Thursday, November 12, 2009

Net neutrality ... what?

I've asked several people on both sides of the debate what the big deal is and I'm still looking for the broken wheel here.

Right-wing bloggers are convinced this is a liberal move to solidify their massive lead in all things Web 2.0, but when pushed to explain how "net neutrality" would promote a liberal agenda, most were stumped.  Some offered weakly that it would be government control of private enterprise, and as we all know, or assume, government control is a liberal idea.

From the other side, I hear a chorus of "corporations might consider doing nefarious things ... someday, so we better stop them now."

The idea is to treat every byte that travels over the network equally. 


I agree with that in concept.  I haven't seen evidence that it doesn't work this way now.

Comcast raised hackles by squashing people who leave their P2P access drives open to constant uploading, downloading and streaming of music, video and other content, but I don't disagree with that policy.  If someone in my cul-de-sac of the Web is eating up all the bandwith on my trunk line with the computer-equivalent of random, multiple sex partners at all hours of the day, more power to Comcast.

P2P is stupid, IMHO, but I guess that's a topic for another day.
The only access problems I have is the inability of Verizon to upgrade the ancient copper wire in my neighborhood so that ever time it rains, or thinks of raining, my connection drops to negative bandwidth (it's a miracle I'm online now, come to think of it, though I am getting in the area of Bytes per second).

Which brings me to why am I paying for 3 Mb/s if I never get more than half that? (the last Verizon line worker who assessed my system suggested I pay less by downgrading my service because I'm getting somewhere around 750 bps upload max)

The Philly CityPaper is obviously on the NetNeut bandwagon, as evidenced by Jeffrey C. Billman and Scott Yorko's Department of Public Servants post.

Big telecom companies think the Internet as currently conceived — where people can access just as easily as they can little ol' — is not nearly as profitable as it could be. They'd prefer a system in which they can charge deep-pocketed corporations higher rates for better service, and relegate start-ups, middling companies and your little sister's blog to the Web's back burner, where they'll never be heard from again.
While it's certainly trendy to label anybody "Big anything" and talk about their evil plot to bring down life as we know it, I wish they would have provided some actual reporting and facts to back up their claim.

Sunlight Foundation's Paul Blumenthal reports on the massive amounts of money telecoms are pouring into this fight, so there must be something there.  Still, I would like to see the evidence of this conspiracy.

On the other hand is the argument that free enterprise brought us the system that works so well today (even though it's raining).  Building in artificial shortages would make your service uncompetitive, so all the providers out there would have to collaborate together to implement this evil plan. 

Color me skeptical.

Robert Pepper, senior managing director of global advanced technology policy at Cisco Systems, and former FCC chief of policy development, is quoted in the Wikipedia saying "The supporters of net neutrality regulation believe that more rules are necessary. In their view, without greater regulation, service providers might parcel out bandwidth or services, creating a bifurcated world in which the wealthy enjoy first-class Internet access, while everyone else is left with slow connections and degraded content."

Wait, you mean I don't get better service if I pay for more bandwidth already?  Oh, see above digression.

So people are concerned that access will be available to those with the means to pay.  Unlike today. When access is available ...

I'm leaning toward the anti-position, but don't take my word for it. Check out Enigma Curry's "Net-Neutrality is Bullshit post.

I'm sorry, but when has government regulation EVER made anything more free? We can argue about government programs and regulations making things safer, cheaper, more "accessible" (I don't believe any of this for an instant). But, we cannot argue that government regulations will ever make things more free. Government regulations, by definition, make things less free.
And the home run hit:
There are many, many problems with this analogy. The most glaring to me is this: the cable companies acquired their monopolistic positions today because of government regulation. So, if we want to make the net more "neutral," we should remove these artificial, government created, monopolies. We shouldn't do the opposite. In a free market I can choose whatever content provider I want. If provider X wants to block my access to Google, well, I'll just choose to go to another provider.
But I have another problem with the concept of net neutrality. 

Some uses can't be treated equally.  Do you want the channel between the surgeon at Johns Hopkins, controlling the surgical robot in Bangalore to save somebody's life where superstar surgeons aren't available to have the same treatment as your music piracy rights?

There must be discrimination.

What about police and emergency services communications?

What about sensitive government dispatches?

Facebook updates clearing someone's (good?) name?

Tweets from a war/riot/crisis zone where other communication is cut off?

Where do we draw the line?

Or better yet, who draws the line?

And how long before corruption creeps into the system of control and neutrality assurance?

As long as there is a system to be manipulated, people will be there to manipulate it.  I guess it breaks down to who you want pulling the strings?  In the unregulated marketplace, those with money and savvy biz-entrepreneurs will find ways around the checkpoints.  In the regulated system, those with power or the ability to buy it will manipulate the system to benefit their own interests.

Look at our country.  American democracy is the worst system of government in the world, with the exception of every single other form of government. 

Corruption is a force of nature.  No system is immune.

I'm not for or against Net Neutrality, but if you believe it's gonna preserve the liberty we've come to enjoy on the Internet, I'd like you to invest in my anti-social media business. You look like a good mark to me.

The Tick

"Gravity is a harsh mistress!"