Net neutrality: What is really at stake?

I am on an email list that sends out updates on “net neutrality.” Today I got one saying that various forces in congress are trying to undo the FCC’s classification of the Internet as a public utility, which it obviously is. As such, it comes under regulation not just by FCC but by every state in the union. They asked me to send $5 to help them in their battle. That’s a bit like putting in fluorescent bulbs to fight global warming, a feel-good but otherwise pointless exercise.

The whole of the neutrality battle leaves me confused, so I hope others can clarify it for me. There was a time when we all used dial-up for Internet, and people were buying second phone numbers. The nation’s phone infrastructure was stressed, but the problem soon righted itself as we all strung cables out of the wall for high-speed dedicated Internet service. And now it’s a wi-fi/4G world and will continually improve.

The assumption with the neutrality battle is that we are dealing with a limited commodity, band width, but I don’t think we are. It will expand, and what we use today will seem dial-up by comparison ten years from now.

Something else is going on. The band width cartel that has naturally formed is openly threatening to slow down web sites that do not pony up extra dough. That would effectively shut down web sites like this one and tens of millions of others. I doubt the driving force is naked greed. The Internet giants have already cordoned off the market and can print money as they please.

So I am thinking a little more in line with my general sense that we live in a totalitarian society, an iron fist barely concealed beneath a velvet glove. The objective of elimination of net neutrality would have nothing to do with available band width or constraints on corporate greed. Rather, its effect would be its objective – to silence all of those voices that have so changed the landscape, tiny to mid-sized Internet sites that nag nag nag at the heels of power. Mine is nothing, and I suffer no illusions.

I can access information from all over the globe that would have been relegated to the “alternative media” just twenty years ago. Alex Jones, for instance, is a potent force with millions of patrons (I am not one). Assuming he is the genuine article, a real voice of dissent (I do not suffer that illusion either), his traffic would slow to a crawl, and he’d effectively be silenced. There are thousands of other sites of far more value that would also be quashed by this corporate attack on band width freedom.

The object, then, of elimination of net neutrality would be to return us to the good old days when the bulk of the population was relegated to a few heavily censored sources for news, like NBC and New York Times, for instance. For that reason, I expect the pressure on FCC to return Internet to its unnatural designation as a non-utility to grow to hysterical screaming. It is indeed a monumental struggle, and $5 from a few concerned citizens ain’t gonna get it done. Is DemandProgress.org, the source of that $5 request, a blind alley used to distract real concern, make sure it all goes nowhere? That’s all I can make of such a pointless gesture.

This is just the beginning. The object, as I see it, is to quash real first amendment freedom before it gets out of hand.

About Mark Tokarski

Just a man who likes to read, argue, and occasionally be surprised.
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6 Responses to Net neutrality: What is really at stake?

  1. JC says:

    Well, beings as you mentioned Alex Jones in your post, I’ll allow the comment about 1st amendment to pass, on conspiracy theory grounds… 😉

    Net neutrality has many dimensions. And the first thing to realize is that depending on one’s point of view, net neutrality consists of issues pertinent to that point of view.

    I debated a Bresnan VP (Bresnan was a cable company that was swallowed by bigger fish recently to those who don’t pay attention to regional markets) about 5-6 years ago in a public forum for an hour. It was most interesting.

    Looking at net neutrality from the viewpoint of a cable company exec points up a few main areas of debate:

    1) that the cable company running the internet into your house would love to be more than just an internet service provider, providing bandwidth. They want you to consume their content, i.e. get a cable package of TV shows. They want you to watch their HBO, Video on Demand, and sports. And they don’t want you getting this sort of content from their competitors like Netflix, NBC Sports, and bittorent. So they’d love to prioritize their content by making sure you get it in all its HD glory, while slowing down other network traffic, so your Netflix comes in SD and is blurry, and the Super Bowl delivered via NBC Sports is time delayed, and jerky, and your bittorent files take days to download instead of hours.

    So net neutrality here is simple. Broadband suppliers should [not] be allowed to prioritize their content over others. You pay for the pipeline, and you should be able to use it how you want, after all, cable companies and wireless outfits are using the public right of way to deliver that bandwidth.

    2) These same providers have to provide some form of transit for the programs/data of other content providers through their network to your home. All of that content has to go through peering points where networks intersect, and data is shuffled in one direction or the other. Bresnan and other cable providers want to charge outfits like Netflix a “peering charge” to gain unfettered access to their network to deliver content to you. To a large degree, this sort of rent seeking by the broadband providers already has begun to take hold. The outcome of this is that Netflix either has to share their profits with the broadband provider, or raise rates. But the homeowner says “wait a minute I’ve already paid Bresnan for the circuit, why should I pay more for them to deliver Netflix to me, as I’m not going outside of my contractual bandwidth limits doing so?”

    So the broadband bandwidth providers want to get in-between you and the content provider of your choice. Capitalism at its worst. Net neutrality would dictate that broadband providers not blackmail content providers with fees for data peering and transit arrangements. This form of network bias is particularly egregious. It opens the door to bandwidth providers filtering the availability of content and data flow to the consumer to those who are willing to pay to get their content/data to you.

    I’ll leave you to consider the consequences of that last statement and what it means in a society that adheres to an illusions of freedom and democracy.

    And those are just two points about net neutrality. There are many more, particularly those having to do with who controls the internet standards and regulatory bodies, who gets to regulate the internet in the U.S., and what freedoms do corporations have to unfettered access/use of the public right of way via data connections both wired and wireless.

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    • Well, if your comment is in response to my statement, “…so I hope others can clarify it for me.”, then thank you, as you have done that.

      It appears that, as you lay this out, we are simply dealing with monopoly capitalism at its worst, never enough.

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      • JC says:

        Sure, I was just clarifying. 🙂

        But yeah, monopoly capitalism is the obvious culprit here. But the role of government and corporate control of the free flow of information and propaganda can’t be denied or understated. Then there is the role of the internet as a venue for “information warfare” where it becomes weaponized to infiltrate, subvert, and disrupt one’s enemies.

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      • JC says:

        One more thing that is eminently important: deep packet inspection. Deep packet inspection is when your ISP, or a network transport agent, looks into the data that is bound for your computer to determine what kind of data it is and where it came from. Deep packet inspection can also be used to determine everything there is to know about the file or data stream that is bound to you.

        Do you really want your ISP or its network transport cohorts to know what is in your email? What porn movies you may be watching, and where they come from? What articles you are reading from foreign websites?

        Net neutrality would severely limit the scope of deep packet inspection, and protect individual privacy.

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