The EFF Takes The Contentious, Sometimes Bizarre Effort To Define Net Neutrality Global

from the tomato,-tomahto dept

While Tim Wu originally coined the term net neutrality in a 2003 paper, it was former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre's 2005 proclamation that he wasn't going to let the Googles of the world "ride his pipes for free" that truly ignited the net neutrality debate. AT&T made it clear that it was (and continues to be) eager to use its power as a gatekeeper in uncompetitive markets to impose arbitrary and unnecessary troll tolls on content and service companies.

Whitacre's entitlement attitude in turned spawned the misleading argument that service and content companies (that already pay for bandwidth and own much of their own infrastructure) somehow get a "free ride," and therefore should start paying phone companies their "fair share." Though wrong, the argument was infectious, and we soon had telcos worldwide crying that they too deserve an extra payment for doing absolutely nothing. In short, it was AT&T's flimsy justification for double dipping that took net neutrality global.

Building on this bedrock of nonsense we've been trying to properly define net neutrality ever since. That job has grown more difficult as attempts to impose these troll tolls have grown increasingly clever (fixed-line usage caps, AT&T's Sponsored Data and the Netflix interconnection feuds being just the latest), but at its heart net neutrality is not complicated: create rules that protect consumers from bad ISP behavior in the face of limited competition.

Despite a decade of efforts to educate the public (with no thanks to the mainstream news media, pollsters or politicians), a recent Pew survey (pdf) indicates that only 61% of the U.S. public knows what net neutrality is. Based on personal anecdotal experience (glassy eyed stares at dinner parties when discussing the subject), I'd wager that number is too high and many of the survey participants guessed or used multiple choice contextual clues.

As the battle to educate consumers on the benefit of net neutrality goes global, the EFF says it's joined forces with 34 groups in 19 countries to create a new global coalition on net neutrality aimed at solidifying the definition of net neutrality at the ground floor. They've started with this shared definition, translated into 11 languages:
"Net neutrality requires that the Internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination."
Highlighting the problems inherent in trying to nail down specific neutrality language over the better part of a decade, the EFF of course then has to proceed to point out its definition isn't actually complete, and the group doesn't mean to prohibit reasonable network management:
"This definition doesn't imply that Internet providers can't use reasonable methods to manage their networks, for example to ensure that all applications from voice calls to downloads run smoothly, or to secure their networks from malicious uses like denial-of-service attacks. Neither does it mean they can't offer users different tiers of service at different price points, such as a residential-level service and a business-level service."
And that's historically where the conversation has gone off the rails. Whether you're concerned about government over-reach or you just want the most effective rules possible without loopholes, it's often impossible to come to a consensus on basic language when neutrality is involved (define equal? define discrimination? what's reasonable?). That confusion is compounded by a broadband industry that has a vested interest in keeping confusion and hyperbole set to 11, whether that's claiming that neutrality rules will keep the deaf from using helpful technology or that net neutrality will somehow harm the poor.

Meanwhile, carve out exceptions for "security" and "network integrity," and ISPs just used those definitions to mask anti-competitive behavior. For example fixed-line network caps are necessary because of congestion (when no congestion exists), or we can't launch a competing service or platform because it's an ambiguous security threat. It's a very deep well, and in the States a decade of bickering and misinformation started by old Ed Whitacre has resulted in a mountain of muddy, unproductive discourse that sometimes seems to make even less sense as we tunnel deeper into it.

It's at that point one begins to wonder if the term net neutrality itself hasn't outlived its usefulness, given that at the end of the day we're really talking about stopping ISPs in uncompetitive markets from engaging in bad behavior. Make sure countries have functional, competitive markets, and net neutrality itself becomes less of a worry. Once that fails, you're down the rabbit hole of hyperbole, and if the United States is any indication, there's simply no bottom.
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Filed Under: broadband, definitions, net neutrality
Companies: eff


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  • identicon
    Harold K, 3 Dec 2014 @ 6:34am

    Its about the pipes!

    If I buy a pipe, and they buy a pipe, and we both want to pass the content from their pipe to mine, then the pipe supplier does not have the ability to charge more for what is in the pipe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 6:57am

    Carge and charge again ad infinitum

    It seems that none of at&t's subscribers are getting freebies.
    Any websites that are hosted on their pipes pay their way. Competitive backbones have cross contracts for shared use. So exactly is getting a free ride? This kind of corporate doubletalk, AKA: bullshit, is no more then an effort to make an end-run around established prices and contracts IE: double- triple ad infinitum charges. Make no mistake extra charges for "premium service" will mean degradation of "standard service" to force upgrade to, you guessed it, premium service. bottom line, at&t gets fat, user gets fucked, no way to dress that up is there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:01am

    Another HUGE reason we need real competition

    AT&T and the other ISP's only have the power to act so obscenely because there is no competition. What if we had a choice between 4 or 5 providers in an area? Where I am, there is only an AT&T and Time Warner duopoly. We don't have real choice, and they both know it. Let's say we have 4 or 5 suppliers and AT&T wants to extort from Google, Netflix, or whoever. No problem. The victim can just tell AT&T 'fine,' move business elsewhere, and AT&T only hurts themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Diode Flux, 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:20am

      Re: Another HUGE reason we need real competition

      Yes. Lack of serious competition is the core problem.

      An artificially small # of ISP's are able to restrict consumer choices. Government regulation & corporate special-interest legislation restrict(ed) new ISP entrants & competition to the internet services market.
      Removing government intervention into the ISP market is the solution.

      'Net-Neutrality' (i.e. even more government intervention) is precisely the wrong cure. It is the same poison causing the original malady.

      EFF means well, but doesn't quite see the big picture.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:24am

        Re: Re: Another HUGE reason we need real competition

        EFF means well, but doesn't quite see the big picture.

        I think the picture they see is that real competition is a long way off, and it's better to do something in the meantime than wait.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:51am

          Re: Re: Re: Another HUGE reason we need real competition

          I suspect so. This is also my stance. Net neutrality (and I agree that the term has outlived its usefulness) is a "this is better than the nothing we'll get otherwise" option.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Hephaestus (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 9:01am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Another HUGE reason we need real competition

            Do not rename net neutrality, it is exactly what the ISP's want. High fructose corn syrup vs corn sweetener it will just confuse the subject...

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:05am

    And in reverse

    Whitacre's entitlement attitude in turned spawned the misleading argument that service and content companies (that already pay for bandwidth and own much of their own infrastructure) somehow get a "free ride," and therefore should start paying phone companies their "fair share."

    Whilst certain content companies I could name contend that ISPs are getting a free ride off their content.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Daniel Berninger (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:22am

    Start talking about the actual issue

    Karl,

    I would love to see your basic points gain traction and agree the energy driving the NN debate has nothing to do with NN.

    NN is a general all purpose hook to hang anxiety about the risk of network operators abusing their status as network operators. This anxiety exists as a function of the sacred status of human communication and a sort of progress paradox. The more communication capacity operators deliver, the more anxious the communicating public gets about protecting the capacity. There are no facts on the ground that will convince the communicating public to relax as long as they perceive a lack of a voice of influence over the operators.

    As a result, we get calls for government protections and recently the formerly unthinkable application of Title II to IP networks.

    Unfortunately, there exists nothing in the long history of government/FCC interventions that suggests Title II rules can serve the desired function. Any time reviewing the track record of Title II makes it quite clear Title II as cure is far worse than the disease.

    If not government, then what? Competition, competition, competition becomes the mantra, but the capital intensive nature of infrastructure makes funding overlapping networks problematic.

    I believe the communicating public can and should seek a direct voice with the network operators. The return on energy expended influencing operators will prove far more productive than pushing government to do the right thing. We can all benefit from a deep breath and recognizing the amazing progress from the days of 100 baud modems.

    The competition mantra presumes a zero sum game that dies with the telephone network. The future of all communication benefits from same Moore's Law forces driving the larger infotech sector. If the network operators were so remarkably powerful, then we would still live in the world where 98% of operator revenue came from voice services as it did in 1996.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:49am

      Re: Start talking about the actual issue

      "I believe the communicating public can and should seek a direct voice with the network operators"

      Because they always listen right?

      Just look over to the EU where competition in the broadband market (via LLU) has improved consumer satisfaction and reduced prices. This will never happen in the market that we have.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 7:54am

      Re: Start talking about the actual issue

      "I believe the communicating public can and should seek a direct voice with the network operators."

      Given the oligarchic nature of ISP business, you may as well also believe in the tooth fairy. The major ISPs have done nothing but express their continued contempt for their customers even in the face of great outcry. Why do you think that they would suddenly have a change of heart?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Daniel Berninger (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:37am

        Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

        John,

        Why do you think that they would suddenly have a change of heart?

        Thanks for asking.

        The idea of seeking direct voice with the operators owes to a transformation of the environment:

        1) The existing expansion of the value proposition of wired/wireless connectivity since 1996 reflects a response to customer demand and self interest. IP networks align the interests of end users and operators because the value of a network equals the functionality of the network.

        2) Customer attention/acquisition is the only remaining scarcity in a Moore's Law world of abundance. All the wireless operators pay more in iphone subsidies to Apple than their marketing budget. They do this to attract customers to their network. Networks are largely fixed cost, so customer acquisition is king.

        3) Market power exists across the information technology landscape. The question is whether there exists an expanding value proposition. The answer is yes in the case of the operators as well as Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, etc etc.

        4) The actual cases of abuses (not many, but take your pick) were all resolved and retracted through the force of customer outrage. The "abuses" represent attempts at expanding margins, but operators will find no options beyond expanding the value proposition. Attempts to collect rents without expanding the value proposition will produce self-injury.

        The case here is not that nothing bad ever happens. The case is that the remarkable expansion of communication capacity since 1996 provides a sufficient case for preserving the non-regulation status quo.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 9:16am

          Re: Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

          "The existing expansion of the value proposition of wired/wireless connectivity since 1996"

          That value proposition has decreased, not increased.

          "All the wireless operators pay more in iphone subsidies to Apple than their marketing budget."

          You're mixing in a completely different subject here. We're talking about ISPs, not wireless providers. Things like iPhone subsidies are unrelated.

          "The answer is yes in the case of the operators as well as Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon, etc etc. "

          None of whom (with the exception of Google's experimental services in a couple of cities) are ISPs. Again, you're mixing apples and oranges.

          "The actual cases of abuses (not many, but take your pick) were all resolved and retracted through the force of customer outrage. "

          This is news to me, since the abuses continue to this day.

          "The case is that the remarkable expansion of communication capacity since 1996 provides a sufficient case for preserving the non-regulation status quo."

          That's a nonsequitor to me. Why does the "remarkable expansion" (which, to my mind, is far from remarkable -- but I'll let that go) provide a sufficient case for the status quo? The status quo is bad: abusive ISPs, outrageous pricing, etc.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Daniel Berninger (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 10:30am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

            John Fenderson: "That value proposition has decreased, not increased."

            Hmmm... I paid $500 per month for an always on 112Kbs ISDN connection to the Internet in 1999. Today I pay $50 per month for a 50Mbs FiOS connection.

            How does this reflect a value proposition decreased????

            It amazes me how the Title II dial-up 90's was viewed (at the time) as a moment of communication abundance and everyone views the present a moment as one of communication scarcity.

            In 1996, communication involved a $0.40 per minute LD telephone call, writing a letter, or getting on an airplane to visit someone.

            The present communication landscape qualifies as a "remarkable expansion" for anyone alive in 1996.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 10:38am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

              " I paid $500 per month for an always on 112Kbs ISDN connection to the Internet in 1999. Today I pay $50 per month for a 50Mbs FiOS connection.

              How does this reflect a value proposition decreased????"

              Because value is not the same as price. BTW, I would love to get broadband internet for that price. Unfortunately, where I live, the only option available is Comcast and my bill is about double that.

              "It amazes me how the Title II dial-up 90's was viewed (at the time) as a moment of communication abundance and everyone views the present a moment as one of communication scarcity"

              I'm not discussing communication abundance and scarcity and have made no statement about it -- that's an entirely different subject as well.

              "In 1996, communication involved a $0.40 per minute LD telephone call"

              I wasn't paying anywhere near $0.40 per minute for LD in 1996, and was engaging in both email and real-time conversations over the internet well before that date.

              "The present communication landscape qualifies as a "remarkable expansion" for anyone alive in 1996."

              Perhaps we disagree with what counts as "remarkable". I don't think something is "remarkable" unless it performs well above what would be expected given the circumstances. By that definition, the expansion is not remarkable at all (considering that it was largely driven by improvements in hardware that were happening regardless of what the telecoms were doing) -- in fact, in my opinion, it was and remains lackluster.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              nasch (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 11:11am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

              It amazes me how the Title II dial-up 90's was viewed (at the time) as a moment of communication abundance and everyone views the present a moment as one of communication scarcity.

              At least with dialup you could choose from tons of ISPs.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 12:30pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

              It amazes me how the Title II dial-up 90's was viewed (at the time) as a moment of communication abundance and everyone views the present a moment as one of communication scarcity.

              Title II ensured that other than for rate differences for local, long distance and international calls, but otherwise ensured that any phone could call any other phone. Use of dialup was simply phoning a local phone point of an ISP, and the phone company had no say in whether a call was voice of data.
              Net neutrality is a requirement that the ISPs to not distinguish packets based on their source or destination, while allowing them he ability to share out any restricted pipes on an equitable basis.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Karl Bode (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 9:09am

        Re: Re: Start talking about the actual issue

        Yes, I think the public has been asking Comcast for better customer support for fifteen straight years, and recent news makes it very clear they're still waiting. Consumer outrage only goes so far as an organic impetus for change.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:41am

      Re: Start talking about the actual issue

      You do know that Title II also includes such things as tariff rates for line leases... Such that CLEC A can purchase a line from ILEC X for the same price that CLEC B can purchase them. The problem is that ILECs raised the prices to absorbent amounts and they never lowered, so now we are stuck with a world where a 45Mbps DS3 is more expensive than an existing dark fiber run which can go up to 100Gbps.
      IE Title II can force competition, but it's needs to be realistically used.

      Net Neutrality is probably best described as the end to end principle in my book. Even in a competitive environment like the UK however there was multiple providers selectively blocking traffic such as BitTorrent. So while competition is good there are also issues with Net Neutrality even in competitive markets. Example: Vuze stats

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 1:26pm

      Re: Start talking about the actual issue

      ...but the capital intensive nature of infrastructure makes funding overlapping networks problematic.
      If only we, as taxpayers, had been able to fund network providers to build more infrastructure with billions of dollars under Title II. Had they been given the money, I'm sure we'd all be sitting pretty.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Pragmatic, 4 Dec 2014 @ 5:21am

      Re: Start talking about the actual issue

      I believe the communicating public can and should seek a direct voice with the network operators. The return on energy expended influencing operators will prove far more productive than pushing government to do the right thing. We can all benefit from a deep breath and recognizing the amazing progress from the days of 100 baud modems.

      What part of "Take it or leave it is not a valid choice" do you not understand? These are companies that receive "a direct voice" daily from "the communicating public," who have then complained that their customer service is horrible.

      There. Is No. Such. Thing. As. The. Free. Market.

      And we can't trade or boycott our way into one. If it was really that easy Verizon and AT&T wouldn't have got so damn big in the first place, would they?

      The only "government protections" in place are the legal monopolies held by these companies. Take those away via anti-trust laws, end of problem. That is what government is for.

      The trouble with supply-siders is their unquestioning belief that they can only prosper if they shaft the demand-side (A. K. A. the communicating public). Where's the equality and fairness in a view like that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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