Net neutrality

Curved bench in Toronto

Today, there is a rally on Parliament Hill in favour of net neutrality. Basically, these people are arguing that internet and telephone companies should not sift through the kind of data their customers are using: designating some for the fast stream and letting some linger or vanish.

In general, I am very supportive of the idea of net neutrality. On the one hand, this is because packet filtering has creepy privacy and surveillance issues associated with it. On the other, it recognizes that established companies will usually do whatever they can to strangle innovative competitors. Without net neutrality, its a fair bet that we would never have had Skype or the World Wide Web.

At the same time, there are legitimate issues about bandwidth. There are people out there exchanging many gigabytes a day worth of movies, music, and games. I am not too concerned with piracy and intellectual property, but that traffic is a real strain on the network and a burden to others. It pushes up costs for everyone as ordinary users subsidize excessive ones.

The best solution seems to be to allow bandwidth capping but disallow packet filtering. That way, sending a terabyte a month of illegally copied films will be restricted, but Skype-like new services will continue to emerge and there will be fewer general opportunites for telecom companies to abuse.

I cannot go to the rally myself, since I will be at work, but I would encourage those who are free and feeling a bit activist to attend.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Net neutrality”

  1. The scariest example of net neutrality being violated is when Telus censored that video of its striking workers. If I were a net neutrality campaigner, I would mention that every 3rd sentence.

    If you like tech policy issues, you should check out Jonathan Zittrain’s new book, which is concerned with preserving openness and “generativity” on all devices, not just the internet.

  2. Without net neutrality, its a fair bet that we would never have had Skype or the World Wide Web.

    Why is that? Is net neutrality something we already have, or something these people are agitating for?

  3. Net neutrality is something we have had by default, due to the nature of the internet. Now, it is at risk because telecom companies are developing the will and the means to prioritize some traffic over other kinds.

    As such, people are agitating to have net neutrality enforced by law. That way, companies that own the physical infrastructure of the internet won’t be able to behave monopolistically and shut out competition.

    See also: Deep packet inspection

  4. Oh, and we would never have had the World Wide Web because telcos wouldn’t have allowed upstarts like eBay and Netscape to use their networks without paying them. The usefulness of the web emerged in unexpected ways, and companies with business models that depend on the old way of doing business are threatened by that.

    This is even more true of Skype. Just look how hard cell phone companies are trying to provide data access on phones, while also denying people the ability to make cheaper calls using software of that kind.

  5. It was a decent turnout, considering the rally date was changed three times. I fear it fell on deaf ears as the news du jour is all about Bernier and his ex. Add that to Canada’s (well the Harper government’s) enthusiastic support of ACTA, details of which were recently leaked, I fear Canada will soon be an information have-not…

    However until Bell releases some numbers to support their claims, I don’t buy the need to throttle. Bit caps are one thing, as long as they are reasonable as bandwidth is plentiful and cheap. There is actually alot of unlit fibre waiting to be used from the dot com days. Selling unlimited you will run into a tragedy of the commons type problem unless properly managed, but the 60GB limits Bell and Rogers enforce is pathetic. If a small 3rd party company can provide 200GB a month for a lower cost, why can’t Bell or Rogers? Pure profit gouging… Its speculation but I think BitTorrent and Skype (and other VOIP) threaten their other business offerings (TV and Phone). I guess its up to the CRTC to decide now (baring parlimentary interventon in the form of a law). They’ve asked Bell this and other important questions, so maybe the throttling will be lifted… Of course Bell can say anything and there is no way to prove or disprove what they, but their initial traffic claims of BitTorrent being the biggest bandwidth user didn’t hold up to scutiny, when it was actually http that was the biggest (thanks manly to YouTube and other streaming services)

    Ideally the last mile infrastructure would be spun off into a crown corp and Bell would have to buy its bandwidth as an equal, just as 3rd parties do from Bell now… It is important to note that Bell was a crown corp until recently and much of the network was built with taxpayers money. As for Rogers, they can do what they want… it is their network, as long as they are open and honest about their policies, which of course neither of these companies were, until they were outed in the media…

  6. Net Neutrality Bill Introduced In Canadian Parliament

    By Soulskill on aboot-time

    FeatherBoa points out that the New Democratic Party in Canada has introduced legislation to limit the amount of control Canadian ISPs can exert over their subscribers. The bill would amend the Telecommunications Act to “prohibit network operators from engaging in network management practices that favour, degrade or prioritize any content, application or service transmitted over a broadband network based on its source, ownership or destination, subject to certain exceptions.” Support for net neutrality in Canada has been building for quite a while now. Quoting CBC News: “‘This bill is about fairness to consumers,’ said Charlie Angus, the NDP’s digital spokesman. It also looks to prohibit ‘network operators from preventing a user from attaching any device to their network and requires network operators to make information about the user’s access to the internet available to the user.’ The proposed bill makes exception for ISPs to manage traffic in reasonable cases, Angus said, such as providing stable speeds for applications such as gaming or video conferencing.”

  7. CRTC sets net neutrality rules for Canada, allows throttling as ‘last resort’

    The FCC may be yet to act on Chairman Genachowski’s proposed net neutrality rules, but the agency’s Canadian counterpart, the CRTC, has made a fairly significant ruling of its own on the matter today, and it seems like it may have manged to disappoint folks on both sides of the debate in the process. The short of it is that the CRTC will allow internet service providers to practice “traffic shaping” (a.k.a. bandwidth throttling), but only as a “last resort,” and only after it has issued a warning that the throttling will take place (30 days in advance for regular users, and 60 days for wholesale customers). What’s more, the CRTC is also recommending that ISPs “give preference to Internet traffic management practices based on economic measures” before cutting into customers downloads — in other words, charge more for extra bandwidth, or offer discounts during non-peak hours.

  8. Steve Wozniak explains Net Neutrality to the FCC

    The early Internet was so accidental, it also was free and open in this sense. The Internet has become as important as anything man has ever created. But those freedoms are being chipped away. Please, I beg you, open your senses to the will of the people to keep the Internet as free as possible. Local ISP’s should provide connection to the Internet but then it should be treated as though you own those wires and can choose what to do with them when and how you want to, as long as you don’t destruct them. I don’t want to feel that whichever content supplier had the best government connections or paid the most money determined what I can watch and for how much. This is the monopolistic approach and not representative of a truly free market in the case of today’s Internet.

  9. The internet is dying.

    Sure, technically, the internet still works. Pull up Facebook on your phone and you will still see your second cousin’s baby pictures. But that isn’t really the internet. It’s not the open, anyone-can-build-it network of the 1990s and early 2000s, the product of technologies created over decades through government funding and academic research, the network that helped undo Microsoft’s stranglehold on the tech business and gave us upstarts like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Netflix.

    Nope, that freewheeling internet has been dying a slow death — and a vote next month by the Federal Communications Commission to undo net neutrality would be the final pillow in its face.

    Net neutrality is intended to prevent companies that provide internet service from offering preferential treatment to certain content over their lines. The rules prevent, for instance, AT&T from charging a fee to companies that want to stream high-definition videos to people.

    Because net neutrality shelters start-ups — which can’t easily pay for fast-line access — from internet giants that can pay, the rules are just about the last bulwark against the complete corporate takeover of much of online life. When the rules go, the internet will still work, but it will look like and feel like something else altogether — a network in which business development deals, rather than innovation, determine what you experience, a network that feels much more like cable TV than the technological Wild West that gave you Napster and Netflix.

  10. Motherboard announces a neutral, meshing community ISP based at Vice’s Brooklyn headquarters

    Motherboard — an imprint of Vice — has announced that it will build a community ISP branching off its Brooklyn headquarters, built on meshing wireless protocols, and connected to the internet via high-speed fiber lines terminating at a network exchange.

    They’ll also publish a guide to starting your own ISP, based on their experiences.

    The announcement of the community ISP was timed to coincide with the FCC’s announcement that they would be killing net neutrality; the Vice network pledges to uphold net neutrality principles.

  11. There’s another, even subtler and scarier distortion at work here. The ISPs want to create steady revenue streams from these services, and so the blackmail payments they demand will not exceed the services’ ability to pay. But they will limit who else can enter the market: Netflix and Youtube and the other established players were able to start because the capital needs of a video-on-demand service did not include a line item for blackmail to ISPs.

    Future Netflix and Youtube challengers will have it different: their startup costs will include millions for hard-drives and marketing and bandwidth — and millions more for bribes to the telcos.

    This is bad news for people who like watching videos, but it’s even worse news for people who make videos. With upstarts permanently, structurally frozen out of the market, today’s incumbent providers will become much like the telcos themselves: cozy, cooperative, and more interested in colluding than competing. Some of that will take the form of explicit conspiracies, but highly concentrated, stable industries can collude without conspiring: the executives tend to have worked at all the major firms at some point in their careers, know each other socially, understand one-another’s turf and territories, maintain out-of-work friendships and even intermarry. Without anyone having to draw up an agreement, these industries are perfectly capable of creating arrangements that are mutually beneficial and that freeze out any new entrants.

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