certainly, someone could make a better broadband pipe, but I do think the action is in a lot of places in other places.

If I apply the same principle, then the government needs to intervene right now to force the cable company to deliver HD content for the same price I’m paying for basic access.

If Publius is right, and a Democratic FCC would be stronger against mergers, etc: "But off the top of my head, I think you’d see a lot more scrutiny of mergers – not so much denials, but much stronger conditions and more divestitures. Relatedly, it would be more hostile to media consolidation, and more receptive to minority ownership" - then, indirectly, yes, that's what would happen. More broadband providers means more competition means - assuming a strong minimum wage law means they can't simply compete to be cheaper by lowering staff wages - more benefits for the customer. That's how the free market works: that's how good government works to protect the free market, customers, and employees.

Never did understand what conservatives who aren't Rupert Murdoch have against the principle that the government should act against monopolies, mergers, and criminally low wages.

But seriously: I need to leave the Internet alone for a weekend. You can be wrong all weekend and I'm just not going to care...

LJ: I think you have a similar situation here, in that innovation is not going to be in making the pipes that move the data but what goes thru those pipes.

I’m not sure I understand you. Are you suggesting that the government be responsible for upgrading the network infrastructure? (I wouldn’t want them to actually be responsible for the work, but maybe a tax break for private companies that take the plunge…)

Jes: Never did understand what conservatives who aren't Rupert Murdoch have against the principle that the government should act against monopolies, mergers, and criminally low wages.

It is monopolies that are responsible for a good part of the infrastructure we have now. The “mom-n-pop ISP” is not going to have the ability to install a new backbone for instance. I don’t support monopolies in principle, but they are the most effective at getting some things done.

Enjoy your weekend off. I plan to be wrong all weekend!

Interesting idea, Steve: you know, I'd like to have a crack at making up federal law, too. Why does Congress get to have all the fun?

Net neutrality is a fine slogan and good guiding principle, but it's not a policy. I'm usually in favor of deregulation -- we evil Republicans usually are -- but I'm not sure that all parts of the net neutrality agenda are particularly wise. For instance, the ability for an ISP to hook up whatever it wants to the network without certifying that the new device won't harm the network seems more anarcho- than capitalist. And imposing some such burdens haven't harmed phone deregulation (a point of which Publius' dread "Bell hacks" are probably well aware, given that they're probably old enough to recall the switch to SS7).

I suspect that Publius and I are on the same page on the broad issues, but the details matters. I see no evidence that a Democratically-controlled FCC will manage those details better than the current FCC (i.e., I expect a Dcrat-FCC to be at least as incompetent and petty).

OCSteve, Slarti, and Jes, let's interject some practical economics into this discussion of monopolies: The network is a commons. There is ample precedent for managing a commons via a monopoly (e.g., telephone, cable, electricity, water, sewage, etc.).

Now, I agree that using a monopoly to manage a commons is usually more ineffecient than the alternatives -- recall, again, that I am an evil deregulating guy. Even where a commons is deregulated and a monopoly removed, however, a failure to impose some kind of oversight -- whether corporate or government -- can lead to the well named "tragedy of the commons."

So this discussion of mergers, mom-and-pop ISPs, etc., is kinda missing the point. We are going to have some form of monopoly or regulated oligopoly at some level. The question we need to answer is what kind of mix we want.

Is the average congressional Democrat really that much less in the pocket of the telecoms than the average congressional Republican?

Are you suggesting that the government be responsible for upgrading the network infrastructure?

No, I'm suggesting that the government can impose measures to keep the network infrastructure relatively accesible because the main action is in what goes thru those pipes.

I think a similar situation is described in Wired's article about the iPhone here. The final paragraph makes the point I am trying to make.

It may appear that the carriers' nightmares have been realized, that the iPhone has given all the power to consumers, developers, and manufacturers, while turning wireless networks into dumb pipes. But by fostering more innovation, carriers' networks could get more valuable, not less. Consumers will spend more time on devices, and thus on networks, racking up bigger bills and generating more revenue for everyone. According to Paul Roth, AT&T's president of marketing, the carrier is exploring new products and services — like mobile banking — that take advantage of the iPhone's capabilities. "We're thinking about the market differently," Roth says. In other words, the very development that wireless carriers feared for so long may prove to be exactly what they need. It took Steve Jobs to show them that.

I'd piggyback on Von's comment that the government is going to be involved so the network is probably the best place for it.

However, in the comment before that, I would suggest to Von that the argument he makes against hooking up devices is similar to the argument that power companies use to make to refuse people who produced power access to the grid, forcing them to either create two separate networks or forcing them to sell all their power to the utility at some low wholesale rate and but buy all their energy at a higher consumer rate, plus holding them liable for anything that happened to the grid, without any proof that of responsibility. It seems that protecting networks from possible failures is something that is a Good Thing, and creating a situation where the network is actually looking at creating a robust network rather than simply making it appear more robust by making sure that no one can legitimately hook something that might cause problems.

Where o where is Farber when you need him?

The crux of net neutrality is not that all consumers of data be treated alike -- it's that all producers of data be treated alike.

The whole point of the Net is that every one of us is a publisher with our own printing press. It's a democracy of voices. Without net neutrality, money power can suppress content they don't like, for arbitrary reasons.

If you are Comcast, and Wikileaks has your corporate dirty laundry spread out for all to see, and it's within your power to make the entire Wikileaks domain veerrrry verrry slloooooow for all your millions of customers, and there's nothing to prevent you, why then Bob's your uncle.

Already Comcast is "traffic shaping" -- interfering with the proper funtioning of one of the fundamental net protocols to disadvantage certain kinds of traffic, ostensibly because they don't like some of the content being exchanged in that traffic. (The actual reasons have more to do with the essential fraudulence of the promises made by their marketeers.)

If the phone company automatically disconnected any call that mentioned Iraq, regardless of the context, we'd see it as intolerable, a complete violation of the "common carrier" rules that
they are required to uphold. Yet this is a rough analogy to Comcast's poisoning of bittorrent.

Without net neutrality, every internet carrier, backbone, and networking company is empowered to censor and disadvantage the traffic they carry as they see fit.

OCSteve, where does this crazy reflexive fear of a new Fairness Doctrine among republicans and former republicans come from? I mean it appears to exist absent any evidence at all! Bill Clinton's FCC didn't have one, and I can't imagine that it will be any different under the next Democratic president.

In fact, any examination of any serious effort to control the content of OTA broadcasts over the last, say, ten years will show that it comes from Republicans.

If I apply the same principle, then the government needs to intervene right now to force the cable company to deliver HD content for the same price I’m paying for basic access.

This seems confused to me. Net neutrality doesn't require providers to sell "transport bits at 1 kb/sec" and "transport bits at 10 mb/sec" at identical prices. It requires that once providers agree to transport bits at X kb/sec, they have to honor that agreement without regard to what data those bits encode.

HD channels involve a lot more bits than standard channels. Again, there's nothing wrong with charging people more in exchange for more bandwidth.

So tomorrow you get an email from your ISP that says, essentially

"We find it inconvenient and uneconomic to support the protocols and servers of the blog community, and as of this notice we reserve the right to throttle or completely disable traffic to or from blogger.com, haloscan.com, typepad.com and similar domains at our sole discretion."

Would that perhaps make you think that net neutrality was an important issue?

ATT and Comcast have started down this road; it's just not the bloggers' ox that's being gored at this time.

"OCSteve, where does this crazy reflexive fear of a new Fairness Doctrine among republicans and former republicans come from? I mean it appears to exist absent any evidence at all! Bill Clinton's FCC didn't have one, and I can't imagine that it will be any different under the next Democratic president.

In fact, any examination of any serious effort to control the content of OTA broadcasts over the last, say, ten years will show that it comes from Republicans."

This is not correct. In January of 2007, Andy wrote on the topic as occassioned by a suggestion by Kucinich that bringing back the Fairness Doctrine should be considered. The main objection in the comments appears to be that he wasn't really serious. In July of 2007, we find that generally well respected Democrat, Senator Durbin was arguing on the floor for the Fairness Doctrine. In the vote that surrounded that debate, efforts to make clear that the FCC should not reintroduce a poltical content influence scheme were voted down in the Senate.

Very popular blogger David Neiwert thinks that the fairness doctrine is one of the most important things to reinstate in his idea of a needed media revolt.

And that is all the result of about 5 minutes of research. On a scale of ONE to HEALTH CARE, the return of the fairness doctrine might rate like a 4 on the Democrats' agenda, but it is definitely there.

"If I apply the same principle, then the government needs to intervene right now to force the cable company to deliver HD content for the same price I’m paying for basic access."

Good news, then, as you'll no longer have to worry about paying less for HD as of February 17th, 2009.

Joel, do you have anything to back up your concerns? All I see are unsourced claims of dire happenings.

LJ, I'm thinking more of the telcom model, wherein common carriers and others must certify that devices that interact with the SS7 network (the modern backbone for the telephone network and, by extension, the internet as well) will not harm the SS& network.

I know this is completely off topic but:
http://www.alternet.org/democracy/77498/?page=entire>Link

This seems confused to me. Net neutrality doesn't require providers to sell "transport bits at 1 kb/sec" and "transport bits at 10 mb/sec" at identical prices.

Yeah, bad analogy on my part. It is a two tier system, but the choice is left with the consumer.

Two things I'd like to see from a democratic FCC are low-power FM, and guaranteed air-time for candidates (of more than sound-bite length). Both are about improving the public discourse.

Another thing I'd like to see (although it doesn't involve the FCC) is for the govt to make our libel and slander laws more similar to those in Europe. Here, you can libel/slander a public figure and there's no recourse. There, public figures are protected just like anyone else. Real libel/slander laws would put Limbaugh, OReilly, and so forth out of business real fast.

Time to codify the principles of net neutrality, the fairness doctrine, and diversity of ownership in the Constitution, and not be constantly at the mercy of the political process. Yeah, right.

Josh-

Your revisions to the libel/slander laws sound like the beginning of a slippery slope to a new Sedition Act to me.

Von: you do understand that your internet posting passes through maybe ten carriers before I see it? And that without net neutrality, any of those carriers is free to "shape traffic"?

(I'm in a hurry to get to work; this is gonna be even uglier than my usual sloppy work. I could find better stuff if I had time. sorry)

There's this

here

here

this

here

here

here

here (Some email will be more equal than others; pay up or we might not deliver anytime soon. Or ever.)

A whitepaper

An abstract. Note that net-neutrality is defined as discrimination based on the identity of the source or the destination of the packets.

here

this

I submitted a post with maybe fifteen links to articles that substantiate and discuss various aspects of my rather hyperventilated claims above. It's being held for moderation because it contains so many links. Will the mods please take a look at it and expedite? thanks

MDS - I don't see why better libel/slander laws would turn out any differently than they do in, say, England. I've known for a long time that the quality of news broadcasting and the quality of public discourse in Europe was way better than it is here. I only recently realized that the difference is a direct result of government policy.


"I know this is completely off topic but"

So that's why you put it either in this post, or this current open thread, and gave us a clue what it's about, and so maybe we clicked on it.

That's how we knew you were paying enough attention that it might be worth our while to take an interest. Or not.

"Another thing I'd like to see (although it doesn't involve the FCC) is for the govt to make our libel and slander laws more similar to those in Europe."

Good lord, that's a terrific idea if you favor the ability of the wealthy, including corporations, to suppress reporting about them. How very very horrible that idea is. Do you have any clue how many books and news articles get suppressed in Britain and Europe that way?

Good news for people like David Irving, though. We want more of that sort of thing, for instance?

I sat next to Kevin Martin at a dinner my employer was sponsoring at the Texas Association of Broadcasters Convention a few years ago.

A nice, friendly guy, but I kept on thinking he didn't look old enough to shave yet.

Von: you do understand that your internet posting passes through maybe ten carriers before I see it? And that without net neutrality, any of those carriers is free to "shape traffic"?

Yes, I understand that. I am just not (yet) seeing the harm. The examples that you provide reflect abuses (by and large). But there are going to be abuses regardless of the "net neutrality" program that you put in place. The question is, how should the abuses be dealt with? Although I am favor of some practical changes to reduce barriers to innovation, exchange, and commerce, but I am not sure that either the heavy handed or anarcho-libertarian extremes of net neutrality are preferrable. More importantly, I've scanned through a number of your examples, and none seem to have gone completely unresolved. Put another way, there are current mechanisms -- market pressure, complaints, alternative carriers, etc. -- that come into play when a company goes too far.

(And, incidentally, this is one reason why I think the term "net neutrality" near useless: it can mean pretty much whatever you want it to.)

Regardless of the merits of various changes one might make to libel and slander laws, such changes are outside the scope of the FCC's authority.

In addition, one cannot simply transplant european style libel/slander laws to the US; the laws are rooted in a set of legal principles that doesn't really exist in the US. You could make changes but the process would not be simple and may involve devaluing long held societal notions about the value of a person's reputation or image or name.

Also, when last I looked, UK libel/slander laws seemed...bad. That's not to say that US libel/slander laws are perfect, but narrower changes addressing specific problems might be a better approach than the wholesale overturning of our libel/slander laws.

Since it's a somewhat rare event, let me make clear that I agree with Farber on this point:

Good lord, that's a terrific idea if you favor the ability of the wealthy, including corporations, to suppress reporting about them. How very very horrible that idea is. Do you have any clue how many books and news articles get suppressed in Britain and Europe that way?

"I only recently realized that the difference is a direct result of government policy."

I suggest spending a lot more time looking into the suppressive aspects of British libel law, in that case, since you only recently found out anything about it. There's no possible way I think it's a positive trade-off. Much crucial reporting could never have been done under British law. Do you have any idea how many leftist publications would be forced out of business, just from the threat of a lawsuit, and having to pay for a defense? Or how many mainstream news reports would never see the light of day? How much reporting on government officials couldn't be done for fear of suit? How many corporations would be suing for libel? Emember, it's not enough to prove you're correct. You have to be able to afford paying for proof though to the end of all trials and legal appeals, possibly for decades.

I suggest that the downside of this is considerably more than the upside you envison.

Gary - Interesting. I admit I have little knowledge on the subject. I'll look into it more deeply.

Here's another thought, as long as we're on the subject of the FCC, and more generally, the quality of our public discourse.

Most newsrooms don't do any real research or fact-checking these days. Is there anything the FCC could do to change the incentive structures there?

Yes, I understand that. I am just not (yet) seeing the harm. The examples that you provide reflect abuses (by and large). But there are going to be abuses regardless of the "net neutrality" program that you put in place. The question is, how should the abuses be dealt with?


Von,

I think the point is right now that internet providers currently believe that they may have an ill-written obligation to ensure net-neutrality right now, but, they're also trying to push the envelope while at the same time lobbying for new laws that would ensure that they were under no obligation to ensure net neutrality. That sounds clear as mud.

Consequently, the problem isn't necessarily what is happening right now, but what would happen in an environment where providers felt they had no obligation to ensure neutrality. Since providers are actively lobbying Congress to bring about this environment, I don't think those concerns are implausible.

Most newsrooms don't do any real research or fact-checking these days. Is there anything the FCC could do to change the incentive structures there?

Be careful what you wish for. Not that hard for a more authoritarian FCC to make this into a censorship tool.

Saudi royals and Uzbek gangsters have used the libel laws to suppress books, magazine articles, and websites. So far, bloggers, with less financially at stake than traditional publishers, have been the most willing to fight back.

Can we stop with the Fairness Doctrine bogeyman nonsense? IIRC, there was either a publius post or one of Gary's informative comments that the Fairness Doctrine didn't require "equal time" or require "fair" reporting, it simply required that someone be given a right to reply to charges aired on the radio/tv networks (again IIRC). E.g., after Rush spends 3 hours saying Nancy Pelosi is objectively pro-terrorist and eats the little baby jesus and aborted fetuses for dinner, she could get on for three minutes and make her case that she is and does no such things.

Not that I'm in favor of it returning.

OCSteve: "It is monopolies that are responsible for a good part of the infrastructure we have now. The “mom-n-pop ISP” is not going to have the ability to install a new backbone for instance. I don’t support monopolies in principle, but they are the most effective at getting some things done."

Not to be snarky, but this comment struck me, OCSteve. In particular, because sometimes the monopoly most effective at getting things done is the government.

Now all that out of the way, I'm not going to start expecting a lot from the Democratic FEC, for every one Rick Boucher, there's dozens of Democrats in the pockets of the telecoms and entertainment industry. An FEC run by the Democrats will almost certainly be better than the one run by the Republicans has been, but I'm not expecting much.

Four more years till we can finally get rid of Joe Lieberman (CN-Lieberman). That'd be a good step to telecom sanity.

Great work, Sebastian! When we factor out Kucinich, who not only has gotten pretty much no legislation ever signed into law during his tenure in the House, he didn't even introduce any on the topic at hand; and Neiwert, who I'm pretty sure is not a legislator of any kind; we end up with one bit of speechifyin' by Dick Durbin. Well, that put me in my place.

And that is all the result of about 5 minutes of research.

Well, its brilliance is certainly not overshadowed by the brevity of effort.

Meanwhile, I suppose something more substantial, like a link to something in the Democratic Party platform, is forthcoming.
When I'm free on Sunday, I'll post lots of links to efforts by Republicans to control the content of over-the-air broadcasts and to punish broadcasters for certain kinds of content. To the point of introducing actual legislation and "sense-of-the-Senate" garbage, unlike anything Democrats have done regarding a Fairness Doctrine.

Here's what I want out of a Democratic FCC:

More funding for public TV and public radio. Lots more. Hell, I'd love to see something like the BBC develop here, not to mention not-for-profit newspapers.

It's nice to dream.

von:

I agree that the term "net neutrality" is covers so many different ideas that it's nigh useless.

I don't object to tiered cost/bandwidth, in either direction, as long as it's content-neutral and endpoint-neutral.

I do object to disadvantaging service based on either the identity of the sender or the recipient, or the content of the communications.

The "common carrier" policy served us well during the era of switched communication systems. The part of the muddle of ideas called net neutrality that seems most compelling to me is the idea that ISPs and backbone carriers must either act as common carriers, or lose their immunity to being sued for the content they carry.

The Comcast/bittorrent issue is difficult to see clearly, I think, because the waters are so muddied by copyright concerns. Bittorrent is simply a very efficient way of distributing large files. It is used to distribute Linux binaries, something major coporations are coming to use and depend on. It is used to distribute other perfectly legal content. It's also used to massively violate copyright by distributing music and video.

But we've been here before. Bittorrent as a protocol is content-neutral; it has "substantial non-infringing uses". It's the equivalent of the VCR. To pursue the analogy, Comcast and its allies are making my VCR incapable of recording home movies because I could also use my VCR to record NFL football.

Comcast is filtering content. They think this is just fine.

You are a content provider. It's not your content being filtered. Yet.

@Sarah J: That's not remotely the job of the FCC. Congress funds.

Publius (or anyone else), I've got a question about providers who complain about net neutrality that you might be able to answer. I've heard the claim that net neutrality destroys the incentive to invest in new infrastructure because the net neutrality prohibits price discrimination imposed by per-flow traffic shaping. But where precisely would this shaping happen and what benefit could it possibly bring?

Here's the deal: the central routers deep in the internet's core are never going to be doing traffic shaping at the level of individual flows. So per-flow shaping can only happen at the edge networks (say Comcast). But those networks are already awash in bandwidth; moving bytes between two points in Comcast's network is cheaper than moving bytes between two random points in the internet.

The only real problem I can see is moving data to the customer on the very last mile. Bandwidth is severely limited there. However, shaping can be done effectively by the router on the consumer side of that pipe, right? The consumer's router drop/delay/rewrite packets to ensure that the aggregate volume of data coming in was less than the last mile's pipe size. It seems like this could work today and would be substantially easier than adding QoS left and right to every device in sight. That puts shaping under the consumer's control and completely sidesteps any neutrality issues.

The network is a commons. There is ample precedent for managing a commons via a monopoly (e.g., telephone, cable, electricity, water, sewage, etc.).

Right on the money. Perfectly said.

Now, I agree that using a monopoly to manage a commons is usually more ineffecient than the alternatives

I agree. WRT a commons, however, efficiency of management may not be the highest priority.

Maintaining the commonly shared resource *as* a commonly shared resource, equally available to all, is quite often of equal or greater value.

the Fairness Doctrine didn't require "equal time" or require "fair" reporting, it simply required that someone be given a right to reply to charges aired on the radio/tv networks

That's correct. If you broadcast something that someone else thought was false or biased, they could ask to rebut on air.

If you thought the request was spurious, you could say no. They could then, if sufficiently motivated, take it to the FCC, who would then decide if a rebuttal was warranted.

The practical result of this was that every now and then somebody, often some visibly nervous person with a bad haircut, would get about three minutes to present an alternative point of view on some editorial topic. It didn't happen very often.

It just was not that big of a deal, but it did make it just a little more difficult to say any damned thing you liked on the air. It would probably render phenomena like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh impractical. Not impossible, just impractical.

Thanks -

sorry - i'm late. i will respond to several of these points later today. but to chime in quickly, there is zero chance for a fairness doctrine. it's a terrible idea. it won't be adopted (kucinich doesn't drive the dem agenda, to put it gently). and it's probably unconstitutional anyway.

Sorry, another thought here.

There are a number of applications that are currently offered on "the internet" that are very sensitive to quality of service. VOIP, internet TV, some other streaming applications.

Others are remarkably insensitive to QOS. Email, plain old text and static image web browsing, probably IM.

The distinctions here seem to fall along the lines of whether near real time delivery is needed, and/or if lossiness is tolerable.

IMO there is a good argument to be made for tiering network services to guarantee QOS for those applications which require it. This can probably be done at a protocol level (although it may be tricky to detect the actual application protocol in some cases, for instance when they are tunneled through a secure "wrapper" protocol).

This is still quite different from shaping traffic to favor based on content, and in particular by who is sending or receiving the content.

Thanks -

I think the point is right now that internet providers currently believe that they may have an ill-written obligation to ensure net-neutrality right now, but, they're also trying to push the envelope while at the same time lobbying for new laws that would ensure that they were under no obligation to ensure net neutrality. That sounds clear as mud.

Yes, but doesn't that suggest a middle ground approach, i.e., oppose all regulations -- both pro and con?

I'm just thinking out loud here, Turbulence. I haven't quite decided myself on the right way forward, and I do agree that there are potential problems here. But there are too many cases where well-meaning regulations cause greater problems than they solve (and I'd count British libel laws and the fairness doctrine as examples).

I do object to disadvantaging service based on either the identity of the sender or the recipient, or the content of the communications.

The "common carrier" policy served us well during the era of switched communication systems. The part of the muddle of ideas called net neutrality that seems most compelling to me is the idea that ISPs and backbone carriers must either act as common carriers, or lose their immunity to being sued for the content they carry.

Aside from a quibble -- we're still largely in a switched environment, albeit not so much on the internet -- I see the merit here. We have a model that has worked in the past and that allows for innovation without, hopefully, harmful disruptions to either content providers or technical innovators.

Regarding Comcast's (c) protection strategy, I'm inclined to agree with you analysis here as well. But in my view -- maybe yours too -- it's not clear that more regulation is needed here (yet) either. Indeed, it may be that we really have a problem with certain applications of (c) law to the modern era, rather than a problem that should fall within the vague cloud of net neutrality. (Again, II haven't come to any firm conclusion here -- I'm only commenting that it's very confusing.)

there is zero chance for a fairness doctrine.

I could not agree with you more.

it's a terrible idea.... and it's probably unconstitutional anyway

Couldn't agree less.

Given the first point, the second is probably moot. It's probably not worth the energy required to debate it.

For some reason, however, whenever the spectre of the dreaded Fairness Doctrine raises its ugly head, I feel obliged to call to mind how utterly benign it was when we actually had it.

Thanks -

Me: "Aside from a quibble -- we're still largely in a switched environment, albeit not so much on the internet -- I see the merit here."

Retract that quibble! I know what thought I'm trying to express here, but don't know enough to express it correctly, and this expression is just plain wrong.

Regarding Comcast's (c) protection strategy, I'm inclined to agree with you analysis here as well. But in my view -- maybe yours too -- it's not clear that more regulation is needed here (yet) either. Indeed, it may be that we really have a problem with certain applications of (c) law to the modern era, rather than a problem that should fall within the vague cloud of net neutrality. (Again, II haven't come to any firm conclusion here -- I'm only commenting that it's very confusing.)

I had the impression part of the problems was that Comcast is not being upfront about what they do and why. And that requiring them to be more transparent would be helpful. (Thought it occurs to me that common carrier status would be helpful here...)

IMO there is a good argument to be made for tiering network services to guarantee QOS for those applications which require it. This can probably be done at a protocol level (although it may be tricky to detect the actual application protocol in some cases, for instance when they are tunneled through a secure "wrapper" protocol).

Sure, implementing QoS would be great, but why precisely does it have to happen in the edge network rather than on the customer's side? The primary bottleneck is the link that's directly attached to the customer's router. Traffic from the customer will have to queue inside the router in the customer's house (because the customer is generating outbound traffic faster than the link can deliver it) and you can certainly reorder and drop packets within that queue. Voila, QoS! In fact, outbound traffic has to be prioritized at the customer's router; by the time packets have left that router, its too late to ensure QoS because high priority packets are waiting indefinitely behind a large batch of low priority ones in the customer's router's queue.

The trick is dealing with inbound data. You could shape traffic on the edge network's end of the last link to the customer, but why do that? The customer's router can theoretically manipulate outbound packets to force other hosts to throttle the rate at which they send data to the customer. Its a lot easier to do this munging in the customer's router than it is in the edge network: the customer's router only has to process data as fast as the slowest link in the system can send it while the edge network router has to process data at line speed as fast as many customers in aggregate can send it.

Sure, implementing QoS would be great, but why precisely does it have to happen in the edge network rather than on the customer's side?

We're rapidly approaching the top edge of my personal pay grade here, but in a prior position I worked on systems that delivered voice apps over both switched (as in, POTS) and VOIP channels.

The POTS stuff was fine. The VOIP stuff, less fine, due to issues with the carrier. IIRC the issues had less to do with the basic bandwidth capacity of the carrier's infrastructure, and more to do with the fact that they were tuned to carrying data rather than voice.

Sorry that I can't provide more technical detail, but I wasn't hands-on with the telephony side of the house. The folks that were had big headaches with the carrier regarding QOS, and the issue was definitely not the interface (HW and SW) between us and them.

Thanks -

On a scale of ONE to HEALTH CARE, the return of the fairness doctrine might rate like a 4 on the Democrats' agenda, but it is definitely there.

Just want to note, Sebastian, that these kinds of comments are why I'm a fan.

Incidentally, just spent a good part of two weeks in your fair city before coming back to the cold. Next time I'm out there, perhaps I'll give a call.

Oh, sure. Call Sebastian, and don't call me.

Big meanie.

We're rapidly approaching the top edge of my personal pay grade here, but in a prior position I worked on systems that delivered voice apps over both switched (as in, POTS) and VOIP channels.

We've exceeded mine, but that's never stopped me from commenting before:

The POTS stuff was fine. The VOIP stuff, less fine, due to issues with the carrier. IIRC the issues had less to do with the basic bandwidth capacity of the carrier's infrastructure, and more to do with the fact that they were tuned to carrying data rather than voice.

I thought that a difference VOIP was that all of that data channel, voice channel, out-of-band, in-band, MF, DTMF, etc., etc. crap was not particularly relevant. Wrong? If not, how does VOIP get turned to carrying data rather than voice? Doesn't voice = data in this environment?

Oh, sure. Call Sebastian, and don't call me.

Oh, I'll be back in your city soon enough, Slarti. But I usually wait until August (perfect time to go).

This is still quite different from shaping traffic to favor based on content, and in particular by who is sending or receiving the content.

That seems right, but isn't it much harder to draw a bright line between legitimate uses of that sort of tiering and using it to degrade or block applications that an ISP views as competitors to other services it provides (like TV and phone)?

The POTS stuff was fine. The VOIP stuff, less fine, due to issues with the carrier. IIRC the issues had less to do with the basic bandwidth capacity of the carrier's infrastructure, and more to do with the fact that they were tuned to carrying data rather than voice.

I'll take a guess as to what the issue here was. IP data networks are typically designed to maximize throughput at the expense of latency and especially jigger (the variability of latency).Typically, this happens because dumb routers have excessively large first-in-first-out queues so delay-sensitive voice packets end up behind large batches of delay-insensitive data waiting for their chance to cross the bottleneck link.

That seems right, but isn't it much harder to draw a bright line between legitimate uses of that sort of tiering and using it to degrade or block applications that an ISP views as competitors to other services it provides (like TV and phone)?

With the caveat, again, that I'm talking somewhat out of my area of technical expertise:

I think in principle it's not hard to distinguish between filtering packets based on (for example) the protocol they implement -- VOIP vs email, for example -- and filtering based on who sent them and/or is receiving them.

In practice, it might be hard to enforce a rule that an ISP can filter for one and not the other.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that there *may* be useful and legitimate reasons to manipulate packet traffic in the interest of QOS that are independent of gaming the network for commercial advantage.

As Turbulence points out, at the backbone level the capacity may be so great that the distinction is more or less noise, and that the real gains in most cases will be in the last mile (or even last inch of the last mile).

I have now achieved the limit of what I'm qualified to discuss from a technical point of view. I'd be highly interested in the opinions of folks who know more than I do on the topic.

Thanks!!

On a scale of ONE to HEALTH CARE, the return of the fairness doctrine might rate like a 4 on the Democrats' agenda, but it is definitely there.

Just want to note, Sebastian, that these kinds of comments are why I'm a fan.

You guys are fans of folks in one political party, or of one ideological preference, getting to make declarations you'd like regarded as authoritative on what the agenda of their opposition is?

I'd like to be clear about this for the future, and everyone's ability to play.

I look forward to your accepting my declarations about what is and isn't on the conservative or libertarian or Republican agenda, and hearing that you're a fan of this.

Since it couldn't be an "it's only ok if you're a Republican/conservative/libertarian things," and is something you're consistent about enjoying. Another useful thing to know.

Oh, sure. Call Sebastian, and don't call me.

Big meanie.

Humph. If not calling someone when you come to town makes someone a "big meanie," then....

I'll take a guess as to what the issue here was.

That sounds about right.

On our end, our interface to the network was a dedicated (and expensive) VOIP switch. We were basically our own retail-level ISP with gear dedicated to fielding VOIP apps.

The issue was upstream of us, and your analysis aligns more or less exactly of my memory of the problems we saw.

Basically, the long and the short of it was that telephony apps we delivered over VOIP yielded a less-than-seamless end user experience.

It's precisely the kind of distinction you are drawing here -- packet handling tuned correctly for data that causes poor QOS for applications with more real-time requirements -- that seem like good, value-adding opportunities for packet filtering, and that could be provided independently of favoring traffic for particular senders or receivers.

I'm not enough of a network engineer to say where that filtering would best be done.

Thanks -

I think in principle it's not hard to distinguish between filtering packets based on (for example) the protocol they implement -- VOIP vs email, for example -- and filtering based on who sent them and/or is receiving them.

I can see that, but I wasn't so much thinking about filtering by sender or recipient, but about anticompetitive filtering based on protocol or other characteristics. If an ISP is a cable TV provider, it could block or degrade traffic using protocols involved in transmitting video over the Internet. Similarly an ISP that also provides phone service could filter VOIP. Isn't that sort of thing already happening?

I'd like to be clear about this for the future, and everyone's ability to play.

Unfortunately, Gary, your ability to play depended on having filled out the appropriate forms, in triplicate, and sent them, first class mail postage prepaid, with a postmark of on or before August 13, 1987. I can see from the list that you apparently only filled out and timely mailed the requisite documents in duplicate, not triplicate. Although you subsequently recognized your error and sought to send the third copy, regrettably, the postmark was August 14. Accordingly, you cannot play.

I can see that, but I wasn't so much thinking about filtering by sender or recipient, but about anticompetitive filtering based on protocol or other characteristics.

OK, I see what you're saying.

Yes, it seems like there would be opportunities for anti-competitive tampering even at a protocol or application level.

I don't know if that happens now, or not.

I think I have to stand down from this discussion now. I just don't know enough to add much more from a technical POV.

That doesn't always stop me, but it seems like there are folks here who do know what they're talking about, so I doubt I'd get away it with very long. :)

Thanks -

"Great work, Sebastian! When we factor out Kucinich, who not only has gotten pretty much no legislation ever signed into law during his tenure in the House, he didn't even introduce any on the topic at hand; and Neiwert, who I'm pretty sure is not a legislator of any kind; we end up with one bit of speechifyin' by Dick Durbin. Well, that put me in my place."

I take it that you didn't click the links or you would have seen the associated nearly party line vote associated with the Durbin speech? And I take it you didn't read what Durbin said?

I'm not trying to put anyone 'in their place', I'm noting that actual Democrats in the actual Senate have actually voted in a way to keep the dream of the Fairness Doctrine alive instead of squashing it like the icky bug it is.

It also plays into broad Democratic themes like 'big media', 'bad corporations', 'bad money in politics'.

Gary: "I look forward to your accepting my declarations about what is and isn't on the conservative or libertarian or Republican agenda, and hearing that you're a fan of this."

It kind of depends on what you mean by 'on the... agenda'. Since my statement about how high it was on the Democratic agenda was that it was low to middling, feel free to find other similar things on other people's agenda if you think the evidence warrants it.

By analogy: if Republicans came to power with a Republican president, I would expect the chances of Congress attempting to outlaw homosexual practices is much lower than a new Fairness Doctrine being added under a Democratic Congress with a Democratic president. Yet the threat to homosexuals of conservative wins in Congress are constantly hyped.

Furthermore, if Democrats definitely didn't want a new fairness doctrine, they had the perfect opportunity to clarify that in the July vote.

I'm not claiming it is a TOP priority. But I will be unsurprised to see movement in that direction if Democrats gain control of both houses and the presidency. It fits too well with many of their current themes.

I just don't understand why I don't remember the police state we used to live under when the fairness doctrine was in force. Sure, maybe the fairness doctrine is a bad thing, but the conservative fear of it seems way over the top.

but the conservative fear of it seems way over the top.

For many definitions of "it."

And let me add to my list:

5. The Fairness Doctrine

Since the Fairness Doctrine was used by both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations to squelch opponent views, I guess you just weren't paying attention.

Since the Fairness Doctrine was used by both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations to squelch opponent views, I guess you just weren't paying attention.

I think it's a truism that an simple, "effective" will swing both ways--it can be used to encourage free speech and it could be used to squelch free speech.

It may behoove us to think more globally and imaginatively...

Since the Fairness Doctrine was used by both the Kennedy and Nixon administrations to squelch opponent views, I guess you just weren't paying attention.

Could well have been before KC was born.

Kennedy used the FD in the '60 election to harass the hell out of editorialists on smallish conservative media outlets. It was an effective strategy. He didn't win by much, maybe that made the difference for him.

I'm not familiar with Nixon's use of it.

I, personally, balance that against the cesspool of mindless, hateful blather that political broadcast media has become ever since it was rescinded.

You pay your money and you take your choice.

Thanks -

"By analogy: if Republicans came to power with a Republican president, I would expect the chances of Congress attempting to outlaw homosexual practices is much lower than a new Fairness Doctrine being added under a Democratic Congress with a Democratic president. Yet the threat to homosexuals of conservative wins in Congress are constantly hyped."

This would be a better analogy if the person you're making it to had ever said any such thing. I'm responding to something you actually just said.

I'll keep in mind that you, and perhaps von, will in future applaud me should I "find other similar things on other people's agenda," including the agendas of "the Republicans," and announce them to you. Sounds like a plan.

In any case, as I've said a number of times, I don't think it would be a good idea to try to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

Setting aside a whole bunch of other perfectly valid reasons, given that the tv broadcast industry and the internet will obviously be effectively merging, I'd like to hear suggestions from anyone as to how the Fairness Doctrine would be expected to intersect with streaming video channels on one's blog, or even with one's choice of which YouTube videos to post.

I'd like to hear suggestions from anyone as to how the Fairness Doctrine would be expected to intersect with streaming video channels on one's blog, or even with one's choice of which YouTube videos to post.

I'm unable to find a link, but several years ago I read about a legal question in a european country over right of response. Apparently, the country in question had a law in place that required that "broadcasters" provide people that they discussed an opportunity to respond after the story had been published.

I believe that print media were also subject to this law. The question arose as to whether or not blogs were also print media: if I write on my blog that Gary Farber is a baby eater, do I have to notify him of the blog post in a timely manner and add any response he gives me to the original post?

Now, right of response is a much narrower thing than the Fairness Doctrine so this doesn't directly address your question. On the other hand, mandating right of response seems like a fairly practical thing to do. It all depends on the details, but a legal framework where people were required to make a token effort at notification and then further required to add a link to the subject's response does not strike as overly burdensome. It could probably even be automated.

Yes, it seems like there would be opportunities for anti-competitive tampering even at a protocol or application level.

There was this

Not sure if that fits your definitions, but it's the kind of thing I worry about when I worry about "net neutrality".

You can be wrong all weekend and I'm just not going to care...

Are you sure you're not going to care? I'd hate to have you wake in a cold sweat at 3 AM Sunday, thinking, "Seabickits! I just KNOW that Jeff is posting again!" [grin]

===================

On a scale of ONE to HEALTH CARE

That's good -- I may have to use it.

I'd say the equivalent for Republicans might be ONE to ISLAMOFASCISTS

Incidentally, publius, if you haven't read the story I linked here, you might want to check it out for the stuff on McCain and spectrum war issues.

Gary: Since it couldn't be an "it's only ok if you're a Republican/conservative/libertarian things," and is something you're consistent about enjoying. Another useful thing to know.

Lighten up dude. ;)

You can appreciate a turn of phrase without it being overtly political.

I'd like to hear suggestions from anyone as to how the Fairness Doctrine would be expected to intersect with streaming video channels on one's blog, or even with one's choice of which YouTube videos to post.

I don't think the FD would really apply.

Traditional broadcast spectrum is a finite resource. It's closely regulated by the federal government, and access to it is granted exclusively by license. If you build yourself an FM transmitter and start broadcasting, you will find this to be so in a hurry.

The internet, as a channel, is relatively infinite. If you can find someone to host your stuff, or if you're clever and can host it yourself, you're in. It's a very, very low bar.

The FD was not about guaranteeing that every point of view be heard through every medium, everywhere. It provided means of gaining access to a very specific, finite, and federally regulated channel to folks who felt their point of view was not represented there. Assuming they had the gumption to ask.

The FD wasn't about regulating content. It was about ensuring access to the channel. The internet is sufficiently accessible that it doesn't really need a FD.

IMO the FD was a fine thing in its day, but I'm not sure it would be a good idea now. It's too easily abused.

To function well, the FD needs a widely held and shared understanding of public, civic life as a common good. We don't really have that any more. We used to, I remember it, and it was a good thing.

These days, it would simply offer a way for every disgruntled, pissed off Dittohead (on either side) to harass the hell out of every radio and TV license holder in the US.

So, while I disagree with virtually every argument presented here and elsewhere against the FD, I'm not sure I'd recommend bringing it back. IMO we're no longer responsible enough to use it well.

Thanks -

russell: That is an argument I can eminently respect even while disagreeing with it. Well said.

To function well, the FD needs a widely held and shared understanding of public, civic life as a common good. We don't really have that any more. We used to, I remember it, and it was a good thing.

I'm afraid I don't get this...are you saying that in the last 50 years human nature has fundamentally changed? Or that people no longer value public life?

You might be correct, but its all kind of unclear to me and typically, when people say "X used to be really great in the past but has gone to heck lately", they're just irrationally romanticizing the past.

are you saying that in the last 50 years human nature has fundamentally changed?

No.

Or that people no longer value public life?

Not exactly. I'm saying that, in this country, people have come to give less value to, and have lost respect for, the institutions that make up our common, public life.

I could go on at length about it, which would be very boring, so I won't.

For purposes of this discussion, I'll just say that, as I recall it, broadcast bandwidth was once commonly considered a shared resource, managed as a public trust, in the public interest, and broadcasters seemed to recognize that as a real responsibility, and to accept it as a condition of holding their license.

Newspapers and print, different story. But, they're a different kind of resource.

when people say "X used to be really great in the past but has gone to heck lately", they're just irrationally romanticizing the past.

Memory is a tricky thing. Mine ain't what it used to be. You could easily be right.

Even so, I think there is something to what I'm saying here.

Thanks -

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