Net Neutrality And You - It’s a Big Deal

| Editorial

Net neutrality seems like it would be just what it says, a neutral Internet. While that's the basic concept, there's a lot more to it when you hear the phrase bandied about on podcasts and news programs. It's a complicated issue, one that Senator Al Franken earlier on Wednesday called the free speech issue of our time. He's not far off.

Part of the issue is the goal of pro-Net Neutrality people to keep "Internet access" synonymous with "phone line." While we take it for granted today, a phone line is a wire provided by one company that allows you to choose who you call, whether they are using the same telephone provider you use or not.

Many large telecom companies want to change that for Internet connections. They want a regulatory framework that allows them to throttle who they want, when they want, and to be able to charge content providers for the privilege of delivering that content at a usable speed. Doing so would greatly enhance their profits while greatly degrading the free flow of information. 

Mark Taylor of Level3 wrote a blog post titled Observations of an Internet Middleman, discussing Internet connectivity for its customers, as well as for consumers. Level 3 is one of “Tier 1” Internet service providers, which in highway system terms means they build and maintain a good portion of the interstates used to help make the information superhighway a truly global enterprise. There is a TON of information here that is pretty in-depth if networking isn’t really your jam, but I’m going to give you the good bits. Here goes:

Level 3 is a company that helps connect the world, from my house to the TMO website to post this, from your house to the site so you can read it. Level 3 doesn’t manage the connection from the street to the house though; they’re connecting ISPs to their network, which is connected to other networks, which is how I can gain access to any site around the world.

Each of these networks agrees to connect to other networks, and that agreement is called peering. As usage increases, sometimes portions of the network will max out. This is mentioned in the post, saying that currently Level 3 has 51 peers, and 12 of those have “congested ports”, where the traffic saturates the connection 90 percent or more. Six of those are currently being upgraded and Level 3 is working with the other peers on getting it done.

Net who to the what now?

You may notice that leaves six maxed-out connections, and here’s where it gets interesting. Peering agreements are also made with companies selling broadband to consumers. That part where broadband runs to the house is the “last mile” part that has had a lot of discussion lately. This is the part controlled (in the US) by companies like Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Comcast. And it doesn’t appear they’re doing a very good job of it. Here’s a section of the post, emphasis mine:

That leaves the remaining six peers with congestion on almost all of the interconnect ports between us. Congestion that is permanent, has been in place for well over a year and where our peer refuses to augment capacity. They are deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers. They are not allowing us to fulfill the requests their customers make for content.

Five of those congested peers are in the United States and one is in Europe. There are none in any other part of the world. All six are large Broadband consumer networks with a dominant or exclusive market share in their local market. In countries or markets where consumers have multiple Broadband choices (like the UK) there are no congested peers.

In short: You are paying for broadband that sucks, and that isn’t changing. It isn’t like upgrades aren’t possible, I just looked up earnings and Comcast made US $17.4 billion in Q1 of 2014, Time Warner made $5.58 billion. I am not a broadband engineer but I have a hunch it wouldn’t cost anywhere near ONE billion to upgrade a pipe or two and ease some of that congestion. But why would they, when there’s no reason to? It isn’t like there’s competition most places, so what does it matter if your broadband sucks?

Another Level 3 blog post from March titled Chicken talks about some of these last mile providers, and what makes net neutrality such a big deal. So big in fact that Level 3 filed a brief (PDF link) with the FCC about it.

Next: What You Can Do about It

Comments

CudaBoy

The web used to be free, literally - no commercial ISPs as you could log in from schools and colleges as well as home. Cable used to have only two tiers. As corps looked for more revenue streams the web became commercial TV and Cable/Wi-Fi/Satellite/Copper(DSL land lines) et al parsed the crap out of the bandwidth to make more money trading off speed. Not so in Europe. They also looked to cherry pick and ultimately have a conflict of interest in Content Providers, kind of like the Wolves guarding the hen house. If you are in doubt - I’d start by believing NO ISP anymore has your interests in mind as job #1 and go from there.
  Does a Tier 1 have an inherit right to sell services at different speeds or bandwidths as they choose? That seems to be question #1
Question #2 is, if I’m Netflix and I’m locked in at “x” bandwidth with a Tier 1, and I find out that I’m being throttled because some other client of the Tier 1 needs some bandwidth and pays more so he get’s it and I get screwed and lose customers, who is at fault? This is what is happening with Comcast and Netflix in CT where a lot of people can’t even get a decent broadband connect of N’flix without wicked hahd cache-ing pauses even with a 100 MB/sec download speed as opposed to me here in L.A. with no cache problems and only 6MB/sec d’load for less than $40 a month (e-link). .
This IS important. I hope people get online and do the petition thing.
I still say we will be screwed by the Man as usual, but I want all of us to sleep well knowing we tried.  I’d like to think Google’s huge data farms and Apple’s huge data farms will sprout alternate Web Universes from the current .www sooner than later. No reason they couldn’t you know. Screw the widget, they could start alternate competing online Universes or dog forbid combine and Rule - wait, no ease up crack-boy - I forgot, one company gives stuff away for free and the other doesn’t….oh well.

ibuck

From the Chicken post:

[T]hese ISPs simply view these arbitrary tolls as new sources of revenue for their last mile bottleneck monopolies or as a way to unfairly discriminate against content that competes with the content the ISPs themselves supply.

Our elected government officials are the ones who allowed these monopolies, over our public rights of way, and our Congress critters allow the politically appointed FCC officials to permit telecom companies to throttle usage. Ending the monopolies and preventing huge mergers like Comcast acquring Time Warner is a crucial piece. We should all have several TV cable and broadband providers to chose from. And both prices and service would improve if we did. But these big corporations were granted monopolies and make tons of money, part of which are used to bribe, err, make campaign contributions to our elected officials. So the system doesn’t change unless we turn up the heat.

 

Lee Dronick

See this story. The FCC’s web host throttled the Commission’s connection.

http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/web-hosting-throttles-fcc/#!LBtJp

Terrin

Why I don’t like about articles like this is although they draw attention to important issues, they seldom let readers know where to comment to the appropriate officials.

http://www.fcc.gov/comments

People can tell the FCC what they think on both Net Neutrailty and the Comcast Time Warner merger.

Kelly Guimont

Terrin, the second page is exactly that. I listed a number of ways to get involved.

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