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Robert McMillen: What Everyone Gets Wrong In the Debate Over Net Neutrality 270

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-was-never-fair dept.
ygslash writes "Robert McMillen of Wired claims that we have gotten Net Neutrality all wrong. While we are all busy arguing about whether there should be regulations preventing large content providers from getting preferential bandwidth, McMillen says that not only have the large content providers already had preferential bandwidth for ten years, but that by now this has become an inherent part of the structure of the Internet and in practice cannot be changed. Instead, he says, the Net Neutrality discussion should be about ensuring a free and open competitive market for bandwidth, so that anyone who wants bandwidth can purchase it at a fair price.
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Robert McMillen: What Everyone Gets Wrong In the Debate Over Net Neutrality

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  • by Ramirozz (758009) on Monday June 23, 2014 @10:41AM (#47297755) Homepage
    When someone with technical background says "It cannot be changed" it smells corruption. There are times when things cannot be changed because technical constrains (that should fade with time), time, money, etc. Everything can be changed if it is well designed and based on something real. But this is based on money and profit, it can change, and it should be chaged, as soon as possible. This is not a technical problem or limitation, this is stupidity at the service of profit.
  • Simple solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by future assassin (639396) on Monday June 23, 2014 @10:43AM (#47297769) Homepage

    If you offer internet access you can't offer any vertically integratred services that will cause conflict of interest in the way you run the network.

  • by AnontheDestroyer (3500983) on Monday June 23, 2014 @10:51AM (#47297823)

    He absolutely got it right. "Net neutrality" commies would apparently argue that a restaurant should be forced to have all entrees at the same price, e.g. lobster $5, hamburger $5, corn dog $5. What are there, maybe a dozen or so of us left in Amerika that believe in free markets?

    And here we have the real misunderstanding. Does anyone know if there is some right-wing organization out there that is trumpeting this idea? I have only seen it from Republicans ("conservatives"). I don't see it often, so it strikes me as a strawman that a few Dunning-Kruger head-cases are manufacturing on their own, but it would be nice to know if it has a source.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2014 @11:31AM (#47298093)

    I argue pro net neutrality because I enjoy the Internet, like how it has operated the majority of my life, and like to look at picture of cats with captions over their heads. My horse in the race is small and colorful and espouses the merits of sharing and kindness. I am not Netflix, or Google, or an ISP. I am still part of "everybody". When the arguments about "what should be done" exclude the voice of the people, and is the exclusive argument of the big-money players, then it's time to burn it all down.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 23, 2014 @11:34AM (#47298121)

    No. The problem without net neutrality would be that a provider charges on both sides.

    Or to pick up your restaurant analogy. Everyone is paying for their internet access already. Different prices, according to a free market. Dialup custumers pay $5 for their cornbread internet connection, Cable/Dsl customers pay Lobster prices for fast internet connection, and companies like Google and Netflix pay several complete buffets at a dozen restaurants to connect directly to each of the restaurants internet backbones.

    The proposed anti-neutrality would make it legal for corn farming assosications to pay a restaurant money for serving cornbread to anyone, no matter if they ordered and payed for cornbread or lobster. Or in internet terms again: artificially slow down delivery to customers who already paid more for a faster internet connection.

    Your argument is incoherent.

    First, what is wrong with a provider charging on both sides? If Netflix wants to push terabits of data through a network, why shouldn't the network owner be able to charge Netflix for that? You baldly state "The problem..." and provide no support as to why your "problem" is just that. Given that it's the way the internet currently works, how do we know prohibiting such behavior would result in any improvement?

    Hell, I'll go you one better: given that Netflix has always paid for its bandwidth, why is it wrong for Netflix to bypass backbone companies like L3, save their money, and work directly with ISPs to get Netflix content onto the ISPs network for faster delivery to users? That's simply cutting out a useless middleman.

    Why is that wrong? Because you don't like it?

    Second, how does that support your restaurant analogy? Bandwidth is finite. How do you define "artificially slow down delivery" in a world of finite bandwidth and complex and continually changing network topologies? So Hulu and Netflix have to have the same performance to every customer? No matter what the physical network layout is between server and user?

  • Re:Strawman (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Monday June 23, 2014 @11:47AM (#47298219)

    Outright traffic shaping part of the debate, but not the entire debate. Some of the higher-profile NN disputes have been over peering agreements, e.g. Comcast's refusal to increase its peering with Level 3, who is Netflix's provider, because of Comcast's claims that the benefit of the peering agreement is asymmetric.

    The problem is Netflix refuses to sign reciprocal peering agreements. Neflix signs up with Level3 and makes no guarantees that they wont switch overnight. And in fact, that's exactly what they do. The providers understand this, give Netflix discounts and then charge the ISPs an fortune. The price Netflix pays to Level3 for a 10gig trunk is heavily discounted because Level3 knows how high profile that traffic is. When Comcast comes to them for the same sized trunk so they can get that data uncongested, Level3 jacks the price way up. With other content providers like Google or whomever... the ISP would go to Google and say "The rates with level3 are too high, can we move to a provider with better rates?" and Google would work with you. Netflix refuses. They go with the cheapest, irrelevant of the impact on their users and then they make a stink in the media to make it appear like it's all the ISPs fault when they are equally to blame.

    So what's started to happen is providers like Level3 have turned the screws a bit too tight on the ISPs. The ISPs are balking now and just refusing to sign. So now the customers are hurting. It's basically a game to see who will blink first. Netflix or the ISPs. The best solution for this problem is either regulation on providers like netflix that forces them to play nice, or regulation that would force providers to charge the same price for the same trunk weather it's coming or going.

    I work in the industry and hear the people that negotiate these peering agreements constantly complain about Netflix. The impression I get is that they feel Netflix is outright hostile to ISPs. It's almost as if they're intentionally trying to hurt them.

  • by Shatrat (855151) on Monday June 23, 2014 @11:51AM (#47298255)

    Netflix does have a CDN program. They will provide a caching appliance free of charge to ISPs which will immediately reduce the load on that ISPs network. The only reason not to participate is if the goal is not to provide service and reduce costs, but to artificially choke back Netflix to make the ISPs own video product more competitive. The Open Connect appliance is actually a pretty cool design.
    https://www.netflix.com/openco... [netflix.com]

  • Re:Why not both? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Talderas (1212466) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:00PM (#47298329)

    The charging both sides isn't actually that insane. I know I risk being downmodded for this but it's really all a matter of how the Internet is structured. There's multiple ways to get from Point A to Point B and some paths are going to be congested more than others. I personally think that we should be paying for what we send and not what received and that's how I can agree with both sides paying for me to get Netflix.

    If I buy bandwidth from my ISP, I expect them to provide the outbound performance that I have paid for based on the SLA we agreed to. This means that if my SLA to Comcast is 50Mb then I should be able to send 20Mbps. Comcast should be engaging in deals to ensure they can send my traffic at 50Mb. I also expect them to not in any way shape or form throttle or shape traffic too me assume it's not exceeding my SLA (ignoring QoS reasons). Anything more than that should not be in the confines of my agreement with Comcast because anything else is outside of Comcast's direct control. Comcast doesn't dictate what providers send traffic to me so there's no way to tell if it will come from L3, Cogent, or some other provider. There's no way to tell if a content provider is going to be traffic balancing across multiple providers or shoveling all their traffic through just one provider. That makes guaranteed download speeds virtually impossible.

    The same thing should apply to Netflix. If they engage a provider for 50Gbps and the provider isn't capable of supporting 50Gbps then that provider should be engaging its peers in order to meet the SLA it signed with Netflix.

  • Completely wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by duke_cheetah2003 (862933) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:05PM (#47298377) Homepage

    This guy is totally wrong, on so many levels. Yeah, ok, so the last 10 years we've been seeing providers buying preferential treatment from carriers. For most of us, the common Joe, we're not going to feel this, not in 10 years. It's just happening slowly, quietly. I imagine as it progresses further, smaller content providers will be seeing the preferential treatment of larger ones forcing slow downs on them. Given more time, smaller providers and startups will face crushing competition with the big guys who can afford to buy up all the bandwidth. Don't even get me started on content providers whom are also carriers.

    And saying just because it's been going on for 10 years that we can't go back? WHAAATT? Is this guy insane? So just because they've been building up contracts of preferential treatment we can't say, "Hey, you need to cut that out now." No sorry, common carrier status for all carriers and be done with this issue. I call shill.

  • Re:Strawman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BronsCon (927697) <social@bronstrup.com> on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:16PM (#47298471) Journal
    It's not even a matter of Comcast not investing in their infrastructure; they actively degraded their links to L3 when Netflix was refusing to pony up the dough. I'm pretty sure they had to pay people to do that, so it's more like they actively invested in degrading their network.
  • Re:Strawman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:32PM (#47298595)

    That's technically not a Net Neutrality argument, which is why the argument existed in the first place. To some extent, Comcast was right: it wasn't funneling as much data to Level 3 as Level 3 was funneling to it. What Comcast left out was that this problem was 100% of its own making, and impossible for Level 3 address: Comcast only sells highly asymmetric pipes to highly asymmetric users. It is actually illegal for its users to try to create a situation where it will funnel as much data to Level 3 as Level 3 funnels to it. Which is why techies were incensed by the argument.

    That's the issue. All techies know the huge holes that have to exist in NN for the Internet to work. No one disagrees with any of those. The problem is that the principle of NN is all we have to concisely explain to people why Comcast is being an utter monopoly-rent-seeking shithead in this discussion, and how Comcast's attitude will break the Internet. Anything more requires delving into the depth of QoS, CDNs, dark fiber, roll-out subsidies, last-mile topologies, and barriers-to-entry in the website market to make a coherent argument. No one in the public sphere is going to listen to that.

    That's why NN keeps being brought up. It's the only sound bite that's remotely applicable, and unfortunately, sound bites is what wins political wars.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:35PM (#47298627) Homepage

    It's funny you should mention package delivery because we already have a great example of this: the Netflix DVD-by-mail service.

    This has always been a very efficiently handled product since the relevant middle man has no conflict of interest.

    It's amazing how much less problematic that dinosaur of a product is. You have first sale protecting the right of Netflix to continue offering stuff and a parcel service that is a common carrier.

    Meanwhile, the streaming service is surrounded on all sides by evil jack*sses with some entrenched monopoly interest.

  • by aaarrrgggh (9205) on Monday June 23, 2014 @12:46PM (#47298693)

    The issue comes down to contention ratios and peering. The last-mile ISPs don't want to peer with Netflix at a Hub level, they want to peer at a POP level, so they don't "waste" any of their backbone network between carrying Neflix traffic. Both parties are acting in their own self-interest.

    Rationally, I have to think that when one service provider represents 10% or more of the traffic on a given network they should be doing something to address it, and the responsibility really falls on their shoulders and not the ISP.

    Using Netflix as a simple example, all they would need to do to reduce their problem is offer a cache option on the end-user's network. It is less efficient than having it at the ISP's facilities, but it isn't all that complicated and the cost can be borne by the customer and improve sticky-ness. Right now, it is a pain in the ass to do things like a proxy to avoid the network saturation.

  • by danbert8 (1024253) on Monday June 23, 2014 @01:13PM (#47298931)

    I know I'll get flamed for this... Motor fuels:

    1) They are all selling an identical product (made to meet standards, with any slight differences being indistinguishable in performance benefits in a laboratory.
    2) Their prices are advertised on huge signs so that people can easily price shop.
    3) Pipeline transportation is regulated as a utility so that companies can't give preferential treatment.
    4) There are still many companies involved in the refining, transportation, and marketing of fuels.

    Sure the government meddles, but at least for now is mostly meddles evenly across all companies, so the net effect of the loss is still even across the industry.

  • Re:Strawman (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Monday June 23, 2014 @04:15PM (#47300197)

    Apple's iPhone popularized browsing the Internet with your phone. Previously, this was harder to do. However, the wireless carriers were never content providers the way the cable ISPs are. Verizon Wireless and AT&T might have offered ringtones or music, but those were side ventures. For the cable ISPs, video is their main business. This Internet stuff is a secondary venture. Not secondary enough that they will ditch it, but secondary enough that they would rather cripple it than allow it to threaten their primary business.

    In addition, the wireless carriers always had competition. Verizon Wireless might have the best reception in my area, but I could still go with AT&T or Sprint and get decent service. However, if I want to leave Time Warner Cable, I have no other wired broadband options. This is the case for most Americans. The ISPs know this and react accordingly. (Prices go up while service quality goes down.)

What ever you want is going to cost a little more than it is worth. -- The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

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