back to article WTF is Net Neutrality, anyway? And how can we make everything better?

This weekend, earnest young men - several of whom appear to have beards - are camping out in Washington DC. They're protesting against "plans to allow a pay-for play internet". In fact, we think there genuinely are some serious competitive concerns about recent developments in the ever-changing business of carrying bits of data …

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  1. tgm

    I've lived in 5 different places in the US since I moved here from the UK 6 years ago. And that's in three different States. I've never had a choice of broadband companies. I've had a choice of comcast or comcast, mediacom or mediacom, and RCN or RCN.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Where have you been living?

      I moved around on the US West Coast, from out in the boondocks to living in a city, and I've always had a choice of three or more providers (not counting satellite). Its usually two big providers and one or two local providers.

    2. Irony Deficient

      a choice of broadband companies

      tgm, has DSL not been available from any of the telephone companies where you’ve lived in the States? Even here at Deficient House, in a county with the same population density as Shetland, we have a choice between the telephone company and a cable company. (The speeds available here are nowhere near first rate, but it is still a choice.)

      1. Euripides Pants Silver badge

        @ Irony Deficient

        "we have a choice between the telephone company and a cable company"

        Not much of a choice. The reality in the US is that we all get our internet access from the phone company as even the cable companies offer phone service.

        1. Irony Deficient

          Re: not much of a choice

          Euripides Pants, I never claimed that it was much of a choice; I only claimed that it was a choice.

        2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: @ Irony Deficient

          That's true in most countries - cable and DSL keep each other competitive, if not honest.

          4G, WiMAX and 5G should be frightening the crap out of the incumbents. Why aren't they?

          1. Decade
            Facepalm

            Re: @ Andrew Orlowski

            Sometimes, Andrew, I wonder why you're paid for what you do.

            4G, WiMAX and 5G should be frightening the crap out of the incumbents. Why aren't they?

            Mostly, it's because the incumbents have most of the power in wireless. AT&T and Verizon have the most spectrum, as sold by Congress and regulated by the FCC. It's difficult for a competitor to arise. Wireless is a shared medium, so you aren't going to stuff many household-Netflix-worths of traffic through it. I recently tried WiMAX, and the latency is through the roof, and there is a lot more packet loss than wired.

            The carriers welcome wireless. It's a way for them to claim that there is competitive broadband. But unlike real broadband, where you really have to work to hit the multi-hundred-GB bandwidth cap, wireless has a cap of like 0.5 GB to 2 GB. A 4G connection lets you use an entire month's allotment of data in less than a day. If you use more data, you pay dearly. And if they can get Congress to allow them to let go of wireline, then they will happily stop maintaining the wires and force everybody onto cell phones, like a third world country.

            1. Gritzwally Philbin

              Re: @ Andrew Orlowski

              FYI, just as a technical note, Comcast quietly dropped the bandwidth limits about the time they started rolling out their dual-channel wireless routers and expanding the xfinitywifi network. Unbeknownst to most who lease one of these new devices, they are now subsidizing Comcast's wireless network through their electric bills.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: @ Andrew Orlowski

              "I recently tried WiMAX, and the latency is through the roof, and there is a lot more packet loss than wired."

              I used WiMAX in Yangon last year - it had been heavily promoted for both voice and data in the prceeding 18 months - and voice service was so bad people had given up on it. Data was at dialup speed even for local resources.

              Wireless services don't scale unless you use microcells and as soon as you do that you need to backhaul - at which point the monopoly incumbents have you over a barrel.

              It's the same situation as the one I faced in the 1990s which had 2Mb/s circuits from San Francisco to Auckland costing $900/month - and delivery within New Zealand costing $20,000/month.

          2. Rampant Spaniel

            Re: @ Irony Deficient

            Sadly cable and dsl don't really keep each other honest here. The dsl provider bounces in and out of bankrupcy manages a minor upgrade which prompts the cable company to just about beat them, then they head bank into bankruptcy. To be fair geography kills the dsl here, theres no dense grid of housing but rather long lines along the coast. DSL is alright for the few properties near the exchange but we are half an extinct volcano away and they will only sell you dsl if you beg and accept it will be a sub 1mbps speed. They did roll out fiber on another island though. If they can manage that on all islands we may finally have a decent fight between cable and the local telco. As it was DSL was just at a significant disadvantage technology wise and the cableco had no incentive to do better than it was.

            LTE & wimax (officially CTD now) aren't really a huge threat for moderate to heavy users because of contention. If and when DISH finally uses some of that massive haul of spectrum they have things may change. Sprint is also dabbling with fixed antenna LTE and their 25\2600 MHz spectrum which might change things (an external yagi would overcome many issues with higher dial spectrum).

            Honestly, the two larger celcos don't want to really offer much by way of home wireless internet because how can you justify selling something price competitive in the home market with say a 100GB cap, but a higher monthly charge for 4GB of cell phone data? One spectrum has been refarmed away from 2.5/3/3.5G technologies and additional spectrum has been auctioned there could be a market for it but I'm thinking by then the cable companies will have upped packages again and moved the goal posts. Thats also before we get into backhaul issues with celcos (imagine just how quickly AT&T respond to a request from Sprint for backhaul?! :) ) and permits (up to 18 months in some places) slowing down progress.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: @ Irony Deficient

            "4G, WiMAX and 5G should be frightening the crap out of the incumbents. Why aren't they?"

            Because the only way to distribute them is over services controlled by the incumbents.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: a choice of broadband companies

        In the US, ask about DSL and the likely retort will be "No, we've moved past using phones to connect our computers." Not fair, but there it is.

        For the most part, the phone companies quickly realized they weren't going to be able to build out the infrastructure using DSL. Population density is too small for too large an area. So they switched to fiber optics early on. But in rural regions a combination of real costs and political opportunism at the local level has pretty much left only 1 wired competitor in most areas. You may have a wireless option, or a satellite option, which the FCC has counted as competition. Which is why AC above is getting so many downvotes. Even those of us who believe the market CAN provide the competition, know it isn't because of the political angles.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      I live in a top 10 city and I have 2 choices: Comcast or ATT.

      Formerly Time/Warner or... ATT.

      And lets not forget the overpriced services of either one.

      1. tesmith47

        I live in the capitol of america and i have only 1 choice for wired internet, COMCAST!! satellite internet is even more expensive and a hassle .

        the providers are trying to get more money from the public, and I WILL be among those protesting in D.C., BEARD AND ALL!!!!

        btw, the author seems to be one of those wimps that either cannot grow a beard or lets the effeminate part of society dictate what men should look like.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, pretty sure the 89% quote is an aggregate based on areas that have, typically, a choice of exactly one cable provider (for actual high-speed access, but speeds that will never improve), and a bunch of other ISPs that are either much more expensive and/or have slower speeds. Not sure how you can vote with your wallet in that scenario.

      1. Irony Deficient

        89%

        Anonymous Coward, apparently the source of that 89% figure is the NTIA’s National Broadband Map of January 2013, as noted in this report (from a K Street lobbying firm). The report quotes the NBM as having stated that

        89 percent [of] Americans have a choice of five or more broadband providers, including wireless and satellite

        where broadband has the OECD definition of at least 256 kb/s, both upstream and downstream.

    5. brainbone

      RE: I've never had a choice of broadband

      I have the lucky "choice" of Comcast (cable) or CenturyLink (dsl). Problem is, DSL maxes out at 7mbps in my area, but I'm lucky to get 1,5Mbps. Cable has a minimum of 30Mbps, up to 105Mbps. 30Mbps cable or 1.5-7mbps dsl (no real difference in price). Not really any "choice" there, unless you enjoy watching paint dry.

    6. wub

      What are my broadband choices, exactly?

      While I've lived in the same town for >25 years now and have limited actual experience, I agree completely with you. I suspect my situation is very common.

      Actually, in theory I >do< have a choice of broadband: Cox, which has a territorial cable monopoly granted by my town in exchange for the "overhead related to provisioning the city" for its cable operation, and AT&T which is my land-line phone provider.

      However, I am over 17000 feet (?meters?) from the Central Office, and my useful DSL speed is not fast enough to support even the lowest quality video stream. And it would cost about the same as I'm paying Cox for roughly 20 MB now ($65/month).

      I could probably switch to a satellite ISP, but I understand that although streaming can be effective, latency becomes a serious problem for general browsing in this era of highly complex dynamic pages (after enabling JavaScript for forums.theregister.co.uk, NoScript informs me that there are scripts from four other sources waiting to be enabled, and I expect some of those to call from yet other sources - with a half a second roundtrip for each call, this page would take some serious time to completely load).

      So I second the call for support for the claim that "89% of Americans have a choice" of broadband provider. Not when "choice" is defined as equivalent service!

      1. tgm

        Re: What are my broadband choices, exactly?

        @wub - yes, that's exactly what I meant. Choice as in "comparative" choice. 2Mb (if I'm lucky) for DSL, or 50Mb for Cable for LESS money...that's not a choice. I guess it is *technically*, but then again so is a plastic cup and a piece of string!

    7. Daedalus Silver badge

      Pretty standard, but don't blame the FCC. It's the local govt officials who granted these monopolies. Most of the "broadband" providers are still cable TV providers using their original lines. The monopolies were granted in the 70's.

      The main choice just about anywhere is cable broadband or ISDN with the phone company.

      1. Fred Goldstein

        No local de jure cable monopolies

        Daed, your local municipality has been prohibited since 1992 from making cable a monopoly franchise. Other cable companies are allowed to have franchises too. Of course it's meaningless -- the economics of cable mean that a second cable company -- it's called an overbuilder -- is almost certain to go bust.

        And ISDN has been off the market in most of the US for years.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: No local de jure cable monopolies

          There's more than one way to grant a monopoly.

    8. Javapapa

      A lot depends on the location

      In southwest Houston, I have Comcast for Internet (averaging 20-25 Mbps download), DirectTV for satellite TV, and T-Mobile 4G averaging 3-5 Mbps, AT&T was a bit of slug upgrading U-Verse in my neighborhood, which is populated mostly by retired folks. I briefly tried Clear (now being absorbed by Sprint), and businesses in tall buildings with good lines of sight can use MetroPCS. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon compete against T-Mobile for cell phone service.

      My guess is the set of options in the hinterlands is not as good.

      Good article, by the way.

      1. ipghod

        Re: A lot depends on the location

        we must be neighbors!

  2. Scott 1

    "Some 89 per cent of Americans have a choice between at least two broadband companies - so why not switch?"

    I currently have a choice of 5 or 6 different broadband providers. The two best ones mostly don't suck, and one of the two charges outrageous fees based on the amount of data used. You could say that I have a choice (and in reality I realize that I do), but it's really not much of a choice.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      That 89% statistic is misleading

      I have one cable company and one big telco to choose from, along with a couple small ISPs. Problem is, those small ISPs resell DSL from the telco, so it isn't really different even though it counts me as among that 89%.

      I wouldn't count satellite internet as a choice at all, unless it is your ONLY choice. For all practical purposes, I have two choices, cable and DSL. Both offer 40Mb+ so at least they're two good choices, unlike a lot of areas where people have either slow DSL or oversubscribed cable that effectively limits them to one choice if they want decent speed.

      I'll bet the real number in the US is 50% at best, and 90% of that is probably in metro areas with populations of over 500,000, so while it may be half the population, it is probably a few percent of the US by area.

  3. Tikimon Silver badge
    FAIL

    Will that be hanging or drowning, sir?

    There IS no ISP competition! Crap Service A or B, how is that a choice? People leave them constantly! It does no good, since they only go to another crap ISP that someone else just fired, and the average number of subscribers does not significantly change.

  4. ratfox Silver badge
    Stop

    "it can't really work any other way"

    This right after explaining that the TOS headers have never been implemented… Which means that it can and did indeed work another way up to now.

    Not that it has to keep working the same way, but to claim "it can't really work any other way" is sophistry.

    1. Fred Goldstein

      Re: "it can't really work any other way"

      TOS headers didn't get used much, but there is a lot of jockeying around within networks. Put more capacity here and not there, use MPLS for this and not that, etc. The point is that the design was never meant to be "all packets are equal", and in practice that would drastically favor some (shorter paths) over others anyway. Which explains why CDNs are so popular.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: "it can't really work any other way"

        TOS bits are used extensively, or more accurately the IP Prec bits. TOS morphed into DiffServ/DSCP, the networks morphed into MPLS. The IP Prec bits get mapped onto the MPLS EXP bits and voila, IP Networks have a QoS capability as envisaged all those years ago in RFC791. Only the first 3 bits matter, the rest get TOSsed. These are also the bits some Net Neuts want to ban so the Internet can remain best efforts.

        Shortest path also doesn't really matter for Netflix-style streaming. Shorter the path, the lower the latency so mostly relevant for real-time apps. CDNs are/were popular not to reduce latency, but cost. Stick a CDN box in an IX location and your connectivity costs drop to the cost of patching and peering/transit across a building vs sending lots of copies of the same content across a mass of expensive connections from a centralised server farm. Which may be somewhere stupid like Ireland. Nice for tax reasons, not so good if you're intending to push packets across the whole of Europe cheaply.

    2. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: "it can't really work any other way"

      The "other way" is all packets traveling at the same priority. Care to start a network that operates on that basis? :)

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: "it can't really work any other way"

        >>"The "other way" is all packets traveling at the same priority. Care to start a network that operates on that basis? :)"

        When you say all packets travelling at the same priority, are you saying all streaming video packets travelling at the same priority as all everyday tweets and emails? Because that is justifiable. But I think you're then using that fact that packets are handled differently to sleight-of-hand into it being okay that streaming video packets of company A can be treated differently to streaming video packets of company B.

        Saying that all types of packets cannot be / are not equal is one thing. Saying that all senders / receivers are not equal is a very different thing. It is wrong to abstract both and just say "packets cannot be equal" as if there is no difference. Network Neutrality is about the latter, not the former.

      2. Tad

        Re: "it can't really work any other way"

        Does anyone else remember Token Ring? Well now THAT is what is needed to bring this argument to a close! We make it the law (we seem to be good at altering physical reality that way) that all traffic providers interconnect that way. It may also provide some relieve in the unemployment area as production ramps back up for that weird 4 prong connector that looks like some kind of plug from a toaster fr a third world country that decreed its own kind of electrical connector. (I hope the traveling world is feeling me on this one)

    3. Yes Me Silver badge
      Go

      Re: "it can't really work any other way"

      Actually the reason the original RFC 791 type-of-service never got much use is that it was fairly useless, except for giving absolute precedence to routing-protocol traffic, which was (and is) quite widely supported. But don't worry, help is on the way. RFC 2474 defines a replacement called "differentiated services" that works identically for IPv4 and IPv6, and allows a network to support various classes of service (such as one class for audio, another class for video, etc.). That's completely neutral as far as service providers and content providers go, but it avoids things like a big file transfer screwing up your phone call. It's used quite a lot to support IP telephony within enterprise networks, and is slowly, slowly getting attention from ISPs (who are far from early adopters of anything these days). There are even recommendations on how to make differentiated services work for traffic between different ISPs. And drafts on how to make it work for real-time web traffic. We'll get there.

      1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Yes Me

        Thanks Yes Me, in on post you've summed up and corrected the entire article. :)

        The difference between TOS (charging for types of usage) and "fast lane" (charging for types of content).

  5. Rotten

    Choices!

    "Yet more people prefer to complain than switch providers. Some 89 per cent of Americans have a choice between at least two broadband companies - so why not switch? Why not throw a switching party for everyone on your street? Start acting like customers - it's the only thing that scares the hell out of an ISP."

    I do have a choice.

    Choice A - Comcast

    --$50/mo 20Mbps service

    --No contract - "Cancel anytime!"

    Choice B - Local Telco

    --$30/mo phone line + $35/mo (Introductory pricing!) DSL @ 6Mbps

    --1-year contract required (termination fee {$~$190} applies upon service cancellation within term.

    --Buy/lease our DSL modem at a discount!

    --Data caps; if you go over the cap, it's an additional fee in a tiered system.

    Hurray for CHOICES!

  6. The_Idiot

    I'll not comment myself, but...

    ... if I may (and I don't know if I can) post a link to someone I know, a small business owner with a strong interest (from the nature of his business) is the matter:

    http://daviddaeschler.com/2014/04/28/a-storm-on-the-horizon/

  7. Dan Paul

    I second your opinion! Have an upvote.

    There is NO Competition in Upstate NY for Broadband Internet.

    Comcast (was Time Warner) is the only broadband company truly serving our area. There is NO FTTH in Niagara County.

    Do you hear me Google? Please come and bring FTTH to our area.

    Screw Verizon with their lousy DSL, Time Warner/Comcast with their Cable monopoly and the stupid inactive NY State government that has been bought out by those same corporations.

  8. PunkTiger
    Facepalm

    Mutually Assured (Consumer) Destruction

    Back in 2010/2011, Verizon was building out its FiOS network in suburban Boston. Comcast, who has a stranglehold of cable TV/Internet service in Massachusetts, didn't like that one bit. (Competition? Not on MY watch!) A deal was then hammered out between Comcast, Verizon (and other cable providers in MA) to halt the rollout of FiOS. Voila! No more competition, and the consumers get the short end of the stick again. Those handful of communities in the Boston suburbs are the ONLY people in MA that has FiOS.

    http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/article/2013/05/28/boston-fiber-optic-internet-network/2/

    The first paragraph on that page says it all.

    That being said, I have a (Sophie's) choice of Internet service. I could either have Satan's... err, I mean, Comcast's overpriced 30Mbps internet service (that goes up in price every year), or I can have what I currently have, DSL from Verizon (they claim I'm getting "up to 3Mbps," but with a top download speed of 580kbps, I doubt I'm getting anywhere near that... being only 1.5 miles from the DSL signal's origin).

    Even my fast lane is a back road.

    1. tesmith47

      Re: Mutually Assured (Consumer) Destruction

      that is typical of this industry, I live in Washington D.C. and my half of the city has been promised FIOS for about 15 years, now ATT says they will not be bringing fios to my side of washington d.c.

      so i have no choice comcat or nothing ( no satellite antennas on apartment buildings)

  9. channel extended

    Monopoly.

    Adam Smith in his "Wealth of Nations" showed that a monopoly offers a price thaqt is most dear. This is true for any product/service that is monetized, such as video on demand. The real concern is not a battle between "fast" and "slow" lanes but the increased latency from a provider that think it cheaper to delay spending money than on improving it's network.

  10. NinjasFTW

    wierd facts

    There are some strange points in this article.

    It states that Netflix drops Cogent and peers with Comcast directly because of congestion. Presumably Netflix still delivers traffic to ISPs other than Comcast so they are infact paying twice.

    Are Netflix now paying less for their Cogent bill as well as having to pay Comcast?

    Why are netflix raising their costs to cover the new peering arrangements?

    The reasoning that performance was poor because of congestion seems extremely odd seeing as soon as the Netflix cheque cleared the congestion magically disappeared! Either Comcast have a magical way of adding capacity to their networks or there is something fishy going on there.

    I have heard that Cogent tend to skimp on their peering infrastructure and I would much rather some action to get that fixed rather than the slippery slope we are heading down.

    If a ISP can feel free to ignore is public backbone commitments in exchange for juicy dedicated peering contracts where do you think we will be in 10-15 years.

    Also calling this article as non-idealogical with all the references to 'well-funded net neutrality' and beardies etc while ignoring associated campaigning by big ISPs is frankly disingenuous at best

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: wierd facts

      "It states that Netflix drops Cogent and peers with Comcast directly because of congestion. Presumably Netflix still delivers traffic to ISPs other than Comcast so they are infact paying twice."

      Not unless their routing is very broken. Remember the Internet is a collection of private networks. Previously Netflix paid Cogent for transit. Cogent then attempts to deliver Netflix traffic to it's peers and transit customers. Cogent's transit customers (small/regional broadband networks) pay Cogent. So with the transit ISPs, there is an element of double-dipping. Netflix pays for transit, destination ISP pays for transit. So take the transit ISP's special pleading with a large pinch of salt.

      Now Netflix peers with Comcast, the costs and quality between those two networks are under those two parties control. Netflix shouldn't be paying twice for traffic to Comcast's customers but they'll still need routes to non-Comcast networks.

      "Are Netflix now paying less for their Cogent bill as well as having to pay Comcast?"

      Transit deals are often volume based with a price per Mbps. Trafic between Netflix and Comcast will no longer be going via Cogent, so Cogent won't be billing for it, so Netflix will be paying Cogent less. Hence the special pleading from the transit ISPs. What they're paying for their peering is one of the few real regulatory concerns, ie ensuring peering charges are Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (RAND). So if I set up a Netflix competitor, I should be able to pay the same rate per Mbps for an equivalent volume as Netflix.

      "Why are netflix raising their costs to cover the new peering arrangements?"

      Are they? Maybe their content costs have increased. It costs money to buy in or make those programs. Maybe they're just doing a bit of profiteering and using this as an excuse to increase profits. Netflix is adding £1/$1 a month to it's charges, transit costs <20c/Mbps.

      "The reasoning that performance was poor because of congestion seems extremely odd seeing as soon as the Netflix cheque cleared the congestion magically disappeared! Either Comcast have a magical way of adding capacity to their networks or there is something fishy going on there."

      No magic required, just basic network operations. Connect 10/100Gbps ports between Comcast and Cogent, change a couple of lines of config and traffic is off the congested port and onto the new peering link. Some reports have said Netflix is paying for 'priority' access now. Can any Comcast users with Wireshark look at the TOS bits and see if this is happening?

      "If a ISP can feel free to ignore is public backbone commitments in exchange for juicy dedicated peering contracts where do you think we will be in 10-15 years."

      With a better user experience. Currently their are no 'public backbone committments' except in lobbyists minds.

    3. ipghod

      Re: wierd facts

      They aren't peering with comast, they bought transit from them... so, in addition to going straight to a HUGE percentage of endusers, they also get to leverage comcasts peering and transit connections. In other words, they realized they made a mistake on their infrastructure, and they fixed it. There is no point putting a 20k square foot warehouse store in a town with only 1500 people. You have to put that sucker in the middle of a major metropolitan area for it to 'work'.

      Comcast's network capacity has never been the issue. the issue has always been 'how does comcast justify upgrading a peering connection with a carrier that is already hugely lopsided because of one of it's customers'

      pull that one customer off that line and put them somewhere else, and the problem is now fixed. What do you know! maybe those guys who RUN THE NETWORK actually know something about... mmmm, RUNNING THE NETWORK? <insert BOFH moment>

      there is no such thing as a 'public backbone commitment'. In fact, there is no such thing as a 'public backbone', nor has their been in the US. The only portions of network that could be considered owned by the public would be the private networks maintained by government and Internet2 which is pretty much all university and research facility stuff.

      Internet peering is an amazingly pure form of commerce. It doesn't matter how big a footprint you have, it doesn't matter how many customers you have. The only thing that matters is if you have something a peer wants/needs to make THEIR network better, or the color of your money.

      injecting all these conspiracy theories about 'the man keeping us DOWN' simply illustrates someone recognizing their business plan didn't take into account the realities of their transport costs. I mean, damn... Looking at the Net Neutrality: what you need to know page is a laundry list of things to be afraid of. THEY EVEN THROW DOWN THE RACE CARD! cause you know, ISPs have so much spare time laying around, they can take the time to censor your website if you are promoting some kind of minority rights campaign...

      big carriers pinching off competitors packets? why would they do that? where is the MONEY in that? because you seem to forget the other side of the coin. once one carrier decides to get cute that way, nothing protects them from an all out war with every other carrier.

      It's happened in the past. anyone remember AGIS? (who's moldy remains are now owned by COGENT) AGIS thought nothing of hosting spam generating customers, which were ACTIVELY blocked by most major carriers at the time. If you had net neutrality, wouldn't everyone be forced to allow such things? They ended up out of business for pushing unwanted data on the rest of us. This is a great example of the good people who actually run the internet, acting independently to maintain the integrity of the system. In virtually every case where someone demands a law be made to help police what goes on online, it's based on a broken assumption.

      COGENT based outages used to be a regular thing on the network, as they would string along their peering partners, blatantly abusing their peering agreements, until they had their plug pulled. I think the last MAJOR pain they caused was when sprint de-peered them in 2008?

      Oddly enough, COGENTS failure to maintain their agreements is also a reason for demanding 'real net neutrality', since their failure results in disruption of the network, other carriers should be FORCED to deal with them. What?

      Which brings us to the sticking point: How does NETFLIX making a poor choice in transit carrier for their needs translate into a need for net neutrality? Are we really going to start picking winners and losers online? or are we going to force everyone to fund everything, regardless of how inefficient, broken, or otherwise faulty it is, in the name of 'fair'.

      Fair is an artificial construct designed to promote competition and innovation. it's not supposed to be a bludgeon to force everyone else into going along with someone's screw ups.

  11. Lars Silver badge
    WTF?

    WTF

    What about all the beards stuff, don't be taken for a mug!

  12. noominy.noom

    Andrew, I see you are back to your ideological industry oriented self. You start by claiming this will be a a "strictly non-ideological" guide then immediately start distorting the picture. For example, you start out with several paragraphs about RFC 791. Classical misdirection. Net-neutrality is not about traffic management by QOS. Net-neutrality is about traffic management by monopoly fiat. Few people would argue about latency sensitive packets getting priority, as long as all latency sensitive packets are treated the same. If video is latency sensitive, and I want to watch Happy Go Lucky Videos latest offering, I don't want to suffer delays while my mate in the other room has no problems watching Monopoly ISP Latest Vids. All because my ISP is a monopoly and has the power to dictate what will and won't work good at my end point. I want an ISP that only has the movement of network traffic as their priority. They shouldn't have any vested interest in whose packets move the best. Type of packet, fine. But not originator of the packet.

    It is also telling that you used the TOS as a counter example when that wouldn't work in the current situation. Setting a bit in the packet header is the sender's choice to describe the packet to the router. If Comcast was only going to shape traffic according to needs, as specified in the packet header, they wouldn't know or care who the packet came from. The fact that they are specifically looking for Netflix IP addresses and blocking/slowing themm is just what the Comcast customers are complaining about.

    The stat you quote about 89 percent of Americans having a choice between two broadband companies is highly misleading. Even in many metropolitan areas, the choice is between the incumbant telco, who can claim they provide broadband for the surveys, and a cable TV company. The telco will many times not be able to provide more than dial up because most of their customers are more than a mile from the central office (yes, some DSL products now work further than that, but most US telcos don't use modern equipment.) The cable TV company will string a bit of coax to your neighborhood and connect twenty or thirty or more households to one segment. Only at very limited times will the throughput approach broadband. Limited oligopoly instead of monopoly, but the same result. I and many other Americans can't just move on. We effectively have no choice.

    1. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

      A little confused

      Comcast were not "specifically looking for Netflix IP addresses and blocking/slowing themm", they were just refusing to upgrade their peering links to Cogent, to the degree they were very congested.

  13. SoaG

    That's a 3 page troll right?

    Hypothetically I have a choice of ~15 ISPs. However, most are resellers, only 2 own hardware. So I have limited competition on price, caps and customer service, I don't have competition on the service itself.

    It's either cable so over-subscribed dial up is faster between noon and 2 AM or 4Mb/s DSL that dies whenever it rains or the temperature is between -3 and -4 C (in Canada) Both last mile providers have 5 year upgrade plans, my neighbourhood is on neither list.

    Do I live in a remote low density area where they don't have the client base to justify the expense? You tell me:

    2 blocks away is the main CO for a city of over 100k in a county over 500k.

    2 blocks further 2 universities, 1 is top 10 for business programs, the other is #1 in the country for engineering and computer science. Lots of apartments, townhouses and most of the detached homes are rooming houses filled, not just with students.

    Also between my house and the tech university is the cities technology/R&D business park. Between that business park and the aforementioned CO? Raytheon, and most of the 20+ buildings in the city occupied by Blackberry.

    The are businesses and schools can and have paid to put their own fiber lines in, but with such a high density of residential demand, if the market was how Orlowski thinks it is, why is neither company even thinking about upgrades?

    Internet service IS a utility, and it's high time it was treated as such.

    Also, having spent a couple decades on the hardware and network side of the wireless telecom industry, including cell and satellite, believe me, no wireless tech will ever be able to provide comparable viable economic broadband service in rural areas. Other than on the immediate periphery of an urban area, have you even looked at the rain fade characteristics of Ka-band (to say nothing of response times)?

    1. Ole Juul Silver badge

      Can't vote on upstream providers either

      Good post SoaG. In my case I'm definitely rural. Twelve miles from telco central, so no DSL. Satellite is not suitable for regular use either - as the provider will tell you. The only choice is good old wireless. So, no competition here either.

      The good news is that my wireless is from a local mom and pop operation and their installation has gotten quite solid. I am able to use it for reliable quality VoIP which rivals the quality on the land line here. I basically have no complaints about my ISP.

      The problems that I encounter are further afield. When some sites are slow to respond, I often do a traceroute. What I've found is that the bottlenecks are in the upstream provider. I have no input there, and they have no intentions of upgrading their network any time soon. They're just going to keep upping the price every year without putting any of those profits into their infrastructure. I can't see any way out of this dilemma we have here in NA.

  14. Mad Hacker

    Flufflepuff!!

    Wasn't going to read yet another net neutrality article until I saw the image of Flufflepuff dancing on a rainbow. Well played. And after reading the entire article it does offer an interesting perspective.

  15. Fred Goldstein

    Excellent article

    Andrew, this is much better than the usual crap about NN; thank you for writing it.

    I do point out that we have a problem stateside due to lack of competition. It is impractical for multiple companies to string fiber or wire to every house, which is why the duopoly is most common and monopoly very common. In almost every other civilized country, there is a choice of ISPs who ride the same wire. Many ISPs share OpenReach wire in the UK, etc. The FCC took that away here, and that monopoly at the ISP layer, not at the wire layer, caused the problem. They should reclassify the wire back to common carriage, as it was (and throw in cable modems for good measure), and then the choice of ISPs would take care of the rest.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Excellent article

      Fred, my tiny local ISP in the Bay Area stopped providing DSL because Of all those competitive suggestions at the end, local loop is probably the most promising.

      I guess the grass is always greener. Most countries have a "duopoly" of cable & DSL. They keep each other competitive. In practical terms my 4G connection is as fast as my 120mbit/s cable at home, for most applications. I leave it on most of the time.

      Does anyone seriously argue "common carriage" improves competition in the access market? That's what you do to copper to make it decay more slowly, isn't it?

      Common carriage merely manages the decline, it seals in the incumbents we have today - that everyone love so much! If "common carriage" is the end goal of neutrality (not an "open internet", or whatever it is this week), then it's purely a political campaign, right?

      Better competition or CC - pick one.

      1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: Re: Excellent article

        "Fred, my tiny local ISP in the Bay Area stopped providing DSL because"

        Sorry, I didn't finish that before smacking the button.

        ... because the Californian Pac Bell was allowed to retail DSL at below the price at which my ISP could buy it at wholesale. My tiny ISP was a co-op, it didn't need to make a huge margin. But it couldn't make any margin, so it stopped providing DSL.

        This was a direct consequence of the FCC bending over for the Bells. So more local loop competition is a massive win for the consumer.

        Where's the huge consumer campaign for this? Oh. Everyone's camping out in DC, demanding packet equality.

        1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: Excellent article

          How does this get downvoted? Whether you disagree with Andrew's conclusions or not, allowing a large incumbent to retail a service at less than the price a competitor can buy it from them wholesale, is going to shut down their competition. That is an unassailable statement of fact. You do want competition, right?

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Excellent article

            Large incumbents have been selling retail below wholesale and getting away with it for years. That's simply the easiest way to elimiinate competition. Sure, they'll eventually get investigated and have to pay fines but that doesn't magically bring bankrupt competitors back into existence and the fines are chickenfeed compared to the real costs of shutting down competition (the bankrupted outfits are never recompensed) and the benefits gained by becoming a monopoly, ongoing profiteering.

            Such activities have nothing to do with network neutrality. It's anticompetitive behaviour. Don't confuse the two.

            What anticompetitive behaviour and breaching net neutrality both have in common is that they're the kind of thing you expect from sociopathic business management who charge you zillions of extra fees for "added value services" (caller id, 3 way calling, etc etc etc) which were built into the exchanges as zero-cost functional extras and intended to be made freely available until some shark realised that millions of dollars of free profits could be made by switching it all off and charging people for access to facilities which are built into the phone switches, cost nothing to enable and don't load down the system processors - the same rentseeking mentality which did that is the driving force behind attempts to breach net neutrality.

      2. TechnicalBen Silver badge

        Re: Andrew

        The internet is not TV, is it? It's communication.

        What rules govern TV, how do they differ from Telephone rules? Such as, can the Cable company list my viewing habits. Can the Telephone company listen to my calls?

        I can both communicate and consume on the internet. But the same is so for Telephones. We tend not to go for "majority usage" for covering laws etc, but for "what is possible" to either allow to disallow such actions.

        Could you write an article supporting your opinion that the internet needs to be managed as a TV network, as suppose a phone line or parcel network?

        If you can tell me why a parcel company can charge for a "fast lane" depending on parcel content or why a telephone company can charge extra for a call depending on subject matter then I can understand what kind of argument your presenting.

        Currently I've not seen anyone say "charging more for video packets is bad", people have been saying "charging more for specific content of a packet is bad". So I don't see how your argument holds up. :/

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: Andrew

          It shouldn't matter what the packet is, the different companies along the way just need to be paid what is fair. People slate last mile providers for being paid twice, but they have 'twice' the network. They not only have the huge backbone and metro networks that other providers have but they also have a residential network which is extremely expensive to build out and isn't cheap to maintain and upgrade. It's not unreasonable to expect them to recover the costs appropriately, nor is it unfair to split that charge between both ends of the connection based upon usage.

        2. Terry Barnes

          Re: Andrew

          "If you can tell me why a parcel company can charge for a "fast lane" depending on parcel content or why a telephone company can charge extra for a call depending on subject matter then I can understand what kind of argument your presenting."

          They kind of do. Delivery of those packets is time critical. If they're late, they may as well not turn up t all. Guaranteed delivery of 'packets' because of their content absolutely exists - chilled distribution. Perishable food items require a specific delivery mechanism, one that costs more than standard packet delivery, precisely because of the content.

          There's a wider point too - those 'chilled' packets tend to be delivered via a separate, private network, run by experts in that field. That's exactly what is going on now with CDNs.

          1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

            Re: Terry.

            Do I get charged more for using Amazon over Ebay? No, I pay the postage cost for A to B transit. I pay for A to B priority, or A to B economy.

            Note, I do not pay for discrimination between company A or company B, I pay for the delivery, the driver/post company cares not who I purchase from.

            Without net neutrality, what stops them charging more for companies they wish to price gouge?

      3. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Excellent article

        Most countries have a "duopoly" of cable & DSL. They keep each other competitive.

        And then there's the UK. We do have some cable but what keeps prices down and encourages choice is our regulator. Ofcom forced our incumbent to provide equal access through a wholesale service then forced the incumbent to provide LLU. It has even forced the incumbent to provide access to its local loop ducting but so far to little interest. Pricing for all these services is very carefully controlled.

        In fact our incumbent is split into three main divisions. All are supposed to be separate and get no favours:

        BT openreach - local loop and core networks.

        BT Wholesale - provide wholesale services built on top of openreach kit.

        BT Retail - ISP and telephony built using wholesale services.

        Other ISPs and telcos compete with BT Retail. Some communication providers buy services of openreach and have even set up their own competing wholesale products.

        The result is that pretty much everyone in the UK has a choice of a dozen or more ISPs if they go the DSL route and in slightly less than half the country they also have a choice of a single cable operator. It's also pretty cheap here although geography helps with that. For £30 ($45) a month you can get telephony and broadband with speeds up to 80Mb/s and unlimited usage.

        The downside is slow investment. It's damn' hard for anyone to make money over here with that pricing so investment in faster networks tends to be slow. VDSL is has reached 75% of the UK and might reach 90% over the next few years. There's been no significant cable growth at all.

        Choice doesn't really help with technological improvements here because the same company owns 99% of the local loop. Nearly half of us have a choice of cable or DSL but for most it's whatever flavour of DSL the incumbent has chosen to provide. Currently a mix of ADSL, ADSL2+ (the majority) and VDSL being rolled out.

    2. wowfood

      Re: Flufflepuff!!

      Seconded, wasn't going to click on the story, then I saw the pic of flufflepuff and well. Now I'm here.

  16. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Megaphone

    My Comments List Re: The Article; USA ISPs Versus Their Customers

    1) In future, please provide adequate resolution diagrams and images. It's easy to do. What you provided here is awful, low res jaggy stuff. There's no excuse for being that lazy.

    2) In the USA we have crap bandwidth compared to many other countries in the world. We are NO WHERE near any soft of 'capacity'. We're simply being price GOUGED for LOW BANDWIDTH. It's the usual customer abuse that's the spirit of the age. Our ISPs hate us and say so loud and clear. This is the behavior typical of any monopolized market.

    3) We require immediate expansion of bandwidth at reasonable prices. Astoundingly, right now, fulfilling that simple requirement puts all the need for worrying about future streaming causing constraints right out the window of worry. IOW: The current argument against Net Neutrality in the USA is total propagandist bullshit. If the ISPs did their job and provided ADEQUATE service and FAIR prices, none of this rubbish would be a consideration.

    4) Here in the USA, while the Net Neutrality arguments continue, companies like AT&T and Verizon are actively FIGHTING mandates that they expand cables into the hinterlands. They've been handed money to do so! They've taken money from customers to do so! But they don't want to and are having stamp-their-little-feet fits about having to do so. This is simply greedy, lazy and idiotic. Again, our ISPs hate us and say so loud and clear.

    Result: This article comes of as a diversion from 'REALITY' in the USA. Many points are well made. And they're irrelevant to the real problems.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: My Comments List Re: The Article; USA ISPs Versus Their Customers

      At the end of that piece I offer half a dozen strategies Americans might like to pursue to get better competition. They're not mutually exclusive - you can pursue more than 1.

      You don't seem to want to pursue any of these. It sounds a lot like you're stamping your feet and shouting "But MOMMY, it's not FAIR!”

      [ lifted from:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/12/22/dziuba_net_neut/ ]

      I don't know any neutrality campaigner who thinks access networks will become more competitive because of neutrality rules - let alone the transit or backhaul networks. Neutrality is a massive diversion from the issues.

      Sure, life isn't fair. But if you ask for nuthin', you get nuthin'.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: My Comments List The Article; USA ISPs Versus Their Customers

      You missed:

      5: Not only have they taken money to do so, they were given legislated monopolies in return for promises to provide those services - and have renegged on pretty much every single promise made in the last decade.

      USA incumbents have managed to lockout competitors from DSL and shut down all CLECs in the country. The component parts of the AT&T amoeba have largely reformed (in the guise of "facilitaing competition and efficiency, we will spend XYZ $millions to improve service", and then repeatedly failed to do so after mergers have been approved) and the remaining chunks are joining up in a way eerily reminiscent of a shattered T1000.

      What's really amazing is that the Public Utilities Commissions in each state have let the companies (cable and telcos are equally as bad) get away with thse repeated breaches of contract and not held them to account. The USA really does have the best laws and politicians that money can buy.

  17. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Far Left Side sums it up

    http://farleftside.com/2014/5-9-14-net-neutrality.html

  18. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    LLU

    Andrew, what about a UK-style LLU campaign for the Bells and Cable?

  19. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge

    Free Internet?

    When people fisrt started getting on the Internet back in the early 90's the most astonishing thing was that you could reach any server anywhere in the world for free. Free once you had got online that is.

    How was it possible to talk to Australia for free when phoning there cost a fortune?

    Not only that, how come the content was free too?

    The next astonishing thing was that you could host a website and anyone in the world could look at it for free. You could pretty much say what you liked on the site and it was only discretion keeping you sensible.

    Obviously the efficiency of HTML and TCP/IP compared to the vast bandwidth available meant it was probably not costing anything to use it in any case. It was this freedom and utility which got the Internet to catch fire the way it has.

    Video is so massive compared to any other form of data that it requires new technology and new rules. TCP/IP is the least obvious choice for sending video yet the most readily available. It maybe possible to build a P2P video network to rival YouTube but who wants that sort of traffic flowing through their home connection all day?

    We are seeing the maturing of the Internet rather in the way we nolonger see open SMTP relays which were once left open to assist everyone's email.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Free Internet?

      It was never free. All costs were paid for and recouped or covered by those involved.

      Or did they get their phone line, usage, line rental, phones, computers, electricity bill, water (for me to drink), typing, done for "free"?

      A phone call to Australia costs more as operators incur more costs. If you squeeze 10 times the calls down 1 line, using digital compression and emails, how is that "free"?

      If we use our paid for bandwidth, paid for line, and paid for servers, how is that "free"? If there is congestion, there are two options. Pretend it is not there, and discount for the downgrade, but call it "a charge for a fast lane", with the glass half empty/full (you can spin that bit) but really emptying (that ones an absolute measure, no wiggling out of it). Or be honest, and charge people for their use... you know, like every other form of product/service consumption.

      I'd prefer the honest result, but expect the other...

  20. Vociferous

    ISP's are natural monopolies.

    Never, ever, deregulate a natural monopoly. Does not work.

    Other than that I'd like to point out that the correct answer to the question "what is Net Neutrality" is "dead".

    Netflix and Youtube are already paying ISP's to not have traffic to their sites throttled, and the US FTC, which in reality is the only instance which decides if net neutrality lives or dies, have switched and now support pay-to-play.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: ISP's are natural monopolies.

      There is no such thing as a natural monopoly, no matter how many times you claim there is.

      ALL these monopolies were created by greedy politicians making deals with their friends. No, not at the national level where everybody keeps focusing their attention, but at the local level where the zoning laws were written to allow one incumbent. At first it was a lot of little monopolies because "the last mile is a natural monopoly." Then one of the little monopolies found it had a bunch of extra cash. So it bought an adjacent monopoly to allow efficiencies of scale because "the last mile is a natural monopoly." And with two regions under its control, it was making even more cash, so it could annex its next monopoly quicker than it did the last. So now we've got an oligopoly of at most four players and everybody else being sound and fury signifying nothing.

      No, I don't know how to fix it. You F'ed it up too badly with your "natural monopolies" BS. If you break them apart, they'll all reassemble again because they've tasted monopoly power and it is nearly impossible to police all the possible political graft at the local level across the country. The best shot we've got right now is somebody showing the Verizon/Comcast deal was the sort of illegal arrangement the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was meant of penalize. Not much chance of that happening though is there?

      1. Vociferous

        Re: ISP's are natural monopolies.

        You're confusing your libertarian magical thinking for reality.

        The reality is that once a carrier has built the infrastructure to deliver broadband to an area, it's going to be an extreme uphill battle for the next company to enter that area, and even worse for the third -- very few customers will have realistic access to more than one or two ISPs. That's a natural monopoly. Doesn't have anything to do with politicians, has all to do with the fact that building infrastructure is expensive, and whoever gets the rails, fiber, or electricity wires down first, owns the area and is immune to competition.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    oncoming shortage = new higher price for exisitings services !

    When the mobile provider sells access for bundled subscriptions of music and video services then us regular users will no doubt find we are back to dial up speeds.

    And hey, because of the shortage we get to pay double !

    Doubly wonderful.

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: oncoming shortage = new higher price for exisitings services !

      This.

      Plus, once everyone pays to play, we are back where we started. At no point is there an incentive incentive for the ISP to increase bandwidth, as long as they are a monopoly. The "pay to play" control is the peering hardware connections, not links. This should be regulated. As far as content destined for an ISP network is concerned, there should be a regulated price/markup allowing anyone to connect for that price.

      I'm happy for rich content providers to buy fatter links into an ISP but they must not be able to dictate QOS across someone-else's network based on source rather than content-type. The reason for this is that when the ISP end-users pay, rather than corporates, it help keep things above-board and transparent.

      The technical problem is defining "content type." Usually we us IP ports, but we'll need broader catagories - realtime (voip/video calling), buffered (streamed video), interactive (http), non-interactive (SMTP), low priority (torrent) etc.

      Let's also not forget that nearly all this low-latency requirement only exists to support a (somewhat failed) attempt at DRM by using streaming rather than store and play. As has been noted, torrent traffic is quite happy delivering massive amounts of video over congested links. Use the torrent protocols, add a layer of DRM (don't play before X; delete 36 hours after showtime) and save yourself a bundle of deployment cost. Infringement happens - why make it cost you more that it already does?

      I know there are use-cases for provider-streaming, but for home use, an STB + local streaming is far better.

  22. TechnicalBen Silver badge

    Good Bye Reg...

    Packets ARE handled differently, by the end points. The interworkings can and do get to decide if they accept, and how they manage. What happens if they decide BASED ON CONTENT instead of BASED ON USAGE.

    One of these is allowable, both commercially/competitively and morally. One is not. Even more so based on the fact the content of a packet, it's bit ordering, has zero impact compared to say the required latency/bandwidth etc. The content is not a consideration, problem or responsibility to the delivery network. The latency, bandwidth or pathing can be, and they can charge what they like for those requests.

    Is that what they are asking for? Are they asking for anyone using line Z to pay extra? Or just "Google" or "Apple" or should that read "our competitors who we packet inspected to see it had their headers on" to pay extra?

    One is discrimination against people and companies, hiding behind the maths involved in networking. One is charging for additional use, speeds or requirement irrespective of the cut (or colour) of the garb the customer is wearing.

    Such misinformation in the articles on the Reg have been funny reads in the past. But this seems rather damaging now...

  23. Paul 77

    For all those wittering on about latency over satellite being a problem for www.theregister.co.uk, I suspect its not that bad. The home page loads up in 11 seconds. Forum page for a topic loaded up in 8 seconds. not. Thats in the middle of the Pacific on a 2Mb/s MTN Vsat link shared between about 30 people.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Latency.....

      Is utterly immaterial for ftp, smtp, http, imap and friends. They are low priority bulk services which aren't overly sensitive to such things.

      It's a killer on a telnet(ssh) session when you can type a line and wait 3-10 seconds for it to appear.

      On voice/video calls it results in unnaturally long pauses.

      if you were playing online games, you'd be fragged and someone could be pissing on the corpse before you were even aware you'd been hit.

      Even though I said that low priority bulk services aren't latency sensitive, that's not entirely true: When my upstream switched from satellite to submarine cable feed, throughput doubled overnight on the same bandwidth.

  24. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Cell phones were like this for a while

    Remember back in the 90s when cell phones caught on with non-yuppies.

    It was so expensive to call anyone on another network that you had to be on the same network as all your friends - this was the main marketing tactic of most operators.

    So now you don't only have to be on Facebook because all your friends are - you have to be on Facebook because your ISP doesn't carry Google+

    (note to Americans and other aliens - in europe you pay more to call a cell phone and each network used to have it's own area code so you knew how much it would cost to call)

  25. ZenCoder

    Article seems based on practice prior to massive changes.

    To me its like saying people rarely kill each other so what harm could making murder legal do.

    They are just biding their time until the public gets lazy and unvigilant. Then they will start treating your internet the same way as they treat cable TV. They have to, they have a legal obligation to make the most value for their shareholders.

    Its not what they are have done, are doing that worries me, its what they could legally get away with in the future.

  26. Don Jefe

    Mission Accomplished

    All the technical arguments and opinionated exclamations on every side of this fall right down if you start talking money. Every step away from the money is a step in the wrong direction and misguided people will lead us into a land of pure shit with irrelevant arguments.

    The fact of the matter is that the US taxpayer funded, and still funds, HUGE swaths of the the Internet in the US. The service providers don't like to talk about it, but go look yourself. They received and still receive enormous amounts of money to expand access and maintain existing infrastructure. Every single public facing agency in the US contributes big bucks every year to help make sure schools, hospitals, small out of the way villages, farms and all kinds of other things get, or will get, broadband Internet access.

    Let's rewind a bit and review the early years of Internet policy with the US government. Who was it that wanted equal access for all users and who wanted a pay by use structure? Anybody know? I'll tell you, the ISP's lobbied long and hard for 'neutral' access. They spent millions of dollars arguing that weighted performance would create an skewed environment for small businesses and would be unfair.

    They won, they got exactly what they asked for. They wanted the general public to use their proprietary networks (MSN, AOL, etc) and ream the public with incremental charges for everything. That would have been OK(ish), but their networks fucking sucked. Nobody wanted to screw around with that garbage, that's not the taxpayers problem.

    The ISP's get lots of money, every year, to 'expand and maintain the Internet in a fair and neutral way in order to provide foundations for innovative new businesses'. Anybody want to guess at who drafted that part in quotes? Yep. The ISP lobbying groups that still have five or six offices here in DC, even with some of the same people in them.

    The ISP's got exactly what they lobbied for then asked for more, and got that too. They actively opposed having weighted access but borked their own plans for private networks. Fuck 'em. Thems the breaks boys. You did like every other business, you rolled the dice and you lost. Too bad. We can't all be winners.

    Actually, I guess they can be winners after all. They're nine years behind and have only delivered about 45% of the infrastructure we already paid for with all those big checks from specious arguments like managing an epidemic faster via the Internet and getting the CDC to commit to 20 years of subsidies for you. Same with the DoD, DoE, DoJ and you get all those great tax incentives (tax breaks are subsidies too you know) based on meeting expanding coverage milestones using the maps and methodologies you developed yourself. Let me reemphasize, fuck 'em.

    All that bunk about investment they've made in the Infrastructure is so loaded it's outright dishonest. More than half, and up to ~70% (depending on who you talk to) of the network infrastructure in the US was paid for by US taxpayers and we're still paying more today. Don't let them bullshit you. This was all their idea, funded with US taxpayer money. If they won't honor the commitments the lobbied for, and got, then let them drown. Others will take their place and have a better idea of what not to do.

  27. User McUser

    Who Speaks for the Users?

    The Internet would never have been built if it had been left up to private corporations. At best we would have dozens of separate networks with limited inter-networking just due to differing standards and a lack of finacial motivation to bother. Like the various national road systems in 1st world countries, the Internet is a common carrier in the most generic sense of the term.

    So after being pioneered by Governments and Education, businesses see an opportunity to extract additonal rents (in the Economics sense) from both their end users and the content/service providers. The problem with this is that the argument they use is that this is supposed to make the Internet better but the schemes as described only serve to allow ISPs to maintain their existing infrastructure as-is rather than investing in actual improvements to the network *and* make extra money for doing so. This rewards a poor decision which will ultimately lead to lower speeds at higher costs for everyone. The money they extract from Netflix or Google will eventually be passed through to the consumers who are already paying the ISPs directly.

    And the problem with *that* is that the people who then ultimately pay for all of this, namely all of us, have no control over the situation. The "Net Neutraliy" debate is a battle of Titans and the true power, the users, have no voice. I am all for traffic shaping on the Internet so long as *I* get to decide who gets priority. Netflix might want to pay Comcast for a faster connection but if I'm an Amazon Prime user I don't want Netflix's packets to preempt mine. As a single user I have no power or voice in this argument; my concerns are not being sought nor do they seem to matter.

    This is what the beardies are upset over, that giant corporations are fighting with each other over our money but none of them have bothered to ask us what we would like to have happen.

  28. JCitizen
    Coffee/keyboard

    I'll throw some salt over my shoulder

    for this article, as it is obviously not a neutral view - But I live in the desert out in the middle of no where. We have so few people here, we had to build our own networks, which include wireless, cable - both copper and optical fiber, and for a short time, satellite. Our association sold off the satellite assets long ago, and finally sold their cell phone assets to another customer owned cell service. So no we only have cable tv/internet/landline service using this association. However - depending on which community you are from, there is everything from AT&T U-Verse, to Verizon wireless, to power-line internet available. I live in the most restricted community in miles around and I still have 4 choices of all three services from four different providers. All of them with unlimited plans that are very competitive.

    This phenomenon of a few companies monopolizing much of this networking is curious to me. Why do we out here in the desert have more choices than a city slicker in a huge community? It could be that we are a small potatoes market, so the truly big companies aren't interested in taking over the whole show, because the return isn't good enough. I have another theory though. It isn't that we are a backwater community which doesn't interest the big players - it is that we built our own networks in the 1st place, and that scares the POOP out of the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world? If you are not happy with your competition in your market, band together and build your own customer owned association to build a new network that you profit from!! The old contracts that used to block this 100 years ago have long expired, and in fact were declared illegal in the courts, so as long as you are building fiber and not cluttering up the airwaves, you can own your own network and profit from it your selves.

    This is the true American way, and it scares the HELL out of the fat cats! That is why there is so much "competition" in my area, because they want to destroy the last bastion of customer owned networking, and they will spend everything they can to do that - even if they have to lose money in a back water(desert) community. Bear in mind folks that we also built the fiber back bone in the middle west, so even Sprint used to borrow our assets to reach from the eastern US to the west. So far the associations are still winning however, because one of them still has the best deal on unlimited everything for 29.99 a month on 3G wireless. I was shocked when I visited a buddies house who uses this service. He can add any device for a small stipend and one of them was a 3G dongle for his smart TV. He was watching video movies on it that rivaled anything Netflix had, but I'm not sure which video streaming service he was using, and he was picking them on his smart phone to command the HDTV. He also has unlimited voice, and text/email. Life doesn't get any better than this! :D

  29. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Devil

    Naive The Register: ISP Switching; Choose Your Torturer

    "…So why not switch? Why not throw a switching party for everyone on your street? Start acting like customers - it's the only thing that scares the hell out of an ISP."

    Naive much?

    A) Where I live I have the choice of two ISPs: Verizon and Time Warner Cable. I personally have written two detailed exposés about constant, blatant customer abuse by Time Warner Cable. They could not shout any louder their contempt for their customers. The resulting hatred back from customers is one reason TWC hope to sell themselves off to Comcast.

    But guess what: Verizon has an equally POOR reputation with customers. If I don't like one abusive company, I can switch to the other abusive company. Yeah, that's worth switching, naive The Register.

    B) If I switch from abusive Time Warner Cable to Verizon, here's what I get (and we're talking FIOS optical cable Internet here): LOWER bandwidth (gawd knows why) for HIGHER costs. Yeah, that's worth switching, naive The Register.

    C) Last year, these two abusive companies decided NOT to compete with each other in my area, deciding instead to market their services TOGETHER. The result would have, obviously, been a defacto MONOPOLY. Thankfully, #MyStupidGovernment is not quite corrupt enough, yet, to allow obvious ISP monopolies if it doesn't have to. This new twist in customer abuse was shot down. So, knowing the ANTI-competitive nature of these two companies in my area: What is the POINT of switching, naive The Register?

    PLEASE: Don't assume you comprehend the Internet market in the USA from your perspective in the UK. You hit a very severe FAIL pothole.

  30. Marco van Beek
    Flame

    We need an alternative charging paradigm

    I have long thought that the only fair way to charge for the Internet is for everybody to pay for the data they send. If I visit a web site I have not idea how many graphics are on that page until it has loaded, so if the website has to pay for the sending of the data, they have the option of put less images on their pages, and so on. If my server gets hacked and user for a ddos attack, I pay for my servers part in it, so I might be a bit more inclined to protect it better. Since legitimate streaming companies like Netflix are charging for access to their content, they have the revenue to pay for the data transfer.

    On phone systems we are used to the idea that the initiator pays for the call, because it is the initiator's decision to dial the number, but on the Internet, I don't know what I am getting until I ask for it, and the other end can simply ignore or decline my request very easily, so if has to work the other way around.

    I can't think of any other way that is both fair in monetary terms and in net neutrality terms.

    1. h4rm0ny

      Re: We need an alternative charging paradigm

      >>"I have long thought that the only fair way to charge for the Internet is for everybody to pay for the data they send"

      This would require a more robust and anonymous and pervasive payments system than we currently have.

      It would also reqiure site owners to be able to distinguish between desired audience and undesired audience because their costs will no longer be under their control and that's the only way they'll be able to take control back. If I, as a competitor to YouTube, can just rack-up a lot of video views that I have no interest in and push their costs up (and ability to charge for advertsing down, btw), then they're in trouble.

      I feel that provider pays shifts emphasis of the Internet away from open and free, to more closed.

  31. MacGyver
    Megaphone

    Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google?

    Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google? Did you like them 15 years ago? No, because they didn't exist in their present form then, they are only here because the free nature of the Internet allowed them to experiment and develop a user base. Can you imagine if Google was threatened with their data being throttling back when they were in a garage and making no money? How does a 3-day old Netflix pay "protection money" to Comcast?

    If Net Neutrality goes away, say goodbye to any future startups. The only way a new startup can flourish in that type of environment is by "partnering" with one of the established big boys , which is probably not the first time this has been realized by the big boys.

    I'm guessing Comcast (and all the others) would have a lot more money for upgrading their pipes if they stopped buying out all of their competitors.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google?

      "Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google? Did you like them 15 years ago? No, because they didn't exist in their present form then, they are only here because the free nature of the Internet allowed them to experiment"

      No, they're here because of billions and billions of dollars of investment. If promising startups can raise funds for salaries and buildings and servers and kit, why can't they raise them for CDNs too?

      You also presume that all future startups require significant amounts of traffic. That probably isn't true. Video requires lots of bandwidth. Voice requires less, but more reliable bandwidth. Other services require tiny amounts of infrequent bandwidth without any particular delivery dependency.

      1. MacGyver

        Re: Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google?

        @TB,

        So do we get to decide what kind and how much traffic is "significant" or will that number be pulled from Comcast's ass at will? Also Facebook pushes massive amounts of data, so does Skydrive, so does any popular site. Letting the ISPs pick and choose the tech winners is a bad idea, no matter how fair you think it sounds.

    2. ipghod

      Re: Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google?

      Yes, and that _would_ be a guess. because you didn't bother to read their quarterly report (they are a public company) where they detail how many billions a year they spend on network upgrades.

      "Net Neutrality" doesn't exit, and never has existed, except in the form of the basic, underlying intent of connecting all these private networks. This net neutrality political crap is what content providers have been screaming about since day 1. 'evil ISP controls my fate, I have no choice, why should I have to 'pay twice' to deliver my content!' waa waa waa waa... We've heard this over and over again, since about 30 days since they begin allowing commerce on the network.

      In it's simplest terms, carrier interactions are all about equality and value swap. The fact of the matter is, no one has incentive to peer with netflix, because they have nothing of value to offer another carrier. Oh, my customers can get to your app better? How does that help me with the 1000 other things my customers do on my network? Oh, if I don't do it, your going to scream 'foul' and run off to your pet congress critter? Fine, let me know how that works out.

      Google realized long ago they needed to NOT rely on infrastructure that they had little control over. They even hired an old sk00l Internet dude to oversee it for em. It's that important. They grumbled a little bit about it, but reality and logic aren't just words, they represent certain non-negotiable facts about WHY things work on the Internet.

      If you carry your example of a 'startup google' to it's logical conclusion, you would realize any startup doesn't generate enough bandwidth to make a dent in the overall scheme of things. esp if they are trying to be efficient. It's not worth the time, effort or money to throttle back someone like that. And guess what. there are ways around being throttled, which boils down to 'buy access to your customers'...

      You know, just like every single business on the planet has done since the beginning of civilization. Want to service customers? you have to buy a storefront where they are at. pay for shipping your goods so you can put them where the customers can access them. maintain the storefront.

      What you are ACTUALLY saying is "I shouldn't have to finance the carrier beyond a normal 'cheap' home cable connection" knowing full well they have different rates for different types of connections, based on your usage needs.

      Should people be afraid their carrier is going to abuse them? Sure. after all, it's natural to fear things one doesn't understand. But is there any MONEY in being abused in a way that throttles back something based on where it's coming from? No, not really. Unless it's coming in over a shared interface that you have to manage the capacity on... In which case, how is it UNFAIR to prevent a single destination from bullying it's way into an unfair share of someone else's connection?

      just saying 'it's the carriers job to provide unlimited bandwidth to the entire planet' sounds nice and particularly entitled, but it doesn't say that in _any_ service contract you agreed to, nor will it ever say anything more than 'best effort' on your cheap home internet connections.

      1. MacGyver

        Re: Do you like Facebook, Netflix, or Google?

        Your store analogy isn't quite right.

        Not having net neutrality is like more like Comcast owning the street in front of the store, and charging one business more money because they do more business.

        That is even more accurate when you realize that the QOS that they are selling those "premium" customers comes from somewhere, and that somewhere is "non-premium" users, aka us.

        The last mile is exactly like a road, there is only so much room, and when the ISPs can just keep slicing the current lines to more and more "lanes" and then put up stop lights for each lane, why would they ever need to upgrade those lines. They want to keep their resource scarce because like anything else in life, the more scarce a resource, the more you can charge for it. Add the fact that most customers have only one provider "choice" and you see how the whole model is going to suck for anyone without a lot of money.

        They need to stop over-selling their capacity, and spend more of their profits on upgrading their existing product to meet demand, and not just paying lawyers to change the laws so they don't need to.

        I'd rather just make the lines public and raise my taxes to upgrade and maintain them rather then let a cabal of ISPs turn it into a class system.

  32. Michael Habel Silver badge

    Fluffle Puff Pony really?! I never knew there were so many Bronies on this Site.

    1. Greg J Preece

      Neither did I, until they all responded to the article going "oh wow, Fluffle Puff!" ;-)

  33. Dick Emery

    Flufflepuff!

    I just came to post that I only clicked on this article because of Flufflepuff!

    But on net neutrality. In the end we all have to pay for something somewhere up the pipeline and if advertising does not cut it then something (someone) else has to give in order to support it. Just because you pay your ISP a fee each month for access does not mean everything else on the net should be provided for free.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I doubt it - any Brony worth their Apple Family Cider could tell you that FluffePuff isn't a unicorn. Or even part of the franchise.

  35. murri

    create a network like Guifi.net

    My friend was fed up of not receiving DSL in his rural home here in Spain, so instead he and others created what is probably one of the worlds largest wi-fi networks in the world:

    http://guifi.net/en/node/38392

  36. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Discriminatory access

    The author misses the point entirely.

    ISP customers pay for connectivity. That's the full price of everything, up to where the ISP plugs into the Internet exchanges.

    Other companies pay their providers for the same thing, up to the exchanges.

    What is happening is that a few larger telco/ISPs are saying to offsite websites "we notice a lot of our customers are going to you. If you don't pay extra, they will have impaired connectivity to you or will no longer be able to see you" - this is particularly the case where the ISP has their own video offerings and customers are going elsewhere anyway.

    In other words, the ISP is attempting to double dip - getting paid for the same data twice.

    The economist's term for this is "rent seeking behaviour" - As noted above, the full price of connectivity to peering points is paid by each network's own customers. This is an attempt to extort money out of _other_ networks customers (remember they're already paying their full costs up to the peering points too), so that the ISP's own customers can continue to connect to the other network's site.

    If the remote site is popular enough, this is a fast way of losing all your customers - but thanks to the perverse and byzantine structure of the US telecoms laws, Telcos have an effective local monopoly on voice and DSL provision, so the customers may be able to go to a cable provider, but that's the limit of competition in most areas.

    What it means is that USA telcos/cable companies are attempting to hold remote resources to ransom using their own customers as hostages - customers who have already paid all the costs of running the data service. Its the kind of thing you expect from a bunch of sociopaths.

    This is all quite apart from Netflix/Akamai/Google hosting their kit in local ISP datacentres and thereby reducing the ISP's upstream connectvity costs. if that happens then it's a matter for local negotiation, but discriminatory access to offsite resources based on how much those offsite resources are paying the ISP is the crux of arguements about Net Neutrality.

    Priority and QoS flags are merely guidelines, aimed at keeping Telnet/SSH sessions workable, VoiP.Video usable, whilst pushing less latency/jitter sensitive material such as smtp/imap/http/ftp to the back of the queue and still giving them enough bandwidth to be useable. (They're guidelines because some dweebs abuse them to try and make their mail or whatever more important than it needs to be. This tends to get stomped on at border routers)

    1. Tom 13

      Re: That's the full price of everything

      Doubtful. And that's the problem, somebody has to pay for it.

      Seriously, how many articles have we had where posters have wailed about data caps for unlimited service because the ISP is oversubscribed? Too many for me to count. That means the ISPs aren't charging the full price of everything, probably because we aren't willing to pay for it. But somebody does, somehow. What we're seeing in the market now is as much a socialism problem as anything else. The ISPs promised too much for too little.

  37. noominy.noom

    @Terry Barnes, Re: Andrew

    I think you only have a partial view of the analogy. Yes, perishable goods are specialized delivery. But it is the type of content, not the content itself, that distinguishes the delivery requirments. I don't want UPS getting into the chocolates business, then delaying my order from Godiva but offering to get their own chocolates to me faster. The analogy is certainly not exact since there is no monopoly on delivery companies. The point is, I understand there are legitimate reasons to deliver different types of content differently. I just want the delivery company to be neutral in delivering all of the packages of one type to me.

    @Don Jefe - Good points. Have an upvote.

    @JCitizen - I think you are correct in that you were able to have multiple options because the big players were not interested in your market. But you imply that you think the old (monopoly) contracts have run out and people can do this anywhere. You would not be correct if that is your assumption. Quite the opposite. The incumbents are fighting tooth and nail to keep out any competitors, and especially if local governments are involved.

    @All those who accuse net neutrality proponents of freetardism

    You are wrong. I do not mind paying a fair price for whatever goods I commit to buying. And I keep my side of the bargain, i.e. I pay my bills on time all of the time. If there were competition, the price would theoretically be the correct amount.

    1. JCitizen
      Childcatcher

      Dear noominy noom...

      I assumed most would see the a US situation is not of their own. but what is stopping the power of the people in your country? I realize that in a dictatorship this can't happen, but the FON network that was experimented in France could. Using a MESH network, the people put up their OWN network! I realize France probably put up some seed money, but when you look at what gamers pay for high cost equipment and software, this network would be a believable alternative - possibly even in a dictatorship - if properly organized in an underground network.

      In the FON network everyone supports the other with a MESH infrastructure that is provided by individuals with a properly setup wireless router, or even more sophisticated transfer points. Some traffic would be shared, of course , a lot like P2P is now, but with a tunneling protocol that would shield each users activity to everyone else.

      In the US we have many wireless channels we could force the FCC to free up, like the unused portions of the old VHS and UHF TV spectrum no longer use or needed by on air TV broadcasting, the many line of site microwave towers now laying dormant because of the growth of 3G, laser line of site back bone built by individual tinkerers, Citizen Band - a now dormant spectrum, which now that it is also digital could free up HUGE aerial assets!, even the HAM radio enthusiasts could join in this movement. What do you have in your country - neighborhood? Do you not have the power of the people?

  38. Zack Mollusc

    Hmmmm...

    If there is difficulty in streaming video across the intarwebs, then perhaps it is time to design some kind of storage which can be filled slowly with video but then played back at full speed when all the video frames are in it.

    I am thinking of a slowed-down vhs cassette recorder, but there may be an even better way of doing it.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hate speech

    The term 'freetard' has henceforth been declared as hate speech due to it's offensiveness and is no longer acceptable.

  40. Rick Giles
    Pirate

    When we have

    built our coast to coast wireless mesh network, none of this will matter as Comcast will be just another TV programming provider.

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