Monday, November 10, 2014

Don't mistake masturbation for insight [NOT SAFE FOR WORK]

Stroking prejudices isn't insight. I mention this because people keep sending me this Oatmeal cartoon that does nothing but furiously stroke its supporters until they ejaculate all over the screen.

The comic claims NetNeutrality is a bipartisan issue. By bipartisan it means that Democrats and the Green Party overwhelming support it. The comic is certainly not referring to Republicans, who overwhelming oppose NetNeutrality, as any googling of "republican net neutrality" would demonstrate. I suspect the problem here is that Oatmeal readers are in a filter-bubble (a technical term for "sitting in a circle jerking each other off") and therefore don't seriously believe Republicans exist.

The comic seriously says this: support for NetNeutrality is bipartisan, but opposition is partisan. I suspect they like words like "shit smear" because they are so accustomed to having their heads up their own asses.

The Oatmeal claims NetNeutrality won't mean the feds can dictate how much your ISP charges. I suspect that's because the comic's fingering of his own ass distracts him from reading. Obama's proposal today is to reclassify the Internet as a common-carrier under section II of the Telecommunication's Act. Luckily, we have something called the "Internet" were we can immediately click on a link and read the fucking act, which starts with "Service and Charges", declaring that the government can indeed outlaw charges it deems "unreasonable". Obama acknowledges this in his speech, saying that while Title II puts the Internet in the hands of the FCC so that they can dictate prices, they should "forbear" from doing so.

The Oatmeal shows a graph as "proof" that Comcast was "throttling" Netflix traffic. But all the data comes from Netflix -- a highly biased source. Moreover, the graph doesn't show throttling -- it shows how Netflix's rapid growth has overloaded interconnection points. On relevant links, the amount of Netflix traffic exceeds all other traffic combined. Some companies are willing pay to upgrade the links and let Netflix free-ride. Others refuse to put up with nonsense, and want Netflix to pay for its own traffic. Seriously, not even Netflix claims Comcast is "throttling" its content. I suspect the Oatmeal picked that that word out of thin air because its reference to auto-asphyxiation gets its readers off.

The premise of the Oatmeal cartoon is that Ted Cruz is stupid, unlike its readers who are good looking, special, and just cleverer than everybody else. It pretends to use simple language to explain an obvious issue so that even a mere politician can understand. Only, it gets things fundamentally wrong. NetNeutrality is just a political slogan. Slogans don't work, laws do -- and here's the thing: NetNeutrality isn't currently the law. There is nothing now, nor has there ever been, anything stopping a company like Comcast from doing the evil scenarios outlined in the comic. And indeed, some companies do block things like that. I suspect that if the writer of the Oatmeal comic stopped admiring his cock in the mirror long enough to actually read something, he'd know more about whether NetNeutrality rules were actually in force, or how Title II works.

Ted Cruz's tweet isn't bad. Obamacare is an apt (albeit exaggerated) analogy for a change that heaps tons of regulation on an industry. However, it is the same sort of mutual masturbation. If you hate Obamacare, you'll hate NetNeutrality regulation. If you love Obamacare, you'll love NetNeutrality. Thus, Cruz's tweet is there just to stroke his supporters, rather than change minds.

Please please please, in the future when you think you have something clever to say, don't link me an Oatmeal cartoon. Neither it nor you are as smart as you think. Even Ted Cruz is smarter.


vanja said...

Ignoring both Ted Cruz and the Oatmeal, I disagree with your definition of freeloading. Comcast's customers are paying for that bandwidth. It's up to Comcast to meet the demand, but they don't since there is no competition.

I also disagree with your definition of CDNs being fast lanes in terms of this discussion. In this context, I think that fast lanes mean prioritizing certain traffic in the last mile. CDNs cannot do that.

Dan Hughes said...

Thanks for a really interesting post, it's raised questions in my mind about something on which I had developed a pretty fixed view.

I'd raise issue on a couple of points. Firstly, you seem to believe that regulation is, by its very nature, a bad thing. I'd say that's a pretty daft, and these are some reasons why:

- markets require regulation to work. They are social arrangements based on shared understanding of behaviour. That contracts are enforced is a regulation without which markets would be difficult to operate, for example.

- well regulated markets are more effective than unregulated ones. This is why firms pay a premium to trade on well regulated stock exchanges.

- even where governments do not regulate a firm, it will have its own internal regulations that determine it's behaviour. If you've ever been a consumer who's had a problem with a big firm, you'll understand how frustrating and value-destructive these regulations are from your point of view, as you wait on the phone.

Second, I think you think that the nature of markets is to tend towards ever greater efficiency, but that is not always the case. There are products and services where consumers certainly do not benefit from marketisation - healthcare, for example. The US has one of the most market-lead systems in the West, but in terms of proportion of GDP spent, mortality and morbidity outcomes, and access, it is one of the poorest quality.

When you reach massive scale, I'd argue it's better for very big firms to be regulated democratically (by government) than privately (by powerful self interest).

Always enjoy your blog.

insigne said...

- markets require regulation to work. They are social arrangements based on shared understanding of behaviour. That contracts are enforced is a regulation without which markets would be difficult to operate, for example.

No. In your own answer you admit that markets require TRUST to work. One avenue of that is regulation, but it is far from the only one. If I trust the other person in the exchange, either because of a personal relationship, a yelp rating or regulations in place ensuring the quality of food or some other good I will enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement called trade.

the Ryan said...

Could you post a re-write of this article that discusses your Net Neutrality insights without the vulgar and derogatory language?
(I can't link the current version as part of an argument because many of the people I would be trying to sway wouldn't read it to the end.)

Dan Hughes said...

@ Jeremy - I think you make a fair point, but I also think it would be challenging to find a big firm that was itself willing to operate purely on trust - it will want regulation in place around it's relationship with it's customers (that they will be required to pay their bills), it's employees, regulation on other actors in the market to ensure a level playing field, and on and on.

If you are saying that we should allow firms their regulation but not should not ask firms to submit to regulation in return, then I've got some shares in Enron you might like to buy.

More seriously, though, I think there are different types of firms, carrying out different activity, which require different types of regulation.

Where firms are at the leading edge of innovation, and the risk to society is low, regulation can quickly be burdensome and should be kept to a minimum.

Cable companies don't fall in to that category, in my view. One indicator of this is that some firms are trying to use regulation to prevent municipalities competing with them, but there are plenty of others.

If a firm's model for growth is to charge more for what it already provides, rather than improve it's offer to meet increasing demand, I reckon it requires sensible, proportionate, regulation. The argument is over what that regulation looks like :)

Wheaties said...


the problem with your comcast argument is that even customers of other ISPs that go over comcast lines are effected by the netflix slowness.

Simon said...

It is always the same story.

Moron: Some stuff is bad, we need rules !! (or some stuff is good, we want it!)
Intelligent person: Rules implies a ruler. Do you understand all the (bad) consequences of having a ruler ? And why would anyone claim the right to decide for other people ? We should keep the current system, eg negociate issues case by case. The winners & losers will emerge naturally. No need for violence.
Moron : No we want that stuff now !! Shut your mouth !

George said...

"In this context, I think that fast lanes mean prioritizing certain traffic in the last mile. CDNs cannot do that."

Wrong on multiple levels. Fast lanes don't prioritize packets i.e., change their priority headers on packets and implement priority queues. Paid Peering AKA Fast Lanes just means private circuit. CDNs offer server resources as well as access to private circuits.

CDNs do effectively prioritize their own packets on the last few miles by virtue of lower latency. This is because TCP is biased in favor of low latency traffic because TCP flow control accelerates throughput based on first come first serve. Whoever gets the ACK (acknowledgement) of packet deliver gets to double their TCP flow.