“Net Neutrality” Explained

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“Net neutrality” is the new buzzphrase which means “keep the Internet free”, and costs be damned.

Net neutrality is a concept embodied as part of the “Internet Nondiscrimination Act of 2006”, recently introduced in Congress by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Put simply, “net neutrality” means that telephone and cable companies and other Internet traffic providers would be legally required to turn a blind eye to the fact that Internet content providers and other huge Internet-based businesses, such as Yahoo and Google, consume an enormous amount of costly bandwidth. They would not be allowed to charge them for the Internet bandwidth that they eat. At least, they would not be allowed to charge them differently.

Which means either the cable and traffic providers would be required to allow all of this expensive traffic to continue for free, to, in some cases, their own financial loss, or, well, all users are going to have to end up being charged for the Internet.

Of course, this latter is not contemplated by Senator Wyden’s “Internet Nondiscrimination Act”, but any person with two braincells to rub together can figure out that if the providers are losing money due to the heavy use of such Internet biggies as Google and Yahoo’s content load, and they are not allowed to charge them differently (that’s the “neutrality” part) from their charges to individuals and small businesses, then they will have to start charging individuals and small businesses more. And if they are prohibited from doing so – or otherwise will be prohibited from recouping their expenses based on high bandwidth use – then what happens?

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The underlying issue here is that people have gotten used to a free Internet, where they serve up whatever they want, at little or no charge. Even if that something which they are serving up or providing is commercial content or a commercial service on which they make money. On which, sometimes, they make a whole lot of money. And which may eat up a whole lot of bandwidth.

The problem here is the assumption of a “free Internet”, and the belief of a “right” to that “free Internet”, for individuals, and for commerce.

But guess what? The Internet was not designed to be an engine of commerce. And the Internet was not designed for individuals to use for free, or otherwise. In fact, the Internet was not designed to be used by individuals or commercial businesses at all.

Here it is: The Internet was designed and developed as a way for educational, research, and government insitutions to be able to share data!

Now, many creative and bright people have taken that Internet, and done lots of interesting and creative things with it. And they did it while that Internet structure was still available at little to no charge.

And they have changed and adulterated the original purpose of the Internet.

And with that change has come a great deal of cost.

You know what this is like? Here’s what it’s like:

Four of my neighbors and I get together and complain about how it takes 6 hours to drive from the start of the first property to the start of the last of the five properties, because of the way the county has laid out the roads. If we could just cut across our five properties, it would take much less time. So by agreement we create a property owner’s association, and the association has a contractor blaze a trail across our adjoining lands to allow all of us to quickly traverse the length of our properties. Now, instead of it taking 6 hours to go from point A to point B using county roads, with our trail it takes only 1 hour.

Now, this turns out to be great for us, saving us hours and hours every week. And so we let some of our friends use it. Pretty soon they are telling others, and their friends are using the trail across our properties. And now the trail has widened due to the addtional use, and it has cut further into our properties than we had wanted it to. And then potholes and ruts start to develop along the trail, which we have to fill in and fix or else the trail becomes unusable for our own use.

Next, an enterprising cab company starts offering to drive people across our trail for $20.00 a trip. Hey, that’s great, you can save 5 hours just by paying that cab company $20.00.

Then Starbucks sets up a small Starbucks drive-through on some property which borders the trail. Now those people paying $20.00 for a trip along our trail can also get a $3.00 latte along the way.

Restaurants crop up at either end of the trail to service the traffic, along with a couple of convenience stores, some at either end of the trail, some on property which borders our trail. These have the effect of encouraging even more traffic to use our trail.

Guess what our trail looks like now? We’ve had to pave it and put up retaining walls to handle all the traffic and the resulting stress on the trail.

And all these businesses are making money on our little trail.

But we are not allowed to recoupe our expenses because our state has passed a law, the “Too Bad Sucker Act of 2006” which says that if you create something for a small, informal use, and it evolves and turns into an enormous engine of commerce, too bad, you’re stuck with the bill, and you can’t ask those creating the burden to help pay that bill if you aren’t also charging your friends for using the trail.

And that is net neutrality.

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7 thoughts on ““Net Neutrality” Explained

  1. I would guess that there is a problem here that AT&T&co need to consider: Abandoning Net Neutrality means they can (and congress may be doing this to force them to) discriminate between sites for reasons of, for example, pornographic content: Before, Bell can say “No, Guv’nor, we’re common carriers: Censoring the net is more than our job’s worth”, but after, the government can say “Charge what you like and you can afford to censor it”; in truth it is barely (if at all) technically possible and a trillion gets you five it is nightmarishly unfeasable, but there are some in congress who would pass laws (remember the CDA) destroying the internet just to stop anyone accessing pornography or gambling and it’s only a matter of time before they do. And if AT&T&co want to loot Pandora’s box, they’ll end up being given an offer, and it would presumably be illegal to refuse, to levy all of the taxes it needs in order to perform a nightmarishly difficult task, and not refusing could leave it vulnerable to massive fines, punitive damages, and worse from websites and governments who will see the collaborationist ISPs as criminal extortionists. A Net Neutrality abandonment can only lead to trouble for the Internet, but the consequences for telecoms will be worse: A bad Internet will destroy the profitable telecommunications business of selling bandwidth to ISPs. Although the telcos own both the last bottleneck and the bandwidth they sell to ISPs to resell, giving them more of a right to dictate net neutrality issues, I would imagine that if I were CEO or CTO of any telco, ISP, or Gateway [eg, AOL, CompuServe], I would make frantic calls to any Senator or Representative who’d listen to me to do anything except scrap my company’s ‘Common Carrier’ status.

  2. Anne – you either don’t know what you are talking about or are paid to say this – which would explain why you are using the pronoun “we.” The bad news for you is that no matter how much you try and spin this, the folks who know anything about the internet know what you are selling here is Bull. The only entities against net neutrality are the phone companies and their paid mouths (like you). AT&T is going to lose money? HA HA and HA on top. That poor $210 billion dollar company! The folks paying their ISP AND the phone/cable company for access are missing the toll “you” are charging them for access to your poor “little trail” – only a portion of which “you” own (the bottleneck to the customer). AT&T did NOT build the internet – the “little trial” AT&T does own is the last mile to the customer and SOME of the trunks used by internet traffic (most of which was built under government-granted monopoly protection).

    {Editor’s note: Gene, no, I am not paid by anybody to say anything about this. I just happen to be firmly against government regulation over a free market. And there was no scenario where this wouldn’t also lead to regulating ISPs as common carriers. But hey, if the best you can do for your arguments is veiled ad hominem attacks, have at it.}

  3. According to what I have been reading this new charge would mean—-Everytime I send something to a friend on the internet I would have to pay more for each one I send.
    Our church sends us e-mails for the prayer chain, our council sends there info back and forth to each council member. We would then have to pay more for each one that is sent out?
    I myself NEVER have had to use Google, but I do go onto the internet to order things for church and also we have among friends a recipe chain. Here again we are going to be charged for each one that is sent out and the companies are going to have to pay more to send them to us?
    If I am understanding this right they have just gone to far and no one will use the internet.
    I would never be able to e-mail my Mother to see that she is okay. I would have to call her long distance.
    How stupid. Why does’nt congress keep there nose out of the Internet. That’s because we would pay for there using there’s, Right?
    Lila Lee

  4. I don’t think the trail illustration really meshes. ISPs already charge users for access, and network providers already charge sites (and each other, in many cases) for traffic. Thus, in your illustration everyone should have been pitching in a small amount to use your trail anyway once it progresses from “just your friends”… you have them start an association in order to make the trail a reality, but surely if they had done so then the notion of potential growth and how to pay for it would have come up. The illustration makes little sense aside as a poor slippery slope arguement without that aspect, and would change entirely if you did have your 5 land owners consider the financial side of the care, maintance, and use of the trail by friends. This is exacerbated by the fact that a better analogy would have had independent investors buying up adjacent land and running their own for-profit road.

    While I was an Internet user pre-web myself, it’s not like the network of those days is somehow supporting the commerce of today. New fast routes have been built, and in fact the University’s now have Internet2 to play with.

    It’s not as if the whole net neutrality thing is going to mean that the state gubmints and poor colleges struggling to pay their staff aren’t going to be able to make ends meet because Google, etc, attract to many users but don’t kick in more. It’ll mean that the megacorp telecoms can’t gouge sites like Google, charging them even more. ISPs wouldn’t STILL be a dime a dozen if it weren’t for the content.

    I don’t know if a situation in which network providers try to charge Google, etc, extra would actually come up – it would seem to be shooting themselves in the foot given that Google can easily call their bluff. However, the bill would presumably protect the (relatively) smaller guys from a similar situation.

    It’d suck for a popular vlogger to get mail from AOL requiring that the fork over $$$/month or they won’t let their visitors continue reaching them…

    So to echo Moonlight Gambler, what exactly is the fuss about? Why are _you_ angry, given that no outcome (bill or no bill) rectifies the fact that the net as we know it today got a leg up from a public network backbone, but has for years now relied on increasingly sophisticated _private_ backbones?

  5. I’ve done some read since the above post and am still confused.
    All this talk about “two tiered”; in Australia we have multi tiered broadband – the more you pay the faster it runs. (In theory.)
    As for who pays for what – Business 101; the CUSTOMER pays for EVERYTHING!
    As the users, i.e. you & me, are paying anyway what is all the fuss about?
    If we want faster downloads from, say movies-for-downloads.com, we can get a faster service from our ISP or change our ISP.
    If movies-for-downloads.com are going to charge us more because they have a deal with some ISP that cost will be included in the hire/download price, (and the average user will probably go to cheaper-but-slower.com to save money!).
    If movies-for-downloads.com can fool an ISP into providing free bandwidth, good luck to them.
    (And if the fool ISP thinks their customers, i.e. you & me, our going to accept being overcharged to cover this they will soon learn otherwise when all their customers go to cheaper ISP’s.)
    So what is all the fuss is about?
    Or am I still missing something?

  6. I’m confused and whilst my confusion may not be “interesting, informative, or witty”, I hope your response will be informative.
    How do Google & Yahoo “consume an enormous amount of costly bandwidth”?
    If this is because users are accessing Google’s & Yahoo’s offerings haven’t the users already paid their IPS’s for the bandwidth?
    If it’s because of their bots roaming & cataloging the internet how do Google & Yahoo obtain free access to the internet?
    Or is all this not about whether or not Google & Yahoo do pay for internet access, but rather how much they pay?

  7. The real question is: How much is Google and Yahoo putting into the good Senator’s pocket for this favor….oops legistration

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