A digital deception?

There is an interesting weekend going on. First we see people waking up to the Microsoft premise that free is apparently never free, in addition, we now see more and more noises regarding Net Neutrality. We will get back to Microsoft soon enough, because there is more to Net Neutrality than meets the eye. First let’s take a look at the definition of Net Neutrality. Wiki tells us “Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication”, now this sounds interesting, but the reality is not that easy as I see it. For example, consider Oracle Forms, who needs the reserved bandwidth, if we cannot deliver, that solution would become an issue to implement. Oracle Forms is not the only one, many other situations exist where priority is essential. Video conferences is one of several. The idea came from Tim Wu, he is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. His paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. The paper can be downloaded at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=388863.

As any academic work, it is quality stuff, yet, do I agree? I have an issue with the following parts:

On page 1 “Critics, meanwhile, have taken open-access regulation as unnecessary and likely to slow the pace of broadband deployment“, America is about to encounter the point where ALL the TCP/IP addresses have been taken, no more addresses, which means that IPv6 will soon be the only option remaining. You see IPv4 provides roughly 4.3 billion addresses. Companies, people, devices all requiring an IP address (mucho plural), well at some point the end is reached and that point is now, but that is not the entire point of my objections, because “likely to slow the pace of broadband deployment” is about need. I do not see how broadband deployment is hindered by the current system (other than running out of addresses). We have seen an almost exponential growth in getting online. Ever since the broadband has been an option, we have seen spectacular growth. First through normal internet connections, then via cable providers, now in addition we have mobiles with 4G and WiMax providers.

The second quote is “That deviation is favouritism of data applications, as a class, over latency-sensitive applications involving voice or video“. Which might be fair, but for the most, this has apart from specific application NEVER been a true issue. YouTube caches, so I personally have never truly seen an issue, not in over 15 years. Voice is a different situation, is this about VOIP? On one side, in an academic paper we need to keep an open mind, which makes it a good statement, but when we regard government pushed policy “open access alone can be an insufficient remedy for many of the likely instances of network discrimination“, the use of the word ‘likely’ seems a little unacceptable.

The next issue is found on page 158 of the paper “Have broadband operators tended to favour certain uses of the Internet?” To what extent? The goal of this section is to answer these questions, to the extent possible, for broadband networks during the year 2002, so we get answers based on a situation that is 13 years old, so this is BEFORE true smartphones, before quality 3G and whilst 100Mb broadband was rare. 1000Mb is now in some places regarded as slow, we get internet information faster on our mobiles now, than on broadband in those days, overall the growth of speed has been near unparalleled since the beginning of the internet and I am just looking at the last 5 years. The more I read of this 39 page paper, the less this makes sense in the current environment. Not the thoughts by themselves, the thoughts made perfect sense (to a certain degree) in those days. Yet, the ISP’s and Cable providers evolved almost exponential in their offerings. For the same price I now get a little over 10 times the amount I had before. I now end up with 500% download space of what I need (and I have one of the cheapest offers), so far I have not seen any limitation on what I require, so is this a pure American issue? That could be the case, but those pushing Net Neutrality better realise that moving business from US to Canada is not that far-fetched an option, I personally see these events as the FCC seems shooting itself in the foot.

Yet are my thoughts correct? (Always a good question to ask)

Let’s take a look at the Washington Post (at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/07/24/republicans-are-trying-to-defund-net-neutrality-will-it-work/), ‘Republicans are trying to defund net neutrality. Will it work?‘ The quote “This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that contains an amendment singling out the FCC and net neutrality. Notably, the rider would prohibit the FCC from using its most powerful regulatory tool to police Internet providers — Title II of the Communications Act” is at the centre. Yet, what the Washington Post shows is nothing more than a political side.

It’s CNN that gives us part of the goods (at http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/12/technology/net-neutrality/), they ask a few questions and give us answers. That is what matters. So let’s take a look.

Isn’t that what exists today? For the most part. In reality, the world won’t look much different on Friday. Netflix won’t suddenly stream any faster for you. AT&T (T, Tech30) and Comcast (CMCSA) won’t abruptly stop laying down high-speed fiber cables and investing in their networks as retaliation“, after which CNN brings a quote that is surprising “And Comcast can’t slow down file-sharing websites, like it did to BitTorrent a few years ago“, which is more than interesting. Because, for the commerce of the USA file sharing is not a good thing, even though downloading movies is copyright infringement, pursuing these events is a near impossible task, especially when those servers are outside of the USA.

Who supports net neutrality? Now this is the number one question. “AOL (AOL, Tech30), Facebook (FB, Tech30), Netflix (NFLX, Tech30), Twitter (TWTR, Tech30), Vimeo and every other major Internet company are in favour of the FCC’s new rules. They create the content you read and watch online, and they don’t want to face discrimination by network owners who can threaten to charge higher fees or slow them down“. This statement is pretty far out there when you are not an American. In America, when you see places like Comcast, you pay for 75Mbs, 150Mbs and prices go up fast. So from this point is there reasoning for Net Neutrality? I still do not agree, but before going into this we need to look at Sprint, they offer unlimited high speeds with a sharable 10Gb for $100. This is less than 40% of the bandwidth I had 6 years ago at half this price. San Francisco gave me decent prices that are in alignment with what we see in Europe. Again, will Net Neutrality solve this?

Now let’s take a look at those supporters, Facebook and Twitter are data collectors, Twitter is the smaller and Facebook in the larger extent. Netflix customers require download power a lot more than Net Neutrality. The same can be said for Vimeo, AOL and Google+ for that matter. They all are vying for a customer base and when a person gets 10 GB at $100, whilst Europe and Australia enjoy prices like $70 for 200 GB you can see the issue at play. I am wondering whether this is about Net Neutrality or is there an issue with cartelisation in the US? We are so used to see that things are cheaper in the US, the fact that the US is leaps behind when it comes to the internet. That does not address the Net Neutrality. In my view it leaves us with more questions. The fact that prices are so high makes me wonder why a place like the US is not more competitive in that regard. But this article is not about that. It seems that Netflix needs download power to survive, and that is lacking in the US. In addition, it seems that the providers are extremely ‘protective’ on pricing, when investigating prices, TWC gave me “You are visiting our website from an area we don’t currently service“, which I got whilst entering a Chicago Address. So in all this, there is a multitude of issues, which have less to do with Net Neutrality and more about the stranglehold on pricing some seem to keep in the US.

Now am I upset? Well that is not really the question is it? I am like many others a capitalist (to some degree), yet that part has always been drenched in reason. As the information is reaching me, reason is not really a part that the internet providers seem to employ in the US. Especially as they offer internet at 33% of the speed and at 20 times the price. So it seems to me that Net Neutrality, even though in this light might have some effect to some of the solutions depending on the internet, yet the overwhelming thought from me is that as the FCC pushes Net Neutrality, we will also see a shift of the business world seeking an alternative.

When we see an argument that “Comcast could slow down BitTorrent traffic (it did)“, yet when we consider an article by Jacqui Cheng from the 24th July 2010, we see ‘Only 0.3% of files on BitTorrent confirmed to be legal‘, this was from a study that involved 1000 downloads, so 997 were infringing in one way or another, so why is it an issue to slow down BitTorrent?

A final issue should be given to Wired Magazine, who (at http://www.wired.com/2014/01/three-dangers-net-neutrality-nobodys-really-talking/) gives us several views in the article ‘Three Dangers of Losing Net Neutrality That Nobody’s Talking About

The first comes from American Library Association head Barbara Stripling “we’re in danger of prioritizing high-quality internet access for entertainment over education“, is this about the costs of a broadband plan? I have seen how this is not cheap, even as the article is only a year old. She also states “Ultimately, “pay to play” only benefits the privileged“, which I can agree with, it will be about usage and bandwidth, Net Neutrality will not up the game for them, it is about pricing and in some cases the prices are overwhelmingly ridiculous.

The second issue is ‘we continue to give more control over the internet to the government‘, which seems to be the case, but why is it done? Draining additional resources, forcing costs that should not be with the government. The quote here is “What’s worse is that we won’t see it coming, because the FCC’s power will creep in incrementally, on a case-by-case basis — a death by a thousand cuts“. Why is the FCC even bothering with this? Regarding the extent of what I saw as it applies to the US, this is becoming an increasing case of ‘Unjust Enrichment‘. Yet, the legal scope is not entirely ready to deal with this from an internet point of view. The North Dakota Supreme Court ruled in Schroeder v. Buchholz, 2001 ND 36, 622 N.W.2d 202 that five elements must be established to prove unjust enrichment.

They were:

  • An enrichment (Telco’s making excessive profits)
  • An impoverishment (Consumers are charged above their affordable income).
  • A connection between enrichment and the impoverishment
  • Absence of a justification for the enrichment and impoverishment
  • An absence of a remedy provided by the law (clearly in absentia)

It will be hard to prove this part, you see, it is not just about enrichment and impoverishment. The internet world is moving population classes into the haves and the have not, which is a different standard, yet the foundation might apply in finding the remedy for internet pricing, especially when we realise that one in 10 that would end up spending a little over 10% of income to allow for internet (based on the Chicago example), is this an excessive cost? That would be for a court to decide and that decision would not be the same state by state. Yet as that becomes a solution, the Net Neutrality need would diminish.

In the end, I am not convinced that the issues are about ‘neutrality‘, but it is about current technology and about fairness and affordability of the internet, especially when we consider that every child today needs to learn to proper use the internet from a young age, only to keep even with the other players, once the US falls deeper into the pay to play trench, we will see the growth of additional classes of segregation, those who are technically viable users and those who are not. That last one must be avoided at all costs, an issue Net Neutrality as I personally see it will not answer.



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