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The Internet Technology

A Simple Guide To Net Neutrality 154

Posted by kdawson
from the taking-no-sides dept.
superapecommando writes in with a neutral introduction to net neutrality from ComputerWorld UK. While it doesn't go into a lot of technical depth, it's rare to see anything written on the subject that isn't rabid on one side or the other. "Google's recently announced plan to set up trial fiber-optic networks in the US with ultra-high-speed Internet connections puts the long running national debate over Net Neutrality back into high gear. A hot topic of discussion and debate in government and telecom circles since at least 2003, Net Neutrality, actually involves a broad array of topics, technologies and players. Here's a primer for those looking to get up to speed fast."
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A Simple Guide To Net Neutrality

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  • The other companies are looking to get a slice of Google's profits.

    Fuck them.

    The day Google offers fiber in my neighborhood I am going to sign up with them.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I have no problem with doing that with the way things are done now.

      But when there is a new guy running Google (and it will happen eventually) - I don't know if I want to be fully dependant on Google services.

      I think you might have heard that euphemism about eggs and baskets...

      If Google provides me from everything from a computer to internet to applications... It's a scary thought if someone else starts running the show, with the only goal of seperating me from as many dollars as possible.

      • Re: Baskets (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487)

        Problem is, the other baskets are Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
        They all rotate into the limelight with something awful.

        Google is a really tricky company. I think they do a decent job of scaring everyone into line.

      • by cgenman (325138)

        If Google provides me from everything from a computer to internet to applications... It's a scary thought if someone else starts running the show, with the only goal of seperating me from as many dollars as possible.

        Maybe. But remember when your Dial-up provider was different from your ISP? Or when you had to source all of your computer parts separately, assemble them all together, and pray that they worked?

        Having one company responsible for larger chunks isn't necessarily a bad idea, especially if they m

        • Oh phooey. Your attempt to draw comparison between hobbyist PC assembly and buying your ISP and connection from different companies is only relevant in that they're both about computers.

          In the UK, you go talk to an ISP and say "I want your DSL service to my house here's some money chop chop pronto". They talk to your phone company to see that DSL is possible. They talk to the owners of the local loop, who make sure the DSL line exists and it's switched on at the exchange.

          That top-down approach encourages co

        • Call me old fashioned (at 21?) But I have a different phone provider from my ISP. And I still source all of my parts seperately and assemble them together, since it is cheaper that way.

          Relying on 5 different companies means if Dell makes some stupid moves (See example: Enron) I'm not left stranded - I will have a raport with a Linksys Rep since they handle my servers, or an HP rep because they handle my printers. I don't personally choose HP computers because I think they make better accessories than CPU's,

  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:12PM (#31158714) Homepage
    ... or even the most important thing to worry about. Watch for big cable-companies to impose bandwidth caps and raise the price of data transfer to protect their regional video monopolies at the expense of Internet-accessible video content. Bandwidth caps are outside of the purview of NN as it's traditionally defined.
    • While this is true, consider that if the company imposes bandwidth caps on "internet" while allowing "cable plus" content from that provider to be delivered, one could conceivably make a NN claim on the "same pipes" logic. This is a stretch, I'm not going to lie, but consider that these things are related. Otherwise, the provider could just offer a "internet plus" with no caps and access to limited sites on the same pipes...you see where I'm going with this.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Obfuscant (592200)
        While this is true, consider that if the company imposes bandwidth caps on "internet" while allowing "cable plus" content from that provider to be delivered, one could conceivably make a NN claim on the "same pipes" logic. This is a stretch, I'm not going to lie,

        Sorry. Xfinity Cable is not the same as Xfinity Internet. You are using Xfinity Cable to watch On Demand programs, not Xfinity Internet. It doesn't matter that the same wire is being used to deliver both, and your Xfinity Telephone service too.

        By

    • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:21PM (#31158838)

      Thats just as horrible as electric utilities making you pay per Killowatt/hour of power.

      Honestly.. I would prefer a $X per Giga or Megabyte over $x for unlimited*

                    *Where we define unlimited, who gets throttled when and can cut you off for exceeding any internal threshold that we will not tell you about.

      Seriously.. If I am curious about my power usage, I can walk outside, look at the meter, and figure out pretty close to what I owe.

      • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:32PM (#31158982)

        Thats just as horrible as electric utilities making you pay per Killowatt/hour of power.

        The difference is power distribution companies are not allowed to charge exorbitant fees to green power generation companies to transport that power to the end user. They have to charge the same price they charge their own coal fired power generation subsidiaries. Having a monopoly on power distribution, they are restricted from using that to gain an unfair advantage in another market, such as power generation. Claiming green power and coal power are different product even though they go over the same pipes in the same way is the same as claiming television service is different from any other data going over the cable network. You can't artificially raise the price of your competitors from a monopoly position.

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        Thats just as horrible as electric utilities making you pay per Killowatt/hour of power.

        What's wrong with that?

      • Kilowatt/hour of power
        -> kilowatt-hour of energy

        Just sayin'...

      • by Eil (82413)

        Metered bandwidth would be an even bigger blow to innovation on the Internet than lack of net neutrality. If all Internet users were forced onto metered bandwidth plans, these things would all be dead:

        • User-driven video upload sites like YouTube
        • Streaming video services like Hulu and Netflix
        • Streaming music services like Pandora, Slacker, and independent stations like SomaFM
        • Many forms of online gaming
        • Advertising

        That last one is the real kicker. The Internet basically runs on advertising. When Internet access i

        • by shentino (1139071)

          Even if they DID go metered they'd exempt their own bits from measuring.

          Watch a gigabyte's worth of cable, it's free. Do so on your computer, they charge.

      • by BitZtream (692029)

        The difference is it that to make energy to how to put more energy in to get more out. You have to pay for the cost of the coal/gas/uranium you're burning. (traditionally, solar, tidal, and wind energy is a different business)

        Every form of backbone in existence costs the same idling as it does running full tilt. Thats not true, this is a difference, its just so small that its really not worth mentioning as you probably can't detect that power difference (on the network infrastructure gear) in the facebook

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:53PM (#31159272)

      The big cable companies should be allowed to do whatever they want with their networks. They paid for the networks out of their own pocket, free from any tax-payer subsidies, right?

      Wait. What's that? They didn't? Oh. My mistake!

      At least we're not throwing 7 billion dollars of taxpayer money in their general direction in the form of "stimulus".

      Really? We're doing that too? You're kidding?

  • Common argument (Score:5, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:22PM (#31158858)
    One of the most common arguments that I hear out of net neutrality opponents is that competition will somehow keep most ISP's net neutral without any messy government regulation. But what happens if all the major ISP's start blocking certain sites (like Pirate Bay)? With most people (in the U.S. at least) having at most 1-3 broadband providers to choose from, exactly where are you supposed to you go when all the big ones agree on a blacklist? And how can you open up a competing provider when all the wire and fiber are in the hands of monopolies like AT&T, Time-Warner, etc.? It's not like you can just start up a Mom & Pop broadband provider and start laying hundreds of miles of cable. Even Google will have a hard time competing with the big telco's and cableco's with the relatively minor bit of fiber optic they own.
    • Re:Common argument (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:51PM (#31159248)

      Here is the biggest issue with the competition argument: in the vast majority of markets, there is at best a duopoly (cable and dsl). If you're completely out of luck, you only have one high-speed provider; generally ATT. The idea that free markets will magically keep the ISPs honest is ludicrous to the point of being a flat-out lie. At this point, I have to believe that anyone claiming that competition will do anything in the high-speed ISP market is just lying.

      The only competition that exists is in the cellular high-speed internet access, and even that is incredibly limited competition: the high costs of terminating a contract prematurely make sure of that.

      • by Ichijo (607641)

        Here is the biggest issue with the competition argument: in the vast majority of markets, there is at best a duopoly (cable and dsl).

        If you ignore the fact that satellite is available everywhere and DSL usually (if not always) is provided by more than one ISP (the local telco plus other ISPs such as Covad), then you would be correct.

        • You do realize that the vast majority of "independent" ISPs are merely leasing lines from the incumbent provider? That leads to such joy as "Sorry you have such issues with your line, but it's up to ATT to send a technician out to fix this line. I wouldn't hold my breath."

          • by Ichijo (607641)

            You do realize that the vast majority of "independent" ISPs are merely leasing lines from the incumbent provider? That leads to such joy as "Sorry you have such issues with your line, but it's up to ATT to send a technician out to fix this line. I wouldn't hold my breath."

            While true, that's unrelated to net neutrality.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by NeutronCowboy (896098)

              It is directly related to the competition argument, which is always pulled out by people arguing against the need for neutrality regulation: "Competition will keep ISPs honest!" No it won't, because there is basically no competition. In the absence of competition, ISPs can institute any pricing scheme they want - which goes against Net Neutrality.

    • by Ichijo (607641)

      And how can you open up a competing provider when all the wire and fiber are in the hands of monopolies like AT&T, Time-Warner, etc.?

      You lease a circuit to your Internet provider of choice, perhaps to the same one Pirate Bay uses if you don't want any traffic blocked.

    • One of the most common arguments that I hear out of net neutrality opponents is that competition will somehow keep most ISP's net neutral without any messy government regulation. But what happens if all the major ISP's start blocking certain sites (like Pirate Bay)?

      Any competitor which doesn't block it will get more business.

      With most people (in the U.S. at least) having at most 1-3 broadband providers to choose from, exactly where are you supposed to you go when all the big ones agree on a blacklist?

      • Any competitor which doesn't block it will get more business.

        Only if there is a competitive market [wikipedia.org]. As it stands the major ISPs (telephone and cable companies) are really an oligopoly [wikipedia.org] and there is little or no way for new competitors to easily enter the marketplace.

        The problem there is that the government funded their cabling, yet the companies turned around and monopolized it.

        The government did NOT fund their cabling. They granted AT&T [wikipedia.org] and later the cable companies monopolies but generally speaking the networks were built with private funds. AT&T was wildly profitable for decades and there was no need for the government to give them any money. Furthermore there were

    • One of the most common arguments that I hear out of net neutrality opponents is that competition will somehow keep most ISP's net neutral without any messy government regulation. But what happens if all the major ISP's start blocking certain sites (like Pirate Bay)?

      There are two things about this. First, if they all do this at the same time that suggests collusion, which is a violation of existing anti-trust laws. Second, if your hypothetical comes to pass, that is the time to push for the institution of some kind of net neutrality regulations.
      The problem with instituting government regulations for a problem you foresee occuring in the future (but that has not yet manifest itself), is that any government regulation will limit the options for future advances.
      Basica

      • by SETIGuy (33768)

        First, if they all do this at the same time that suggests collusion, which is a violation of existing anti-trust laws.

        And when is the last time you saw those laws enforced?

        • First, if they all do this at the same time that suggests collusion, which is a violation of existing anti-trust laws.

          And when is the last time you saw those laws enforced?

          There was an article on here sometime in the last two years about price fixing by the manufacturers of big screen TVs, so sometime in the last two years.

        • by lgw (121541)

          Are you really arguing that "since the existing set of regulations isn't enforced, we need more regulations - they're sure to be enforced this time"?

  • IMO, I'm not a huge fan of strict network neutrality, there are cases where you want advanced traffic management techniques that would be non-neutral: EG, if you are dealing with wide-area wireless, banning P2P applications is probably a very good thing, as wireless bandwidth is vastly more expensive. Likewise, token-bucket hacks which improve interactive traffic could in some ways be considered "non neutral", as the start of a transfer is given preference, but the net result is it greatly improves user e

    • by turbidostato (878842) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:59PM (#31159342)

      "IMO, I'm not a huge fan of strict network neutrality, there are cases where you want advanced traffic management techniques that would be non-neutral"

      You simply don't understand what "Net Neutrality" is.

      Hint: is not promoting some protocols over some others. It's about promoting some *providers* over the alternatives.

      • Hint: is not promoting some protocols over some others. It's about promoting some *providers* over the alternatives.

        Says who? My definition of NN doesn't allow discrimination between protocols.

        • by Chirs (87576)

          You really don't want that. Realistically, a long FTP download should be lower-priority than voice (or even HTTP) packets.

          • You really don't want that. Realistically, a long FTP download should be lower-priority than voice (or even HTTP) packets.

            It's hard to come up with prioritization rules that work (other than customer marking), especially now that VoIP and video are flowing over TCP and bulk BitTorrent traffic is using UDP.

          • by Sepodati (746220)

            >> You really don't want that. Realistically, a long FTP download
            >> should be lower-priority than voice (or even HTTP) packets.

            Sure, most people would agree. But when the proposed rule says "a provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner" you can't prefer FTP traffic over any other.

            It does rely on how "discriminatory" is defined, though. Is any preference discriminatory? Is it only harmful discrimination? What's

      • by jonwil (467024)

        "is not promoting some protocols over some others". Tell that to anyone who has bumped into the heavy manipulation of BitTorrent by Comcast and others.

      • by cgenman (325138)

        I think that's what his point was. Some people see Net Neutrality as "My download of Serenity.iso should never be throttled!" Others are, perhaps more legitimately, worried about plans to diminish service to specific websites or services if they do not pay a ransom. Both opinions seem to be currently part of the debate, and that window allows the ISP's to argue that traffic shaping is essential for providing a reasonable level of service (it is).

        Of course, it is one step between "traffic shaping is essen

    • Why limit it to banning P2P?
      If someone is running an FTP server on a wide-area wireless network shouldn't that be banned too?
      Or downloading anything big, youtube should be blocked too.

      Or they could just put a hard cap on usage so that if you use up all your bandwidth in the first 3 days torrenting Lost it's your problem.

      P2P isn't the problem.

      • by cgenman (325138)

        On the one hand, total bandwidth usage can be difficult wherever it is found and maxed out.

        On the other hand, P2P generates a surprisingly large amount of routing overhead, which can quickly overwhelm networking equipment in less fault-tolerant ways than other protocols. If you're downloading 1,000 packets from an FTP server, the server's single connection will wait patiently for clogged pipes to free up. But 1,000 connections from 1,000 P2P sources will generate 1,000 times the network overhead in packet

  • Maybe I need to do more research on the topic to figure out what exactly it is that people mean when they talk about network neutrality, especially since it seems to mean different things to different people. However, I'm not sure that we really have network neutrality now, nor can we. Just thinking of protocols such as BGP, which basically makes the Internet work at all, and which makes all of its routing decisions based on admin/management policy and not based on any technical metrics, so that certain r
    • by nweaver (113078)

      I'm a comcast customer and their network is reasonably neutral, as based on actual measurements I've performed as well as looking at their network management policies. So yes, its reasonably neutral for me:

      They do do DNS wildcarding (ick ick ICK), but actually have a workable opt-out (rare, most who wildcard don't).

      They do block the windows ports outbound, and do dynamic blocking of spam-bots. (Not strictly neutral but arguably VERY good things)

      They bias the network to allow the first X MB within a given

    • by 0racle (667029) on Tuesday February 16, 2010 @03:51PM (#31159242)
      Yes you are off and this has nothing to do with peering agreements. At it's base, legislating network neutrality is dictating that the way the internet works now is the way it should work. ISP's are meant to be access points, not gatekeepers. Net neutrality legislation aims to prevent ISP's selling tiered services like cable companies do with their service. An ISP can't go and make an agreement with one content/service provider (say MS Bing) and throttle all competitors to be so slow as to be useless and turn around and say that you have to upgrade to the next package up to be able to use Google. Network neutrality prevents an ISP running a VOIP service and throttling Vonage into oblivion, unless you pay for the *special unlimited* VIOP package. Network Neutrality prevents double dipping, i.e. the ISP from charging you to access content AND charging content providers to be in the lower level tiers.

      Legitimate QoS is not prevented under network neutrality. ISP's can, and should, prioritize VOIP over HTTP. They could even throttle BitTorrent if they wanted to.

      BitTorrent is the big problem with the FCC's plan. They specifically allow ISP's to filter out illegal traffic. BitTorrent has many many legitimate uses, unfortunately no ISP that has filtered BT has ever recognized that fact and simply blocks it all.
  • What about the Fed building, owning and running fiber as a service? The states could get in it as well.

    Charge a federal sales tax on all purchases made via the interweb to fund it. Or maybe just have a national system that does not aim at making a profit to compete against the companies.

    How about making the damn providers compete? In the US, telcos DO NOT COMPETE in any meaningful way. Maybe lifting the laws that prevent competition would help. Prices are going up instead of down or staying flat, while s

    • by atfrase (879806)

      Maybe lifting the laws that prevent competition would help.

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression was that the sorry state of broadband competition in the US wasn't the fault of laws, but economics: building the necessary infrastructure (coaxial cable, telephone lines, fiber, wireless hubs, cell towers, etc) is prohibitively expensive.

      But that only highlights your original idea: high-speed data transfer is a kind of a natural monopoly, due to the aforementioned infrastructure needs. That makes it very much like any other utility: water, sewer, electricity, ana

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        You are wrong. When cable (and before that telephone) started to roll out, the local governments in the major metropolitan areas decided that they didn't want lots of wires running through the area, so they passed laws granting local monopolies. When less densely populated areas wanted to get cable (and before that telephone) the cable companies said, "Sure, we'd be happy to run cable in your area. If you'll give us a monopoly contract for your area, so that nobody can come in and compete with us." It's a l
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      That'll work, until someone in Congress decides that they need to censor the federal network using the boogeyman of the day (think of the children, we need to implement this ban to stop the terrorists, we're filtering to stop piracy, etc).

      The federal government is no less prone to creating abuse than privately owned entities. When the government is the sole provider in town and they screw you over, it's a bit harder to get a new provider. There won't even be a duopoly to switch to since nobody can compet
  • "Net Neutrality" sucks. Net Neutrality, as I understand it, is very nearly fundamental for economic growth.

    Seriously, this is a geek site, and every time NN comes up people talk about different things.

    I think we should talk about "common carrier" status. I know it doesn't legally apply to telcos in the US, but it should, and it's a reasonably well-understood term.

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