End Net Neutrality

Imagine what it would look like if the United States got rid of all of its air traffic coordinators, and just let planes take care of themselves.  Each plane would be equal, and airports would no longer prioritize some planes over others.  All of the airports would stay open, but planes would take off and land whenever they felt like it, with no guidance from the airports they were taking off out of, or landing into.  For the purpose of our analogy, let’s assume that pilots are smart enough to avoid hitting each other, and that they never run out of fuel.  As soon as a pilot tries to land, however, he or she sees another plane taking off, and veers away to circle around for another pass.  Two planes try to land on the same runway at the same time and both veer off to try again.  Every airport, every air route, every runway – it’s all a free for all, with each pilot doing whatever they want.  Such a scenario would bring air travel to its knees.  Without guidance from air traffic controllers, airports would only be able to handle a fraction of the traffic they currently handle.

Now imagine the same scenario with data across the Internet, and you have, in a nutshell, net neutrality.

Our airlines operate very similarly to how the Internet operates, with airports acting as hubs, air routes as network lines, and travelers as data.  Just as data may have to go through multiple routers before getting to its destination, travelers may have to go through multiple airports.  And just as airports would be taken down to their knees without people controlling traffic, so too private networks can be taken to their knees, rendering the user with the dreaded word, “buffering”.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) invest billions of dollars a year in the cables, routers, and switches that make up the Internet backbone.  Currently, federal law prohibits ISPs from acting like air traffic controllers, but ISPs would like to be able to manage their networks, prioritizing traffic in ways that would maximize the amount of traffic their networks could support, and there is a reason they are pushing to end net neutrality now: high definition video.

The number of households using Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other online providers of high definition video is exploding.  Everyone wants to stream 1080p video, and sometimes even 4k.  At 1080p, a video runs at roughly a gigabyte per hour.  4K video takes about 11 GB per hour.  In the past, someone with a 30 MBPS Internet connection could be expected to burst to 30 MBPS for short durations, but to have very little (if any) usage the vast majority of the time.  With high definition video, many people are filling 30 MBPS connections for hours at a time.  The Internet backbone does not have the bandwidth to keep up with that kind of demand.

In the past, the solution to an increase in bandwidth demand was to lay down more infrastructure, creating more bandwidth, but with bandwidth needs growing at an exponential rate, it is becoming necessary to manage the Internet backbone to allow it to process as much traffic as humanly possible, and that is why ISPs want to end net neutrality.  The end of net neutrality will allow ISPs to manage their networks the way air traffic controllers manage airports.

The end of net neutrality will create more choices.  If one person is content watching videos at 720p (DVD quality), and is willing to have 1080p and 4k video blocked, it makes sense to charge them less than someone who is going to watch 1080p and/or 4k video.  Another person might not want any video at all, save the occasional YouTube video.  Price should follow usage, and those who pay the most should receive better playback.  ISPs will now be free to offer a large number of different packages, at different prices, to meet the needs of different kinds of people who use the Internet to do different things.  The end of net neutrality will lead to many different packages people can choose from to get the Internet they want, at a price they are happy with.  The end of net neutrality will also lead to an explosion in innovation, and a better Internet, in the future, than we would otherwise have.

Some people seem to think that because the government created the Internet, today’s Internet should be run as a government service.  I don’t think these people really understand what the government built, or how it relates to the Internet of today.  Yes – the Department of Defense created ARPANET in 1966, which was a network designed to survive a nuclear attack, by distributing data at various locations around the country.  Over time, the military expanded this network, and by the 1990s, it was expensive to maintain.  As a cost-cutting move, the military allowed colleges to utilize portions of the network for a fee.  Soon thereafter, the military allowed private ISPs to connect, and the Internet as we know it was born.

As soon as ISPs connected to the Internet, they began to rebuild it, and to expand it.  Today, virtually all of the infrastructure underpinning the backbone is private – put in place by private companies.  The military still uses the Internet, and the Internet still provides a distributed, nuclear-proof network, but the cost of the Internet is borne almost entirely by private hands.  There are in fact over 6,200 network providers contributing to the Internet backbone.  Rather than being a government network we pay for through tax dollars, the Internet is a private network that the military spun-off in order to save money, and the ARPANET, which our tax dollars built, was but a fraction of the size of the Internet as it exists today.  Privatization has been a huge win for everyone.

Before the Internet, computers communicated with each other, and with private networks, using modems.  I could, for example, call into Western Michigan University’s network, and access the resources I had permission to access on that network.  I could also call Bulletin Board Services (BBSs), which were servers that had a lot of modems and a lot of phone lines connected to them, such that a large number of people could connect at once.  I had a membership with a company called Prodigy, that could have thousands of people online all at once, all over modems.  I also used a smaller service in Kalamazoo, MI, called Eifenville.  Eventually, BBSs like Eifenville were allowed to connect to the Internet for a couple of hours late at night, and rather than only chatting with other people who had dialed in to Eifenville, suddenly I could chat with people all over the country.  It was exciting, but I still had to dial into a BBS before I could chat with anyone.  It was only after ISPs had re-built and greatly expanded the Internet that private individuals could connect directly to it.  The government did create ARPANET, and ARPANET did become the Internet, but the government did not pay to expand ARPANET into the Internet.  Private companies did that.

It makes all the sense in the world to end net neutrality.  It makes all the sense in the world to let network providers manage their networks, just as air traffic controllers manage airports.

14 thoughts on “End Net Neutrality”

  1. I do not believe you are fully informed as to the reasons leading up to the instantiation of net neutrality (or how the internet works in general, good luck filtering certain resolution video types over an encrypted connection). There are numerous examples of “abuse of power” from major telecoms and the follow are just a few. Back in 2005, Madison River Communications was blocking access to VOIP (telephony) services such as Vonage, as well as many others as it was in direct competition to their service offerings. Between 2007 and 2009, AT&T was blocking services to the same as well as Skype as it was in direct competition to their cellular networks. Between 2011 and 2013, Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T were blocking access to Google Wallet as they had their own similar services. In 2012, AT&T tried blocking access to Apple’s Facetime to those who would not pay an extra fee (for a product they DID NOT own!!). In 2013, Verizon literally stated the only thing keeping them from favoring some content providers (such as partners) over others was net neutrality. Can you imagine Comcast blocking or causing Netflix to buffer in order to frustrate users into using their own video content? IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED. Net neutrality put a stop to this.

    The types of “package tiers” you mentioned are already occurring. Other countries have already began charging extra fees to certain types of services (while blocking others) such as $5.99 for social media, $9.99 for gaming, and $8.99 for movies networks, ON TOP of the regular monthly rate. You say net neutrality stifles innovation and hinders propagation of other providers. Nothing could be further from the repetitious fallacies purported by the major telecom’s lobbyists. Net neutrality has allowed higher speed increases for consumers in order to deliver more than just the cable company’s video content. Remember, for basic landline telephone service “back in the day”, if not for FCC regulation, many rural areas would have NEVER had access to telephone services of any kind. That means no readily available access to emergency services when someone was critically injured on the farm. The FCC ensured that the major telecom companies provided ubiquitous access for everyone and not to pick and choose where solely profit over access was king.

    PLEASE do your research into what will happen should net neutrality be abolished. Is it any wonder why the major telecom companies are funneling SO MUCH money into getting this removed? Indeed, WHY would Comcast have any interest over being able to throttle other video content providers when they know only one provider can “own” the lines in every community at a time? They say they have no interest in throttling content, but as I stated before, they already have! Smaller websites and services who are unable to “pay the ransom” to the major telecoms will see their content throttled or blocked entirely. So much for “mom and pop” sites and services.

    This is nothing like an air traffic control issue. Routers are capable of managing their own traffic flows, unlike air traffic. Find a better analogy.

    1. You’d be surprised then to know that my first degree – and most of my professional experience – is in telecommunications and network engineering. I’m very deep in Internet protocols, such as TCP/IP, or in the case of VOIP (and increasingly video), UDP.

      There is nothing wrong with tiered service. That’s a good thing if it provides a better level of service, at the same or a lower price. Why are you afraid of ala carte pricing?

      Comcast has ever incentive to allow its customers to see whatever content they want, as blocking or throttling that content provides customers for Comcast’s competitors.

      Companies do sometimes try to abuse the consumer, but in a free and open market, all that does is to move customers to competitors. Rather than telling me to do research in a field where I am a true expert, you might do a little research into economics.

    2. I completely agree with you Andrew.
      IF ISPs truly had no interests in throttling or censoring contents and the likes, why would they have spent so much money on lobbying the Congress to remove NN? Instead of wasting that money, they could have used it to invest in better services or something actually useful and productive to everyone.
      It would hurt entrepreneurs and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually becoming a barrier for new entrants in all fields and industries.

  2. That’s not a good analogy. The ISP only wants to degrade our service for the same price. They are greedy pigs who only want to increase profits and decrease costs. To meet the demand for more bandwidth, they only need to invest in better infrastructure, NOT by lobbying congress like all big business do to get their way.

    1. The great irony of your statement is that ISPs compete for your business, and no matter how greedy they may be, they can only get your business by doing a better job for a lower price than can their competitors. Ending net neutrality will allow them to come up with new ways to compete with one another, which means more choices for consumers. This is not going to hurt the consumer. If anything, it will provide more options that offer better service for those who need it (and are willing to pay for it), and reduced service for those whose bandwidth needs are lower.

      1. They don’t compete because where I live, there is only one ISP.
        They don’t HAVE competitors is the issue. Plus, all the current ones have an unspoken agreement to not interfere with each other’s territories, thus monopolizing the entire country. How is that competitive? So they are definitely not going to offer better service for the same price or lower BECAUSE they can make more profit from degrading current service for same or higher prices.
        Do you even know what net neutrality is? Net neutrality has a very simple definition that’s been agreed upon and has a pretty cohesive statement, which is “all data is treated the same.” How does that hinder business in the slightest?
        For someone who has a degree, you surely don’t know what you’re talking about. What options are there?
        The expense of moving data does not change what that data is.
        Plus, there are already plans and options for using less data. Clearly you have no idea what net neutrality means at all, beyond what the cable companies want you to think. Not very much of a free thinking libertarian are you?

  3. This article shows a stark misunderstanding of how the internet functions.
    I pay my ISP for Bandwidth, and I will use that download bandwidth to recieve information from someone else who PAID for upload bandwidth. We paid for that bandwidth, and now you’re saying that we have to pay extra to be able to use the bandwidth that was already paid for TWICE, in order to view certain websites, or movie content?

    1. You are missing the whole point. You generally only use a fraction of your total download potential, even when streaming a movie, whereas Amazon.com could go down if it runs out of upload speed – affecting millions of people. It makes sense to prioritize content providers over content users, as without providers, there is nothing for you to download. It also makes sense to charge someone less who has 25 MBPS download speed but averages .25 MBPS, than someone who has the same 25 MBPS, but who has an average of 86% utilization. High definition video has been a real game changer, and ISPs need to end net neutrality to keep up.

  4. How many people actually have a choice of ISP’s? And if they do is it the same level of service? I have data with my cell phone, and could get service from my local landline phone company over their copper wires, or faster service with my cable provider. But in any event are we willing to have our communications censored by the ISP? To what extent should we allow that? The fact is that in todays world for most of us our internet connection is the source of our news.

    1. A better question is how many people do not have a choice of ISPs, and the answer is very few. Most Americans have more than one cable provider, and at least one dsl provider. In addition to that, you have cellular, and line-of-sight providers are growing in number. Fiber optic lines are exploding.

      What interest does an ISP have in censoring your Internet access? You’d choose another ISP if they did that. Companies act in their own self interests, and with as much competition as there is for your ability to access the Internet, they have no interest in censoring you.

      You’ve given my an idea for my next blog entry however. I’m going to write about those who assume that companies will do anything they ‘could’ do just because it is technically possible for them to do so.

      If the government allows people to own bathtubs, they could drown, and yet we allow people to own bathtubs. Most of us do not want to drown, so we choose not to. Most companies do not want to go out of business, and will choose to do things that earn more rather than fewer customers.

      1. The actual answer is, a significant portion.
        Are you talking about dial up? or actual high speed speed modern internet? The answer is, not nearly as much as you thin.
        They have all the interest to censor competitors, especially since they can get away with it, especially since they are as self interested as you said.
        You are very idealistic, and not very practical. If something is legally allowed, companies will find a way to use it.
        By the way, that’s a very bad analogy.

  5. I agree with you completely, Wallace.

    Most don’t understand that their problem is truly not with NN being killed, it is people’s lack of internet service provider options.

    But this is a problem at the local level. Not federal. And NN isn’t going to help them regardless even if the turd was left in place. Typically the county or city these people live in are the root of the problem. Who’s politicians who don’t have even the most rudimentary understanding of how a floppy stores data much less how the internet functions are making decisions on something that is so far over their heads. And so these same old fools signed contracts to last multiple decades giving a single cable company rights to the area. So the people’s choices are either one cable company, or slow DSL.

    County and Cities need to do what they must to break these contracts and allow whomever wants to be an ISP into the area do so.

    Then the free market will really begin to shine!

    1. I have dsl. We have 25 mbps. Our ISP offers 50 Mbps, and in theory, they could to 100 Mbps. The speed possible is based on distance to the local hub though. In our case 25 Mbps is the best we can do.

      But 25 Mbps is plenty for streaming video.

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