Sloppiness in TNR

by on June 16, 2006 · 22 comments

The New Republic seems to believe that the lack of network neutrality will somehow lead to the end of the blogosphere:

[The Internet] is where Americans can not only search for the best deal on a new digital camera, but also debate the country’s future. Unlike the telephone, it is a medium in which thousands, even millions, of people can participate in the same discussion at the same time. Unlike television, it is interactive. But it can’t function optimally if content is prioritized or filtered by telecom companies. Allowing companies to levy a toll on information providers is not just a blow to consumer choice–it’s a blow to democracy.

Andrew Kantor of USA Today (who reader Raphy points out recently had a change of heart on the issue) has a column that nicely rebuts this kind of silliness:

I’ve read quotes from bloggers saying their content wouldn’t be delivered as quickly as that from, say, USA TODAY–thus depriving people of information that isn’t from the mainstream media. And people speak of the “little guy” not being able to compete with monster corporations with monster bandwidth.

But that makes no sense. Small information providers like bloggers don’t connect directly to the Internet; they buy space on hosting sites, either maintaining their own or on a shared blogging site (e.g., Blogger.com). It’s those hosts that buy the bandwidth, and they often tout their connection speeds.

Think about it: Google owns Blogger. Do you think Blogger users are going to be deprived of bandwidth for lack of funds?

And Jim Lippard points out that TNR repeats the falsehood that network neutrality rules always applied to the Internet before the evil Bush administration stopped enforcing them.

I’m ordinarily a big fan of the New Republic‘s articles. It’s sad to see them repeating bogus MoveOn talking points.

  • Azael

    Hmm. Seems to me the argument is not a bandwidth argument. The point of the TNR article is that, without net nuetrality, providers to consumers will be able to filter on content – regardless of bandwidth issues. And if they do, then owning all the bandwidth in the world won’t mean jack.

    Granted, I’m not a fan of TNR, but arguing against what one claims as a straw man by creating a straw man of their argument doesn’t seem to be an effective way to make an argument.

    Still, you got the MoveOn jibe in there, so maybe that’s the point.

  • Azael

    Hmm. Seems to me the argument is not a bandwidth argument. The point of the TNR article is that, without net nuetrality, providers to consumers will be able to filter on content – regardless of bandwidth issues. And if they do, then owning all the bandwidth in the world won’t mean jack.

    Granted, I’m not a fan of TNR, but arguing against what one claims as a straw man by creating a straw man of their argument doesn’t seem to be an effective way to make an argument.

    Still, you got the MoveOn jibe in there, so maybe that’s the point.

  • http://www.swarmingmedia.com/ nathan

    I think anyone with any sense wouldn’t be afraid of Blogger being slowed down. It’s the sites, like bsrlive.com (a college radio site I often listen to), that host and stream their own content (as far as I have been able to tell). They aren’t really in it to compete with the big guns, don’t have that much cash, yet benefit from un-tiered access.

    I generally agree with you guys as you post on this blog, but as far as the net. neut. stuff goes, it seems that one has to betray the principles behind techo-libertarianism (a philosophy you collectively/generally seem to embrace, though I don’t mean to pigeon-hole you) in order to adhere by the “fewer regulations are better regulations” stance.

  • http://www.swarmingmedia.com/ nathan

    I think anyone with any sense wouldn’t be afraid of Blogger being slowed down. It’s the sites, like bsrlive.com (a college radio site I often listen to), that host and stream their own content (as far as I have been able to tell). They aren’t really in it to compete with the big guns, don’t have that much cash, yet benefit from un-tiered access.

    I generally agree with you guys as you post on this blog, but as far as the net. neut. stuff goes, it seems that one has to betray the principles behind techo-libertarianism (a philosophy you collectively/generally seem to embrace, though I don’t mean to pigeon-hole you) in order to adhere by the “fewer regulations are better regulations” stance.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The first clue that net neutrality is a scam should come to you when you try to define the term. Ask 10 advocates of neutrality and you’ll get 11 or 12 definitions.

    If you think there’s a real risk of ISPs filtering your content from you, you have to tell me why the Cable-modem ISPs haven’t already done that, because their service hasn’t been regulated under the telecom regulations the Big Neuts want for the whole damn Internet.

    The technical conflict that’s really going on – and is reflected in the legislation – is between content-related services and non-content-services such as VoIP. The question isn’t about slowing down a web site to make another faster, it’s about slowing down a file transfer, imperceptibly, in order for an IP phone call to work better.

    I’ve never seen so much hysteria over so little substance on 20 years on the Internet.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The first clue that net neutrality is a scam should come to you when you try to define the term. Ask 10 advocates of neutrality and you’ll get 11 or 12 definitions.

    If you think there’s a real risk of ISPs filtering your content from you, you have to tell me why the Cable-modem ISPs haven’t already done that, because their service hasn’t been regulated under the telecom regulations the Big Neuts want for the whole damn Internet.

    The technical conflict that’s really going on – and is reflected in the legislation – is between content-related services and non-content-services such as VoIP. The question isn’t about slowing down a web site to make another faster, it’s about slowing down a file transfer, imperceptibly, in order for an IP phone call to work better.

    I’ve never seen so much hysteria over so little substance on 20 years on the Internet.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Azael,

    I was focusing on the “prioritized” part more than the “filtered” part in quoting Kantor’s column. But seriously: do you really think Comcast would be either interested or able to filter websites based on content? There are tens of millions of blogs in the world, many of them updated hourly. It would take a staff of thousands to inspect all that content to block the content Comcast didn’t like.

    So the point is that the only feasible way for Comcast to censor people on blogger (why they’d want to do this is a mystery to me, but let’s assume they do for the sake of argument) is to block blogger entirely. But that’s where Kantor’s argument comes in: Blogger is owned by Google, and Google probably has the clout/money to get Comcast to back down.

    nathan: I agree that that’s a potential problem. However, nothing like that has happened so far, and it seems premature to introduce regulations on the mere speculation that it might. Also, aren’t there likely to be services like YouTube and Blogger in the future, that provide the streaming capacity for alot of small players? The trend has been away from small content creators running their own servers–not because of censorship but just because it’s more efficient for a specialized firm to handle those details for you. I see no reason to think the same won’t happen with streaming audio.

    Incidentally, I think the primary obstacles to Internet-based video are various copyright-related impediments, which is a whole seperate issue.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Azael,

    I was focusing on the “prioritized” part more than the “filtered” part in quoting Kantor’s column. But seriously: do you really think Comcast would be either interested or able to filter websites based on content? There are tens of millions of blogs in the world, many of them updated hourly. It would take a staff of thousands to inspect all that content to block the content Comcast didn’t like.

    So the point is that the only feasible way for Comcast to censor people on blogger (why they’d want to do this is a mystery to me, but let’s assume they do for the sake of argument) is to block blogger entirely. But that’s where Kantor’s argument comes in: Blogger is owned by Google, and Google probably has the clout/money to get Comcast to back down.

    nathan: I agree that that’s a potential problem. However, nothing like that has happened so far, and it seems premature to introduce regulations on the mere speculation that it might. Also, aren’t there likely to be services like YouTube and Blogger in the future, that provide the streaming capacity for alot of small players? The trend has been away from small content creators running their own servers–not because of censorship but just because it’s more efficient for a specialized firm to handle those details for you. I see no reason to think the same won’t happen with streaming audio.

    Incidentally, I think the primary obstacles to Internet-based video are various copyright-related impediments, which is a whole seperate issue.

  • Tim Schneider

    I don’t put much truck with the “speculative” argument. What did Whitacre mean when he said that Google should pay to use his pipes? Is this just idle chatter? And anticipatory regulation is not unprecedented–the FCC’s computer inquiries were based on AT&T’s capacity for anti-competitive behavior in the data processing market, and Ma Bell’s history of, um, discourtesy towards competitors. These rules made consumer Internet access possible, really. The cable companies, certainly, do everything they can to inhibit competition, look at their ridiculous exploitation of the “terrestrial hole.”

    I think the focus on text is somewhat misguided, but political speech could easily become bandwidth intensive. Crooks and Liars, for example . . .

    And yeah, cable wasn’t subject to common carrier regs, but the legal status of that sort of discrimination was not at all clear. That’s the whole point of the Brand X case. It wouldn’t have been particularly wise to do that sort of thing in the midst of pending litigation (then), much less legislation (now).

  • Tim Schneider

    I don’t put much truck with the “speculative” argument. What did Whitacre mean when he said that Google should pay to use his pipes? Is this just idle chatter? And anticipatory regulation is not unprecedented–the FCC’s computer inquiries were based on AT&T;’s capacity for anti-competitive behavior in the data processing market, and Ma Bell’s history of, um, discourtesy towards competitors. These rules made consumer Internet access possible, really. The cable companies, certainly, do everything they can to inhibit competition, look at their ridiculous exploitation of the “terrestrial hole.”

    I think the focus on text is somewhat misguided, but political speech could easily become bandwidth intensive. Crooks and Liars, for example . . .

    And yeah, cable wasn’t subject to common carrier regs, but the legal status of that sort of discrimination was not at all clear. That’s the whole point of the Brand X case. It wouldn’t have been particularly wise to do that sort of thing in the midst of pending litigation (then), much less legislation (now).

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    There’s no doubt that AT&T and their ilk would like to charge companies more money for their “pipes.” What company wouldn’t want to make more money from their assets? But the fact that they want to doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. I think they’re likely to discover that it’s much more complex and difficult than they expected.

    Moreover, if the mere threat of legislation is enough to keep them in line, why not drag the legislative process out? Let’s put network neutrality on hold for a couple of years and bring it back up for debate in 2008. If the telecom companies start misbehaving between now and then, we’ll be in a much better position to craft sensible regulations once we have a clearer idea of what the problems are.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    There’s no doubt that AT&T; and their ilk would like to charge companies more money for their “pipes.” What company wouldn’t want to make more money from their assets? But the fact that they want to doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. I think they’re likely to discover that it’s much more complex and difficult than they expected.

    Moreover, if the mere threat of legislation is enough to keep them in line, why not drag the legislative process out? Let’s put network neutrality on hold for a couple of years and bring it back up for debate in 2008. If the telecom companies start misbehaving between now and then, we’ll be in a much better position to craft sensible regulations once we have a clearer idea of what the problems are.

  • Tim Schneider

    We know it’s technically feasible, and that they have the incentives. Which suggests that what we’re left with is our competing hunches about what will happen once all the hubbub dies down, and the last of the merger conditions expire.

    And then we go back to that central question, are these new regulations or not? If they’re new, then I lose, since imposing new regulations on the basis of a feeling (however well-backed) isn’t something we want to get into the habit of doing, I’ll agree. If they’re the same regulations we’ve had in place for some time (in response to a similar situation, even), then I would say the burden for you is higher, since you’re the one arguing for a change in the status quo based on a feeling that bad things won’t happen.

    I’d argue that the latter is the case, but there are two main difference I see from when the first NN regulations were imposed. The first is that this is a duopoly, not a monopoly as with AT&T. Maybe this matters, my sense is that it doesn’t in this case, for various reasons.

    The second difference is important, though. Those controlling the pipes can discriminate between types of content (not perfectly, I know, but in general). This is good, I’d agree with Richard that TCP/IP doesn’t always prioritize packets as we’d want. I might even go along with charging video streamers or gamers more than emailers, in exchange for QoS guarantees. But they won’t agree to offer the same terms for their contents/applications/services and those of their competitors.

    This is using a monopoly in one market to gain a monopoly on a complementary good. And this is bad.

    Why the rush? The FCC’s DSL order goes through in August, right? The bells are pushing for telecom legislation now so they can get their national video franchise, a telecom bill is moving, which doesn’t happen very often. All aboard . . .

    Also, the scare tactics aren’t limited to the pro-NN side. Did y’all see the report about Net Neutrality’s impact on national security? Yikes.

  • Tim Schneider

    We know it’s technically feasible, and that they have the incentives. Which suggests that what we’re left with is our competing hunches about what will happen once all the hubbub dies down, and the last of the merger conditions expire.

    And then we go back to that central question, are these new regulations or not? If they’re new, then I lose, since imposing new regulations on the basis of a feeling (however well-backed) isn’t something we want to get into the habit of doing, I’ll agree. If they’re the same regulations we’ve had in place for some time (in response to a similar situation, even), then I would say the burden for you is higher, since you’re the one arguing for a change in the status quo based on a feeling that bad things won’t happen.

    I’d argue that the latter is the case, but there are two main difference I see from when the first NN regulations were imposed. The first is that this is a duopoly, not a monopoly as with AT&T.; Maybe this matters, my sense is that it doesn’t in this case, for various reasons.

    The second difference is important, though. Those controlling the pipes can discriminate between types of content (not perfectly, I know, but in general). This is good, I’d agree with Richard that TCP/IP doesn’t always prioritize packets as we’d want. I might even go along with charging video streamers or gamers more than emailers, in exchange for QoS guarantees. But they won’t agree to offer the same terms for their contents/applications/services and those of their competitors.

    This is using a monopoly in one market to gain a monopoly on a complementary good. And this is bad.

    Why the rush? The FCC’s DSL order goes through in August, right? The bells are pushing for telecom legislation now so they can get their national video franchise, a telecom bill is moving, which doesn’t happen very often. All aboard . . .

    Also, the scare tactics aren’t limited to the pro-NN side. Did y’all see the report about Net Neutrality’s impact on national security? Yikes.

  • Azael

    Tim, two words for ya: power law. It’s not the millions and millions that I care about. Some very simple filtering could have quite a devastating effect on what’s out there.

    And let’s not remember we live in a time where even the company who’s motto is “do no evil” finds nothing wrong with helping China do their own filtering and Yahoo thinks it’s okay to help put Chinese dissenters in jail.

    Your appeal to absurdity doesn’t quite fit the times.

    I have a lot of faith in technology and considering that ATT, Verizon and others have willingly help the government spy on our communications (whether it’s content sipping or not) without warrant, I think it’s quite the odd position for a libertarian like yourself to take.

    But hey, that’s just me…

  • Azael

    Tim, two words for ya: power law. It’s not the millions and millions that I care about. Some very simple filtering could have quite a devastating effect on what’s out there.

    And let’s not remember we live in a time where even the company who’s motto is “do no evil” finds nothing wrong with helping China do their own filtering and Yahoo thinks it’s okay to help put Chinese dissenters in jail.

    Your appeal to absurdity doesn’t quite fit the times.

    I have a lot of faith in technology and considering that ATT, Verizon and others have willingly help the government spy on our communications (whether it’s content sipping or not) without warrant, I think it’s quite the odd position for a libertarian like yourself to take.

    But hey, that’s just me…

  • Azael

    Also, if anyone wants to see the Telco argument implode in video, watch Mike McCurry get his butt kicked by Amazon’s Paul Misener in a debate at GWU on net neutrality.

    The whole argument that frames this as a debate about capacity is pretty much demolished.

  • Azael

    Also, if anyone wants to see the Telco argument implode in video, watch Mike McCurry get his butt kicked by Amazon’s Paul Misener in a debate at GWU on net neutrality.

    The whole argument that frames this as a debate about capacity is pretty much demolished.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    McCurry got slaughtered. Having a PR guy represent your side in a debate on a complex technical subject seems like a boneheaded move to me.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    McCurry got slaughtered. Having a PR guy represent your side in a debate on a complex technical subject seems like a boneheaded move to me.

  • http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/140508 Guy Montag

    I suspect that Siegel is a mentor to Eve Fairbanks. Facts don’t matter, just write.

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/138427

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/141058

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/140693

  • http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/140508 Guy Montag

    I suspect that Siegel is a mentor to Eve Fairbanks. Facts don’t matter, just write.

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/138427

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/141058

    http://slashdot.org/~GMontag/journal/140693

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