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Net Neutrality Moves To Center Stage In The House

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The House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans defeated (34-22) Democratic efforts to strengthen network neutrality provisions in today’s meeting focused on an overhaul of the Telecommunications Act.

The bone of contention: will current Internet neutrality go by the wayside – does it need to be codified? Net neutrality means that Internet service providers and network owners concern themselves only with efficiently moving bits – not with the content embodied by the bits.

Net discrimination advocates contend that some bits are more “valuable” than others. The network owner/manager could block access to content or prioritize delivery of other content, for a fee of course. The entity paying the fee would not be the consumer (at least not right now – but TV used to be ‘free’, too).

Those supporting network neutrality range from gun owners to librarians. Those opposing codification of network neutrality tend to be libertarian think tanks. Those advocating discriminatory systems are telecos and cable firms, in the main.

A Human Explanation

Imagine, for a moment, that your cellphone provider is Cingular and your closest friend has only a landline provided by Qwest. Currently, because of common carrier regulation, each telephone provider must treat incoming calls as though both phones were on the same network, even if they aren’t.

One economic argument for neutrality is classic: discrimination distorts. One argument against neutrality is that of the commons: discrimination may be needed to manage assets (bandwidth, in this case). However, bandwidth can be managed at the consumer side by changing from flat-rate pricing (analogous to an “all you can eat” menu) to pricing based on bandwidth consumption (the a la carte menu).

But even that analogy falls flat. The US has more expensive broadband than (gasp) France – about $20 per megabit versus $1.80 per megabit, according to the Wall Street Journal. So our “all you can eat” model yields overpriced and slow service.

Vint Cerf, the father of the Internet, told Congress earlier this year that “allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.”

Common Carrier, Infrastructure

If you believe that common carrier rules are necessary (the Interstate Commerce Commission was the first regulatory agency in the country and was created in response to railroad abuses that led to the first common carrier regulation), then you probably support net neutrality.

If you believe that the Internet is essential public infrastructure, not a toll road, then you probably support net neutrality.

In January, Lawrence Lessig wrote:

[W]hen the Internet first reached beyond research facilities to the masses, it did so on regulated lines — telephone lines. Had the telephone companies been free of the “heavy hand” of government regulation, it’s quite clear what they would have done — they would have killed it, just as they did when Paul Baran first proposed the idea in 1964. It was precisely because they were not free to kill it, because the “heavy hand[ed]” regulation required them to act neutrally, that the Internet was able to happen, and then flourish.

Indeed. Research the issue. Then make your voice heard.

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  • gonzo marx

    yer gonzo sez READ THIS!

    spot on with the Article, thanks you for bringing this to everyone’s attention…

    for Netizens all over the world, as well as the pure democratic Ideal of Free Speech…this Issue is a crucial fight that is happening behidn closed doors and with the elected Representatives in charge holding their hands out to the telecoms and cable companies

    there should NOT be any kind of “two tier” system” for the Net…the packets of Info should be left treated uncaringly and equally as they have been from the beginning

    you PAY for your bandwidth at home, and content providers PAY for their bandwidth….what is being proposed is merely greed rearing it’s hoary head so that providers will have to pay twice in order for them to get the same performance they are already receiving

    and how is this a good thing for the consumer or even the small business owner?

    example: you sell widgets, you put up a nice website so your customers can order widgets online , thus making your sales go up, and you business more effecient…this new system comes into effect and your budget doesn’t allow you to pay the higher rate…so for your customers, your website and ordering process goes……very…..slowly…

    now , along comes some big retailer who can pay the extra fees….and they leave your widget sales in the dust

    that doesn’t even get into the average citizens usage for blogs, e-mail and just plain surfing

    if the providers wind up having to pay for the “top tier” how long until the unscrupulous bastards start creating the same kind of “class” system for users as well?

    about 10 minutes after they get the first in place is my bet

    write, call or visit your elected Representatives

    let those bastards know you want the Net to be Neutral….do NOT let a back door deal happen in the dark of the Night to shut down this new mode of Communication which help to bring all people together on the equal plain of Thought

    nuff said


  • Those greedy bastards aren’t going to be happy until they control EVERYTHING—including what we read online in the privacy of our own homes, aren’t they?


  • Chantal, you’re misreading this article, unless you’re saying that ‘those greedy bastards’ are the internet ISPs. This bill has nothing to do with content – although there is another bill floating around that’s about protecting privacy rights on the net – this bill is almost entirely about the structure of the nationwide broadband network and who can provide you with high speed access and under what terms. It includes a lot of consumer protection provisions and addresses things like VOIP 911 services.

    What some people are concerned about is the provision in the bill which would allow ISPs to charge different rates to customers based on their usage of bandwidth. There seems to be some confusion on this issue because it can be looked at in two ways. Some, like gonzo, are reading this as an opportunity for users who have more money to pay higher prices for faster broadband. You can also look at it as a system under which users who want to pay less can save money by taking slower speed service.

    The fact is that this bill isn’t really going to do either of those things. The cost of service is going to ultimately be set by the marketplace, and this whole ‘network neutrality’ business is sort of a red herring unless you want to go to an extreme they aren’t even considering and have the government dictate service costs to various providers, which would be a pretty gross imposition on free trade and likely hurt consumers considerably.


  • But even that analogy falls flat. The US has more expensive broadband than (gasp) France — about $20 per megabit versus $1.80 per megabit, according to the Wall Street Journal. So our “all you can eat” model yields overpriced and slow service.

    The French system is underwritten by taxes and service is limited to 256K for home users, so it’s not exactly a fair comparison. In fact, France has a two-tiered system very much like what you’re afraid of, where home users are guaranteed cheap but limited service from the government and private businesses go through private carriers and pay a lot more for higher speed access.


  • gonzo marx

    read the Bill and look at what the fiber carriers are proposing…

    the FIBER CARRIERS are wanting to be able to set up a two tier network where they prioritize the IP packets according to the prices they charge…you pay top, you get priority over the routers

    currently, you pay for your total bandwidth, and ALL IP packets are treated equally

    what is being rammed through is a bill that would allow telecoms and cable companies to set priorities on those IP packets, rather than maintaining neutrality of the dataflow

    example: telecom A doesn’t like a VOIP service using their routers to undercut their price…so they set their routers to de-prioritize any IP packets to or from that VOIP service, thus making them “second class citizens” and slowing down the VOIP service…who has already PAID for hteir bandwidth

    simply put, this is anti-competitive and stifles the open and free flow of data in a neutral fashion, placing control of such in the hands of those with a profit motive to charge twice and prioritize what they like rather than maintain the neutrality of the network as a whole

    spin it how you like…the technical aspect is irrefutable


  • I have read the bill, Gonzo. Very little of it deals specifically with this neutrality issue.

    I see what you’re saying, though, but isn’t that just free trade? You pay more you get better service, you pay less you get less good service? It would be a problem if they were charging the same rate and prioritizing packets differently depending on who the customer is, but if the VOIP can pay the premium rate and get premium service just like anyone else then I don’t see where there’s a problem.

    As for being anti-competitive, from my reading the bill also opens up competition between various types of providers, so if your local cable company is ripping off VOIP services their competition (a local phone or wireless provider) can undercut them to steal that customer base and it all works out to the benefit of the consumer.

    The market trend here is overwhelmingly towards lower priced and faster service with more variety. I don’t see this bill stopping that trend at all.


  • gonzo marx

    sins of Omission…

    the bill is very cleverly worded to leave most of these Issues up to the fiber carriers

    wat they(and you) appear to be Advocating is taking the open system of the Net and turning it into a proprietary two tier class society based on not what you pay for your bandwidth alone…but also what you are willing to pay to prioritize your packets

    the flaw in your model is that this Network is/was NOT designed to be a capitalistic vehicle, but instead to be an open standard of information exchange

    i’ve got no problems with doing business on the Net…a fine use of the capabilities…

    i DO take exception to those already charging for usage to add a second charge and violating the neutrality of packet delivery, thus completely violating the entire concept of the TCP/IP protocols that were DESIGNED in te first place to not only disperse and assure packet delivery, but to enforce packet neutrality and universal access


  • gonzo marx

    a non-geek view of this whole Issue can be found here…


    i STRONGLY urge any and all concerned to write their congressmen and senators…e-mail, phone call, picket their offices…whatever

    net neutrality has provided the human species with the greatest tool for democracy since Gutenberg’s printing press

    let’s try not to let Greed co-opt it to line their pockets

    nuff said


  • RedTard

    I’m not sure the technical details but my gut feeling there is that we have a really good system now. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    If in plain english anybody could explain to me any possible benefit of passing this bill I would be happy to consider it. My suspicion, since the big guns SBC and AT&T are paying the congressmen millions for their support, is that this bill is probably just anticompetitive shit.

    They want regulations cleared so they can shut down smaller opponents or at least banish them to the second tier.

  • RedTard


    Thanks for the link, that explained a bit. Basically the big companies are irritated because little startups like google, myspace, ebay, etc. keep innovating and making the big bucks using customers on their networks. They want the ability to either shut off the bandwidth while they come up with a competing service or extort them with exorbitant fees to get in on the rush.

    As cheap as connections can be $9 for dialup of $20+ for broadband I don’t think there is much to gain in terms of cheaper connections, and there is an enormous amount to lose in content. I doubt very seriously Eric wants or can afford to be writing checks to AT&T every month for allowing it’s customers to visit this site. This is exactly the type of site that will get squashed with a bill like this.

    It’s anticompetitive shit as one would expect and another reason to make me ashamed I sometimes vote republican.

  • gonzo marx

    glad to help Red…you keep tis up and you will start making me think yer one of the good guys



  • RedTard’s first line in #9 is certainly something I have to agree with. But at the same time I don’t see how we ever benefit from the government trying to limitate competition or dictate pricing to create ‘fairness’. The result is almost always higher prices and worse service for consumers.


  • Ok, I read the PCWorld article. From the article it sounds to me that what we’re talking about here is the issue of ‘throttling’, where a broadband provider detects that someone paying for a very basic level of service is transferring insane amounts of data – usually throut P2P networks, and they respond by cutting down their active bandwidth.

    I guess my take on this is different because of my circumstances. I live in an area where there is no cable and where our phone services are so bad that you can’t use a modem on a phone line for data communications. I had to deal with this by helping to start a wireless ISP company. We brought in T1 lines at $600 a month each, and underwrite the cost by distributing high speed wireless internet through a radio tower to the entire area. I got used very quickly to the idea that if I wanted decent internet I’d have to pay substantially more for it than people living 5 miles away who had cable service. I fully expected to have to pay for a T1 until we figured out how to set up a WISP and make our neighbors underwrite the service.

    So as far as I’m concerned there’s already a 2-tiered or multi-tiered system in place.