The Spam Diaries

News and musings about the fight against spam.
 by Edward Falk

Monday, June 26, 2006

Support Net Neutrality

[Note, good links at the end if you don't want to read the whole thing.]

What has this to do with spam? Diddly-squat. I write about it because the loss of net neutrality is the only threat I've ever seen to the internet worse than spam.

A little background: back in the Elder Days, when cable TV first came about, I thought it was going to be a boon to the consumer.

Ever watch the Olympics? Eight million different sporting events, and the only ones you can actually watch are the ones that the U.S.A. is winning medals in, or the ones that involve young women in spandex.

Well I thought that cable TV would rescue us from that nonsense. "Finally," I thought, "we'll have a dozen channels of Olympic coverage to choose from". Boy, was I wrong. Turns out that it all comes down to back-room deals. One broadcast network negotiates exclusive rights to cover the Olympics in America, and every other network and cable provider gets shut out. And every sporting event that the single network doesn't think will make money gets shut out too.

Now you'd think that the other carriers would be able to negotiate to carry the events the one network didn't want, but it doesn't work that way. That one network doesn't want competition, so it negotiates an exclusive deal. This is common practice in the media industry. In fact, stations and networks will often purchase exclusive rights to something just to keep it out of the hands of their competitors. I once even saw a PBS station purchase the rights to Red Dwarf, not so they could show it, but to prevent another PBS station from showing it.

Sit back and think on how bad your cable service is. Live in the wrong coverage area? Sorry, no SciFi channel for you — they didn't give us what we wanted for access to your area. Want HBO? Sure, but only if you also buy these eight other channels that you'll never watch. Olympic sailing? Sorry, CBS blacked us out.

So cable TV failed to bring us the renaissance of culture and information that the technology promised us. What the engineers gave us, the marketing team took away. As my friend Bob puts it, "The only difference between cable TV and regular TV is that it takes three times as long to realize that there's nothing on."

So what does this have to do with net neutrality? This: Those same media monopolies that fucked up cable now want to fuck up the internet. Want to run a Google search? Sorry, AT&T owns all the broadband in your town and they've partnered with Yahoo. Want to watch your favorite video blog? Sorry, they didn't pay the big fees Comcast charges anybody who wants to transmit video content over their wires. Craig's List? Ooooh, sorry; but don't worry, we have our own classifieds service with dozens of listings — we're sure you'll agree it's just as good.

Could this sort of thing really happen? It already has. AOL has been known to block its users from seeing web sites critical of their proposed pay-to-spam scheme. In 2005, Canadian telephone company Telus blocked its customers from visiting the web site of theTelecommunications Workers Union. In 2005, Shaw cable deliberately degraded the service offering competing VOIP service.

What does the lack of net neutrality look like? Suppose the roads were all privately owned and supported by tolls. Net neutrality would be like this: you pay your tolls based on how much your vehicle weighs and how far it's going. Maybe you pay a monthly fee for unlimited access. Whatever. Just like the internet, there would be all sorts of options you could buy. But the thing is, you don't get charged by what your cargo is. Now imagine a world without road neutrality. How much do you suppose FedEx would be willing to pay the San Francisco department of roads to ban DHL trucks? What chance would your start-up delivery service stand if the big boys had already struck deals with all of the highway providers?

And what benefit does this give to the consumer? In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: None At All. What good does it do you to find out that a package you ordered can only be delivered as far as the outskirts of the city, from whence you'll have to arrange a FedEx pickup at additional cost. You may find there are businesses from whom you simply cannot order goods at all because their road provider didn't pay the fees charged by your road provider. But don't worry, there's another business inside your local driving area whose products are almost as good.

Want to know who to trust? Think about who's against it. The primary opponent of net neutrality is AT&T, one of the most evil corporations around. These are the people who allowed the NSA to monitor your phone calls, in violation of the electronic privacy laws. These are the people who signed a pink contract with a major spammer*. Those of us who remember what they were like before they were broken up are none too happy to see the old monopoly re-forming. And even more unhappy to see them stretching their monopoly to cover the internet as well.

Believe me, allowing the big telcos and cable companies to control your access to the internet benefits nobody but the big telcos and cable companies.

OK, I won't bore you with logic and similies that have already been said better than I could say them. Instead, I'll give you a few good quotes and juicy links.

We didn't invent the internet just to turn it back into cable TV
— Mary Hodder, Napsterization
Right now you write a letter, seal it in an envelope, and put postage on it. The letter arrives at its destination irrespective of its content, so long as you paid postage for the weight of the letter. What if the post office were instead to rip open your envelope and extort money from the recipient, based on the urgency of the contents and the recipient's ability to pay?
— Jeremy Shute — the primary site on the subject.

Wikipedia > Net Neutrality — as always, the "go-to" reference site.

A Note to Google Users on Net Neutrality — open letter from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google.

The Death of The Internet? — a 6-minute video that discusses the issues.

A Ninja explains Net Neutrality — my very favorite.

Ze Frank explains Net Neutrality — (mature language) also very funny. It's toward the end of the video.

Rocketboom explains net Neutrality — good explanation, plain and simple. — what conservatives really mean by small government.


Anonymous Bart Schaefer said...

The key difference between cable TV and the Internet, for purposes of Ed's analogy, is that with TV the network is paying the content provider, and the advertisers are paying the network.

On the Internet, the content provider is paying the network, and the advertisers are paying the content provider.

There's nothing currently stopping AT&T from offering CNN money to be the only carrier whose wires are allowed to carry CNN content. The trouble is that the amount of money AT&T would have to offer is staggering, because they have to match all the advertising revenue that CNN would lose when it becomes unable to reach part of the net.

There are already laws preventing CNN from offering AT&T money to not carry Google News. Net Neutrality has nothing to do with this. Yes, AT&T can offer to deliver CNN's content faster if CNN pays more, but it can't shut off Google News and it has no incentive not to take the same money from Google to deliver Google News just as fast.

What would be a threat to the Internet is if the only way you could get your Google News is wrapped in an AT&T frame stuffed with ads placed by AT&T. (Hmm, that sounds a lot like AOL, and the net hasn't collapsed yet because of AOL; in fact, last time I looked it was AOL that was losing users.) Net Neutrality won't prevent that -- in fact, it may encourage that. If you don't want the net to turn into cable TV, your goal should be to disincent the carriers from taking third-party revenue, and incent them to continue getting it directly from content providers and consumers.

11:56 PM  
Anonymous Peter H. Coffin said...

The Jeremy Shute quote looks good, but fails completely on close examination. The USPS provides not a neutral service at all, but instead a tiered and preferential service, and Shute only looks at the top-tier service. Delivery speed is affected by tiered service ranging from Priority Mail to Parcel Post. There are limits by package charateristics: packages over 130 inches around the largest circumference are not mailable at all, packages over 108 inches are not mailable at premium tiers. There are also limits by package contents: Media Mail rates categories forbid correspondence. You can include a packing list with that book you're sending, but not an invoice. Large corporate mailers get preferential pricing, discounts for optimizing their load, and special privileges like Business Reply Mail. All of the services provided are metered; additional idential pieces always cost more to mail, and bigger/heavier pieces are more expensive to mail than smaller/lighter ones. Essentially, the USPS is a fine example of what Deh Intarweb would look like if the big telecoms actually got to do what they've said they'd like to.

Most Net Neutrality proposals ask for a flat structure that allows anyone to mail anything anywhere, as much as they want, for any or no reason at all, with no concern as to content. The same person mailing a birthday card to a niece pays the same Postage Subcription fee as someone mailing a carefully-packed drum of PBC-contaminated benzene to a guy that called him a jerk in highschool, with no return address.

9:16 AM  

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