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September 01, 2009

Comments

Say what you will about Julian Sanchez, at least he has an ethos.

Net neutrality is especially vital in the US because there's so little competition in the broadband market. In the UK, they seem to be letting the net neutrality thing slide, but it's more justifiable since you have money more broadband options. The biggest ISP, BT, also tries to sell you phone and TV service, like most US ISPs, and BT brazenly admitted to throttling the BBC's hulu-like service. The justification of course is that too many people watching the BBC online in the evenings saturates the pipes, but of course they also have an obvious interest in making the BBC's online service seem sucky so that you will continue to pay BT for television service.

In the UK, it's less of a bummer though, because you can just tell BT to get lost and sign up for a different, much cheaper and much faster broadband service, an option you don't have to have almost anywhere in the US.

Additionally, the UK market suggests that the big cable/telephone companies lag in delivering speedy broadband. After all, the much faster, cheaper dedicated broadband ISPs in the UK are selling you a better and cheaper service than BT *over BT's pipes*.

The big firms just want to sell you an ignorant slob's package of phone, TV, and internet, with relatively crappy quality of service for each of those components. Net neutrality is doom for them, because in reality these days all you want is the cheapest, fattest data pipe you can find. You don't need a landline, and you can get your TV over the internet anyway.

Also, the effort to introduce data caps, say limiting you to 100GB per month, is back-door net non-neutrality. It's clearly targeted at iTunes and other equivalent services that compete with the ISP's TV offerings. By the ISP's own admission, their pipes are only "congested" at certain peak times, generally the early evening. There's no justification for capping downloads then, since the ISPs are already throttling at peak times, which is equivalent to charging you more at those times since your monthly fee is fixed.

Per Wikipedia:

"According to Google's official statement to the FCC, the Google Voice application uses the carrier's voice network to place phone calls, dispelling any rumors about it being a voice over IP application."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Voice

The app would, however, use data for other features.

Good post. It seems obvious that you can't base any regulatory scheme on the threat of enacting regulation.

One quibble about the crowd-sourcing aspect, though. Every successful crowd-sourcing narrative would revolve around "someone who noticed something" -- you can't very well use that example as some sort of exception that undermines crowd-sourcing. You have to be more explicit in saying that the carriers might get so sophisticated that crowd-sourcing stops working. But the narrative you pick supports, not undermines, crowd-sourcing.

Speaking of open networks, what ever happened to D3dave? Did you ban him permanently?

I'm sympathetic to the goals of Net Neutrality (in at least some of its forms). But there're some logical disconnects in your arguments, Publius. You write:

First, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Remember that net neutrality advocates are seeking to maintain the status quo. The Internet has operated under mandated openness since pretty much forever. And it's been a big success.

First, it's always a red flag when someone argues that we need something new (in this case, new regulations) so that we can continue to do something we've always done (i.e., maintain the status quo). Things have functioned pretty well so far without new regulations, as you concede, and new regulations are going to additional costs, if only the costs of compliance. These costs will fall on established players, of course, but will more heavily burden start ups and smaller providers. It strikes me that the onus is those proposing new regulations to show why they are worth the cost.

That's particularly true given the glaring hole in your evidence: The only examples that you can find of failures in the current scheme are cases in which the existing system corrected a violation. That's evidence that the current system is working -- not that it has failed.

Your argument thus boils down to the claim that the current system needs to change because you can envision circumstances in which it might fail.

Second, what scope of new regulations are you proposing? I've seen a lot of versions of "net neutrality", some of which I might be able to live with and some of which I'd fight tooth and nail to defeat. What are the key components of your version of net neutrality?

An additional thought: the distinctions between VoIP, "regular" phone calls (in, e.g., the SS7 network), the wireless network, and data transmissions (including via SMS and MMS protocols) are eroding. Net neutrality could very well have side effects on the broader telecom world. I'd like to see some of those possible side effects at least discussed, if only to show that they don't exist.

By the way, I'm raising these issues in comments because I'm curious about your answers, Publius. I'm not looking for a debate. Among other things, I do not take a final position on any issue that may affect the telecom industry.

I think, new (or better: revised) regulations are necessary, if and when the regulated side has found ways around them that violate the spirit but not the letter. It takes time to find and exploit loopholes (unless they were deliberately built in by regulators 'friendly' to the regulatees).
Over time it might be better not to simply patch those loopholes (making the system more cumbersome) but to rewrite the regulations as a whole (preferably with no loophole moles involved).

"In short, we want to create incentives to expand."

Yes, a good rule with applications far beyond the internet. Say, the economy as just one example.

"I'm sympathetic to the goals of Net Neutrality (in at least some of its forms)."

I'm not. You own the wires (or frequencies), you get to control the content that goes through them. A = A.

Besides, net neutrality laws are inherently anti-competitive. Consider: if Comcast blocks BitTorrent, Comcast's competitors will go after the BitTorrent-using demographic, forcing Comcast to loosen its restrictions, cut prices, or offer some other service in order to remain competitive. Large organizations that want to ensure that their content remains unblocked will set up their own service providers, widening the market still further (wouldn't you love to see Apple and Microsoft fighting it out in the ISP market?).

On the other hand, under net neutrality, where the government tells you what you can and cannot transmit, all ISPs are forced to provide an identical service; Internet access becomes a utility, like gas or water. In a situation like that, it's trivial for the largest provider of that service to use economies of scale and loss-leader pricing to force other providers out of the market and set itself up as a monopoly.

It seems obvious that you can't base any regulatory scheme on the threat of enacting regulation.

Uh...content ratings for video games and movies?

(wouldn't you love to see Apple and Microsoft fighting it out in the ISP market?).

Uh . . . no? What makes anyone believe either of those companies would be good at being an ISP? The runaway success of MSN and MobileMe?

Consider: if Comcast blocks BitTorrent, Comcast's competitors will go after the BitTorrent-using demographic

I'm trying real hard to imagine how one would position one's company as "The ISP That Caters To Copyright Violaters*" without attracting the wrath of the MPAA and RIAA, and drawing a blank.


*Just calling a spade a spade, here. I myself used BT to get the most current seasons of "Weeds" and "Damages."

von - a couple of things. it's not quite right to say that things have functioned ok without regulations. The Internet has always been heavily regulated at the "bottom" (physical) layer. That's the source of the openness, and that's what's being threatened.

As for the "why now if things self-correct?"... that's a good question. i think the problem is that we're in a new formative period of sort. Video is about to take off on bband in a way we've only barely begun to grasp. It's much easier to make choices now b/c things like path dependence and entrenched interests, etc. will kick once those choices are made

"I'm trying real hard to imagine how one would position one's company as "The ISP That Caters To Copyright Violaters*" without attracting the wrath of the MPAA and RIAA, and drawing a blank."

True, which makes me wonder why we care about that example. I am not sure ATT blocking Google Voice is a really bad thing. ATT has a partnership with Apple, they both compete with Google, if I want Google Voice (which I don't) I can't use ATT. I am not sure how this is diffeent than someone telling me my warranty is void if I use non (Company A, pick one) parts in my computer.

And, BTW, the actual figuring of all this out is not as complex as is being presented. It's simply having someone care that it doesn't work.

von: things HAVEN'T worked properly, witness what happened to the DSL market. The carriers who owned the physical wires (almost all built while they were part of a state sanctioned monopoly, or an effective local monopoly on phone service) kept degrading the quality of service for the competitors who leased space on the lines, despite the fact they weren't supposed to. And then the regulations for that were completely removed, and all of the DSL competitors died, so now you can only get DSL from the local phone monopoly. yes, you can get cable internet, from the local cable monopoly, or satellite internet (which degrades in its own ways with weather etc, plus lagtime for the beam to the satellite and back) or in some areas, cellular internet, which comes from... the local phone monopolies who have leveraged themselves into the cellular business, and doesn't have the same quality of service currently as physical pipes.

The fact that most people live under effective local phone and/or cable monopolies undermines much of the whole "competition" argument, since you have a choice of two methods for wired internet, or a couple of various wireless ones, which, as mentioned, usually don't have the same speed or QOS.

and what nate said -- the collapse of the competitive ISPs really is a textbook example of something that went wrong. they did all sorts of mischief to keep these small ISPs out (and these companies, remember, were a source of huge demand-creation by getting people to sign on to the Internets in the first place)

I am not sure how this is diffeent than someone telling me my warranty is void if I use non (Company A, pick one) parts in my computer.

It's more like Ford owns one street into your neighborhood, and Mercedes owns the other. Each is contemplating only allowing their vehicles (or maybe those of companies they partner with) to be driven on their street. Fiat has tentative plans to build a new road around 2011, but they may be just as closed as the others. Particularly since they'll be competing against those closed providers, and will have to pay the construction costs themselves (the first two got plenty of help from the government, back in the day)- maybe they'll be able to recoup by partnering with GM.

In that market, imagine trying to start a new car company- you'd have to form a patronage relationship with one of the big providers, who would hoover up the profits from your innovation. And consumers would have their choices constrained by 1)who had roads into their neighborhoods and 2)which package of restrictions to access is least oppressive.

The fact that most people live under effective local phone and/or cable monopolies undermines much of the whole "competition" argument, since you have a choice of two methods for wired internet, or a couple of various wireless ones, which, as mentioned, usually don't have the same speed or QOS.

Exactly, this whole thing is a nonsense. The US broadband market is pathetic, it's trailing peer countries, even at the same time that different US firms (Apple, Google etc.) are global pioneers in new ways of delivering content and services.

Why on Earth would Americans want to frustrate the wedge of their economy with the most innovation, growth potential and global competitiveness to try to keep alive the outmoded business models of phone and cable companies? Broadband IS a utility now, why speak about that as if it's a bad thing?

And Von, it's bizarre to talk like "if it ain't broke don't fix it". The entire point is that the default ISPs for nearly all Americans now have a conflict of interest in selling you broadband while also trying to sell you older-generation services like TV and the telephone -- even though those older-generation services are now being delivered over the same wire as the rest of the internet. Comcast is an entirely different beast than Earthlink or the other Mom and Pop ISPs of the early 90s.

I mean net neutrality is such an open and shut case in terms of consumer interests, competitiveness and innovation, it's hard to understand how anyone not directly paid by the ISPs can swallow their Kool-Aid at all.

Some regions do have dial-up ISPs available still, but dial-up speeds don't allow streaming video at all, and aren't worth considering when we're discussing broadband regulation. And I don't know the relevant laws as well for telephone style telephone service, but if net neutrality goes away, would anything keep the phone companies from discriminating against dial-up ISP data calls?

Um, is that really Warren Terra? That doesn't seem like the kind of thing he'd say at all. And I definitely would not expect him to write the same comment in three different threads. publius or von, would it be possible to check the IP of that commenter because we might have another (more subtle) spoofer.

done. i'm almost certain it was ddd'dave using a different computer. b/c whoever it was knows that warren is a regular commenter.

so i banned them -- not b/c not nice things were said about me, but b/c he/she was impersonating someone else

As said, I'm not going to debate these various points -- with one exception. Nate is mistaken to think that the current dispute over net neutrality is comparable to any alleged prior dispute over/interference with DSL in any useful way.

Many of the past problems with DSL have to do with enhancing what has been (and, in too many places, still is) a near naked POTS infrastructure -- copper wire and all. And many of the complaints had to do the need for the owners of the wires to make costly improvements for the benefit of DSL providers. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this would generate conflict: It's akin to one company being asked to donate money to another.

Thus, the problem with DSL resulted in large part from the problems inherent in the wireline POTS network. Those same factors can affect internet service, but they are not what the debate over net neutrality is about.*

This contributes to my sense that a lot of folks arguing for net neutrality don't have a clear idea regarding what the debate is actually about, or how it relates (or does not relate) to other telecom debates. Which again leads me to ask: What do you (Nate, Publius, anyone else) envision as the key components of net neutrality?

*That said, modified DSL is making a comeback in the form of AT&T Uverse.* And note all the trouble that AT&T has had: it can't offer Uverse in a particular area until it substantially upgrades the infrastructure, and even then it's generally FTTN (fiber to the node) rather than FTTP (fiber to the premises). (In the most general sense, this means that a copper wire -- not fiberoptic cable -- carries the signal some distance. That results in slower speeds.) It's one thing to ask AT&T to bear the costs of upgrades for itself; quite another to ask AT&T to bear the costs of these upgrades for others.

Thanks for taking care of that issue Publius (and Turbulence for bringing it up). Free feel to email the kitty if you see similar strangeness in the future.

Von - I did a post a few weeks ago on the Markey NN bill. That probably lays out the specifics you're looking for.

As for the DSL thing, are you talking about maintaining copper wiring? That's a big issue right now, but it's sort of different than the ISP one. The ISP one is that you can get on Comcast/Vz/Whatever and pick any ISP you want.

That's how the dial-up world looked (AOL, Earthlink, etc.). People don't really do that anymore b/c people like comcast and Vz put a TON of restrictions and limits on their ability to interface with you and the rest of the network.

In short, abandoning openness killed competitive ISPs.

Which again leads me to ask: What do you (Nate, Publius, anyone else) envision as the key components of net neutrality?

Network service providers can only regulate customer data flows in a content neutral manner that does not discriminate based on the traffic endpoints or the nature of the traffic content. Thus, terminating bittorrent connections: not permitted. Terminating all connections when you've concluded a customer has broken the TOS: permitted. Rate limiting all traffic at peak times: permitted. Rate limiting only BT traffic at peak times: not permitted.

Note that under this regime, providers can still meaningfully regulate customer data flows if they wish. For example, carriers could agree to respect the IP protocol quality of service bits. This would allow a customer to designate some packets as low latency and other packets as bulk traffic that was not delay sensitive. The difference here is that the customer, not the carrier, is the entity making decisions about how flows should be treated by the carrier.

The principle I'm trying to express boils down to the notion that carriers should not be making decisions based on information that is none of their business. Setting IP QoS bits is sending information directly to the carrier, so they're entitled to read that information and act on it. But the fact that I'm communicating with Vonage or Skype really isn't any of their business.

von, let me ask you a question. Assume that I'm a customer of Verizon and Skype. I have DSL service but no voice service. Verizon would like me to pay for more expensive voice service or for their own VOIP product. So they preferentially degrade the performance of packet flows relating to Skype service. For example, they may simply drop Skype packets at a much higher rate than packets going to other destinations. This would make Skype unusable for me, which would force me to drop the service.

Do you think this outcome is currently legal? Do you think it should be legal? Do you think providers should be able to leverage their monopoly service to force customers to purchase ancillary services by blocking competitors? If not, what forces do you think prevent that outcome?

von: For one, the companies were doing the upgrades, ANYWAY, for their own DSL service. For two, the law said they were required to offer open access, but they didn't do that, and they did it in ways that were difficult to prove in court, or simply too expensive for a startup to take on the entrenched telecom monopoly.

And I'm not going to cry for local phone monopolies, who built out that copper wire with massive taxpayer subsidies back when they were part of AT&T. The breakup of AT&T just made several regional local phone monopolies, who inherited AT&T's infrastructure. I'm fairly certain a lot of the fiber optic wire laid down was laid with taxpayer subsidies, and what wasn't WAS paid with subsidies from their local phone monopolies.

Data pipes should be treated as infrastructure, and carry information regardless of the source and destination. It should not be used by local monopolies to throttle their competitors and extract huge profits from. Especially when those data pipes were built during years of being a national monopoly.

No, no, no. It's perfectly reasonable that ISPs should not be satisfied with having massive captive markets for an essential service, in which they get to charge both end consumers and content providers for access. Clearly it will be an enormous benefit for the American consumer and the American technology industry of those ISPs can then extort content providers to continue providing access to their captive markets of consumers.

As long as anybody anywhere is making money somehow off the internets and not giving a cut (or multiple cuts) to the ISPs, we will have people shilling for them with their increasingly convoluted arguments. The only reason this has gotten this far is because they own most Republican politicians, and because the last administration was in cahoots with the ISPs in setting them up with deep packet inspection technology so that the G-men could read all our correspondence to fight Teh War on Terrawrrrr, which also lets the ISP pick and choose what data packets they feel generous enough to let me, their paying customer, receive today.

Steve, any blog that loses Hilzoy necessarily takes a hit, but the topics, quality and civility of this blog still are quite high. Further, your point is really snark, not substantive and, in my view, small-minded and pointless. But, your comments were a lot better when Hilzoy was around.

Steve and the latter "nate" are the same person. Again, I assume Dave is back. I'm going to keep banning this person -- again, not for criticism, but for impersonating others.

Do you really not have better things to do?

I hate to say it, but I agree with the comments that this blog has drastically declined in quality ever since Hilzoy left.

Given that those comments were left by someone posting under someone else's name, I'm not going to take this one at face value either.

"Disclaimer: I'm currently assisting on an amicus brief on these issues, but for no money. Negative money, actually."

I just caught this. Publius, this is not a business model I can recommend. :-)

The only reason this has gotten this far is because they own most Republican politicians, and because the last administration was in cahoots with the ISPs in setting them up with deep packet inspection technology so that the G-men could read all our correspondence to fight Teh War on Terrawrrrr, which also lets the ISP pick and choose what data packets they feel generous enough to let me, their paying customer, receive today.

I haven't seen much evidence showing that this is largely a Republican/Dem issue. There seem to be plenty of Dems that are against net neutrality. And there are some Republicans that are quite supportive. Bush appointed Powell and he ended up being quite reasonable on the issue, no?

And I have the sense that companies will go along with DPI for national security no matter who is in power. Big companies have lots of business with the government. That makes them dependent. And all administrations want to expand their own power. The Bush admin may have been unique in its sheer lawlessness, but I'm not sure that the HW Bush admin and the Obama admin would really differ much in this regard.

John Thullen at 2:35 pm appears to be another impersonator.

Man, I leave the office to do actual work for a bit, and I miss somebody impersonating me? Drat.

Also, von, without net neutrality, it essentially gives the companies that control sections of network backbone veto control over any kind of new applications for the 'Net, since they could selectively filter against it, and squash or buy up any possible destabilizers or competitors. As opposed to being content to make money by selling access to their physical infrastructure.

Since when did criticizing Publius violate the posting rules?

Hmmm, let me get this straight:

1. Someone posts a comment saying it's cowardly for Publius to delete critical comments about himself, so...

2. Publius deletes the comment, thereby making its point ipso facto.

I just want to point out that any comment I've ever posted that wasn't profoundly insightful was actually posted by a trolling impersonator.

What I don't get is: how fracked up is d'd'd'dave's brain if he's willing to spend all this time and effort changing IP addresses just to make really obvious forgery comments? Does he really care that much what people here think about him? And does he really think that readers here are so dumb as to be fooled by his pathetic forgeries?

Maybe the slumlord business in southern CA is collapsing and d'd'd'dave is starting to feel some heat....

J Wright: because they're being posted under other people's names. Impersonating commentors has always been a bannable offence. (And this is really me, I'm on a different computer, just for the mods)

The 5:02 one was me, the second two, not so much.

didn't this exact problem happen here a few years ago ?

More like a few months ago.

I don't know if those other two "me"s were a troll, or just somebody goofing around. Shoulda known better than to bait like that, though.

Maybe I haven't been following this closely enough, but last I checked, Apple had specifically disclaimed any involvement from AT&T in rejecting — er, I mean not approving — the Google Voice app:

Question 2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?

Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter.

And many of the complaints had to do the need for the owners of the wires to make costly improvements for the benefit of DSL providers. It shouldn't surprise anyone that this would generate conflict: It's akin to one company being asked to donate money to another.

This might be a valid point, but when Comcast and Qwest were "given" the opportunity to let a semi-government entity establish a fiber optic system in Utah over a decade ago, that would be open to everyone, they responded by promising better and faster coverage (than current at that time) to those cities who wouldn't join. Qwest just barely offered FioS in my area, more than a decade after they promised it, at lower speeds than that semi-public entity offers in those areas that did sign on. Definitely puts the lie to the argument that they are that put out by those infrastructure investments when another entity was more than willing to take it over for them, and looks like Carlton's analogy is pretty much spot on.

I did not impersonate Warren Terra or Nate or anyone else in weeks because I was banned 'for 48 hours' by Publius. The 48 hours has turned into weeks for some reason that you'll have to ask Publius about because I sure don't know what it is. I think it has to do with criticism of his posts rather than impersonation because I only did that on one or two days weeks ago.

I am in Mexico on vacation and posted yesterday as Gustavus Adolphus just to see if it was my California IP address that was blocked or whether it was the D'd'd'dave name. Anyway, I think it is a stretch to call my 'Gustavus Adolphus' name an impersonation since no one to my knowledge has used that here. It is no more an impersonation than Nombrilisme Vide, Gwangung, or Publius since those are obviously not their real names.

"You own the wires (or frequencies), you get to control the content that goes through them." mad the swine 10:40 AM

Ah, But Jack Radio doesn't own frequencies, does he? That's why they called "the public airwaves". Jack gets a license to *use* 'em, and license can have whatever limits we decide to put on it.

Likewise cable. Unless Jack Telco has laid the cable with his own power and expense, with no help from taxpayer and no easements and suchlike, then we get a say in how the wires we helped buy get used.

I don't have a problem with the general principles enunciated by Turbulence. (That's about as much as an opinion as I'll express on this issue.)

As for the DSL thing, are you talking about maintaining copper wiring? That's a big issue right now, but it's sort of different than the ISP one. The ISP one is that you can get on Comcast/Vz/Whatever and pick any ISP you want.

That's how the dial-up world looked (AOL, Earthlink, etc.). People don't really do that anymore b/c people like comcast and Vz put a TON of restrictions and limits on their ability to interface with you and the rest of the network.

Huh? I think you're arguing oranges when I'm talking about apples. For the vast majority of users, DSL effectively uses the same infrastructure from the node to the home. If you think of copper wire as people, then DSL is made out of people. Just like Soylent Green .... if Soylent Green was made out of copper.

Definitely puts the lie to the argument that they are that put out by those infrastructure investments when another entity was more than willing to take it over for them, and looks like Carlton's analogy is pretty much spot on.

I don't know how you can take one example from one state and -- without any context -- infer that everyone who doesn't agree with you is lying. I don't know anything about what happened in Utah with that proposal, or why the proposal didn't go anywhere .... but I'm pretty confident that the arguments were much more nuanced than you're giving them credit for.

And, candidly, we all benefited from that infrastructure build.

von, do you have an answer for the questions I raised here? I'd be quite interested in your response.

I don't know how you can take one example from one state and -- without any context -- infer that everyone who doesn't agree with you is lying.

Maybe you should look up "to put the lie to" before you accuse me of calling you, and everyone who ostensibly might disagree with me, a liar.

You argued here that "[i]t's one thing to ask AT&T to bear the costs of upgrades for itself; quite another to ask AT&T to bear the costs of these upgrades for others". My example is of a semi-public/semi-private entity that wanted to do exactly that; a full system of fiber optic cable, even "the last mile" connections to people's houses, that would be open to everyone, even Qwest and Comcast, the two local monopolies. It would take on the responsibility of the investment in a faster-than-DSL network when Qwest was barely beginning their DSL network, and as it has proven, it's delivering faster speeds than even Qwest's "FioS" (actually VDSL2) at costs at or below first-adopter lifetime rates.

The reason it puts the lie to the argument that these entities are unfairly burdened by upgrading their network is that in this case they had the opportunity to shift those upgrading costs to the public, gain access to a faster network than what they have now, and had no real cost themselves outside of giving up their market capture. Like I said, Carlton's analogy is spot on.

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