T Nation

Net Neutrality Gone



And not just a "fuck net neutrality!" or "damn, that sucks!"

Explain why this does or doesn't matter, and not just to YOU, but in general.


U.S. House votes to allow cable companies to throttle internet

It has seen the end of the net neutrality legislation, it will soon see the end of the Rebellion...

House Republicans have managed to pull off a high profile rejection of a key tech-related component of the Obama administration's initiatives. In control of the House for the first time in four years, Republicans have voted to overturn so-called "net neutrality" rules proposed earlier this year by the Obama administration.

The rules had previously been approved by the Democratic House, but were stalled in the Senate as Republicans awaited the prospect of regaining control of the House in the new year.

I. What's Net Neutrality and What Did This Bill Mean?

In the early 1900s the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) basically held a monopoly on phone service in the U.S. It owned all the lines and it sought to crush or buy out any small competitors entering the market. Its tactics are viewed in retrospect as "anticompetitive", but at the time the government did little to act.

Today cable internet service providers don't enjoy the same kind of monopoly, but they do enjoy a market in which there are only a few players. Most people have access to only one to three cable internet service providers. The rise of tethered internet has helped the market become more competitive, somewhat, adding a few wireless tethering options to the mix.

At best, though, most people enjoy four or five 3G/cable or better internet options.

Worse, the cable and wireless companies tend to make decisions about pricing and services in mass. Take for example the trend towards cutting "unlimited" data plans on cell phones -- AT&T and Verizon both made the switch and now it looks like Sprint and T-Mobile may follow. While there's laws against collusion (companies making joint decisions in a loosely populated market), the government can only prosecute companies if it proves they met and worked out the decision together. That's typically too hard to prove, so they don't bother.

As a result cable providers typically underdeliver on their promised speeds and overcharge customers, as they can work together with their handful of competitors to keep rates high and service quality low.

Further, some companies are eyeing the potential to gain further revenue by offering faster access to some sites like The New York Times or Google Search -- who might be willing to pay to give customers faster access. To get this faster access, independent sites that didn't pay would be relegated to slow connections.

And telecoms also wanted to "throttle" the connections of users who make full use of their data plans. These busiest users would see their connections slowed to prevent them from using as much data.

In the face of all of this, the net neutrality movement was born. Its aims were multifold:

To allow communities to vote and enact municipal Wi-Fi projects delivering faster service at a lower cost (telecoms have fought to outlaw municipal Wi-Fi projects).
To prevent telecoms from charging websites for faster access.
To prevent the throttling of internet connections.
All of these measures were seen as ways of remedying the relatively uncompetitive internet market, and prevent those in power from abusing their dominant positions.

The Obama administration's Federal Communications Commission appointees proposed a series of net neutrality rules that covered much of those points. It however, cut some deals with the communications industry that frustrated net neutrality advocates. For example in only prevented the throttling of "legal traffic" opening the door to throttle P2P and torrent connections. It also exempted mobile operators from certain rules and restrictions.

The bill was tacked on to a spending bill that was passed on December 21, 2010 by the Democratic House. A copy of the FCC's published rules is available online [PDF].

II. The Death of a Bill

On February 17, 2011 (Thursday), the new Republican 112th Congress voted to overturn the spending bill before it could reach a Senate vote. With the death of a bill comes the death of the legislation to give the FCC power to regulate net neutrality.

Federal courts have already ruled that current legislation does not give the FCC this power, so essentially unless another bill passes; the effort to legislate net neutrality is dead.

Republicans claim net neutrality restricts the free market. States Republican Representative Steve Scalise, "We think the FCC overstepped their boundaries. This is something that should be done and solved in the halls of Congress."

Many Republicans, such as Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), argue that any legislation to regulate net neutrality is an affront to capitalism. They argue for a laissez-faire approach to regulating telecommunications.

Democrats are devastated at the loss of the net neutrality bill. Democratic Representative Edward Markey says that telecoms and cable providers are now free to squash small competitors and user rights, much as they did during AT&T's monopoly era in the early 1900s. He states, "Verizon's not going to invent anything new. What they want to do is squeeze competitors."

(The statement appears to allude to the legal challenge from Verizon in January against the bill, which was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.)

III. What's Next for Net Neutrality and the Internet

Republicans seem dead set against preventing internet service providers from throttling traffic or slowing/speeding up website access. They also tend to oppose on a state basis allowing local communities to spend their government dollars to set up independent municipal internet access -- even if the citizens in that community want the service and are paying for it with their own tax dollars. They have championed several efforts to stop municipal internet projects.

Together these stances serve to cement the power of a handful of telecoms and cable providers like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon Wireless, etc. And that means a fat payday for these players.

Republicans are being rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. Various telecoms raised millions for John McCain's 2008 Presidential run and they provided free service to his personal ranch. Many other Congressional Republicans enjoy similar perks, albeit on a smaller scale.

This mean that over time customers can expect to see slower access to independent sites on the internet, though access to big corporate sites may speed up slightly. And those who fileshare with torrents, etc. or who use lots of bandwidth streaming Netflix, etc. will likely see their connections slowed. Last, but not least, customers may find themselves having to pay their cable company monthly fees to access websites on a per-site basis.

Along with the push for metered internet plans, all of this means that customers will be paying more, while getting less -- less website access, less speed, and less traffic types.

Of course cable providers aren't stupid. They fought hard for this bill to be overturned. They will likely try to slowly sneak in these changes to prevent public outcry.


I am not surprised that the Republicans do not want the govt involved, free market....

I think we need to define what kind of service/good/(right?) the internet is?

We saw in Egypt what control of the internet can do.

I wonder what Google, Facebook, etc. think about this. Those who benefit from unfettered connectivity surely are concerned about actions to constrain the ability of individuals to connect at will.

And universities seem to be moving towards a more wired campus, I imagine this could have serious implications as well.


This seems fascist to me, is it?


I have an issue with the free market argument; we need government involvement when there is threat of monopoly, don't we? It doesn't have to be full gov control vs no control at all.

I don't like that consumers may be forced to purchase packages to improve connectivity speeds. That's retarded. You should not artificially create demand like that.

It's like the mall around here that took at least 50 parking spots and designated them as "valet" so that people would pay $5 to get them (especially on Fridays and weekends when parking is hard to find). Those spots were FREE before.

This is just a new way for cable companies to monetize and it's not like they were hurting before. I don't like that.


Basically, "free market" isn't always a good thing if unethical things happen in that market place.

Why isn't the sale of organs regulated so that there can be a market for it? Because there might be many cases where organs are unethically obtained, or because very few people with a lot of money might be have an unfair advantage over those who also need organs. Right?

Free market isn't always a holy grail. That does NOT mean I am advocating the extreme opposite.


Dude.... Whhhaaaaaaat?


Net neutrality forces carriers to provide equal and unfettered bandwidth to anyone with zero discretion on the part of the company. Even they are paying for technology, upgrades, etc. So that means they can't turn down the speed of someone pirating tons of movies and destroying the bandwidth even if it is hurting its other customers. There are two sides to this tale.

My short feeling on it is that if the companies own the technology and hardware it is theirs to do with as they like. If it is my parking lot, that I paid for and built, why the hell should I NOT be able to charge people money to use it? It is not their right to park on it just because they really want to now that I built it and put a cool mall near it.



Improving on speeds that were FINE before the throttling, I mean. You take something that used to be either free or given to everyone, and you start charging for it. Like if you got on an airplane and they demanded that you pay for using the toilet, when it used to be free to use. Would you be ok with that? Seriously.


Well shit. What I'm actually expecting now, will not only large telecoms force Netflix to pay more for bandwidth (the cost gets shunted to the consumer anyway), but several trials of metered internet like what is currently happening in Canada right now. While it seems like a good thing to crush those bandwidth heavy netflix streamers of the world and allow yourself smoother access to the blogs of the internet, a download of a large patch for a game or Windows could easily smother your bandwidth for the month.

And allowing the throttling of the internet is just stupid. America has one of the slowest average connections in the developed world, so why are we going to slow it down further again? Its interesting that companies like google, who makes fistfuls of cash through youtube ads, and facebook, who makes money from ads everywhere, did not fight this harder. Throttling of internet like this could destroy most of Netflix's market at the moment. It seems unfair to these companies.


I never said I agreed with the free market argument in this case. You seem to be addressing this statement: "I think we need to define what kind of service/good/(right?) the internet is?" I agree not every item is best distributed through a free market (and lets face it there is the idea of a free market and then there is the reality where the markets are hardly "free"). This is why I asked about companies that are large enough to push back against an Net Biased platform. I had not read any statements by them and wondered if anyone else had.

My take in summary, I think I would prefer something close to Net Neutrality if for no other reason (although I have others) that unequal constraints placed by internet service providers puts extra burdens on some companies, especially smaller companies, which is.....wait for it.....antithetical to the principles of a free market.


Assuming those bigger companies were not given special protection or power from the government that would actually be precisely in line with the principles of a free market. People vote with their dollars. If what you provide isn't as good you (or perceived as being as good) you fail.


Isn't the issue here that the few companies that offer internet are possibly in collusion?
It's not like one company is deciding to throttle, but that 'throttled internet' will be all that is available for everyone. IMO making a product shittier, and having other 'rival' companies do the same should be illegal(if it isn't) and comes across as (traditionally) un-American. If they need larger data lines(don't know the proper term), then they should be upgrading them to meet the demand, not rationing off whatever amount of bandwidth they are currently capable of providing to the highest bidders.
Not sure if I'm remembering this correctly or not, but I recall someone telling me about the tire market, and how when Walmart got into it, they bought up all the tires, were selling them really cheap, and then jacked the prices up on everybody. Seems like the same thing here, an oligarchic monopoly.


Oligarchic monopoly is a contradiction in terms. How many competitors is "enough" to not be a monopoly or a cartel?

Also they are not making the product shittier, they are avoiding the "tragedy of the commons". When people don't have to pay for their fair share, guess what, they abuse the shit out of it. This is why AT&T bandwith got raped by unlimited data packages from iPhone users and part of the reason they had so many issues with their system afterwards. Stop bitching about dropped calls and system slow downs if you think everyone should be able to stream constantly on every phone without consequence.

Final point, we are assuming that WE have the right to tell these companies what THEY can do with THEIR property, product and capital. Denying these people the right to sell their product as they see fit has massive ramifications. If you can justify controlling them, because people want what they have, what is to stop folks from doing the same for something else?

Got a hot wife? We demand you share her with us. Crazy you say? What makes her right to her body any different than someone else's right to their property? Is your body not your most fundamental property? If property rights are totally subjective and draw meaning only from convention rather than principle then we are only waiting for such things to happen. Not to get all slippery-slope, reductio-ad-absurdum on everyone all of a sudden, but if you want to live in a free society these are the choices you have to make.

I say let the companies do with their property as they see fit and I can decide to use, or not use, their product as I see fit. If you are too weak and chicken shit to switch providers or stop using the internet in protest then you need to realize you are part of the problem and stop blaming the companies because you "NEED" the internet. This is how drug addicts and fat fucks sound crying for their addictions. I guarantee you if everyone stopped using their products as a result of their actions they would change toot sweet. Business can only profit if they have long term largely satisfied customer. That is a fact. Businesses do not survive long when they stop servicing the needs of their customers.


I hope this isn't true.


I am talking about companies that use the internet as their marketplace, not the companies that provide access to the internet. It is the same argument agro-chemical companies have been using for years under the banner of free market that labeling food as 'genetically modified' (when it is) puts undue burden of cost (the additional cost of the labeling) and puts it at risk in the market place, re: grocery store shelves, because of shoppers bias. The analogy is once you are in the grocery store, i.e. the internet, you should have equal access to all the goods. Net Bias in the form of providing 'packages' of websites at different costs puts undue burden on those sites outside of the packages.


This style of thinking certainly has its limits.

Consider if I bought a road. I should be able to charge anyone who wants to drive on my road, right? And anyone who doesnt want to pay for the use of my road can find an alternate route. Which is fine until every road is owned by people who want to charge tolls - now you pay no matter where you go.

Or, if I own a company and decide to pay my workers 3 dollars an hour. Thats fine, anybody who doesn't want to work there can just get another job, right? Until every job is paying 3-4 dollars an hour, and all the 4 dollar an hour jobs are filled first, leaving potential workers with no other options.

Gas is another good example. Most areas in america are designed so people need cars. The majority of Americans have a decent commute to work in a location that public transportation doesn't take them to. Its ridiculous to say "Everybody can just give up their cars and get new jobs."

Or food. People need to eat. If all the grocery stores suddenly decide to double their prices, should people just stop eating?

As far as the internet goes, yes, people can live without it, and people using up a ton of bandwidth at the expense of others paying the same amount isn't ok. I'm just saying I think the "free market" concept isn't entirely perfect.


What if I bought your parking lot and promised not to raise the prices?

Then I jacked them up to 100 dollars an hour, and effectively put your mall out of business, because it turns out I own a mall on the other side of town?

Is that perfectly acceptable, considering the effect on you, the businesses inside your mall, the people who work there, etc?


Then I will sue you ass for breach of contract, damages and your firstborn child.

If I was stupid enough to sign such a contract in the first place.


So you think every employer in an area is going to conspire to only pay 3 dollars an hour?

Fucking awesome, please tell me when that happens, Imma go get rich when that happens.

I should be able the most skilled workers for 4$ an hour.


WHat if I offered you enough money that you could retire the next day with a "fuck everybody else" mentality, and we both knew the promise was bullshit and just a smokescreen on your part?
Should all the other people affected just be fucked?

Gas companies routinely buy up the rights to alternative power technology, and sit on them.

Perhaps allowing people to own things that allow them to control a market, when they have such an interest, should be restricted? Or should we just say "free market, everybody do whatever you want"