Why net.neutrality is a bad idea and why we need it.

Why net.neutrality is a bad idea and why we need it.

In the fall of 2009 both the American Federal Communications Commission and the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (FCC) began policy undertaking concerning Net Neutrality (NN).

NN is a complex issue but can be reduced to a simple set of complaints by the three stakeholders in this fracas: the consumer, the telco and the content providers.

They have eached echo'd complaints for a while, arguing at cross purpose and it's come to the point where government regulatory authority is being activated. Historically, government regulation and control of any part of the Internet has been fairly diasterous, so cuation is indicated and an informed consumer the easiest and best way of ensuring fairness for all.

NN means many things to many poeple. In principle the theory goes that the internet allows any two computers that connect to it to exchange packets, that is, data, and data can be anything: text, pictures, voice, music, video.

Two underying principles of the Internet have been: any computer can talk to any other computer, and nothing inbetween interferes, the carriers transparently pass the packets two and forth.

Therein lies the rub. This isn't really true any more.

It seeemed to me there was an "end to end" principle in the early days of the net, I heard the IETF talk about it for ages like it was the digital equivalent of Nirvana or some other object of worship. But now if you look in Wikipedia you'll see Bob Kahn saying "this wasn't really part of the original design" - and he should know, Bob did most of the work, Vint just helped out with TCP later.

So end to end addressing is gone. Ceded, we never really needed it anyway.

All traffic isn't equal. That is while one person may be checking their email, which uses such a small amount of network capacity or "bandwidth" that it just isn't funny, while another might be downloading a movie or some Linux DVDs. The person checking their email could do so their whole life and still not use as much bandwidth as the guy downloading a free copy of Linux.

I had satellite Internet once, and unline copper and fibre, shooting packets into space and back is much more expensive and although it was a high speed (very!) connection, you didn't have very much of a bandwidth allotment, that is, if you watched more than 4 or 5 youtube videos, then the next day they cut you back ("throttled") you down to dial-up rates. Which frankly is a fairly elegant solution to their problem: 2% of the subscribers accounted for 90% of all network traffic. This throttling mechanism allowed everybody to be able to get high speed when they need it without a few monopolizing it. Additionally 3 - 5 am was free, all out balls to the wall, do what you want. Turns out not that many poeple used it at that time.

It's important to note I think, that Is this an answer to all our problems? No. Um, what are our problems? If you ask 100 people what net neutrality is and what it's needed for you're not going to get one answer, you'll get lots of different ones, owing to the unusual economics of TCP/IP traffic.

I'm against laws and regulations being enacted with regards to the Internet and would prefer if we didn't have open this net neutrality issue and create new regualations and possibly laws. But it looks like we may have to.

There seem to be a small number of substantive complaints: 1) competition - some areas only have XXX cel company and YYY cable company or only one of these two. 2) Sometimes some companies decide they won't carry a certain type of traffic (Skype) or reduce the speed ("throttle") or some types of traffic (music for example). 3) DNS is both censored and black-holed by the US government and private contractors.

Telcos complain that the government is dictating their business model and actually had the unmitigated gall to actually state: the US Government is taking over the Internet!

Ironic because the telco that said this has been running the "steaks for staffers" program lobbying behind the scenes helping create the only extant US Government control of the net - ICANN, and had since 1997.

So, what happened with the regulations the CRTC and FCC announced? Not a whole lot, some direction on traffic shaping - telcos have to state what their policy is and must gove notice if they're going to change it. And both FCC and CRTC promise to listen to any complaints.

Traffic shaping is where telcos restrict the speed the internet runs through their wires based on certain criteria. For example, if a telco noticed there was tons of traffic of people downloading music, they may choose to slow that down so that email and the web wasn't slowed down by this.

So, this one area has been addressed with what is probably a good first round attempt at this - and the good news is they did something and will be watching.


Harold Feld's tweets from the FCC announcement.


Internet news had a pretty reasonable article about this.

Richard J. Sexton - Oct. 2009