Net Neutrality Trends

As video moves to the internet, having strong protections for the architecture of the network is going to become increasingly critical for our ability to organize and act as citizens in an internet-enabled democracy.  There's a bunch of news on the net neutrality front.  Coverage of the issue continues to be rather pathetic, as Celia Wexler from Common Cause notes. 

Indeed, when I asked a question about net neutrality -- the right of individuals to access any information and use any lawful application on the Internet without the interference of an Internet Service Provider -- the panelists were almost totally unresponsive.  Dana Priest, a very big-time Washington Post reporter, asked: "What's net neutrality?" The fact that she asked the question truly is an indictment of her own newspaper, which continues to cover media issues as business stories, and buries them in the business section of their paper.

But far more disappointing was the response of Scott Moore, vice president for Yahoo! News, who explained net neutrality to his colleagues on the panel, but then claimed it was "a tempest in a teapot," offering the bogus argument that in a competitive media marketplace, any company that withheld content that people wanted would find those individuals choosing another cable or broadband provider.  Of course, that argument is so fraught with inaccuracies, it is pathetic.  First of all, everyone knows that when a consumer contracts with a cable or telephone company for a bundle of services, it is extremely difficult to switch services.  Secondly, companies are not going to cut off access to information, they are just going to make some information way more difficult to get to.  You won't be able to find www.commoncause.org on a search engine, or when you try to access us, it will take far longer to reach us.

It is no secret that cable and phone companies want to make the Internet a vehicle for selling things and entertainment, a replica of cable with all its lack of choice and big profits.

The business coalition pushing net neutrality has always been weak, and it's getting weaker as companies like Yahoo jump ship.  Yahoo is cutting deals with AT&T to deliver IPTV, which could explain the lack of enthusiasm for net neutrality.  With the exception of Google and eBay, this coalition has been largely irrelevant, content to free ride off of our work.  Fine.  They didn't matter that much last cycle anyway.

Meanwhile, Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu, who came out with a superb paper a few weeks ago on the mobile industry and mobile net neutrality, is being slimed by telco troll Scott Cleland.  Wu is something of a legend in copyright and telecom law, and he's making some very important points about how our mobile infrastructure restricts innovation.  Of course such honest discourse can't happen without a whole bunch of smearing going on, and Cleland steps up to the plate as he often does.

In Congress, Federal protections on net neutrality are stalled, which means that the fight is at the state level.  In Maine as in Maryland, a state-level net neutrality bill is being introduced.  That's two states, and I imagine that number is going to increase.  It's interesting, this really is people-powered, and it's going to be fascinating to see how the debates over architecture play out over the next five years.  The trends are looking good for us.

I'm a consultant for Free Press, which works on free media issues like net neutrality.

Tags: Common Cause, Democrats, Maine, Maryland, net neutrality (all tags)

Comments

19 Comments

Re: Net Neutrality Trends

I'm not sure it has been raised in this context before but I believe alot of what is driving the attempt t ocommercialise the Internet is the existence, and ongoing implementation, of the IP v6 protocol which has some scary potential for removing the essentially free, both in terms of access and cost, movement of internet packets in the network.

I would be interested to hear more on the underlying technical issues relating to the this.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-15 06:27PM | 0 recs
IPv6

I'm guessing that you're talking about how IPv6 has a lot more information in the header that can be used to discriminate packets. Things like traffic class, flow label, that sort of thing. Interesting stuff. I hadn't made the connection between IPv6 and neutrality before.

by Nancy Scola 2007-02-16 05:14AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

Exactly.  There are 'user' extensions which allow for billing information, or at least origin tolls and things like that.  I have watched the slow but inexorable implementation of IPv6 by government and the majors for years but there is considerable resistance from business users just because there is no perceived benefit for cost over IPv4.  It could change all of a sudden if Cisco and Microsoft just seamlessly incorporated it in future upgrades.  Nobody would notice.  I'm not really up on this stuff, I'm a database wonk.

I am not in the continental US so I am not sure of the current state of play but it was the first thing  that came to mind when I read about the issue.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-16 05:26AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

Good stuff. As government goes, when I worked on the Hill there was a push to get federal agencies to implement IPv6 lead by Tom Davis of Virginia. The last I really heard about it was this GAO report from way back in May 2005 (pdf). The gist is that agencies have been resisting the transition. That report also has some good background on the technical side of IPv6, including a breakdown of the new headers.

I think you might be onto something here...

by Nancy Scola 2007-02-16 06:21AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

Thanks for the document, it is similar to the one I read before.  I will do some more snooping around in the technical stuff on the Net but this is what I referred to (my emphasis):


Information sharing: could benefit from various features of IPv6, including securing data in end-to-end communications, quality of service, and the extensibility of the header to accommodate new functions.

In effect these new functions could be anything which is understood at both ends of the transmission and does not exclude billing or toll data, even fees inserted by routing servers.  Basically it opens up the possibility of an Internet toll-way.  There are also addressing features which might be used to change the 'connectionless' characteristics of the Internet and route traffic through particular commercial backbones.  This could be used to change the Internet infrastructure to something more like a cell-phone network with a provider-based topology.  I don't like it at all.

There are other issues too.  It seems to me these extensible headers permit almost any user-defined manipulation of packet delivery and tracing.  It could probably trigger a server to route a copy of your packet to a sniffer cache based on originating address, for example.  Or deny access in certain domains, like China.  It all depends on what extensible header designs are used and these can vary from packet to packet but your ISP could control that from point of origin.  It would take some doing and be costly, from their point of view, but worth looking at what their intentions might be in this regard.

What's Tom Davis' stand on net neutrality?  Is he a baddie?  Big corporate or neo-conservative friends?

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-16 06:57AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

IPv4 has a 28 bit address, whereas IPv6 has a 128 bit address.  Also, IPv6 appears to have security embedded.  Clearly, IPv6 offers some advantages.

However, if web and software apps need to be 'changed' and 'recompiled' for IPv6, then I can see why lots of users would drag their feet on embracing the newer version.   (In fact, I'm able to hang out here on MyDD for about 20 minutes while I wait for a file to recompile on another machine -- bleh 8(

I've not followed the relationship between NN and IPv6, but nothing about IPv6 technology should preclude NN.

NN is fundamental to small biz growth, economic prosperity for small and medium businesses, and it fits the libertarian philosophy of many Americans.

Legislators need to distinguish between a PUBLIC UTILITY (roads, electricity, water systems, phone networks) and  private industry.  Right now, telecom presents itself as a 'private industry' -- which is absolute hogwash.

Basically, the telecoms are pulling the same bullshit that the electricity and energy companies pulled in the early 1980s -- and which allowed Enron to wildly distort markets and profiteer.

The telecoms want to cream off millions by wailing and moaning about how they have 'invested' in new cable, etc.  Well, they have invested.  But so have the rest of us!!  

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  every realtor, church group, city government, insurance agent, doctor's office, and grocer benefits from NN.  Every one of them has 'invested' in computers, training, new wireless connections, and you-name-it.

Allowing telecom to control payments and online activities will impact the economic activities of millions of Americans -- and I've not even mentioned the use of the Net by educators, from K-12 through higher ed.

"Technology" comes from "techne" (Greek for "tool").
IPv4 is a tool; and IPv6 is a more refined version of the tool.

There is nothing in the nature of IPv6 that can or should subvert the basic social, economic, and legal principles of NN.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke.  Ignore it.

by readerOfTeaLeaves 2007-02-16 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

I agree that IPv6 has many attractive features over IPv4 and am certainly not arguing against it.  I take it you don't believe the extensible header technology in IPv6 poses any threat, though?  I'm not referring to the inherent architecture of the header, per se, but the user extensions it permits.

I see this extensibiltiy cited repeatedly as having future potentials, as I mentioned, and these seem completely open-ended.  But frankly I don't know much more about any subsequent developments and have not seen any extension standards proposed.  

Happy to defer to your opinion but I am not sure how you can be certain this header extensibility is not potentially useful for tolling IP packets, for example.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-16 03:13PM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

No, I think your point about the potential expansion of header info is right on target. You make an excellent point.

(I tend to write too-lengthy comments, and had already gone beyond my time limit when I wrote above, and needed to get back to other tasks.)

There are excellent reasons for better header content -- all kinds of reasons that this facet of IPv6 would be an advantage.  And the advantage certainly could be used as you foresee... and probably will be.

There ought to be some basic restrictions on system usage -- for instance, no reason anyone should be allowed to to land a 747 on a federal interstate, simply because each one is a transportation mode.  

Similarly, people ought not to be allowed to send endless full length films 24/7 on the system.  But that's an extreme -- most people, most of the time, just want to keep in touch with others that they care about, or pursue an interest.  People should not be charged for 'daily usage' amounts, no matter what content that form may take.  But it should be understood that online equivilents of 747s are not allowed on the system.

But to charge extra because the Garden Club wants to put their planting updates online in video format (at 360x240px) is greedy.  It directly impacts the ability to create 'social capital,' which comes from all the interactions that occur as church groups, professional associations, and educators communicate online.

Better headers could be very helpful in better tagging of things like chemistry diagrams, animations,  or other ed-related content.  (In fact, the newer digital video encoding tools, and also newer animation tools, allow for titling and tagging in ways that were not possible even in 2005.

I have modest background in librarianship (information science) so I can scope out the value of better headers and identifiers.  But that doesn't automatically argue for undercutting NN.

I can use a hammer to help build a cathedral or a church or a sports gym  -- or also to build a whorehouse.  Am I using the tool responsibly?  At what point is my usage either taxed, or tolled, or outlawed?

Tools are tools; we seldom think carefully about the nature of each tool, its potential, its social impacts, and its allowable uses.

NN in my mind is 86% greed, and approximates the same foul pay2play logic of Enron and WorldCom.   NN shows zero social responsibility, while allowing huge monopolistic industries to engage in predator pricing.  

It will be a stake right into the economic well-being of many, many Americans.  

by readerOfTeaLeaves 2007-02-18 07:13PM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6

Look, I agree with the whole NN issue from the get-go.  I have been doing Unix system integration work for twenty years and think it is a marvellous thing that the Internet is connectionaless and has by its architecture been difficult for corporations to take ownership of, and I think it should stay that way.  I know the designers and ratifiers of the IPv6 protocol didn't intend to put features in there that would be used to restrict or change the free transmission of IP packets.

The idea of providers getting their greedy little hands on internet packets worries me.  I was just trying to point out to whoever was interested that this IPv6 extensible header architecture created a potential opportunity for the bad guys and someone should know about it.

Having said that I spent a bit of time searching for any work done on this and I can't find much, except firewall designers tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to handle extensible headers at the firewall which the firewall doesn't know how to handle.  In a word, not much.  Hoping it stays that way.

Was just trying to be pro-active about this.  Cheers.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-18 08:53PM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6 and firewalls

So you're a Unix guy, eh?  (I bow to your greatness -- not my realm at all.  I kind of wince whenever I even have to use Mac's Terminal, though it's nice to have... my brain just doesn't work that way ;-)

But you raise an exceptionally good point, once again.

And it strikes me as PRECISELY the type of topic that would trip up legislators, who wouldn't even know about headers -- nor would they even think to ask.

This one's quite likely a Trojan Horse.  

Paging Matt Stoller to figure out a way to block the possibility of this one slipping through, because I think you're spot-on in recognizing the potential issues here.

I've served on boards, and committees more than I care to think about (soooooo much wasted time 8(((  But from that experience, I know how hard it can be to ask the right questions, and I seriously doubt that many leglslators are even able to hire staff who'd be very knowledgeable about this area of NN.  I hate to admit it, but there were plenty of crap things that happened while I served on groups either because we received poor information, or -- worse yet! -- 'half truths'.  It's really tough to know what questions  to ask and I don't think many Congresscritters would have a clue to even ask about headers and what they might mean for NN.

Between limited numbers of people who realize it's a problem, to the fact that many of those folks are geeky and not so good at explaining stuff (no personal slam intended!) to the fact that those skill sets probably don't tend to end up on Capital Hill...

Paging Matt Stoller.... Hope he's following this thread!

by readerOfTeaLeaves 2007-02-19 11:33AM | 0 recs
Re: IPv6 and firewalls

Appreciate your comments but not suggesting there is something that should be done about this but be aware of it.  It is an open-ended part of the IPv6 definition and I am certainly not advocating an anti-IPv6 position as a consequence.  Far from it.  But it is worth asking questions of more knowledgeable insiders than myself about what work is being done by providers in this area, whether there is any intentions in this regard or just let it be known that this is a development you are watching.  For pity's sake don't tip the bastards off if they haven't thought of it already.  I can find nothing on the Net about it, as I said, but that doesn't mean much.

As an IT person I don't think public policy handles technical detail very well, as you indicated, and would rather leave it to the nerds to manage technical innovation in the anarchy which is their imaginative domain.  Just thought you guys ought to know what the potentials were as I have been living in apprehension about this technical possibility since I heard about it, many years ago.  And we are possibly still a long way from widespread IPv6 roll-out and it may be one of those great initiatives, like OSI, that never leaves the ground and is overtaken by later developments.  I wouldn't know what the current implementation status of IPv6 really is in the US.

by Shaun Appleby 2007-02-19 11:59AM | 0 recs
they certainly will try to cut off content

Look at the fuss over the MLB total game package, which will apparently be exclusively available by satellite, cutting off the digital cable subscribers.  [I say apparently, since a caller at WFAN today said all this is really an attempt to force cable companies to treat a new MLB cable network more favorably.]  Some sports are available on XM, others on Sirius.  Why wouldn't companies pursue internet deals to offer exclusive content to -- say -- AOL subscribers?  

by John DE 2007-02-15 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: they certainly will try to cut off content

Bad example - the MLB package is an example of a content provider (MLB) seeking a preferrable financial return by exclusively marketing their content. This is not an example of a service provider cutting off content.

by WADem 2007-02-16 09:16AM | 0 recs
shorter Scott Moore

Shorter Scott Moore: "I don't know why you need this kind of legislation. Why not just trust corporations to do the right thing."

Yeah, that's been working out really well for us as a nation.

by sdedeo 2007-02-16 06:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Trends

I have to say, Ms. Wexler's description of net neutrality is quite off the mark. Hands Off the Internet, a business coalition every bit as much as the one you mention Google and eBay belonging to, months ago agreed that Internet users should be able to plug any device they want in and have it work. This principle was even entered into the public record by former FCC commissioner Michael Powell.

There is a great deal of confusion about what net neutrality is, so I recommend this essay from Non-PC Geeks, which draws the distinction between the "two net neutralities" very well.

Also, I know Scott Cleland, he is smart and knows these issues very well. If you're going to link to Tim Karr's post calling him as dishonest, I will at least provide a link to Cleland's defense of himself. Frankly, there is more substance in Cleland's reply than Karr's accusation.

by Johnnie Blue Jeans 2007-02-16 09:34AM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Trends

And let me add quickly. A few weeks back someone brought to my attention in this post, "Blogger Ethics `N Stuff" that Mr. Stoller claimed to disclose his clients, including Save the Internet. But in this post you say you are a consultant for Free Press as well?

Do you work on other projects for Free Press? When exactly did you start? I think these are important questions.

I realize I am not on my home turf here, but let me be a little harsher:

You seem to have a double standard for disclosure, one for yourself (don't take it too seriously) and another for everyone else (some of my colleagues have had their accounts disabled here merely because they took a different point of view).  

We have always been up front about who we represent.  You discredit yourself and this site, on this subject, with your ad hoc ethics.

by Johnnie Blue Jeans 2007-02-16 09:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Trends

Sorry, I left out the link to the older post. This is the one.

by Johnnie Blue Jeans 2007-02-16 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Net Neutrality Trends

The only problem with the Non-PC Geeks article is that it's not the little ISPs that are causing all the problems. The little ISPs are not spending a million dollars a week on Capitol Hill lobbying to defeat net neutrality.

It's the big, honking monopolies of AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, and Comcast that are working 24/7 to kill net neutrality legislation.

They want control of the Internet the way they have control of the phone lines and the cable lines.

As Lessig said in "The Future of Ideas," the old wants to take over the new, and if killing innovation and net freedom is the price, then so be it. These companies want to introduce discrimination onto the Net so they can control this new market.

It's not the little, local ISPs we need to worry about. It's the big monopolies with the bottomless pockets and the many high-powered friends on Capitol Hill.

by Naturegal 2007-02-16 06:43PM | 0 recs
by gertrudon 2007-06-28 05:18AM | 0 recs

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