Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Net Neutrality has never existed

This article does not fairly represent the position of NetNeutrality opponents.

Most opponents that I know of oppose NetNeutrality on the basis that government regulation of the Internet on behalf of large corporations is a bad idea. Microsoft and Google spend millions lobbying for NetNeutrality because they stand to benefit from such laws (not because they are "good guys").

The fact is that there has never been NetNeutrality. When I was in college, I was not allowed to use fast network connectivity because I wasn't part of the department that had a grant to pay for it. In your home, when the network connection is slow, you go up to your son's room and tell him to turn off BitTorrent. The Internet is divided into those who pay for it, and those who leech from it without paying. Keeping the leechers under control is an important part of keeping the Internet running.

Engineers who keep the backbone running have long been fighting this battle. They monitor their networks in order to make sure that people pay for the bandwidth they use. When they find leechers, they quickly move to stop the leeching. They battle the huge users of the Internet, like the Microsoft's and Google's of the world. The big users likewise have engineers that maintain multiple connections to the Internet, and try to find tricks to route their packets using the least cost possible. The often find an unsuspecting victim and find a way to change routes to get bandwidth for free. Right this second, an Internet backbone engineer somewhere in the world is tracking down a leecher and restricting its bandwidth.

If Microsoft and Google get their way, then this sort of stuff will stop. They will be free to exploit routes for lower prices, but ISPs will no longer be free to stop them. The small guys will end up paying for the bandwidth of the big guys.

NetNeutrality is not a battle of "the people vs. the powerful", but "the powerful vs. the powerful". No matter which side the government takes, we'll all lose. The best solution is to keep the government out of the fight.

The Internet was founded on principles of freedom, which is why Robert Kahn, one of the founders of the Internet, opposes NetNeutrality. Another founder, Vint Cerf, supports NetNeutrality, but of course, he's a paid lobbyist for Google. The EFF supports it, but that's because they are vapid populists, and will happily discard our rights and freedoms as long as a big corporation is hurt in the process.

NetNeutrality is an oddly Orwellian law, where everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

7 comments:

decius said...

This is an old dialog. I think absolutism on either side is an over simplification. (The linked posting is from about 1989 I think.)

Ian said...

I fail to understand how legislation is required in this matter.

If an ISP is pricing its services such that Google is allowed to use, as an example, a Gigabit connection at full utilization 24 hours a day, then Google should be allowed to do so. If Google is able to route its data through another ISP at a lower cost, it should be allowed to do so. If the ISP with the lower cost "pipe" realizes that Google's utilization has increased and wishes to charge Google more for its connection, it should be allowed to do so, at which point Google is free to shop around for other ISPs.

The forces of free market economics can and should be allowed to decide this case; any attempt to introduce legislation as to who can do what, in my opinion, is a bad idea.

Security Retentive said...

I suppose one of the fundamental questions is what role monopolies play in the regulating of the internet today.

If all users were free to choose whatever high-speed connectivity they wanted regardless of telephone, cable, or power company, then the case for common-carriers would disappear.

In the US today however we don't always have multiple choices of what broadband provider we use. Mostly they are single monopolies for a given area either in telephone or cable. In these cases we don't actually have a regular market. Most of the monopolies exist because government gave them the allocations of the physical access rights they needed with the explicit understand that they are common carriers.

In the same way a telephone company can't give me a better quality voice signal than someone else paying the same rate because they like me more, and they can't refuse to carry my voice calls because I compete with them, they cannot discriminate against my internet traffic based on what servers I decide to connect to.

Throw out monopolies and the problem of regulating the space goes away.

And on the subject of leaching I must admit to being confused. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, etc. all pay for the bandwidth going into their datacenters, right? They can't somehow magically exceed that bandwidth allotment, right? As long as they are paying for the services, how exactly are they leaching?

David Wilson said...

They battle the huge users of the Internet, like the Microsoft's and Google's of the world. The big users likewise have engineers that maintain multiple connections to the Internet, and try to find tricks to route their packets using the least cost possible. The often find an unsuspecting victim and find a way to change routes to get bandwidth for free. Right this second, an Internet backbone engineer somewhere in the world is tracking down a leecher and restricting its bandwidth.

This comment is so remarkably far from reality that you've really done a huge disfavor for the reputability of this blog in my eyes. Is this some sort of late April fool's joke?

Your corollary would be that since backbone bandwidth is so damned expensive, companies like Google would rather drop or serve with a delay advertising clicks than pay their fair due for bandwidth in the first place.

I think you've made a worse job of representing the situation than the source article did.

Robert Graham said...

I suppose one of the fundamental questions is what role monopolies play in the regulating of the internet today.

Net neutrality is not about regulating monopolies, but about regulating the majority of the market that has multiple choices. Even if you've only got a single copper wire coming into your home, you usually have multiple choices for high-speed Internet.

And on the subject of leaching I must admit to being confused. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, etc. all pay for the bandwidth going into their datacenters, right?

The problem is that an overseas link is more expensive than a link across town. If you live in Seatle surfing microsoft.com, you go over cheap links, but if you live in Hawaii, you go over expensive links. Small users aren't worth the trouble to bill for each hop, but large users like Microsoft are. It's like when you send a letter, it's a single flat fee anywhere in the United States, but if you were send your sofa, you'd have to worry about how to get it out your door, onto a truck, how the truck would travel to it's destination, and so forth.

Robert Graham said...

Can anybody translate David Wilson's commens into English for me? I have no idea what his counter-argument is.

Mokum said...

Net Neutrality == Perfect Privacy == Illusion. Nothing to see here, please move on...