Green Room

It’s a series of tubes!

posted at 9:53 am on October 23, 2009 by

Years ago, along with many others, I heard the words that would come to immortalize Alaska disgrace Ted Stevens:

And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.

ted_stevens_truck

Hence, the occasional reference to the internet as “the tubes”. For those unfamiliar with what net neutrality is, I’ll try to explain in a more coherent way. Internet providers like Comcast, Charter, Road Runner, etc. sell access to the internet through their networks. If you subscribe to their services, everything you access on the internet first goes through their private property. Now, theoretically, as it is their private property, and you’re choosing to pay to use it, they can make the rules on what you can access. However, historically, they haven’t. Why? Well, they know that if you can’t access what you want using their service, you can go find another.

Sadly, for some, this isn’t an option. Lack of coverage by multiple companies in many areas restricts consumers to one provider, and in some rural areas, broadband still isn’t available at all. Compared to areas of the world like Europe and Japan, the United States lags quite a bit in its internet infrastructure, both in coverage and pipeline speeds. While we’re paying upwards of 50 dollars a month for 5-10 megabit connections, 50 megabit connections are standard and much cheaper overseas. I’ve never been able to find a coherent answer as to why, but government restriction on expansion comes to mind. With that in mind, I’ll continue.

Despite these conditions, internet providers like AT&T and SBC have been lax in restricting content. Comcast took a good deal of heat for throttling, and in some cases blocking, peer to peer network traffic. This is more commonly known as torrent activity, or file sharing networks. Now, these networks are best known for their pirate traffic, although there is plenty of legitimate material that passes through as well. Most other providers do not exert any control over these networks. They’re making their own choices on what to do with their private networks…and this pisses off proponents of net neutrality.

Net neutrality is the proposal that the FCC prevent internet providers from making choices about content control on their networks. Their fears are that in the future, providers could set up tiered systems that dictate content delivery. Large companies and corporations could pay a fee to have their content would be delivered with top priority to their customers, while smaller companies or private individuals would have to settle for a less expensive option that would deliver their content with slower speed. Those that don’t pay a fee could possibly not have their information accessible at all, or at a very slow speed.

Now, I don’t see these fears as irrational, personally. I’ve worried about a similar situation, but based more on political motivation and leanings of providers, that might block out content they find “offensive” or “objectionable”. However, there is a single point that overrides both my concerns and the concerns of net neutrality proponents: the proposed solution is to have the government dictate what private internet providers can or cannot do with their private property.

This is where the whole concept falls apart. People who don’t trust corporations instead want to place control over the internet in the hands of the government. Sound familiar?

Recently in the Green Room:

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Comments

Ah, if only Stevens would have used the word “like”.

So we’re wanting to hand over power to the fedgov for something that might happen? Now, what could ever go wrong with that idea?

eforhan on October 23, 2009 at 10:07 AM

Gizmodo ( a sister site of The Gawker) takes the opposing stance.

They complain about monopolies, but apparently don’t realize the companies never had to go there in the first place. By reading those comments, one might be led to believe it’s just shy of being a slave in ancient Egypt building a pyramid.

eforhan on October 23, 2009 at 11:10 AM

Now, I don’t see these fears as irrational, personally. I’ve worried about a similar situation, but based more on political motivation and leanings of providers, that might block out content they find “offensive” or “objectionable”. However, there is a single point that overrides both my concerns and the concerns of net neutrality proponents: the proposed solution is to have the government dictate what private internet providers can or cannot do with their private property.

I’m not willing to say that this overrides my concerns yet. Wary as I am of government regulations involving the Internet, there needs to be more do to ensure competition particularly in areas with only 1 or 2 providers.

And yeah, the whole content filtering thing is worrisome. I really wish some ISPs would step up and make some loud statements about this.

I mean, hell, what if a corporation based in a foreign country bought an ISP and started filtering inconvenient political facts about itself or whoever they support and then not telling people?

Is that a plausible scenario? I’m not sure, but the whole thing isn’t as clear cut for me.

TheUnrepentantGeek on October 23, 2009 at 11:50 AM

I mean, hell, what if a corporation based in a foreign country bought an ISP and started filtering inconvenient political facts about itself or whoever they support and then not telling people?

Is that a plausible scenario? I’m not sure, but the whole thing isn’t as clear cut for me.

TheUnrepentantGeek on October 23, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Um…China. Not only plausible, but already happening. Supposedly happening in Russia, too…but reportedly their efforts are being undermined by a great number of start-up ISPs refusing to filter anything. Complete word of mouth for that account.

MadisonConservative on October 23, 2009 at 12:44 PM

Um…China. Not only plausible, but already happening. Supposedly happening in Russia, too…but reportedly their efforts are being undermined by a great number of start-up ISPs refusing to filter anything. Complete word of mouth for that account.

MadisonConservative on October 23, 2009 at 12:44 PM

I actually meant a foreign power backed corporation buying an ISP here in the states to influence US politics by reducing the spread of some information – all the while claiming to be innocent of such. How hard would that be to catch? Is that even illegal? Are there disclosure requirements?

I admit it’d have to be done in a subtle fashion or else people would go bananas, but what if? What protections from that scenario exist? Am I being paranoid here or could something like that occur?

TheUnrepentantGeek on October 23, 2009 at 1:37 PM

TheUnrepentantGeek on October 23, 2009 at 1:37 PM

Depends. There would have to be some gigantic money mover with serious political ambitions. Know of any?

MadisonConservative on October 23, 2009 at 2:24 PM

This is a really weird scenario. On the one hand, the government needs no part in this. Private property, private rules, like ‘em or lump ‘em. Go with the provider that you’re comfortable with.

But…….if the government intervened it just might be the jump start some investors, with a profit motive, may need to fill the demand and carry the internet to the next level, find a way to manage all these communications sans government rules. And everyone would win. Except the government.

And so we’d move to round three.

Robert17 on October 23, 2009 at 3:21 PM

I’m not well versed in techie-speak. What I am certain about is the need to keep our collective eyes on this. It is much too valuable a resource to blindly trust any entity to control.

Think: the One ring…whoever holds this has unbelievable power.

(Had to throw a little geek into the conversation.)

Diane on October 23, 2009 at 4:11 PM

in the future, providers could set up tiered systems that dictate content delivery. Large companies and corporations could pay a fee to have their content would be delivered with top priority to their customers, while smaller companies or private individuals would have to settle for a less expensive option that would deliver their content with slower speed. Those that don’t pay a fee could possibly not have their information accessible at all, or at a very slow speed.

You mean… Capitalism? That’s the way is already is. Larger companies have an OC3 or better connection to their servers, smaller companies can usally get a couple of T1s or a T3.

flashoverride on October 23, 2009 at 8:17 PM

Van Jones was (is?) a strong proponent of this legislation. That should give you a good clue.

Let’s just suppose you want to open a new bar in your town. You want to allow smoking, so you inform all potential hires that it will be a smoking environment. You are willing to post a sign saying…’Warning Tobacco Smoke May Be Present.’ What, you still cannot open this business? Since it is a local law or even a state law, you can seek a locality where your business will be legal, or try and elect local/state leaders with a different view. Sucks, but livable law. But what if you want to open an airline under the same premise? No can do, and there is no locality to flee to. You will not be allowed to fly into or within the US at all.

Yet I would guess many here would think that THOSE restrictions are reasonable. It depends on whose ox is gored as to how ‘reasonable’ a restriction on private property is.

GnuBreed on October 24, 2009 at 5:25 AM

What bothers me about this whole thing, and the reason why I am on the fence, are three very valid points that those who support Net Neutrality make:

1) In order to build these large networks, every single one of the major ISPs received very large grants from the government in exchange for an agreement to act as “common carriers” that is, to NOT discriminate traffic. throttling or bandwidth discrimination based on traffic type or volume is a violation of this agreement.

2) Every ISP as special agreements with the local municipalities that they operate in, most often giving them a limited monopoly to operate in that area and access to the right of ways for stringing or burying line. These agreements prevent anyone else from stepping in and offering competition.

3) Due to the extreme high cost of creating a network of any kind of physical wire, the unreliability of non-cellular wireless technology (and point number 2) the “barrier to entry” of anyone trying to start an ISP is astronomically high. Nobody short of a billionaire or billion dollar company can even consider it. As an example, Google has been toying with the idea for some time now according to industry scuttlebutt, but has yet to actually make a move in that direction, largely due to COST considerations.

4) The ISP’s (as evidenced by several incidents including the Comcast P2P filtering, a NYC local ISP filtering VOIP traffic, and statements by the AT&T CEO) have no intention of voluntarily sticking with their “common carrier” agreement for very much longer. It appears that they , rather than competing with EACH OTHER in the ISP arena, would rather collude with one another to PREVENT competition, and the enter OTHER arenas (such as the VOIP industry) and then leverage their control of networks to shut out other players. In other words, to stifle innovation and “Balkanize” the internet into little fiefdoms that they have direct control over.

This would effectively obliterate the internet as we know it today, and replace it with an unrecognizable and inferior replacement.

Frankly, those are sound and logical points. I think we have issues at BOTH ends of the spectrum and dishonest players on BOTH sides. I don’t trust the government to be an honest referee, as it has proven itself incapable of resisting the temptation to take over businesses, but I don’t trust the ISPs anymore either, as they have proven themselves dishonest brokers who aren’t willing to either stick with an agreement they made in good faith, OR to get out of the agreement by returning the money.

Based on this information, I just don’t know which side to pick. it’s very frustrating.

wearyman on October 24, 2009 at 7:21 AM

whoops, that was 4 points. Not 3. Sorry.

wearyman on October 24, 2009 at 7:39 AM

In order to build these large networks, every single one of the major ISPs received very large grants from the government in exchange for an agreement to act as “common carriers” that is, to NOT discriminate traffic. throttling or bandwidth discrimination based on traffic type or volume is a violation of this agreement.

Citation needed.

Also, common carriers differentiate between data and voice. And it’s not policy or an “agreement”, it’s the LAW (see: Telecom act of 1996). While they can’t block voice connections, network management is required at some levels on the data side.

flashoverride on October 24, 2009 at 3:00 PM

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Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Ed Morrissey on October 24, 2009 at 11:28 PM