Saturday, June 16, 2007

What Do We Mean By "Net Neutrality"?



Network neutrality -- the concept that the Internet should remain free and open to all comers -- has been a major public policy priority for Google over the last two years. But anyone who has followed the debate closely knows that one of the challenges raised by our opponents has been defining what exactly the term means. The fact is, net neutrality can mean different things to different people.

Last year Google and other members of the Open Internet Coalition played a big part in the congressional debate over net neutrality. Earlier this year, the FCC agreed to take a fresh look at the issue and seek public comments. We figured this would be a good opportunity to help clarify what we mean when we talk about net neutrality, so yesterday we filed these comments with the FCC. A few key points:

What's the problem?
Most Americans (99.6%, to be exact) receive broadband service from either their phone company or their cable company -- in antitrust terms, a duopoly. And far too many people have only one choice of broadband provider, or even none at all. While there are increased options for wireless Internet services, these "3G" services presently aren't nearly fast enough to deliver true high-speed services. That lack of broadband competition gives providers the market incentive and ability to discriminate against Web-based applications and content providers. In fact, economic analysis and real-world experience from the wireless market suggest that the problem will persist even if more competition eventually emerges. And broadband-based discrimination would violate the founding design principles of the "end-to-end" Internet: openness, transparency, and user choice and control.

What kind of behavior is okay?
There are a lot of misconceptions about which market practices Google and other net neutrality advocates consider "discriminatory," and therefore should be subject to regulation by the FCC. There is widespread agreement among all parties that outright blocking, impairing, or degrading Internet traffic should not be tolerated. Beyond that, we also believe that broadband carriers should have the flexibility to engage in a whole host of activities, including:
  • Prioritizing all applications of a certain general type, such as streaming video;
  • Managing their networks to, for example, block certain traffic based on IP address in order to prevent harmful denial of service (DOS) attacks, viruses or worms;
  • Employing certain upgrades, such as the use of local caching or private network backbone links;
  • Providing managed IP services and proprietary content (like IPTV); and
  • Charging consumers extra to receive higher speed or performance capacity broadband service.
The key point here is that these activities do not rely on the carrier's unilateral control over the last-mile connections to consumers, and also do not involve discriminatory intent.

What isn't okay?
If all these different activities are acceptable in Google's view, what should the broadband carriers not be allowed to do? The answer is those last-mile activities that would discriminate against certain Internet applications or content with an anticompetitive intent. These would include:
  • Levying surcharges on content providers that are not their retail customers;
  • Prioritizing data packet delivery based on the ownership or affiliation (the who) of the content, or the source or destination (the what) of the content; or
  • Building a new "fast lane" online that consigns Internet content and applications to a relatively slow, bandwidth-starved portion of the broadband connection.
What should be done?
In our filing with the FCC, we explained our strong support for the adoption of a national broadband strategy. That strategy should include (1) some incremental fixes (like requiring carriers to submit semiannual reports with broadband deployment data, and mandating that carriers provide clear and conspicuous terms of service to customers); (2) structural changes (various forms of network-based competition, such as interconnection, open access, municipal networks, and spectrum-based platforms); (3) a ban on most forms of packet discrimination; and (4) an effective enforcement regime. We also urged the FCC to take the next step in its oversight on net neutrality, by instituting a formal rulemaking proceeding to consider these ideas.

Without nondiscrimination safeguards that preserve an environment of network neutrality, the Internet could be shaped in ways that only serve the interests of broadband carriers, rather than U.S. consumers and Web entrepreneurs. As Craig Newmark of Craig's List puts it, “Imagine if you tried to order a pizza and the phone company said AT&T's preferred pizza vendor is Domino's. Press one to connect to Domino's now. If you would still like to order from your neighborhood pizzeria, please hold for three minutes while Domino's guaranteed orders are placed.”

62 comments:

Scott Cleland said...

Welcome to the blogosphere! We congratulate Google for joining the NN debate more openly using your own "authentic" voice and not those of your surrogates. It is also about time for Google to be more specific on the issue of net neutrality.

My primary question for Google is: will Google, which has 65% share of the primary internet access technology called search, agree to be subject to any "Internet access" regulations that Google proposes for their broadband competitors?

In other words, will Google be willing to eat its own pro-regulatory cooking? If not, why not? What makes revenue market share different for Internet access/search than for broadband access?

Scott Cleland
Chairman, NetCompetition.org
President, Precursor LLC

Nick Novitski said...

I'm not sure how search acts as an internet access technology. My website might link to any number of others, but it can't be the only way to get to them. Portal's aren't Portcullises; They can facilitate access to certain content, but can't restrict or restrain access to any other. Google doesn't place non-advertisers lower in their search rankings, which seems to be the only analogous behavior to proposed "fast lane" techniques.

Actually, I don't understand how the regulations proposed in this post could possibly apply to any website, or anything except an internet service provider.

Anyway, congratulations on this new blog. It already looks set to become a favorite of mine.

Dana said...

The argument would not be necessary if we had sufficient competition in the provisioning of two-way bits, with and/or without wires.

We don't, and that is where Google has the power to make a difference, which is currently defined by industry hired-guns like Mr. Cleland (below). Not through argument, or lobbying, but through action. No other company on the planet has the asset base to unleash Moore's Law that you do.

Network neutrality is antitrust. Stop talking and act, please.

Doug said...

I am a free software lunatic, but my view of net neutrality is a mainly libertarian view that those using the bandwidth should pay for the bandwidth I am often a minority when I bring up this view - as my view is not politcally correct.

My reasoning is fairly simple. One has to ask who is going to pay for the bandwidth? Most people are agreed that the end user has a reluctance to pay. As does the content providers, for example CNN and their video news service.

If companies making money on the services do not pay, then the ISP must divide the cost and spread it among its customers. This does two things. It pushes the cost onto those less able to pay - marginal users - like old people for example. It also discourages the deployment of bandwidth - obviously not a good thing as it retards all of what we are trying to accomplish to improve the world.

Google is making billions and has cornered the advertising market. I see nothing wrong in Google specifically paying for bandwidth upon which they derive revenue. That should be said more often.

Video from non-profits like MIT and Stanford or OLPC is another story that has to be handled via public policy and should be divided as it benefits all to have an educated populace.

Matt said...

Two things come to mind -- if this is an antitrust issue, then shouldn't policy be directed by the FTC, which has authority and expertise in this area? The FCC is not a body that's built for managing markets, and asking them to do so is begging for overreach.

Secondly, we need to keep in mind that non-neutral solutions may be desired by the consumer. How about a low-income person who is willing to pay $4.99 for a limited (say, Yahoo-only) offering? Seems like they should be allowed to do so, even if it doesn't appeal to folks like us. "Non-discrimination" policies would make such an offering illegal. Why not allow every possibility?

J.C. said...

So let me get this straight, it’s ok for my broadband provider (who claims to be an ISP) to place restrictions on me the consumer for how I use the bandwidth I pay for, but not ok to place restrictions on you the content provider.

Alexander said...

I'll keep this simple. I have AT&T as an ISP. Those bastards sold me out to the Bush administration for the sake of "national security". I would love to put the fire under their feet not only for this trespass, but also for the sake of not letting these megacorps rule who gets to view what and how quickly they can view it. Give em a big neutral enema.

O.D.B. said...

Good to see google-activity on the policy front - particularly an outreach blog like this. However, you'll have to watch out for your framing in this space - is the 'competition' tact a good one for this issue? Clearly, their is a lack of broadband competition, but it's rooted in the monopoly history of the phone industry and poor regulation in both phone and cable. However, if you present it as 'broadband competition,' you'll play right into the pro-discrimination sides hands: "we need to end neutrality in order to improve competition, build-out, and prices."

Keith said...

When mailing a letter, the sender decides if it is going to be sent first class, fourth class, or overnight and pays appropriately for that choice.

Google makes a point of saying carriers should be allowed to differentiate traffic types and prioritize some over others (like the post office does) but does not want the carriers to be able to charge the sender (especially Google). This is at the very center of their net neutrality stance, but it makes no sense to try to differentiate traffic without charging for it. I would like to see them try to explain that.

If the post office could only charge the sender one rate, everybody would send everything overnight and it would cost $4 to mail a letter. Or, the post office would be forced to stop offering overnight service and it would no longer be available to those who needed it and wer willing to pay for it.

Drywall said...

Doug --

I think you're missing the point of NN. No one's talking about not paying for bandwidth consumption. That's something providers like Google do now and will continue to do regardless of Net Neutrality.

The question is, will that bandwidth cost differing amounts to different purchasers for different applications? Net Neutrality effectively says "a bit is a bit is a bit, everyone pays the same amount for each bit no matter what it's used for or where it's coming from or going." ISPs want to say, "hey, that's a video bit from a group we don't like, we're going to degrade how this bit moves on the network unless you pay us extra."

Everyone will still pay per bit. They'll just be charged fairly under NN, and likely unfairly without it. These unfair charges will have a suppressive effect on innovation on the application layer.

Neal said...

Considering that Google has willingly participated in censorship in other countries (like China), just as other search engines like Yahoo has, the very idea of Google backing net neutrality is dubious, at best. More likely, this is a PR exercise and completely hypocritical.

Sorry folks - the emperor has no clothes.

Neal said...

Considering that Google (just as Yahoo has) has willingly and actively participated in net censorship in countries like China, the idea that Google could be willing to support net neutrality is laughable.

Dubious at best, more likely completely hypocritical.

Sorry folks, the emperor has no clothes.

asokoloski said...

drywall --

What you're talking about is price discrimination. It's the same thing that supermarkets do when they offer coupons. People who are more price sensitive take the time to clip coupons and pay less. If this practice were banned supermarkets would perhaps lower their prices slightly, which would be good for wealthier shoppers but bad for poorer shoppers.

Nobody likes to be the "rich guy" when it comes to price discrimination, even if they know they can afford it. But it's an important market function that allows producers to give better deals to more price-sensitive consumers. In the case of Net Neutrality, Google is one of the big "rich guys", and so it makes sense that they want the government to force every provider to charge the same amount.

So it's possible Net Neutrality could have a negative effect on innovation, unless you assume that Google is the source of all innovation on the internet. Startups would be prevented from negotiating deals to pay less in order to better compete with established companies like Google. That works great for Google. Because of their size, a "level playing field" is already tilted in their favor.

I don't doubt that Google supports "Net Neutralty", after all, with a name like that who could oppose it? I just wonder if maybe their motives are not just a little bit...evil.

psmith said...

I too am in favour of the content provider paying for the bandwidth. It's not going to stop someone posting a video on youtube/myspace, and I will still be able to read some conspiracy site about aliens taking over the whitehouse.

Just looking at peering stats providers already choose who to share with and how much to charge, the whole peering system predates even Google!

Robert S. Porter said...

"Most Americans (99.6%, to be exact) receive broadband service from either their phone company or their cable company -- in antitrust terms, a duopoly."

That's not a duopoly. A duopoly would be a proper definition if you were talking about two companies not two industries.

Google's interesting in net neutrality has nothing to do with not "being evil" it has everything to do with not wanting to pay its fair share. People, and especially corporations like Google, shouldn't be using the law to help themselves out.

Private companies--in this case telecommunication companies--should have the right to charge whatever they want, regardless of what google things is "fair". This false egalitarianism needs to be removed from the lexicon.

MattXIV said...

"Most Americans (99.6%, to be exact) receive broadband service from either their phone company or their cable company -- in antitrust terms, a duopoly."

That's not a duopoly. A duopoly would be a proper definition if you were talking about two companies not two industries.


Actually, while the 99.6% in question probably isn't entirely in areas where a duopoly exists, it is not uncommon for an area to have only one cable broadband provider and one DSL broadband provider. This state is often enforced by laws making entering the market for these services an expensive and politicized mess (I'm talking about the current process, not the bill in question).

That said, I'm not really sold on net neutrality. While it it would protect content providers from price discrimination schemes that may be foisted upon them by whatever market power the broadband providers have, it leaves us consumers subject to it. It would make a lot more sense to strike at the root of the problem and remove restrictions on entry into broadband markets.

PubCentral said...

"Private companies--in this case telecommunication companies--should have the right to charge whatever they want, regardless of what google things is "fair". This false egalitarianism needs to be removed from the lexicon."

I would agree only in the case of those private companies who received no taxpayer funds or tax concessions for the building of that infrastructure from any level of government.

Drywall said...

So it's possible Net Neutrality could have a negative effect on innovation, unless you assume that Google is the source of all innovation on the internet. Startups would be prevented from negotiating deals to pay less in order to better compete with established companies like Google. That works great for Google. Because of their size, a "level playing field" is already tilted in their favor.

I certainly don't assume Google is the source of all innovation. In fact, quite the opposite.

But if a broadband provider is doing deals with established content companies for preferential treatment, or providing their own services -- and they certainly will -- you're kidding yourself if you think a startup would have any leverage whatsoever to negotiate a deal to pay less. If anything, the established player will use their discriminatory powers in a non-neutral scenario to block out potential new competitors and technologies. They have nothing to gain and lots to lose from allowing startups to emerge.

Take VOIP. The major ISPs all offer VOIP services, and have an economic interest in preventing other VOIP competition from emerging. In a non-neutral world, a Skype or a Vonage would never get preferential treatment or discounted rates on bandwidth, because any money they made would be money taken away from the ISP. No matter how innovative a new VOIP provider may be, they'll have no chance in a market without Net Neutrality.

Drywall said...

"Private companies--in this case telecommunication companies--should have the right to charge whatever they want, regardless of what google things is "fair". This false egalitarianism needs to be removed from the lexicon."

If telecommunications (or cable, for that matter) exhibited any of the behaviors of a competitive market, I'd agree with you. But they don't -- they exhibit classical oligopoly behavior.

When markets fail to be competitive, they lose efficiency, innovation and affordability. In such cases the goverment has a responsibility to step in and act to correct these market failures.

Of course, sometimes when the goverment tries to correct things they do more harm that good, but that doesn't change the fact that "free markets" are not always "competitive markets" and that government can't/shouldn't be doing what it can to assure our markets are truly competitive.

This is basic microeconomics, by the way. I don't worship at either the neoliberal or tax-and-spend altars.

Drywall said...

What you're talking about is price discrimination. It's the same thing that supermarkets do when they offer coupons. People who are more price sensitive take the time to clip coupons and pay less.

Sorry, but that's not a valid analogy -- the coupons are available to all and anyone who chooses to do so can acquire them.

In a non-neutral world, "coupons" may only be offered to a select few that the ISPs choose. It's price discrimination with the seller in control, which is very different than the supermarket coupon price discrimination where the buyer is in control.

David said...

Most Americans (99.6%, to be exact) receive broadband service from either their phone company or their cable company ...

That lack of broadband competition gives providers the market incentive and ability to discriminate against Web-based applications and content providers.

I agree that there is a monopoly, and I also agree that when they prioritize certain content and sites that they surcharge extra money for, that they are being assholes. But if you regulate them to be "good little boys and girls", then that will guarantee that they remain a monopoly. Remember Phillips 66? The Rail Road barons? There is no such thing as a permanent monopoly, but there is such a thing as overbearing micro-regulations that lock out new entrants and competition. History shows, that when the government gets its foot in the door anywhere, that it always grows in presence and never goes away.

In fact, economic analysis and real-world experience from the wireless market suggest that the problem will persist even if more competition eventually emerges.

This is not true. The cell phone market started out that way, but every year they come under more and more pressure to become content neutral. That is the free market working. Eventually 80211/wi-max will become stable and ubiquitous enough to totally bypass their network for a fraction of the cost. Then they will be forced to act nice or get ripped a new one - like it or not. The same net neutrality regulations that would hold back the AT&T assholes will also likely never give disruptive technologies like this a chance to challenge AT&T head on based off of service and technologies.

When you compete in a regulatory environment, than the one who best handles the regulations wins. That would be the likes of AT&T and not some cheap efficient startup. We should learn from history. Those rail-road regulations never stopped the rail road barons from being assholes, but it sure did lock out new competitors, and even 100 years later - the consumer railroad industry in the US is still stagnant and competition free.

MidgetWombat said...

To those who think that Google and other content providers are not paying for bandwidth, you should check their connectivity bills.

Everyone pays for bandwidth. I own a small online company and I can assure you that we are paying the major networks for bandwidth. Our clients pay their ISPs for bandwidth. The ISPs in turn pay the big connectivity providers (e.g. Level3) for bandwidth.

Charging either the end-users or the content providers for bandwidth once again to get to a 'fast lane' would be double-charging them.

Finally, to those who think that this will cause them to have to pay more even if they use less, you're right. Look outside your door. There's another thing there that you've paid for and that some people use more. It's called a road. It was built to make communications and transportation easier.

Bandwidth is like roads. Yes, you may not use as much as the next guy, but having a flat fee so that you can use it as much as you need is not only reasonable - it's also a necessary basis for the net economy. If you allow your communication monopolies to charge you in this way, all you'll do is set the stage for a more sensible environment (probably in the far east) to really become the international hub of internet services, and flush your internet economy down the toilet in the process.

Michael said...

Let me see if I can summarize the situation accurately. Hopefully in doing so I'll be able to clarify matters somewhat.

When I go to my browser and type "www.google.com" I am using my paid Internet connection to reach Google's paid internet connection. As things currently stand, neither Google nor I are paying additional money for that connection to move as quickly as our paid bandwidth allows. If I then type "www.nyx.net" then I experience the same thing, only probably a little slower because Nyx's paid internet connection likely isn't as fast as Google's. In either case, I am connecting as fast as our mutual bandwidth allows because there's no discrimination on the network. It's said to be "neutral."

Now, suppose that Nyx hammers out a deal wherein they pay my ISP extra money to receive preferential service; they're not paying for more bandwidth, just to avoid getting filtered. Google has refused, so suddenly my connection to Nyx is much faster than to Google. My connection to Google receives a lower priority and is thus filtered through my ISP's network. This is considered non-neutral.

It's a question of whether or not we get to choose our services based on first-come first-serve or whether or not the service in question has paid for priority delivery. Put in a physical sense, if delivery trucks carry either apples or oranges, but the people who supply apples pay a premium to get them delivered before the oranges, then I have to wait longer to get an orange when I want one. I would not be pleased with such discrimination, and I doubt you would either.

I don't know if this helps. If I'm mistaken somewhere, please let me know.

Miguel said...

This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Google gifts all its unspoken "preferred partners" with impunity to deindexing. Small sites inadvertently over-optimizing get kicked off of Google results, while eBay keyword stuffs their pages to a ridiculous extent and gets away with it (of course eBay spends $XX millions yearly on Google paid search). Slimy as it is, how is the preferred network treatment Telcos want for their partners any different from what Google does?

Jason said...

Addressing Robert S. Porter's comments:

Google's interesting in net neutrality has nothing to do with not "being evil" it has everything to do with not wanting to pay its fair share. People, and especially corporations like Google, shouldn't be using the law to help themselves out.

The thing is, Google is paying their fair share. Do you think Google's pipe to the Internet is free? No, it costs them money. They pay for their bandwidth. Google's ISP, in turn pays for their bandwidth (which includes Google's and any other customers of that ISP). This continues up to the top level. There, "peering" agreements are in place to ensure that the top-level companies all work together.

Private companies--in this case telecommunication companies--should have the right to charge whatever they want, regardless of what google things is "fair". This false egalitarianism needs to be removed from the lexicon.

So even though Google isn't a customer of AT&T (for example), AT&T should be able to charge them?

I typically use the pizza-phone company analogy, but slightly different than the one Craig Newmark used. Say you run a neighborhood pizzeria and you pay for your phone service from Verizon. Now, AT&T sees that their customers are ordering pizza from you. You are making money using "their" phone network and so they demand that you pay them for the right to get access to AT&T subscribers.

Sure you don't need to pay, but if you don't your calls will be routed through old, run down lines instead of new lines. Therefore your customers will hear static and dropped calls when calling in an order. However, if they order from Domino's down the block (who pays AT&T), they'll get crystal clear calls.

Could you afford to pay AT&T and still stay in business? Now suppose your customers were spread across the entire United States. (You have really good delivery. ;-) ) Could you pay each and every one of the phone companies in the US for "good quality" phone service?

Let's also look at this from another angle. Say you browse Google a bit and then see a bill in your mail. It doesn't come from Google, but rather from Google's ISP. They've noticed that you were using their bandwidth without paying them and they want payment now or else they'll degrade your connection. Would that be fair? After all, you aren't a customer of that ISP and have never entered into an agreement with them. Furthermore, the agreement that Google entered into with them should cover your access to Google. If it didn't, then Google should be the one to pay more.

James said...

In the phrase: "...these "3G" services presently aren't nearly fast..." you misuse the word "presently" (which means "in the near future"). The word you should have used is "currently". This is, no doubt, a very small nit to pick with an important brief, but-- what the hell-- it never hurts to do things right.

Voodoo said...

I don't think anyone here really "gets" what is going on here. Basically, this is how it currently works:

The content providers pay some ISP a monthly fee for bandwith so that their content is accessible from the internet. The consumers of that content (users) also pay a monthly fee to have (under the current models) a specific amount of bandwith available to them so that they can consume the content.

The ISPs have several problems with this:

1) some internet sites are visited more than others (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc), therefore bits from these sites travel across the ISPs networks more than bits to other sites.

2) Since all ISPs networks are tied to each other, they often pass traffic across their own network that is not for a content provider that leases bandwith from them, nor is it destined for a user that pays them for bandwith access. This is probably the biggest issue.

So, what the ISPs want to do is to charge the content providers whose traffic consumes the most bandwith for said bandwith.

However, the content providers have ALREADY PAID for the bandwith - they leased the lines from their ISPs. But so have the end users. So, how do the ISPs make more money so that they can build bigger networks?

Let's look at it like this:

When you order something through the mail, who pays for the postage?

That's right, YOU DO. That is, in effect, what is happening here. Google isn't arbitrarily sending content to you - YOU ARE ORDERING (surfing) THEIR CONTENT (product) THROUGH THE MAIL (internet).

Logically, it stands to reason the the individual requesting the content should be paying the fee.

What does NOT make sense is charging users different rates based on the content that they are consuming, or relegating specific content providers to slower bandwith networks. Both are poor models. What DOES make sense is charging each user for the amount of bandwith that THEY CHOOSE TO CONSUME.

Google doesn't choose how many people visit their site. They lease out a set amount of bandwith and basically hope that it's enough to handle all the traffic that they receive. Their job is done.

Voodoo said...

I don't think anyone here really "gets" what is going on here. Basically, this is how it currently works:

The content providers pay some ISP a monthly fee for bandwith so that their content is accessible from the internet. The consumers of that content (users) also pay a monthly fee to have (under the current models) a specific amount of bandwith available to them so that they can consume the content.

The ISPs have several problems with this:

1) some internet sites are visited more than others (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc), therefore bits from these sites travel across the ISPs networks more than bits to other sites.

2) Since all ISPs networks are tied to each other, they often pass traffic across their own network that is not for a content provider that leases bandwith from them, nor is it destined for a user that pays them for bandwith access. This is probably the biggest issue.

So, what the ISPs want to do is to charge the content providers whose traffic consumes the most bandwith for said bandwith.

However, the content providers have ALREADY PAID for the bandwith - they leased the lines from their ISPs. But so have the end users. So, how do the ISPs make more money so that they can build bigger networks?

Let's look at it like this:

When you order something through the mail, who pays for the postage?

That's right, YOU DO. That is, in effect, what is happening here. Google isn't arbitrarily sending content to you - YOU ARE ORDERING (surfing) THEIR CONTENT (product) THROUGH THE MAIL (internet).

Logically, it stands to reason the the individual requesting the content should be paying the fee.

What does NOT make sense is charging users different rates based on the content that they are consuming, or relegating specific content providers to slower bandwith networks. Both are poor models. What DOES make sense is charging each user for the amount of bandwith that THEY CHOOSE TO CONSUME.

Google doesn't choose how many people visit their site. They lease out a set amount of bandwith and basically hope that it's enough to handle all the traffic that they receive. Their job is done.

Michael said...

Voodoo wrote, So, what the ISPs want to do is to charge the content providers whose traffic consumes the most bandwith for said bandwith.

To my knowledge, the ISPs already do this for content providers. I visit numerous sites in the United States and around the world that cut off content providers if their traffic increases to such a level that it begins to hinder other customers. The content providers (like Google) have to pay to maintain their bandwidth rather than be cut off.

What ISPs like AT&T are now proposing is to force content providers to pay an additional fee to avoid having their services degraded. To refer back to the pizza analogy, both Pizza Hut and Dominoes pay for high volume service under business contracts, but since Dominoes pays for additional priority and Pizza Hut doesn't, Dominoes gets quality service and Pizza Hut gets bad connections and dropped calls.

In other industries, we call this extortion.

Ryan Spahn said...

Unfortunately, the future is consumers paying for bandwidth used.

I use Joost, YouTube, Skype and other type of services that are free and that are saving me money on cable TV and home phone service; I just pay for Internet More will follow in the future causing a shift in ISPs billing practices and services offered(battery back up Internet - like Verizon landline service).

Voodoo said...

"To my knowledge, the ISPs already do this for content providers. I visit numerous sites in the United States and around the world that cut off content providers if their traffic increases to such a level that it begins to hinder other customers. The content providers (like Google) have to pay to maintain their bandwidth rather than be cut off."

This is patently false. ISPs cut the bandwith off of their CUSTOMERS whose traffic exceeds a monthly limit, not content providers. Again, content providers cannot control how much of their traffic flows accross a particular ISPs circuits and hardware. If you knew anything about routing protocols, this would be painfully obvious. It's clear that you do not.

Voodoo said...

Sorry, there's no edit feature..


If what you're saying is that the ISPs that the content providers LEASE BANDWITH FROM cut them off when they exceed their limit, you are correct. But, that's the whole point, isn't it? The content providers have ALREADY PAID for their bandwith.

David said...

I like the pizza-ordering analogy. One of the most common things I have heard when talking about net neutrality is that it "doesn't matter," which clearly shows ignorance to the issue. Personally, I think the Internet needs a major infrastructure revamping. The reason ISPs want to prioritize their content is because their network cannot handle the way the internet is used today. A main reason is the internet's packet switching is fundamentally different than the circuit switching that the telcos that own the internet backbone have traditionally used. Allowing prioritized content would essentially make the internet circuit-switched. This would be a major step backwards, returning to telegraph technology. Rather than prioritizing certain content, we need to find a way to more efficiently transmit and route all content.

Alex S said...

I think Google's stance is pretty much right on target.

The main problem I have with it is that my reading of it suggests that ISPs could starve off VoIP phone service by using traffic shaping over that entire class of apps.

Right now most cable companies are offering phone service. I don't know how that works, but I assume it's a VoIP service that uses what Google is calling a "fast lane" here.

So if this proposal would actually protect a company like Vonage, so long as the cable company was providing VoIP of its own, then I guess I'd be ok with it.

Although to be honest, I'd prefer restrictions to just be made blindly, on the pure volume of data, without any traffic shaping at all. As a customer, that's what I'd buy if I had a choice (not that such a choice is likely to be available).

Frank said...

Extortion is a good description, Michael. Paying an ISP for broadband service doesn't entitle them to treat you, their customer, as a bargaining chip to extort additional revenue streams from Content Providers .
Defend Net Neutrality or give into Legalized Extortion.

veronica said...

The road analogy is a better analogy.
here is an issue:
the telco's have built an infrastructure and they want us to pay for it. we should tell the telco's, that it is their own cost of doing business. if i go to mcdonald's and mcd's is really busy, do i pay more for my hamburger? or is mcd's just happy to be busy and making money.

Now the free, open source internet has made the telco's service valuable.
it is not the other way around.
because the internet has remained free and open, so to speak, industries and individuals have gone in and created the web as we know it today.

the telco's did not create this new web. but we, all of us using and creating on the internet have made their service more valuable and in demand.

the telco's did not pay money for valuable research to make the web more user friendly. it is making more money than ever because we the people have made the internet more than it ever was and can still be. telco's did not spend billions to make social networks happen. to make ecommerce safe etc.
No, small internet startups, fanatical programmers, small business's looking for solutions, people finding ways to connect across the globe made the internet what it is today.

Why are we not screaming at the telco's to subsidize our investment, our time and talent. it is us who made them rich now! and we all did it while paying their fees. now we should pay more?
now more than ever, the telcos are making money hand over fist becasue their "roads"are valuable.
we made them valuable and we did not charge them.
we pay their fees to join the network.

what the telcos are afraid of is competition.
they want to squash the small guy.
and they know what is coming.

All over the world wireless is taking over. soon the infrastructure the telco's laid will be obsolete.
if there is a law in place in favor of the telco's then the telco's will have contracts with providers and users covering years etc. and overlapping the revolution that will be coming down the pike from across the globe.

i also think it will limit innovation both on the internet and in other ways of connecting, especially wireless broadband.
we are now behind, 20th, the globe in both internet speed and broadband penetration. and we should pay them? they are so behind the whole world. this is because they did not do research to further their business. that is too bad for them
so therefore:
-We the people made their service necessary
-Telco's laid more wire and that wire will soon possibly be obsolete
-Telco's need a law in place that makes them the gatekeepers to the internet
-Telco's boards of directors and higher ups sit on boards for big companies and they do not welcome the compeitition.
-The service they are currently providing still leaves USA 20th in both broadband speed and penetration.
-also, i believe that they recieved government subsidies-someone clarify if i am right or wrong here on this statement.
-It will limit growth and competition on the web.
-and yes it is a form of extortion.

the telco's built the roads, but they did not invent the wheel.
we did.
our taxpayer money originally invented the internet and our ingenuity is beyond belief!

and if they really got the internet, and us, then they would learn to be open source too. they would thank us all for making their industry valuable. and reduce the overall fees. because once the road is made, that is all they have to do is collect money.
and that is not what they, the telco's, dont want us to think about, that we have actually grown their business for them!

Chuck said...

This post seems to contradict the Open Internet Coalition's (OIC) definition of network neutrality. Google is a member of the OIC, so why is it promoting a weaker definition?

This post says it is OK to "Prioritize all applications of a certain general type, such as streaming video." However, the OIC FAQ says "Network neutrality would only limit telcos from imposing limits on usage based on the type or content of Internet traffic." To prioritize streaming video means imposing limits on usage based on the type of traffic.

As the OIC points out, there is nothing wrong with prioritizing traffic, as long as it is done in a neutral way - for example, ISP could prioritize a light/bursty-traffic customer over a heavy/sustained-traffic customer, regardless of content.

Here's a Newmarkian phone analogy: Imagine that the phone company had a voice analyzer which could detect idle chit-chat - a major source of phone line congestion. Would it be OK for the phone company to charge extra (or prioritize/degrade) chit-chat calls? Of course not, that would go against the common carrier (neutrality) rules.

Phone companies have found neutral ways to handle the idle chit-chat "problem". One successful neutral strategy is to offer free night/weekend calling, which encourages users to shift chit-chat to off-peek hours.

ISP should be required to manage their networks via content neutral strategies.

Steve said...

Google, If your intentions really are to "do no evil," a good place to start would be to stop promoting this insidious "Net Neutrality" legislation. Right now we have free, unregulated speech on the Internet, with no government regulation. This benign-sounding bill invites the government into the Internet as a regulator, which will surely result eventually in the chilling of speech, just as it did with broadcast technology. I explain this in this post at my web site. As of this moment, and until you drop your support for Net Neutrality, anyone who wants to protect free speech on the Internet ought to consider YOU to be the bad guys. (Steve Boriss, The Future of News)

Sebastian Lewis said...

Net Neutrality? Fast Lanes? This is trivial nonsense to me, although you can probably convince me otherwise, I'm here for a different reason, but one that I consider to be real Net Neutrality.

Google is well aware that there is an auction for a large chunk of the 700 Mhz wireless spectrum. While the rules are being put in place for that and while I'm working on a completely unrelated project, I suddenly come to the topic of service providers in my essay with absolutely no warning at all.

Here's the problem, I pay ~$30 a month for AT&T DSL. It works, I can connect to the internet, send email, instant message, all of that good and fun stuff. I pay ~$40 a month for T-Mobile for my phone, and if I ever expect to use wireless broadband that'll be another what, $50-60 a month?

The problem is with phone service providers. They are no different than any other Internet Service Provider except they lock you into contracts, charge you for every SMS/MMS message sent or received unless you sign up for one of their special SMS message offers, set you up on "family plans" where you get to share "minutes" with your family, limit you to a number of minutes and if you want to download anything you have to sign up for one of their data plans, in fact you'll need one just to access the internet.

Why is this a problem? Phones are increasingly becoming more like computers, and the more like computers they become, the more you're likely to access things like Google.com on them, and the more they get to charge you for it.

Now picture a world where you paid $0.10 for every Email or Instant Message you sent, $0.50 if it has an attachment, you overpay on a data plan just to access the internet, and you are limited to 1000 minutes a month except on nights and weekends. That sounds a lot like the walled gardens I thought open standards had done away with 10 years ago, only it's alive and kicking.

So back to the 700 Mhz wireless spectrum, we currently have no open standards to combat the walled gardens of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint-Nextel for phone services, the Internet seems like one likely option except then we lose something as basic as a phone service unless we can find a hardware integrated software solution for that which starts to sound a lot like Skype, only I don't like Skype so I wouldn't want to sign on with them, and I'd still need to pay someone for a way to access the internet anyways.

This is where we need the term "Net Neutrality" because there is no Network Neutrality here, just a bunch of greedy service providers waiting for the moment that I sign into a 2 year contract complete with a data plan for what, $80-100 a month just to access the internet?

Sebastian

freedom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Wolf said...

What happened to Google's "do no evil" motto?

Richard said...

Network neutrality is all about hiding the issue of IPTV under a pile of misdirection, obfuscation, ancillary concerns, and baseless hysteria. Here's what's really going on:

AT&T and Verizon have rolled out IPTV services that compete with cable TV and satellite but use the same physical lines as their telephone and Internet access services. They figure they can pay for upgrades to their physical plant - wires and routers - with TV subscriptions. They may be right and they may be wrong.

Google, Skype, Amazon, and others who want to sell IPTV and VOIP are nervous about these systems because they want a piece of the action and it doesn't look like they'll get one unless they can make deals with AT&T and Verizon. So they've ginned up network neutrality to enhance their bargaining position. Google is all about selling ads, and TV is mainly ad-supported. Google sees TV as the next step in their corporate evolution and doesn't want any barriers in the way.

There is no principle of law called "network neutrality", nor is there any principle of network design that goes by that name. And there is no natural right for Google to offer an IPTV service over AT&T's pipes for the price of standard Internet access. It's costing money for AT&T and Verizon to upgrade their systems to support this service, which is faster and more reliable than Internet access.

IPTV is not the Internet, but the campaign that Google and Skype are waging through sock-puppet organizations like Save the Internet make it look that way.

Our free speech is not threatened.

And incidentally, Craig Newmark works fo r eBay, the owner of Skype.

Craig said...

Folks, thanks!

Just one correction... I don't work for eBay or Scott, strictly for craigslist.

Hard for me to get why Richard says otherwise, since this is universal knowledge.

On the other hand, Scott forgot to point out he works for the telecoms. He's asked me to remind people of this.

thanks!

Craig

vRad said...

@Keith
"When mailing a letter, the sender decides if it is going to be sent first class, fourth class, or overnight and pays appropriately for that choice."

True. You can already do that as a customer, by choosing between the 6Mbps, or the 8Mbps connection your cable company may offer. Your analogy would be more accurate if the situation was something like USPS telling you that you cannot send 1st class to any Washington address because the state of Washington hasnt paid them for express lane services. However, if you want to send it to Virginia, it is fine, because they sent in the hundred thousand dollar check on time.

That is called discrimination, and not being neutral.

vRad said...

"Although to be honest, I'd prefer restrictions to just be made blindly, on the pure volume of data, without any traffic shaping at all."

In an ideal world, that would be great. However, services like voice NEED priority, while clicking on a link to Google do not. If you are made to wait an extra second before that webpage opens, it wont worry you too much. However if the voice of the person you are talking to arrives with a 1 second delay, that is certainly going to be an issue.

Wellington said...

Can anyone clarify the basic incentives for Google in this discussion. What do they specifically hope to gain ?

HeroicLife said...

The Internet is not public property. Telecommunications companies have spent billions of dollars on network infrastructure all over the world. They did so in the hope of selling communications services to customers willing to pay for them. The government has no right to effectively nationalize ISP’s by telling them how run their networks.

"Neutrality" regulations will force companies to act against their self-interest, inevitably leading them to complain to Congress to impose ever more detailed controls to maintain “fairness.” Net neutrality advocates will want the government to regulate how ISP’s may and may not route traffic. Pressure groups such as consumer activist groups, major websites, small ISPs, and Internet backbone providers are fighting for controls that favor them. Once the precedent of regulation is established, competition will shift to passing the most favorable legislation rather than providing the best technology and service.


Proponents of net neutrality love to invent hypothetical scenarios of ways companies could abuse customers. It is true that a free society gives people the freedom to be stupid, wrong, and even malicious. The great thing about capitalism is that it also gives people the freedom to decide whom they want to do business with. A socialized Internet takes away that freedom and turn it over to politicians and lobbyists. Why do “net neutrality” advocates ridicule politicians for comparing the Internet to a “series of tubes,” and then trust them to regulate it?

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tercumenette said...

nicepost

tercumenette said...

thanks

docsharp01 said...

Good article and comments about net neutrality. satellite internet access is the future of broadband internet technology.

rhmjr said...

Good stuff. I regularly read. Don't keep leaving out us pre-boomers. We don't have to be glued to the Net 24/7 so we look to younger to be tech savvy and use the Web/Net to best advantage. But we know how to influnce quietly also and followthe leads you folks present. Recognize that we can help and show us more of how. Background: Been on the Web since 94 and the Net since the late 70s.

andy reed said...

Large corporations shouldn't be able to decide which sites run slower and which ones run faster. The congressmen are in the corporations pockets though and its not right. The internet should remain open to everyone and not be restricted. Eventually with amazon.com and other similar websites having to pay money to companies like AT&T the consumer will suffer the consiquences. Let the internet remain open to everyone without discrimination.

Lee Hawkins said...

I really like the road analogy best. If you go near a theme park like Disney World, there is a humongous amount of people on their way to or from there because Disney has created a very popular attraction (just like Google, YouTube, or eBay). Disney and its employees pay lots in taxes to finance the transportation infrastructure in Central Florida, just like Google pays lots in "taxes" to have a great big pipe to the Internet to serve search results and YouTube videos. The consumers pay for the roads and the airport they come into Disney on through the taxes built into their purchases of airfare, gasoline, hotel rooms, etc. and so they have also paid their part to get to their destination.

(1) If Florida's Turnpike (a toll road) all of a sudden imposed a surcharge for everyone traveling into Central Florida UNLESS they showed their Walt Disney World tickets (a privilege which Disney has funded), that would be like an ISP imposing a surcharge for traffic on each consumer, UNLESS it was to/from one of its business partners.

(2) Another situation is that Florida's Turnpike could impose limits on how fast one could drive UNLESS their Disney tickets show that they qualify for "preferred" service, paid for through a contract with Disney. This would be like Apple paying off your ISP so its iTunes traffic would get routed faster than Rhapsody's.

(3) A third scenario (which is already regulated by law) is that an emergency vehicle, like an ambulance, would receive priority service on Florida's Turnpike because its arriving quickly to its destination, the hospital, is crucial to its mission. This is analogous to VoIP packets getting routed ahead of an iTunes MP3 download, since a static audio file is not as time critical as lag in a real-time conversation (the person talking would not be understandable, and would have to repeat himself, using even MORE bandwidth, just to be understood).

Scenario 1 seems like an acceptable situation, considering some IS after all at least paying for the trip. I think it would be difficult to enforce though, since in both the real world and on the Internet, it would be hard to verify that a person is really traveling to Disney since the tickets/packets could be forged and verification would be difficult at best. I'm not sure what the Google stance is on this one.

Scenario 2 is totally ridiculous, in my opinion, because now I'm stuck driving slow just because I can't even negotiate, both as a consumer or as an upstart, to get decent service to or from another site. THIS is the kind of thing Google is speaking out against!

Scenario 3 is totally acceptable, and absolutely practical, because some traffic like streaming audio (VoIP for example) and video, along with on-line gaming are highly sensitive to latency and can't afford to travel the slow lane or their payload will become useless and die, just like a critical ambulance patient. THIS is the kind of prioritizing Google is supporting.

Even though we are talking private infrastructure on the Internet, and not public, the analogy holds true in the case of Walt Disney World, as they pretty much own and finance all the roads inside the theme park and the State of Florida, Orlando International Airport, and the government corporation that runs Florida's Turnpike are all separate entities involved, just as the different ISPs are separate entities, where some of the networks (like Google's, which I'm sure is extensive) are owned by the content providers.

Hopefully this shows the importance of the issues at hand, since proper regulation may be required to prevent a scenario like #2 above, while not prohibiting against scenarios like #3 at the same time.

realizePhiladelphia said...

If net neutrality goes into effect, everyone will be affected and it will change the way we think of the internet now. It would no longer be equal for everyone!

To learn more about Net Neutrality, visit web.illish.us

Estetik said...

Hey, nice post, very well written. You should write more about this.

rob said...

This is a terrible thing, all it's doing is allowing companies with a lot of money to make sure their sites will get priority, it will effectively regulate how quickly people are able to see certain things, this will make more and more information biased and make it harder to get to the truth of certain subjects.

Jenny said...

This is not fair to all of us, and it is not getting better these days. The good news is that a lot people are realizing that. BTW, you can always switch to another wireless provider, such as Verizon.

Gabriel said...

I think you're missing the point Everyone will still pay per bit. They'll just be charged fairly under NN, and likely unfairly without it. These unfair charges will have a suppressive effect on innovation on the application layer.

baldeagle554 said...

What Net Neutrality does is take away our right of FREE SPEECH!! This is exactly what Obama and the Democrats want. This way they can pretend like everyone agrees with them, with absolutely no dissent.

Obama is acting more like Hugo Chavez, a dictator than President of the USA.

Hugo Chavez shut down newspapers and radio stations if they said anything against him, Obama wants that power too!!!!!

theopco said...

What Net Neutrality does is take away our right of FREE SPEECH!! This is exactly what Obama and the Democrats want. This way they can pretend like everyone agrees with them, with absolutely no dissent.

Obama is acting more like Hugo Chavez, a dictator than President of the USA.

Hugo Chavez shut down newspapers and radio stations if they said anything against him, Obama wants that power too!!!!!


LOL