Net Neutrality

Earlier this week, the FCC, “lead” by Ajit Pai voted to repeal its policy of Net Neutrality.  The policy was put into place in Feb 2015 after the FCC (at the time under the Obama administration) made the decision to classify ISPs as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.  For a lot of people (myself included for a while), this doesn’t make a lot of sense what any of this means so let me try to take a few minutes to explain (at least my understanding of it).  For a condensed (and funny version) of this breakdown, check out this segment from John Oliver’s Last Week tonight.

What is Net Neutrality

The idea behind net neutrality can be a little hard to understand but basically it’s the idea that as a customer of an Internet Service Provider (ISP), I am paying to get a service (my Internet connection).  Because I have paid for it, I should be able to use it for whatever I like (within legal limits) as long as I stay within the bounds set by my agreement (i.e. line speed or data limits).  If I want to use that bandwidth to listen to music on Pandora, or watch TV on Netflix or even view perfectly legal midget porn…..that’s my right.  Likewise, companies like Facebook, Google, and Netflix among many others pay for their ISP connection.  They pay for the bandwidth that they are using so that they can upload their content for me to download.

Net neutrality is the idea that all data on the network is treated equally regardless of what type of traffic it is, who it’s coming from where where it’s going to.  That means that data from Netflix has just as much of a chance to get through as data from Hulu.  Data from Skype has just as much of a chance to get through as data from the carriers own IP voice service.  Basically, there is no winners or losers (at least not because the ISP is preventing or prioritizing traffic.

Telecommunications Act of 1996

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major write of the 1934 Communications Act (Think about how much communications has changed between 1934 and 1996, and how the hell it took 62  years to actually re-write the law).  There are a lot of details within the law (many of which I don’t understand nor do I really care to).  One of the things that it does do though, is make a distinction between a telecommunications carrier and information service.  A telecommunications carrier is someone that offers telecommunications service for a fee which are generally available to the general public.  A information service on the other hand means to offer a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications.  Now here is the important part……a telecommunications carrier is a regulated entity while a information service isn’t (at least not by the FCC).

A Brief History

Basically from the start of the Internet, it has operated under many of the principals of net neutrality.  As a customer, I paid my bill and used the bandwidth how I wanted to.  One of the first times that the idea behind net neutrality was challenged was in 2007 when Comcast was caught actively trying to block peer-to-peer connections used by such software as Bit Torrent.  It was only after some time passed when the FCC took action that forced Comcast to allow traffic to pass unhindered.  In another much smaller example, the Madison River Communications  company was fined by the FCC after it was found to have been blocking it’s customer’s use of Vonage because it was competing against it’s own phone service.

Between 2005 and 2012 there were no less than five attempts to move legislation through Congress that contained net neutrality provisions.  Each bill basically sought to prevent ISP from introducing tiered service models where quality of service was based on how much you were willing to pay.  This is different from how most companies currently operate where the only thing that is discriminated by your service level is the amount of bandwidth you have access to….how you use that bandwidth is up to you.

In 2010, the FCC approved its Open Internet Order which banned cable and telephone companies from preventing access to competitors and put in place six basic ideas of net neutrality which included transparency, prevention of blocking, and a ban on content discrimination.  It also allowed ISPs to conduct necessary network management, allowed some exceptions to mobile service providers (i.e. cellular companies) and put in place an advisory committee to help the FCC monitor the state of the Internet.  In January 2014, the DC circuit court determined that because these ISPs were classified as common carriers, that they fell outside of the purview of the FCC.

In Feb 2015, the FCC voted to regulate ISPs as a common carrier under Communications Act of 1934 and Telecommunications Act of 1996.  The final rules were published on April 13, 2015.  This is how the Internet has operated until very recently when President Trump named Ajit Varadaraj Pai as the new FCC chairman.  Pai, who used to work as lawyer for Verizon (one of the companies he now regulates) made it no secret from the very beginning that he was opposed to the regulation of ISPs under Title II.  He argues that ISPs can be trusted to act properly on a volunteer basis.  In May, the FCC started the process to remove net neutrality and began the public-comment period which puts us to now, where the FCC is expected to take it’s final vote next week.

Why this Matters

One of the primary arguments against regulation of the ISPs is that they will reduce the amount of money that ISPs invest in their networks because it will be harder for them to recoup their investments.  To prove this point, Pai uses figures that show the 12 largest ISPs reduced their investment by 5.6% between 2014 and 2016.  First, a 5.6% reduction over two years is hardly a significant drop or a trend and can be expained by a number of reasons (none of which have anything to do with net neutrality).  More to the point though, a better examination of the figures actually shows a 5.3% increase in investment over the same period of time.  When you combine this with the fact that over the last few years, there have been several multi-billion dollar acquisitions of ISPs (something that seems unlikely if you don’t think you can recoup your investment), the argument is even weaker.

Another argument is that the ISPs can regulate themselves and won’t actually do anything that we have been worried about.  For several years, Comcast’s net neutrality page has said “Comcast doesn’t prioritize Internet traffic or create paid fast lanes.”.  That section was removed on April 26 leaving one to only assume that they no longer plan to live by this commitment.  By coincidence, April 26th is also the day that Pai announced the first version of his plan to remove the current rules.  Likewise, several other ISPs have also begun to quietly make small changes to their statements in reference to net neutrality.

Lets be honest.  Do I think that now that net neutrality is gone, that the Internet will change overnight?  No, of course not.  But I do think it is the start of a slow movement in the wrong direction.  Comcast appears to be leading the way, getting ready to established tiered service.  Once this is proven successful, it will be quickly adopted by the other ISPs.  While this doesn’t actually block content, lets be honest, speed matters.  If I have to chose between trying to watch something on Netflix that is constantly buffering or Hulu with no delay at all (which happens to be owned by Comcast), its going to be an easy choice.  Eventually, this change will continue to expand until eventually content is actively being blocked.

This problem could be solved very easily if Congress would actually take of the matter.  Recent polls show popular support from both parties for many of the principals of net neutrality.  I would hazard to guess that if congress were to actually introduce (and try to move) a bill, that it would have strong bipartisan support (a first for this current congress).  Legislation could install many of the protections that classifying ISPs as a common carrier put in place, but could be crafted to remove much of the “over-burden” that it also installs.  Earlier this month, H.R. 4585 was introduced by Rep. Sean Maloney (D, NY-18) titled the “Save Net Neutrality Act of 2017”.  The bill effectively puts a stop to the proposed changes of rules that the FCC just passed.  Additionally, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has also promised to force a vote  that would likewise remove the new rules.  Unfortunately, Congress seems to be fixated on removing the Affordable Care Act, and crafting a huge rewrite of the entire tax code in less than two weeks so movement on this is unlikely.

So lets kick back, get ready for the holidays and see what the new year brings.  Fingers crossed someone isn’t willing to pay Comcast money to block Signal Chief from it’s network in favor of SigChef.

50 Responses to “Net Neutrality”

  1. David Bradford

    As a network engineer and having to be intimate with NN, it doesn’t do what it claims and many individuals are operating a false assumption about how it helps. Second, NN is a set of rules under the executive branch and not the legislative branch. This should be taken up with Congress and not part of the Executive, no President nor their subordinate should have authority to create new rules only define how existing ones are to be carried out and to do it. At least per The Constitution we swore oaths to. We also look at the idea that the VA is in and now want the same big government to run our internet. Internet is a connection or privately or corporately owned links and servers that has absolutely exploded and blossoms proving that a free-market system is great for growth and produces tons of high paying jobs etc. Let’s slow down for a minute before we say that we want government to run yet another aspect of our lives as they ruin everything they touch. Instead, Congress should pass laws that allow for stronger recourse with ISPs, or the source of the data (ESPN, HULU, Netlix cause sometime they, not the ISPs are the ones throttling back data speeds),

    • Will Douglass

      See my post above concerning regulation. Sure the government is crazy sometimes but we can also thank it for taking kids out of the coal mines, safe highways, and countless other good things too. NN should be much better implemented than ACA etc… Hopefully.

    • David Bradford

      Will Douglass Government did not take kids out of the coal mines, we the people forced government to do the right thing. NN will force Netflix, who consumes insane amounts of bandwidth, to be charged the same price as some guy who needs connection to work from home when he’s snowed in. So the guy at home is now paying the same price as Netflix Corporation who eats up terabytes and terabytes of bandwidth. We all must pay the same right? Be equal? How is that just to the little guy and is part, one of the impacts if NN was to truly be implement. It sounds great but the implementation sounds very socialist to me as a minor history buff.

    • Brian Braverman

      Will Douglass this assumes it would not have happened without government interference. There are countless products and services that are bad for people that don’t exist anymore due to the choices of the free market.

  2. Signal Chief

    Thanks for the thoughts David Bradford and Roger Pratt. Rodger I read that article not to horribly long ago and while I agree with parts of it, not all of it. Yes, I do believe that competition could solve many of these issues, but in order for that to work, there has to actually be competition. Walmart has it’s prices as low as it does in major part due to the competition it faces with other stores like Target, K-Mart (once upon a time) and the local grocery store among many others.

    That kind of competition doesn’t begin to exist in most places. There are sill significant parts of the country that don’t offer broadband service (not including satellite in this conversation). Even in areas that do offer it, you are likely restricted to the local cable company for cable internet and the local phone company for DSL. Most localities have regulations and laws there put in place that make it damn hard if not impossible for other companies to enter the area. If you look at the fight that Google Fiber has gone through trying to get installed in various cities, and this is from one of the largest companies in the world….That tells you something.

    I agree that legislation is the correct answer answer because once it is law, it can’t change at the whim of three people as is currently the case. Legislation also allows the regulation to be customized, as opposed to operating under Title II, which I agree is way over kill in some areas. I would point out that the ISPs brought that on themselves though when the FCC tried to create new regulation specifically for this, but the ISPs sued (careful what you ask for). Unfortunately as I put in the story, the likelihood of Congress actually passing law that protects the ideas behind net neutrality is about nil it seems.

    Lastly to David’s point about the executive setting these rules and not Congress. This is far from the only time that the executive has set rules. There are literally thousands of rules in place by the executive that we depend on every day. The vast majority of the rules the regulate how the interstate highway system operates are based on executive rules. The way that our nations air system operates is based on executive rules. The water that we drink and the food that we eat is all protected primarily under executive rules. The idea was never for Congress to put in place every rule that the country operates under. Did you know that there is no law in place that bans the use of asbestos? If not for a series or rules that the EPA (an executive agency) put in place begging in 1973 it may still very well be in use today. I don’t hear a lot of complaints about that.

    • Roger Pratt

      It doesn’t exist because your corrupt local government signed exclusivity agreements with the providers. I have about 5 high speed options where I live. I pay $70 a month for 1gb fiber to my house with no data caps provided by a guy in the community that just wanted to be competition to the other providers.

    • Signal Chief

      I absolutely agree that local/state governments are the cause of the lack of most of this competition. Where the hell do you live to have 5 choices cause I wanna go there (unless it’s in the middle of BFE)

    • David Bradford

      In NC, a local cooperate was developed and individuals shared the cost of install of SM Fiber, layer 1 & 2 high speed fiber switching and ISP level routers with links out to multiple ISPs. The speeds were pretty slow at 100Meg and costs were roughly half of CenturyLink and Comcast who were the big players in the local markets in NC. NC Legislature got together and made doing a cooperative so painful and expensive that the network was sold. Yeah government! The exact law that collapsed the coop escapes me. I remember Gov Purdue signing in and citing that since Unions were not used, the current structure could not exist as is. I’ll have to find the details on this as it makes for a good case study.

    • Randall K Faulkner

      How come it was okay to implement on the whim of 3 people just 2 years ago, but reversing it on the whim of 3 people is the end of the internet ad we know it? As I recall, the growth of the internet, and the ARPANET was all done without govt meddling!

    • Jimmy Nomura

      If you support the idea that Google, Twitter, Facebook and other near/actual monopolies can strong-arm smaller startups, then you should be upset over the recent NN repeal.

      Net Neutrality as a concept (outside of government) differs from the government’s former implementation of NN.

    • Signal Chief

      Randall K Faulkner you’re absolutely right. It was the whim of 3 people that put net neutrality in place. I would prefer Congress actually do their job and step in here but that won’t happen anytime soon. In that case it had strong public support, not this time. In that case it was essentially protecting the public interest, not this time. In that case it was maintaining the principal of how the Internet has operated since the start before corporation started to be anticompetative, not this time.

  3. Matthew Hasty

    Far too many people looking at what they think will happen instead of what COULD happen.

    When a service is as ingrained into life as the Internet is, the providers will not hesitate to cut services and raise prices according to their profit margins. See airlines for an example.

    This is dangerous because of the impact to unbiased information.

    If a politician claims that 65 million people voted illegally in the last election, we can all pull out our phones and give it a Google.

    With the repeal of NN rules, there is nothing to keep Verizon partnering with Fox to make sure that your top two pages of results are from Fox News, Drudge Report, etc.

    Will it happen? Who knows.

    The point is that without some kind of mechanism with the force of law to make sure it doesn’t, it COULD.

    • Matthew Hasty

      Exactly. Imagine that Verizon partners with Yahoo and Fox. Now all of the sudden Google’s search takes five minutes to load. Yahoo’s takes less than half a second.

      It’s about information flow, not about Netflix.

    • Randall K Faulkner

      NN has been around less than 2 years…. What facts do you base your comments on? Service providers have not done any of the things fear mongers are alleging will happen since the ARPANET became the Internet…. So what facts do you have other than might, could, possibly????

    • Matthew Hasty

      Net Neutrality has only been mandated for two years, because it was classified as a public utility in 2015.

      The neutral treatment of packets over the internet via “best-delivery” mechanisms has been a corner stone since ARPANET.

      And yes, this came about in 2015 because in 2014 Verizon began throttling Netflix traffic to get more money out of them. The goal was to offset their losses from cable TV viewers that were leaving. TV ratings are down for everyone.

      Give it a Google while you can. The ISPs have been attempting to throttle traffic for a long, long time- and were always stopped.

    • Matthew Hasty

      MADISON RIVER: In 2005, North Carolina ISP Madison River Communications blocked the voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) service Vonage. Vonage filed a complaint with the FCC after receiving a slew of customer complaints. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking, but it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.

      COMCAST: In 2005, the nation’s largest ISP, Comcast, began secretly blocking peer-to-peer technologies that its customers were using over its network. Users of services like BitTorrent and Gnutella were unable to connect to these services. 2007 investigations from the Associated Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others confirmed that Comcast was indeed blocking or slowing file-sharing applications without disclosing this fact to its customers.

      TELUS: In 2005, Canada’s second-largest telecommunications company, Telus, began blocking access to a server that hosted a website supporting a labor strike against the company. Researchers at Harvard and the University of Toronto found that this action resulted in Telus blocking an additional 766 unrelated sites.

      AT&T: From 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone. The wireless provider wanted to prevent iPhone users from using any application that would allow them to make calls on such “over-the-top” voice services. The Google Voice app received similar treatment from carriers like AT&T when it came on the scene in 2009.

      WINDSTREAM: In 2010, Windstream Communications, a DSL provider with more than 1 million customers at the time, copped to hijacking user-search queries made using the Google toolbar within Firefox. Users who believed they had set the browser to the search engine of their choice were redirected to Windstream’s own search portal and results.

      MetroPCS: In 2011, MetroPCS, at the time one of the top-five U.S. wireless carriers, announced plans to block streaming video over its 4G network from all sources except YouTube. MetroPCS then threw its weight behind Verizon’s court challenge against the FCC’s 2010 open internet ruling, hoping that rejection of the agency’s authority would allow the company to continue its anti-consumer practices.

      PAXFIRE: In 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that several small ISPs were redirecting search queries via the vendor Paxfire. The ISPs identified in the initial Electronic Frontier Foundation report included Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN and Wide Open West. Paxfire would intercept a person’s search request at Bing and Yahoo and redirect it to another page. By skipping over the search service’s results, the participating ISPs would collect referral fees for delivering users to select websites.

      AT&T, SPRINT and VERIZON: From 2011–2013, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon blocked Google Wallet, a mobile-payment system that competed with a similar service called Isis, which all three companies had a stake in developing.

      EUROPE: A 2012 report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications found that violations of Net Neutrality affected at least one in five users in Europe. The report found that blocked or slowed connections to services like VOIP, peer-to-peer technologies, gaming applications and email were commonplace.

      VERIZON: In 2012, the FCC caught Verizon Wireless blocking people from using tethering applications on their phones. Verizon had asked Google to remove 11 free tethering applications from the Android marketplace. These applications allowed users to circumvent Verizon’s $20 tethering fee and turn their smartphones into Wi-Fi hot spots. By blocking those applications, Verizon violated a Net Neutrality pledge it made to the FCC as a condition of the 2008 airwaves auction.

      AT&T: In 2012, AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribed to a more expensive text-and-voice plan. AT&T had one goal in mind: separating customers from more of their money by blocking alternatives to AT&T’s own products.

      VERIZON: During oral arguments in Verizon v. FCC in 2013, judges asked whether the phone giant would favor some preferred services, content or sites over others if the court overruled the agency’s existing open internet rules. Verizon counsel Helgi Walker had this to say: “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” Walker’s admission might have gone unnoticed had she not repeated it on at least five separate occasions during arguments.

      The court struck down the FCC’s rules in January 2014 — and in May FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler opened a public proceeding to consider a new order.

      In response millions of people urged the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers and in February 2015 the agency did just that.

    • Chris Westbrook

      Cool, You can Google, Copy/Paste. Articles about Canada and Europe were totally ignored.
      For some reason my Netflix, Mobdro, BitTorrent, Exodus all work the same today as they did a year ago. I have Comcast but they know that I can switch to WOW or AT&T at any time.

      I can address the majority of what you just posted. Almost everything is in the terms/conditions change or was announced ahead of time so you can cancel your subscription and move on to something else. Your AT&T/facetime and Verizon/tethering is a perfect example of that. I cant tether without a fee on Sprint either but I can also switch providers if I decide too. A change in terms and conditions allows you to break a contract.

      Also, don’t mention BitTorrent and Gnutella. We all know and most likely participated in the primary reason to use those protocols. Its not just for updating WoW or World of Tanks.

      In the meantime, continue to want government control of everything in the name of fairness for something that frankly, you have choices about. This isn’t the power or water company.

    • Matthew Hasty

      Chris, my post is not about the way things are today or tomorrow. It’s not even about the things that have been done in the past.

      It’s about what could POTENTIALLY be done without net neutrality.

      If tomorrow, Congress suddenly declared that cars did not have to have seatbelts anymore- how long before car companies begin to offer models that are cheaper and more unsafe?

      The point is that a profit-seeking company will seek profit. There’s nothing wrong with that, because this is America.

      But when we’re talking about the last true source of unbiased information in the world- it’s nuts to give control over it to the same people who have corrupted our broadcast and print media.

      I don’t think the government should control the Internet. I think they should use the rule of law to make sure NO ONE controls it.

      The government control vs. Free market argument is an ISP talking point that was passed to Congress and sold to the American people without any explanation.

      Net Neutrality does not restrict any market anywhere. Literally every innovation since the days of ARPANET has occurred on a neutral internet.

      Net Neutrality is not new. It’s what has always been.

      And we just sold it.

    • Jonathan Jergens

      But they aren’t controlling what is on the internet – they are (maybe) controlling the speed at which you access it. To put it into context, when these companies were throttling it was because a few users (probably the ones stealing with BitTorrent or newsgroups) were utilizing their entire pipe. Add to that, once Netflix and Hulu and YouTube moved from SD to HD (and now 4K) and grew their base, that effected traffic as well. At that point, either it gets throttled or no one can use it. I mean it’s not out of some censoring that they are doing this. Once they upgraded the pipes and went to LTE, there was room for it, and now it’s not an issue.

      So this “censoring” claim is entirely BS. The throttling was to ensure that the 99% of users still had internet access while still allowing the 1% to do what they wanted to do, within reason.

    • Jonathan Jergens

      If you wanna talk censoring, look at the case a few months back where a Nazi white supremacist was rejected when trying to buy a domain name and hosting based on his views. Now I completely disagree with their views like all rational people, but if we are truly free speech advocates here, then we can’t allow a registrar to prevent giving out DNS names just because they don’t like the content. Same with hosting companies. Wanna start fighting that?

      If you wanna worry about censorship, start looking at the registrars and hosting providers…

    • Matthew Hasty

      Nothing was throttled for years and everything worked fine. Verizon was stopped from doing so. The functionality of the Internet is not threatened by net neutrality- profit maximization for major ISPs is.

      The surface discussion about “you use more you should pay more” is logical.

      The problem is that the solution to that discussion for the ISPs is to allow them to determine which packets should be prioritized and which shouldn’t.

      It opens the door for media partnerships between ISPs and corporations- not even considering those that own both already.

      If someone goes on the news and claims that 65 million people voted illegally, we can all pull our phone and give it a Google.

      We can read the Fox News version, the MSNBC version, and go to Wikipedia and check for specific sources and links. We can Snopes it.

      In two years, imagine you pull out your phone to do the same thing, but now Verizon has a partnership with Fox and Yahoo. When you go to Google, it loads so slow that it won’t even show you the links.

      But your phone recommends Yahoo. It loads in no time. Yahoo also shows the top two pages of results as Fox News, Drudge Report, etc.

      Wikipedia costs extra.

      Now if you want Google, you have to change phone companies to AT&T. But that means that you get to see MSNBC and Huffington Post prioritized.

      Will it happen? I don’t know. Can it? YES. It can NOW.

      These are the same corporations that have created the wasteland of broadcast media we have today every time you turn on the TV.

      People revolted, and the ratings dropped. People went online for news and entertainment.

      Now they can control that too.

  4. Will Douglass

    on the one hand, I can’t think of anyone who ‘likes’ government regulation. But we can thank regulation for the fact that we do not have nasty air, polluted water, deathtrap cars, toys painted with lead, etc…. like some places do.

    So I don’t think it’s bad that the govenrment puts out some rules for the internet to remain open and usable to all. The actual implementation could prove problematic.

    NN is much more than just bandwidth and who pays what. It said that ISPs couldn’t manipulate what we see and have access to. Look to North Koreea and China for the exact opposite of NN.

    • Chris Westbrook

      I would say that in this day and age, if we removed government regulations regarding child labor, there would be no change. Social media and bad press would make the companies self-regulating.
      Kind of like McDonalds changing to cage free eggs and removing artificial ingredients. It not because the CEO has a man-bun or the shareholders wear vagina crochet hats. Its just good business.

    • Joshua Lasiter

      Yep, at&t was awesome when they blocked FaceTime because you didn’t pay extra. You already were paying for data but they needed just a little extra. Other ISPs throttled Netflix. Why? You were already paying for the bandwidth. So were they. But they wanted a little extra. Why are telephone lines covered under Title II and not internet? The FAA regulates airlines. The FERC regulates gas companies. No issues there right. I wouldn’t say that liberal thought goes into regulation. NN was put into place to protect everyone from unfair business practices from ISPs. Most other services we use have been around for decades. It’s just that the internet is still in its infancy. European countries have limited to no NN and they break the internet into packages like cable. Nothing wrong with that right?

    • Chris Westbrook

      Thats a bad example. NN does not extend to phones. Government has no regulation of cell phones. AT&T wanted you to use their services for voice and video using their phones.
      If you consider that practice foul, then look at the fact that Facetime only works on Apple but I can use Jabber on any platform for video calls.
      Cell phone service is not considered an ISP (right now), simply because you can change providers and have several choices. If they change the terms or conditions, you can break a contract.

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