Net Neutrality

Posted: Sep 15, 2014 11:28 AM

I know there is a lot going on in the world, but I want to spend today on the concept known as Net Neutrality.

Before we begin, I have to remind you that I am a consultant to a 300-member Internet coalition known as Broadband for America. As I am paid by them to write about Internet-connected (is that a redundancy?) topics you need to filter this through that lens.

Today is the final day to submit comments to the Federal Election Commission for or against the concept. By the end of the day it is likely that more than 1.4 million comments will have been sent to the FCC - topping (so to speak) the previous comment avalanche which was about Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime of Super Bowl XXXVIII on February 1, 2004.

According to Time Magazine, last Wednesday in an organized effort to swamp the Capitol switchboards "members of Congress were receiving an average of 1,000 calls per minute, according to Free Press a public advocacy organization" that underwrote the Net Neutrality effort.

We generally hear about these telephonic denial-of-service attacks when Members offices are overwhelmed with phone calls. I don't remember any news like that from last week so I am taking it with the same grain of salt we've become used to with the announcement of "million-man (woman, child, etc)-marches" on Washington.

A common definition of Net Neutrality is to treat all legal content equally - from streaming an HD Movie to texting your mom to tell her how you did on your first quiz in college.

The rule that the FCC is opposing and, as Time puts its "27 progressive advocacy organizations" are opposing reads as follows:

1. Transparency: That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network2. No Blocking: That no legal content may be blocked
3. No Unreasonable Discrimination: That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

As I understand it, it is that third item "ISPs (Internet Service Providers) may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner …" is the cruz of the issue.

When you send an email, even an email containing a photograph, neither you nor the recipient pays for it. No stamp, no bill at the end of the month. Doesn't matter if it it is sent by someone with a Comcast connection and ends up being received by someone with an AT&T or Verizon connection. No fees are charged at either end.

That kind of traffic zips around the Internet constantly and in the aggregate, according to one source, in 2013, 182.9 billion emails were send. Per day.

And that doesn't include Tweets and Facebook postings, nor your checking on the current price of something you bid on with eBay.

Nor does it include the really big bit-hoggers like Netflix and YouTube. According to Google, which (a) knows something about generating Internet traffic and (b) owns YouTube,

"In North America, Netflix and YouTube are the main traffic culprits, according to its twice yearly Global Internet Phenomena Report. Combined, they account for 50.31 percent of the downstream traffic during the peak part of the day."

Netflix alone accounts for about one-third of all the traffic.

The ISPs who favor the FCC's version of the proposed rule have held out an offer to the major content generators that they will be guaranteed a "fast lane" on the Internet to have their videos delivered smoothly and without "buffering." Buffering is when your computer freezes and waits for new video information to be delivered.

But, the ISPs want Netflix and YouTube and Amazon Prime and the others to pay for this service. Sort of like the new paid HOV lanes that are springing up around the nation. You have to pay to get in them but you can use them even if you're driving by yourself.

This "fast lane," according to the 27 progressive advocacy groups and their allies, necessarily means there must be a "slow lane" for the content providers who won't or can't pay the toll.

The major ISPs spend enormous amounts of money keeping up with the explosion in Internet traffic. A recent paper by the Progressive Policy Institute claims that the Big Four ISPs: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time-Warner jointly invested $46 billion in their networks in 2013.

Further, the paper says, "From 2011 to 2013, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast alone invested a total of $124.8 billion - more than 1½ times what all governments across the U.S. invested in airports, urban mass transit, and other non-highway transportation projects over that time."

The money that pays for these investments come largely from you and me - in our monthly bills, whether we watch Netflix or not. The ISPs think that the some of the fees you pay to Netflix and Amazon should help pay for some of that infrastructure of which they use so much.