Neutrality Regulation In the Abstract

by on May 22, 2006 · 14 comments

There’s a great great post over at the abstract factory about the real issues in the debate over neutrality regulation. He points out that the horror stories trotted out by the pro-regulatory side are mostly bogus:

Political outfits–ranging from MoveOn to the Christian Coalition–are worried that network providers will begin to discriminate based on the political content of messages. This is pretty unlikely. It’s not easy for an algorithm to look at a bag of bytes and classify its political content; and network providers probably can’t pay for the computational power required to apply such an algorithm to the many terabytes of data that flow across their networks daily.

And even if they could, why would they? There’s no percentage there. In fact, I can think of two very strong reasons for them not to start filtering based on political content. First, there would be an enormous consumer backlash. Second, there would be enormous political fallout. The latter would include not only backlash against abuse of quasi-monopoly power, but possibly the imposition of responsibility for the content that flows across the pipes. Once you begin filtering based on political content, lawmakers may poke their heads in and wonder why you aren’t filtering out all that kiddie porn and gambling and such too–and if something gets through your filters, why can’t we hold you liable? The network providers don’t want to open that can of worms.

So, political censorship isn’t the real issue here. Nor, pace Moby et al., is it interconnection with small media providers versus large ones. Verizon’s not terribly likely to block access to your music blog. They might, someday, contract with certain service providers for improved performance. For example, they might strike a deal with iTunes to store songs in a local proxy cache, so that Verizon customers would observe slightly improved performance with iTunes, but not your music blog. That doesn’t strike me as either disastrous or a betrayal of the Internet’s principles. Networking researchers have been proposing schemes like this for years. In fact, Akamai’s basically a third-party version of this scheme: people pay them to store content in caches close to where it’s demanded, so Akamai-cached websites perform better than non-Akamai websites. Akamai’s been operating since 1999, and so far the Internet hasn’t been torn asunder.

He goes on to explain that the more plausible danger is discrimination on the basis of application–phone companies trying to block Skype because it cuts into their landline telephone business, for example. He’s quite right that the pronouncements of telco execs that Google needs to pay more for “my pipes” were assinine. Google pays for its own connection to the Internet. It’s consumers that pay the Baby Bells for the bandwidth they use. Telcos don’t connect their customers to the Internet out of the goodness of their hearts.

And his conclusion is also spot-on:

So I’m really glad that people are paying attention to network neutrality. But I’m also alarmed that so few of those people seem to understand what’s really going on here, and I’m skeptical that now is the time to make laws about it. So far, the Internet’s still neutral. My bottom-line recommendation would be to watch and wait.

He says other smart and sensible things as well, so go read the whole thing.

  • Luv2Box

    Thanks for recommending the post – very good piece indeed! It is good that people are waking up and discussing net neutrality. My only concern is that it is being pushed by groups that really have no expertise in the Internet – MoveOn.org? Moby and REM? It would be nice to see some real solutions offered from the industry instead of just sides being taken.

  • Luv2Box

    Thanks for recommending the post – very good piece indeed! It is good that people are waking up and discussing net neutrality. My only concern is that it is being pushed by groups that really have no expertise in the Internet – MoveOn.org? Moby and REM? It would be nice to see some real solutions offered from the industry instead of just sides being taken.

  • Net Chick

    And MoveOn.org is funded by Google – talk about being a puppet. The internet does not need regulated right now. Tech companies are no coming out against it – that should tell congress something if they will only listen.

  • Net Chick

    And MoveOn.org is funded by Google – talk about being a puppet. The internet does not need regulated right now. Tech companies are no coming out against it – that should tell congress something if they will only listen.

  • SoCal619

    I read this post a while a back and it’s terrific. The allies NN has aligned are a very strange group (don’t forget Alyssa Milano–the strangest of all!), but ultimately this isn’t an issue for Congress or has-been celebrities–it IS one for the consumer. Very simply, the government should not get involved in anything remotely close to “regulating” the internet because there’s absolutely no need…like the old addage goes “If it ain’t broke, why fix it”?

  • SoCal619

    I read this post a while a back and it’s terrific. The allies NN has aligned are a very strange group (don’t forget Alyssa Milano–the strangest of all!), but ultimately this isn’t an issue for Congress or has-been celebrities–it IS one for the consumer. Very simply, the government should not get involved in anything remotely close to “regulating” the internet because there’s absolutely no need…like the old addage goes “If it ain’t broke, why fix it”?

  • Katie

    I agree, “If it aint broke, why fix it?”.. To put internet regulations in the hands of congress would be a nightmare. Not only would it slow down innovention but it would only cause further contraversy. There will be no end to the regulations if this gets started.

  • Katie

    I agree, “If it aint broke, why fix it?”.. To put internet regulations in the hands of congress would be a nightmare. Not only would it slow down innovention but it would only cause further contraversy. There will be no end to the regulations if this gets started.

  • Tedwin

    “but possibly the imposition of responsibility for the content that flows across the pipes”…That alone should scare these guys into playing fair. Because we all know that nothing gets Americans to take the streets like a little unexpected pornography. No company that wants to stay in business will block content…none has so far, so no need to confront a problem that isn’t there. I’m glad to see that cooler heads are prevailing, at least on this site.

  • Tedwin

    “but possibly the imposition of responsibility for the content that flows across the pipes”…That alone should scare these guys into playing fair. Because we all know that nothing gets Americans to take the streets like a little unexpected pornography. No company that wants to stay in business will block content…none has so far, so no need to confront a problem that isn’t there. I’m glad to see that cooler heads are prevailing, at least on this site.

  • stevens33

    I’ve read the other article and found it to be pretty good. Like Tedwin said, it’s good to see people being reasonable about this, at least here. I hope that sentiment prevails in Congress.

  • stevens33

    I’ve read the other article and found it to be pretty good. Like Tedwin said, it’s good to see people being reasonable about this, at least here. I hope that sentiment prevails in Congress.

  • MRT

    I have read that post and it does a good job of mapping out what the real issue is. The most important thing I see is that any legislation will either be too little to affect anything or it will be so vague that the government would then have the “keys” to get in and regulate the internet on every little issue that comes up. I agree with the aforementioned post that any net neutrality legislation that comes along will hurt the internet more than helping it because of this.

  • MRT

    I have read that post and it does a good job of mapping out what the real issue is. The most important thing I see is that any legislation will either be too little to affect anything or it will be so vague that the government would then have the “keys” to get in and regulate the internet on every little issue that comes up. I agree with the aforementioned post that any net neutrality legislation that comes along will hurt the internet more than helping it because of this.

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