The Game of Internet Preservation

Net neutrality and the open internet: why it's important, how it's at risk today, and what you can do about it right now.

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I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV

Okay, so having your home planet obliterated is not quite the same as having your internet co-opted by a greedy oligopoly of internet service providers. It would not be hyperbolic, however, to say that 2014 may be the most pivotal year in the Internet’s history.

A hyperbolic matephor for what the FCC could do to net neutrality
A hyperbolic matephor for what the FCC could do to net neutrality

I. Introduction to the Game and big moves thus far

The Game that’s been playing out this year has three big players:

  1. The US government - primarily the Federal Communications Commission and the judiciary
  2. Internet service providers - big telecom companies like Comcast and Verizon
  3. The internet’s users - companies of all sizes, from Google and Facebook to SparkFun, and individuals like you and me

At stake is the openness of the internet, also referred to as net neutrality. This is the concept that all data on the internet is created equal and should be treated equally as it moves around the internet. Here’s a relevant play-by-play so far:

September 2013 A federal appeals court begins hearing arguments over rules proposed by the FCC to firmly establish net neutrality as the law of the land
November 2013 President Obama appoints Tom Wheeler, long-time telecom lobbyist, as chairman of the FCC
January 2014 The aforementioned federal appeals court strikes down proposed net neutrality rules
April 23, 2014 FCC Chairman Wheeler proposes new rules to allow ISPs to arbitrarily throttle data based on its content, source, or destination—so called "internet fast lanes"—a move to directly undermine the openness of the internet
May 7, 2014 Amid growing backlash against the FCC some of the internet's biggest users - Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and almost 100 other major tech companies write the FCC to voice their disapproval
May 15, 2014 The FCC votes 3-2 to move forward with Chairman Wheeler's proposed rule change, kicking off a public comment period
July 18, 2014 The first half of the comment period ends with just over a million comments filed; the FCC had extended this deadline from July 15 due to a sharp rise in comment volume
August 8, 2014 The FCC announces that following the end of the second and final comment period on September 10 there will be a series of round table discussions on net neutrality before any new policy is finalized

And that brings us up to speed.

II. Why we’re even playing the Game

Why is this important? In a nutshell: the technology that makes the internet go was designed with openness and neutrality firmly in mind. Every protocol at every layer makes no distinction about the content of the messages it handles, nor does any protocol discretely allow for varying the performance of communication based on arbitrary rules like where data comes from or to where it’s going.

Why is that a good thing? To give a simple example, it means that Facebook and Twitter are served up at the same speed by your ISP. Flash back to 2005 when MySpace was the dominant social media site with millions of users and tiny Facebook was growing fast. If both companies had to pay extra to the ISPs to be “in the fast lane” then MySpace could buy their way to a faster internet that Facebook couldn’t afford. Facebook could not compete with MySpace purely on the merits of the service and could land in a catch-22: needing money to pay for more visitors, needing more visitors to make more money.

This type of playing field could have kept Facebook to the backwaters of the Internet and MySpace could still be dominant today. As history has shown, at equal speeds hundreds of millions of people instead voted with their clicks for what they considered to be the better service, and regardless of your preference the competition was fair. Without net neutrality success on the internet isn’t just how good your site is, it’s also how much money you can bring to the table.

Thankfully today’s internet doesn’t work like that. A new tiny company can unseat a behemoth purely by being better. That’s the kind of thing that keeps pushing stuff on the internet to crazy levels of awesome (and fast). This is largely irrelevant to the big telecoms that sling the bits around unless they’re allowed to get more “creative” with their pricing models:

Join the fast lane!

Clearly telecoms would love this! So many new things that internet users just get today for paying a monthly rate for a universal connection speed for all types of data could be diced up countless ways. These promotions would almost certainly be optimized to boost ISP profits and bolster the performance (and therefore prominence) of content providers that partner with ISPs.

So that’s why the ISPs are playing, and it’s also why us internet users are effectively forced to play this Game.

III. Game strategy and next moves

There are three things you can do right now to contribute to the next move with your fellow internet users.

1. Contact the FCC

Most important: continue piling up comments to the FCC about this. Over 1.1 million comments have been amassed so far—less than 0.35% of total US population—and as that number grows it speaks louder.

How to contact the FCC

Directly email your thoughts to openinternet@fcc.gov

OR...

Fill out the guided form at dearfcc.org

OR...

File your comment directly on fcc.gov: Proceeding 14-28: Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet


When contacting the FCC remember that being polite, honest, and respectful will be most effective. Don't be a troll.

There have been stories circulating recently describing how the FCC doesn’t really care about comments from individuals like you and me anyway, if history is any guide. That’s disheartening but it’s still important to comment and get others to comment! Why? Janet Jackson.

In 2004, at the Superbowl XXXVIII half time show, Janet Jackson broadcast the famous wardrobe malfunction. Soon after 1.4 million complaints had piled up at the FCC, setting the all-time record for volume of input from the US public. While it’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison between 2004’s spontaneous broadcast event and 2014’s methodical rule change it still makes a bold statement about the relative priorities of the US public. The FCC can ignore 1.5 million comments just as easily as 1.1 million, but maybe it’s time for backlash against efforts to subvert humankind’s greatest platform for free expression to unseat offense at a split-second of nudity from holding the top spot.

2. Contact your representatives in Congress

Congress just started a five week recess but your representatives in congress always want to hear from you. While no work advancing legislation will happen until the fall there’s actually something each house member and each senator can do, for you, today. One of them already did it.

Last week Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont publicly called on the FCC to hold more round table sessions about the open internet outside of Washington D.C.. I think this a terrific idea, and contacted my representative and both of my senators requesting they do they same. Here’s what I said:

The FCC recently announced it will hold public round table meetings on net neutrality and the open internet from September 16 - October 7 in Washington. Senator Leahy of Vermont has wisely called on the FCC to hold round tables all around the country to get a better sampling of wider public opinion.

Please join Senator Leahy in calling on the FCC to expand the geographical footprint of its round table sessions. I strongly favor net neutrality and the open internet and I fear that the 1.1 million comments filed urging the FCC to preserve them will go unnoticed. I want to appear in person to tell the FCC that net neutrality and the open internet are critical to preserve the free speech and free markets built into the structure of the internet for all internet users in Colorado, our nation, and the world.

If you would like the FCC to seek opinion on this matter from the people in your state, contact your representatives and tell them! Their job is to use their influence to represent you, and not just by writing laws. You can also contact Senator Leahy even if you’re not from Vermont thanking him for being the first congressman to make that proposal.

3. Encourage others to do 1. and 2.

Think globally, act locally. Educate your friends, family, and neighbors about net neutrality, the open internet, why it’s important, how it’s at risk, and what they can do about it.

All summer long SparkFun has been dropping these stickers in domestic (US) orders:

Defend the Open Internet

And they refer people to a page we put together just for this issue: sparkfun.com/openinternet. As the Game evolves and moves are made and the rules change this page will keep things current.

SparkFun recognizes we may not exist in our current form if the rules of the internet were back in 2003 what they could be in 2015. We’re also staunchly dedicated to the principles of open source and the importance of internet user privacy, so it’s only right that we firmly establish our position in this game. And, having a website that gets a decent amount of traffic, it’s our responsibility to encourage others—all of you—to know about the Game and how to play it.

IV. Don’t forget: the game never stops

My inner cynic tells me this is an unfair game that we’re all playing whether we like it or not. My inner optimist tells me there are practical ways to win this game. My inner realist tells me we already won when we built an open internet, but the game is never over, and victories are never permanent.

You can choose to do nothing about this, but you’ve already done something by reading this far. In the run up to September 10th you may see more stuff about this in the media, and during the FCC round tables (scheduled now for September 16 through October 7) you may see even more. Don’t ignore it! Watch the public round table streams. Stay informed and inform others.

Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, 1789. ME 7:253


Comments 40 comments

  • It is sad to see how many people completely miss the point. Net neutrality is not about shaping your Internet access speed. It is about regulating your Internet access based on the content you’re trying to access. First of all, to implement it requires more resources (more computing power and storage), software development, management interfaces, processes. And all these costs WILL be passed down to the customers. We will all pay the same (as today) for less service or more (than today) for the current level of service. Second - and this is the BIG elephant in the room: once you get a control mechanism in place, it is open for abuse (history is abundant with examples). What guarantees will we have that certain content (undesired by certain companies/parties) won’t be shaped to 4 baud? Or less. The choice of what data you consume goes from your hand to the hands of ISPs and their big financial backers. Kiss goodby impartiality. It was nice while it lasted. This is one massive trojan horse designed to chip away (even more) at our liberties (all in the name of more profits). “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

  • Thanks so much for laying all of this out and for taking a stand for net neutrality!

  • I would like to see us at or near the top of the international speed ratings rather than end up with only high speed for the wealthy. Is this a dream? No, it’s reality - at least in South Korea.

    First off check the stats for whose doing great on high speed ‘net: http://www.theverge.com/2012/8/9/3230626/akamai-global-internet-speed

    See where we (US) is? In the cellar! See whose in first place? South Korea.

    Wikipedia has a bit to say about South Korea being highly government regulated: “South Korea is the world leader in Internet connectivity, having the world’s fastest average internet connection speed. The government established policies and programs that facilitated a rapid expansion and use of broadband.”

    Hmm…

    • Take a look at a map sometime. South Korea has a very dense population, the U.S. not so much. Number of subscribers per mile is a big influence on the cost of providing Internet service. Yes there are a lot of good reasons to live outside of a city, but there are also downsides. Insisting that the government mandate those disadvantages away is a bad idea. Telling rural people that they just might have to pay out some of those savings in property prices, taxes and other expenses of city life in higher Internet rates (and probably still put up with slower speeds) is the correct Free Market solution. When bandwidth really becomes important enough, if the government allows enough competition of course, the Invisible Hand will provide sufficient bandwidth at a price people will pay.

    • Wikipedia also tells us about Internet censorship in South Korea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_South_Korea I’m pretty sure you don’t want US to be ‘up there’ with them. ;-)

  • boba / last year / 3

    The prices for the different levels you cite start at $99 and go up to $249. But those are numbers you made up - and they were fabricated to be alarmingly high and to support your argument. Even if ISPs went to a tiered pricing model, you don’t know those are the prices they’d choose. Maybe my bill would actually go down. After all, I do almost no video streaming, but my current plan is priced to accommodate me if I do. I’m subsidizing Netflix subscribers.

    There are two arguments being mixed into one. The first is, should ISPs discriminate between websites? I certainly don’t want my ISP to do so, and I would choose ISPs that didn’t.

    The other argument is whether we should be charged based on the level of service we get. More bits and more speed mean you’re consuming more resources, and it makes total sense to pay more for that. Also, the FCC would not be doing anyone any favors by prohibiting them from paying for that.

    The telephone industry wrestled with this before. They used to charge per minute, with different rates for different distances. They now mostly use flat-fee, unlimited calling plans. This choice was marketing-driven, not imposed by government fiat. I say: let the ISP industry find its way the same way, by experimenting with plans and seeing customer reaction.

    • Frencil / last year * / 7

      You’re right that there are two symptoms being discussed here: website discrimination and charging for different service levels. The argument, however, runs to the deeper problem of allowing arbitrary throttling-based discrimination to any site, service, or protocol by internet service providers when actual choice in providers driven by competition is so lacking for so many people. I’m one of those people who technically have two choices, but the speeds available between them our so different that I really have one choice: Comcast.

      The phone company analogy does have some parallels and is worth considering from a historical perspective. However there are some key differences that limit how it applies. Charging based on distance can be compared apples-to-apples with ISPs charging based on distance, which hasn’t really been proposed by anyone (to my knowledge). Distance is not a big factor with modern networks but volume of data and speed of delivery are. To further blur the analogies, proposed charges from the service providers are not to the consumer but to content providers - an extremely diverse array of companies, groups, individuals etc. ranging from your personal website to SparkFun to Netflix and Google - who drive a significant portion of the economy. Plenty of companies made money over the phone back in the day, but I don’t feel that comparison stacks up. The stakes are orders of magnitude higher today.

      • boba / last year / 1

        The throttling issue raises more points. First, is it a violation of contract; is someone being denied what they paid for?

        Second, and more important, is that ISPs are overselling their capacity. They tell everyone they have unlimited data, but that really only works if most people don’t avail themselves of that unlimited data. ISPs aren’t alone in this: banks promise everyone they can withdraw their money, but that doesn’t work if everyone withdraws at once. Airlines overbook flights. Electric companies promise every house unlimited current, but it fails if everyone turns on their A/C at once. Shipping companies promise on-time delivery, but we saw that fail last Christmas.

        ISPs have limits, despite what they claim. And when those limits are reached, they have to manage them - e.g. with throttling. There’s no perfect solution, but having the government dictate the rules is sure to be a disaster.

        • You’re right that ISPs absolutely have limits, and the analogy to banks and withdrawals with respect to “unlimited” plans is apt. Unfortunately the business practices of ISPs suggest they’re not interested in upgrading networks and expanding capacity if they can avoid it.. It makes sense - infrastructure is expensive. But at the same time that infrastructure investment has leveled off profits and prices for ISPs is at record highs. The “Internet Fast Lane” concept seeks to create a business model for new charges to content providers. These would provide opportunities for ISPs in the form of deeper profits and lower incentives to invest in costly infrastructure, and provide no additional value to end users.

          • boba / last year / 1

            Sure they’re interested in expanding it. According to that chart, they spent $13.5 billion on it in 2013. Yeah, it’s less than the $16 billion in 2001, but you can’t say $13.5 billion is “not interested”.

            • I don’t know, if you look at telecomm companies like Cisco, and what their earning reports say, it looks like ISPs are more likely to keep the current hardware and run it into the ground before upgrading and expanding to technologies that can handle the growth.

    • This is a classic straw-man argument for the cable companies. Bandwidth costs near zero, and metering it creates a false shortage entirely for the purposes of making more money. Folks in the US pay often more than double for high speed internet, which is in many cases half as slow! http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24528383

      • boba / last year / 2

        Bandwidth costs near zero

        How can this be? It costs money to replace copper with fiber. It costs money to add 4G equipment. A computer that can move 1GB/s costs more than one that can move 1MB/s. Even once the equipment is installed, its abilities are not unlimited.

        • If you don’t believe me, look it up! It currently costs between $0.01 and $0.20 per GB of high-speed bandwidth, depending on who you listen to, and what costs are rolled in (including the infrastructure). It’s even worse when you start talking about wireless internet or communications. For example, the cost of bandwidth in text messages is 4x the cost of bringing down data from the Hubble telescope. Sure, it costs money to build towers and stick up the infrastructure, but when you have 100,000 people in that area each paying you $100 a month, $1M per tower factors out to almost zero cost. Again, if you don’t believe me, look it up! http://science.slashdot.org/story/08/05/12/1419204/sms-4x-more-expensive-than-data-from-hubble

      • Bandwidth costs near zero

        Then you should start an ISP and show Comcast how it is done!

  • Time to add some reality to this conversation. A few random observations:

    • 1 There is no Free Market.

    Anyone who speaks of one doesn’t understand. A Government monopoly CableCo vs a Government monopoly Telco vs a Government regulated Wireless carrier or two (who can NEVER hope to compete with hardlines) is not a Free Market. The Government is the problem, adjusting how it impacts the market could in theory make things better but history tells us that it almost never works out that way.

    Only one government policy change could make things better longterm. Do deregulation right for a change. Leave the last mile wires a monopoly utility since the tech naturally leads to it. But forbid the monopoly from selling ANY content, instead leasing access on a regulated tariff basis to the totally unregulated half of their business that results from the split AND to any and all other interested providers. Do this for both cable TV, cable Internet, POTS service and DSL, etc.

    • 2 The way we buy Internet service is broken.

    It is an artifact of the early days when people didn’t understand it and Internet adoption would have been inhibited by per byte billing. Cable TV is a broadcast media, it makes sense to bill for it by the home/outlet/etc. Having a TV on 24/7 costs the cableco exactly the same as one on for an hour a day. Internet service is more like electricity or water, using more costs the provider more. More importantly, ALL consumer Internet service is sold on an oversubscribed model. If you want an Internet connection that you can ‘nail up’ 24/7/365 you can buy it. Go price it sometimes. Really, stop reading and Google it in another tab and come back when you pick yourself up off of the floor.

    Once you are paying for the bytes you use along with the base fee for the link you will have a much stronger argument against your provider inhibiting them. But even then you may not get totally flat rate per byte billing, see the electric utilities moving to charging different rates based on peak load times.

    • 3 All packets are NOT created equal.

    Some packets require more resources than others to deliver. Realtime traffic is more of a burden than random P2P traffic. Packets that have to traverse the wider Internet require more effort than traffic that stays inside an ISP’s internal network. Which is why Netflix is spending a half million dollars apeice for ‘Netflix in a Box’ appliances co-hosted in ISP datacenters.

    • 4 The ISPs are evil monopolists.

    Yes the ISPs are also out to generate rapacious profits at the expense of nurturing the growth of the Internet in a very shortsighted way. Cable companies are accustomed to the model where they charge subscribers and pay out to content providers. They would dearly love to flip that and collect fees from both sides.

  • boba / last year / 2

    BTW, is there an existing problem this net neutrality fuss is supposed to address? I currently have no problem accessing any website. Yeah, some people have run into throttling, but that’s ISPs trying to manage the load on their systems, not trying to favor one site over another.

    Before we introduce a slew of government regulation, I’d like to know if there’s actually a problem, as opposed to an ominous warning about what might happen in the future.

    • One of the best current examples of the existing problem: Netflix signed paid peering deals with Comcast and Verizon this year. In a nutshell, Comcast and Verizon began throttling Netflix traffic exclusively on their networks. Netflix customers weren’t getting the service they paid for, and the only recourse Netflix had was to sign special (and, until recently, confidential) contracts with at least these two ISPs to get its performance back, which likely cost Netflix some serious cash but those details have been kept quiet. This graph plots Netflix speed for various ISPs over time and shows clearly when Comcast began to throttle them and when Netflix caved to the pressure by signing a paid peering agreement with them.

      Netflix made a likely early target for this type of behavior because of the sheer volume of content they stream to customers compared to other websites. But what has happened here is more than one ISP directly discriminating against a single web company and shaking them down for money by withholding speeds for their content. This is currently legal for the ISPs to do on the basis of anything. Comcast could throttle SparkFun today and pressure us into a paid peering deal for reasons they neither have to disclose nor justify.

      So yes, this problem is already affecting our internet today and net neutrality laid down as FCC policy or US law to regulate against such discriminatory practices would protect internet companies and users from predatory practices by ISPs.

      • boba / last year / 1

        Netflix undeniably makes heavier use of bandwidth than almost anyone else. The ISPs' capacity is finite, so did they throttle Netflix for fun, or as a necessary means of managing their capacity? Is it unjust that a heavy user of bandwidth pays more? Is it an impediment to a startup video streaming site, which may not be throttled at all since it has fewer customers and is not a significant burden to the ISPs?

        As far as I can see, no one has been hurt. Customers are getting their video, Netflix is paying for its heavy usage of a finite resource, and no one is claiming that any startup company has been harmed. All the alarmist warnings are about things that haven’t happened yet.

  • I am very confused on this issue.. Of course I want the Internet to be “open”, as in “available to everyone equally”, but the verbiage around these proposed laws are “new rules to allow ISPs to arbitrarily throttle data based on its content, source, or destination”.. Worded another way, aren’t we already DOING this? My ISP charges me one fee for basic service, which may or may not be fast enough to accomplish what I want to do online. If it is not fast enough, I would upgrade my service by paying more. Does that mean I’m now on the “Internet Fast Lanes”? No… It means I can consume more data because I paid more… When Netflix started, and had their first customer, they could probably get away with having one T1 to the Internet, and paid appropriately to some upstream provider.. When that customer list grew to 2, then 10, then 10000, that same T1 is NOT going to be enough bandwidth to serve all those customers, and Netflix would have to buy bigger better circuits, with more bandwidth. They need to keep increasing bandwidth to support their customers. If a competitor came along to compete with Netflix, they would go through the same thing - They would have one customer, on some small amount of bandwidth, and then if that customer got decent enough service and told his friends to join, the competitor would have to upgrade their service. It all seems fair that way. So, on the surface, I think this is government getting in the way of the free market, and the government has no right to tell a company that they can, or rather that they CANT charge more for whatever services they want to offer…

    Now, what I WOULD be opposed to is if I’m paying COMCAST for sufficient bandwidth to stream a movie, and Netflix is paying for enough bandwidth to stream movies to all their customers, yet I can’t see my Netflix movie because Comcast intentionally limits throughput between me and Comcast, so that I will be inclined to buy the Comcast streaming service instead of Netflix.. I think at that point, Comcast has a problem, unless it is in my contract that I will not be able to stream Netflix… Perhaps, for example, If Comcast wants to give me a cheaper rate, in exchange for ONLY having access to their streaming media services, then I may or may not be OK with that, and can make my decision, however again, that is a decision to be made between a company and a consumer.

    Where it gets more complicated is that Comcast probably doesn’t have a direct connection to [for example] Netflix. Maybe Netflix has ACME ISP, and ACME connects to Verizon, who then connects to Comcast, and finally to me. I think that all along that path, each intermediary has to make a good faith effort to be able to carry all of the data between each of it’s customers. Obviously with network oversubscription, this isn’t possible at all times, but that’s how ISPs would get good or bad reputations..

    What am I missing here? Why is the government involved with this at all?

    • Right now, people are paying for X usage as part of their plans (well, up to X). That usage can be spent on anything the user wants to do. It’s the same type of deal for me as it is for a corporation or such: We pay for our usage, end of discussion.

      What’s trying to be pushed through is an added distinction of source and destination affecting the quality of a connection beyond the physical limits of the network. Every activity you do online could be crippled or killed based on a payola scheme where not only do you pay for bandwidth, but you pay protection money to make sure said bandwidth applies to where you want to use it. You pay extra, your destination better have paid too, and both of you hope your ISP’s parent company doesn’t roll out a competing service and block you.

      Want to play a steam game? Tough, EA outbid them. You could complain on consumerreprots.com but Comcast rolled out buyernotices.com last week and suddenly you can’t connect… Grandma would tell you “When I was your age…” but she can’t afford VoIP to anyone without an AOL account…

  • Isn’t it evident that it’s a complete mixture and even substitute of interest? The point is, what they call net neutrality is completely opposite to what it’s supposed to be. Obviously, when you expect the Internet to be open, you suppose access to data, but not the violation of rights regarding the information that is supposed to be confidential. No one wants to lose security when it comes to personal details, or banking information. So appears security point is the best appealing cover to shield the plans on scaling down net neutrality. Curious fact, as much as the neutrality oppressed from one side, it’s widely promoted on the other side (for example, the Dead Drops project can be found in almost every big city today). When it comes to real regulations, which promote security in the Internet, rather than press down the openness, it’s evident that more effort is to be applied. Probably, redirecting the energy towards combating fraud would be a better point, than trying to filter access to content and make the net biased and closed. Of course, the achievements of the recent years, especially in the field of personal finances , are obvious. Still, it’s not the reason to “cease fire”. So why don’t we promote openness against violation, not vise versa?

  • Is there any way that people outside United States can affect this? It seems that non-US citizens can’t submit official complaints for FCC, nor are the other options available to us. (Even though the results of This Game affects internet users all over the world…)

  • Anybody remember the intro to Billy Idol’s album Cyberpunk?

    The computer is the new cool tool, and though we say “all information should be free,” it is not. Information is power and currency in the virtual world we inhabit, so mistrust authority.

    I think the fear is that they will control information, but I think they are wanting to stream propietary paid content faster to their customers. Either way, the bandwidth will only increase for advertisements. We’re probably downloading ads vs. content 10:1 byte for byte.

  • I might have to put that sticker design on a flyer and leave them around campus.

  • Everyone clamoring for government involvement is setting themselves up for disaster. Once the FCC decides (or any other alphabet agency) they can regulate something, they will never relinquish control. More restriction, more fees, and more intrusion is all that will come.

    Every proposal has included a “No restriction for legal content” clause, thus stating the opposite can be done. Who gets to decide what is legal? Will they require every packet to be inspected to insure it is ‘legal content’?

    The statement that all packets are equal on today’s internet is an out-and-out lie. There is an incredibly complex interconnecting system that gets a packet from your computer to the server you are connecting to, and depending upon the routes that are available through your ISP, packets may go faster or slower. While connecting to one server, you might be on a near direct path because your ISP has good agreements with the certain back bone and higher tier providers. Then to the next server, you may have to go through more interconnects, maybe even hit a switch that is near capacity, and your speeds will be slower. These connections cost money, these agreements take employees to arrange, and the cable in the ground wasn’t free.

    In the end, we will get charged by the MB like on cell phone data, because you want it to be ‘fair’ and ‘regulated like a utility’. All-you-can-eat is doomed.

    • “Every proposal has included a “No restriction for legal content” clause, thus stating the opposite can be done. Who gets to decide what is legal? Will they require every packet to be inspected to insure it is ‘legal content’”

      Wow.. I didn’t know that.. That’s interesting.. Taken to it’s natural conclusion, my “content” is a byte. Please list the “bytes” which are illegal, and I will refrain from using those particular patterns. Furthermore, the next step would be that I will have encrypted those “bytes” with an encryption scheme I like to call “XOR”, but now that they’re “encrypted”, you would be breaking the DMCA to decrypt them to see if they’re legal.

      Of course, like all modern laws, those who have money to fight about it will win, and the little guy will always lose.. Follow the money. The government can do NO good here..

  • I thought I understood this issue, but the more I research the more confused I get. Let’s be clear that the status quo in the United States is tiered internet speeds. Right now you can pay comcast or verizon more money to get higher down/upload speeds. In the “play by play” description of the original post, it says that the FCC proposed regulations to establish net neutrality as the law of the land. My question is what did they actually propose? I’m not interested in hearing sensationalized “the government is taking over our lives” rhetoric. I would like someone who has educated themselves on the topic to enlighten me, or point me to a reliable reference. Am I to understand that we are to contact the FCC and ask them to establish something that they are already pursuing? Or, are we upset with FCC Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to allow “throttling”? Can someone tell me what I’m supposed to be upset about? What will change under these proposals? What does Sparkfun mean by “net neutrality? Do you mean that ISPs should no longer be allowed to charge more for faster connections? Or do you aim to prevent Netflix from paying money to Comcast to allow customers to stream their content faster than customers can stream Amazon Instant Prime videos and thereby creating an uneven playing field? I would like someone to separate what is actually being proposed, from paranoid consumer speculation. Regardless of what side of the issue people fall on, I think it’s great that Sparkfun is fostering the conversasiton.

  • Let me tell you how it works: The big players lobby (with big $) the politicians for what they want, the politicians send the message to the FCC, and the FCC gives them mostly what they want. The FCC might pretend to listen, and might at least attempt to look like they listened, but in the end, big government does what big business wants. Anyone who believes that the government will be there to protect us from big business is just wrong. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help to fight it, just don’t get your hopes up, and more likely than not, getting the FCC involved will probably just make things worse for the consumer.

    • While I tend to agree with you, as Frencil pointed out, there is still some precedent for the FCC actually acting upon overwhelming public outrage. Also, while lobbying money is a huge factor in American politics, it’s not the entire picture–we’re still the ones who get to cast the votes, and occasionally our elected representatives seem to remember that. Legislators will change their positions (or take stances where they’ve failed to in the past) in response to public outcry. A good recent example is the change in public opinion regarding govt. surveillance and how it has impacted voting in Congress. So be sure to contact your representatives too.

    • boba / last year / 1

      Companies don’t hire lobbyists to control government; they hire lobbyists to defend themselves from government.

      Look at the high tech industry: it started out with no lobbyists. Tech companies only started hiring lobbyists after the government started talking about regulating the tech industry.

      Uber, the ridesharing company, is the latest example. They’ve hired David Plouffe, President Obama’s former chief political strategist, to fight against the regulators in cities and states that are trying to shut Uber down.

      When the government makes it clear that it is going to control a company’s actions, a company, by necessity, needs to speak with the government in its own defense. Thus, lobbyists.

  • You complain of lack of choice, yet Net neutrality guarantees lack of choice. How can a new entrant differentiate themselves? How many gamers or video streamers would switch providers if said provider could ensure low latency by traffic shaping. Profits go to the holder of the scarce resource, under Net Neutrality bandwidth is the only scarce resource and the Cable companies own that.

    • Two things to note first : 1. For lower latency, companies actually can - and do - already work with ISPs by placing equipment at key locations. 2. You mention traffic shaping - that’s somewhat different from net neutrality as is being discussed, although many conflate the concepts. Very few are suggesting that, say, VoIP should have the same priority as asynchronous torrent downloads of a Linux distro, with the possibility that your VoIP sounds terrible just because somebody else is downloading Ubuntu. But when you use VoIP provider A, it shouldn’t be getting slammed by somebody else using VoIP provider B just because VoIP provider B threw money at the ISP.

      While I agree that you may have a lack of choice in terms of who you get your internet from ( for many the ‘choice’ consisting of A. megacable company, B. the expensive as heck mobile/sat provider, C. go go 56k6 dialup ), no net neutrality actually engenders a lack of choice in terms of exactly what internet you get.

      To keep with your example of gamers/video streamers - let’s first acknowledge that they only managed to exist in the first place because we’ve got a reasonably open internet, and people can go with Twitch, UStream, YouTube, or any number of places that offer wide distribution streaming video for your own webcast. If the open internet did not exist, you might have to tune to Channel 9xx on your AskanTV to watch the Yogscast fellas or Channel 9xx+1 to watch PewDiePie. There’s no Channel 9xx+y, by the way - Ross Scott just doesn’t pull in quite enough advertising dollars and he definitely can’t afford the initial payment for a trial run.

      But let’s ignore that for a moment and say that Twitch manages to pay for a higher bandwidth connection over everybody’s favorite provider, Comcast, so people can watch the show in HD. Except that they’re not. You can already watch it in HD. It’s just that Comcast, realizing that they can just go and charge sites and services for the bandwidth that’s actually already there, and bump everybody who doesn’t want to pay up down to bandwidth that will support SD at best.
      KamiTV, a new entrant to the streaming video market, wants to differentiate itself by making it easier than ever to stream video by offering a turnkey solution that includes all the hardware needed to get going, the streaming servers, and excellent support. Unfortunately, because KamiTV doesn’t have the money to pay for HD broadcasts, very few people end up watching the KamiTV streams - they don’t care how easy it was for the streaming people to get going, they just want to watch their show.. in HD. KamiTV thus ends up shuttering its services, and those who have the KamiTV gear - well, KamiTV at least offered a migration guide to use the gear with… you guessed it.. Twitch.

      So which of the two fosters choice more - and is the service paying for more bandwidth/lower latency really ‘making a choice’ on the consumer end?

      • “You mention traffic shaping - that’s somewhat different from net neutrality as is being discussed, although many conflate the concepts”

        On a network which is oversubscribed by design at every level, what is the practical difference between traffic shaping and the “Internet Fast Lane”? Afterall, we wouldn’t need QoS for the VOIP calls if there was enough bandwidth to handle both your VoIP call and the Ubuntu torrent download at the same time…

        The Internet is never, and never will be perfect, but I am afraid that ANYTHING the government does to “help” is going to make it worse, but I am definitely not an expert at what Net Neutrality really means.

        • Let me first say that I’m actually not in favor of traffic shaping by ISPs either. Consumers already have (or should have) QoS options on their modem/router, and I’d be okay with ISPs setting those to whatever they deem to be reasonable defaults with the consumer free to choose differently if they so desire as long as they don’t pester customer service when all the movies they watch end up blocky :)

          That said - there’s a pretty big difference between A. traffic shaping when required in order to properly pass through a service which, by its very nature, demands a certain amount of bandwidth / low latency, at the detriment of a service that does not and B. throttling a service because that service didn’t pay up - especially when another such service (i.e. Netflix vs Amazon Prime, Pandora vs Spotify, CNN.com vs FOXnews.com) with the exact same demands doesn’t get throttled.

  • I hate to tell you but ISPs are already charging for speed and volume. The low end numbers are off by about $20 from what I see at my ISP. I have a down load speed of 25Mbps and to double that I need to pay about $30 dollars more a month. I would like to know who thinks this is not already being done? The only difference I see in the pricing above is a break down on what services are being provided by cost. That in and of itself needs to be defeated. I pay Netflix and I expect to get Netflix at the speed I pay for. If my ability to get Netflix is hindered along with millions of others I would suggest a class action lawsuit from Netflix and all customers against any ISP that blocks my purchase. Surly there are some legal minds out there that can make some type of interstate commerce argument showing the loss caused to all data providing companies by selectively banning data lines for sale to consumers unless extra plans are purchased. Most places like Netflix would go under and one monopoly would emerge. Don’t we have a law against monopolies? I always said the Internet was going to be the new medium to ever expand the division between the haves and have nots. Here comes another domino effect to topple Internet Democracy with a plethora of people and create an Internet Oligarchy catering to the well to do with and allowing the rest to eat the scraps.

    • I have a down load speed of 25Mbps and to double that I need to pay about $30 dollars more a month. I would like to know who thinks this is not already being done? The only difference I see in the pricing above is a break down on what services are being provided by cost.

      And that is exactly what would be at issue - even if not quite as black-and-white (i.e. “pay extra to access YouTube”) it could easily be a shade of grey “pay extra to watch YouTube HD without buffering buffering buffering (watch Vimeo 4K videos without a hitch, ‘cos they threw us some extra cash).”