The One Minute Case Against “Net Neutrality”

What is “net neutrality?”

To borrow Senator Ted Stevens’s infamous analogy of the Internet to a series of tubes, imagine a network of pipes connected by switching stations. The width of a pipe (bandwidth) determines the volume of messages (packets) than can be sent through it. Packets arriving at a switching station wait in a queue until they can be forwarded to their destination. The pipe’s diameter and the volume of traffic determines the total time (latency) that messages take to reach their destination.

Advocates of “net neutrality” argue against the right of the owners of the pipes (Internet Service Providers) to discriminate between different messages or to charge recipients of messages. So for example, an ISP would not be able to favor telephone calls sent over the net over movie downloads, or charge Google extra for the traffic sent their way, or to block a business if it competes with their own services, or to block malicious or illegal websites. Implementation of such regulations would require government surveillance of Internet traffic and FCC approval of new technologies and services which might violate “neutrality.”

Regulation stifles innovation

The limitations of the original Internet protocols became apparent as it transitioned from a monopoly network designed for government use to a competitive and decentralized marketplace. One limitation is the lack of ability to prioritize certain kinds of traffic. Different kinds of communications have different bandwidth requirements. Watching movies over the web is bandwidth-intensive, but not time-critical. Teleconferences are both bandwidth intensive and time critical. Some applications like remote surgery and other time-critical services are simply impossible over the public Internet with current technology.

Advances in technology are beginning to allow traffic to be analyzed in the process of transmission, so certain traffic, such as real-time video can be prioritized, while other traffic such as file sharing or spam can be given a lower priority or dropped. Along with dramatic increases in speed and performance, technological innovation is making entirely new kinds of services possible.

Net neutrality advocates want the government to regulate how ISP’s may and may not route traffic. Pressure groups such as consumer activist groups, major websites, small ISPs, and Internet backbone providers are fighting for controls that favor them. Once the precedent of regulation is established, competition will shift to passing the most favorable legislation rather than providing the best technology and service.

Regulations breed more regulations

While communications technology has experienced exponential growth, heavily regulated and monopolized consumer phone and cable providers have been slower to improve services. Consumers fed up with expensive cable and DSL services are demanding more government controls over the pricing and behavior of their ISP’s. They argue that regulations are necessary because telecommunications companies receive monopoly privileges and other benefits from the government. But the lesson they should learn is the opposite – regulations create the need for more regulations. The solution is to abolish coercive monopolies for cable and phone service providers and allow free and open competition.

The Internet is possible because many private networks find it in their mutual self-interest to cooperate and share traffic loads. When inequalities arise, networks compensate each other for the extra load. “Neutrality” regulations force companies to act against their self-interest, inevitably leading them to complain to Congress to impose ever more detailed controls to maintain “fairness.”

The Internet is private property

The Internet is not public property. Telecommunications companies have spent billions of dollars on network infrastructure all over the world. They did so in the hope of selling communications services to customers willing to pay for them. The government has no right to effectively nationalize ISP’s by telling them how run their networks.

Proponents of a mixed economy like to invent hypothetical scenarios of ways companies could abuse customers. It is true that a free society gives people the freedom to be stupid, wrong, and malicious. The great thing about capitalism is that it also gives people the freedom for the most consumer-friendly business to win.  A regulated Internet takes away that freedom and turn it over to politicians and lobbyists.   History shows that most attempts to improve outcomes by regulating markets worsen the very problems they were intended to solve.    That is how the USA ended up with the current overpriced, monopolistic oligopoly providers.  Why do “net neutrality” advocates ridicule politicians for comparing the Internet to a “series of tubes,” and then trust them to regulate it?

Real solutions to a better Internet 

  • End local Internet monopolies which prevent small ISPs from being successful
  • Remove local and federal (FCC) regulations which prevent all but the most powerful corporations from providing telecom services
  • Allow ISPs to innovate in by forcing cities to open up their infrastructure  without the threat that their business model will be nationalized or regulated out of existence.
  • Give capitalism and free markets a chance – America has already tried everything else

Further reading:

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  1. Please. ISPs are making money hand over fist now, all based on technology developed using public money. No extra federal surveillance is needed to ensure net neutrality as you claim. All that’s needed is to keep things exactly the way they are.

  2. “Please. ISPs are making money hand over fist now…” Good, when someone “makes” money it usually means they deserve it since they provided a service which people gladly paid for.

    “…all based on technology developed using public money.” That sounds like a good reason to disallow the government to invest public money into anything.

    “No extra federal surveillance is needed to ensure net neutrality as you claim.” Good thing you brought all those facts to counter his claim, rather than just asserting an opposing claim. 🙄

  3. “Please. ISPs are making money hand over fist now…” OHHH NOOOOO! People making money, wow imagine if we lived in a place where people never made money like the Soviet Union back in the day. I bet we would get awesome service there…wait why did it collapse again? 🙄 Usually if someone “makes” money it means they provided a service someone thought was worth paying for. Good job ISPs.

    “all based on technology developed using public money.” Sounds like someone is angry the government misinvested his funds. Hmm maybe we should focus our efforts on that instead of enslaving ISPs to rules that will cut their ability to profit and provide good service.

    “No extra federal surveillance is needed to ensure net neutrality as you claim.” Whew, for a minute there I thought you were going to counter his claim with facts. Silly me. What would be the point of passing Net Neutrality if the government didn’t surveill traffic?

    “All that’s needed is to keep things exactly the way they are.” Then why pass the law?

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  5. “Regulation stifles innovation” — Good, we don’t want innovation

    “Regulations breed more regulations” — Slippery slope

    “The Internet is private property” — Private property can be regulated.

  6. Your post addresses two related, but quite different issues.

    “Net Neutrality” debate is not (at least, not within the ‘circles’ I move in, nor it ‘ought to be’) about ‘cheap’ or ‘flat rate’ Internet access. As far as I am concerned, that is a ‘non-issue’: I pay for a service, I am willing to pay for the service, and I expect to receive service appropriate to the rate I pay. No problems there.

    “Net Neutrality” is about something else altogether: it is about preventing ISP providers from exercising undue control over the content (not quantity – if properly paid for).

    Let me give you an example:
    Most ISP have divisions that provide services other than just the ‘Internet pipeline’. My internet provider is one of these: they have a division which rents movies and videos. Now, there is a company which has established a completely legal, copyright-obeying business which sells movies over the internet – and which (once paid for) can be downloaded using the BitTorrents protocol.

    Even though I pay for the highest level of service, and am willing to pay extra if I use more bandwidth than the ‘upper limit’, I am prevented from using this legal online service, because my ISP has chosen to modulate their traffic by disrupting BitTorrents – protocol messages (which, by the way, may include impersonating my computer, sending out false flags that end the transmission).

    In effect, my ISP’s ‘pipeline’ division is successfully preventing me from legally purchasing a service (even if I wish to pay them to deliver it) from a direct competitor of my ISP’s ‘movie rental’ division…..

    That would be sort of like the post office which deliveres letters deciding arbitrarily that it will only deliver letters (even though they contain the correct stamps and the postage has been paid according to rules) that are in the envelopes its outlets sell, because it wants to boost its stationery sales. Any properly mailed letters in other types of envelopes woud simply be discarded….and then did not tell anyone about it – people would only find out when their letters went missing…

    It is THESE practices that the “Net Neutrality” debate is addressing – and they do need to be addressed….

    • “That would be sort of like the post office which deliveres letters deciding arbitrarily that it will only deliver letters…”
      In that case, use UPS or FedEx. You get choices and businesses seek to meet your needs. Big Gov’t regulations won’t help this, it will worsen it.
      My favorite example is the old “Ma Bell” Big Gov’t regulation forming a monopoly to provide phone service to the country. For 80 years the best technological advance we had was offering Touch Tone dialing over Rotary dialing. And that only came at the end of Ma Bell’s monopoly. When Big Gov’t finally broke up Ma Bell and allowed more competition, suddenly we had cordless, cell phone, caller id, redial, digital keypads… and on and on.
      “In effect, my ISP’s ‘pipeline’ division is successfully preventing me from legally purchasing a service…”
      Then pick a different ISP!!! The DIRECT solution to your problem is NOT regulation from Big Gov’t, the solution very clearly is MORE COMPETITION for your dollar.
      It absolutely astonishes me how so many people don’t truly understand the very basics of a free market capitalist society! Then again, the current Commander in Chimp did get elected, twice.

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  8. The author argues the case against net neutrality by founding his argument on inaccurate facts and a misunderstanding of the basic infrastructure of the internet. The author seems to accept Ted Steven’s infamous “series of tubes” harangue as credible evidence. He goes on to state the “pipes” laid out belong to ISPs and are not public property so they can manage them as they see fit. These “pipes” are not owned by ISPs, they are put into place by Network Service Providers. The big boys who run the backbone of the internet (http://www.nthelp.com/maps.htm) are the only ones who have any place laying claim to “pipes.”
    He goes on to argue against the need for legislations enforcing net neutrality because it would only lead to more legislation. The fallacy in this assumption is the lack of need for government intervention. The outcry for “regulations” has arisen because net neutrality is already being threatened (http://www.nthelp.com/maps.htm). It is true that at one point, free market economics enforced net neutrality, but times have changed. The call for legislation enforcing net neutrality is a reactive measure, not proactive.
    Lastly, the author affronts the delicate balance of logic by stating the internet is not public property. He defends the poor Telecommunications companies that spent billions to put the infrastructure in place. “The government has no right to … [tell] them how to run their networks” he proclaims. The problem with that thinking is it is victimizing these big companies. They didn’t set off on this venture with the hopes that someday, someone might choose to toss some hard earned cash their way. They had a strategic business models in place and knew they could make bank before they ever broke ground. I’m not going to preach the villainy of making a lot of money of their venture, it’s their prerogative. But they entered the business with the assumption that their business model would be one of flat rates and equal access and this suited every one of them just fine.
    So what can the people lay claim to? The content. The very substance that gives the internet any value at all is owned and supplied by the people. The idea is ISPs are payed a rate to use their bandwidth. Their participation ends with a connection speed. Period. They have no right manipulation public content.

    • Just like the saying – “Then answer to hateful speech is MORE speech!” You conveniently forget that these ISP’s are already Big Gov’t endorsed monopolies.
      So the most obvious solution to your alleged problem is more DE-regulation of the industry. More ISP’s with Less Taxation, with Less Fees and More Freedom.
      The internet is the Single Greatest Advance in Free Speech in the entire world’s history!!! Why on God’s green Earth would you want Big Gov’t interfering in a worldwide Free Speech forum??? Makes no Goddam sense!

  9. I don’t think it is fair to ask people to pay more money to keep the open internet open. Nobody owns it and beyond a standard service fee, it is not fair to ask consumers extra to play in a public playground. The second and more important point I think he is missing is the issue of freedom of speech and opportunity the internet offers as a forum for individual thought. There was a time when all popular mediums, paper, television and radio, offered people a chance to put a personal message out. There used to be pirate radio stations, small locally broadcast UHF television stations, and small distribution newspapers. For the most part, these things have fallen by the wayside. These markets, once ripe with alternative thinking, have become commercialized by the likes of General Electric and Time Warner. It is nearly impossible to get a word in edgewise when so much of the media we are exposed to is filtered through the same sieve. This is where the value of the internet can truly be appreciated. It is the last free medium available. It is a place where the only thing limiting exposure is the cost of bandwidth. Now imagine a market where ISPs go from providing a simple gateway, to playing the role of a bouncer. The entire structure would be established in terms of money that the giants like Google and Yahoo are willing to put on the table. So to gain a following like theirs would require the sort of money the average person simply will not have. Eventually, popular sites will be run out of business by costs and smaller sites with insignificant readership will cease to matter. The internet is the only forum where one can take on the likes of CNN and MSNBC and actually stand a chance of winning.

  10. “The author seems to accept Ted Steven’s infamous “series of tubes” harangue as credible evidence.”

    It’s not evidence, its an analogy.

    “Nobody owns it and beyond a standard service fee, it is not fair to ask consumers extra to play in a public playground.”

    What you think is fair or unfair doesn’t give you the moral right to go around with a gun and force people to respect your notion of “fairness” – which is what “net neutrality” regulations are.

    “These “pipes” are not owned by ISPs, they are put into place by Network Service Providers.”

    An NSP is just an ISP’s ISP. It’s still private property.

  11. “It’s not evidence, its an analogy.”

    the point is its an innacurate analogy. he said he was sent a file and it didnt arrive until the next morning because it was stuck in the pipes. spoken like a man who doesnt understand his work. would you agree?

    “What you think is fair or unfair doesn’t give you the moral right to go around with a gun and force people to respect your notion of “fairness” – which is what “net neutrality” regulations are.”

    that’s not really on the topic of net neutrality more of a general statement on people and their opinions and how much credence we should give them. but I do want to point out how great it is that we can debate this topic on such a minute scale in a public forum. something that could possibly be at stake with net neutrality on the line

    “An NSP is just an ISP’s ISP. It’s still private property.”

    point is still valid. ISPs are asking for cash money not NSPs who have more claim to them

    btw i posted a comment on your website for your august 21 post

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  14. Parroting something like “regulation stifles innovation” does not prove anything, esp. if regulation is there to NOT stifle innovation.

    Net neutrality = net liberty. Net neutrality has been there from day one and is exactly what enabled Internet to grow into what it is today. Without it the Internet stops to exist at all.

    FCC now wants to make it a law, so violators can be prosecuted like when your ISP starts blocking or slowing down traffic to your favorite web site because they want you to use their service instead.

  15. There’s some holes in your argument:

    “Innovation”: Tell me what’s “innovative” about allowing one person’s watching of last night’s “American Idol” to take priority over somebody else’s academic research?

    Because that’s the real issue here, driven by the ongoing merger of the telecommunications and content industries. Why should regular people have to finance, by paying their internet bills, other people’s compressed-video habits?

    “The Internet is Private Property”: OK, in that case, Ma Bell can start paying for all those public rights-of-way it presently enjoys for free or below market rates.

    AND Ma Bell can start footing 100% of the research bill for making bigger/faster/better internet itself. No more public funding for that.

    AND it can hand back all the public tax subsidies it has enjoyed to build out a network that still does not exist.

    And while we’re at it, toll roads are managed by private companies, but aren’t exactly considered private property. And that’s what we’re really talking about here, is a series of “roads” that we’ve allowed certain companies to sell access to in a monopolistic/oligarchic environment.

    As it is, Telecommunications companies get paid TWICE for every bit that passes over the tubes. First, by people paying for internet access, and second, by people paying for website hosting access.

    Can you explain to me why “private property rights” should give Big Telecom the right to create a third lane out of thin air, and then get paid a third and fourth time selling “preferred access” to it?

  16. @D.J.R.
    This is backwards thinking.

    The internet ought to be treated as a piece of infrastructure, a component of a healthy society. Getting mired in this “who gets money for what” nonsense when you are talking about a stage in our civilization as human beings is utterly preposterous.

    Perhaps you’ll read this as high minded rhetoric that ignores the finer details of the needs of ISPs as businesses. Why are other governments, like Japan and Norway, treating the internet as a public utility? Because they understand that we have this thing now, it’s part of our social climate, of our civilization, and it whoever first invented it, or provides it, it belongs to us collectively by virtue of the fact that nothing, literally nothing, gets done without it. It’s the same with roads, schools, and the like.

  17. Your article is wrong…

    ISP’s dont own the ‘pipes’. The transport infrastructure, believe it or not, is public domain. The original case which broke up the major telephone companies so long ago ruled their infrastructure was public domain.

    The ‘pipes’ are owned by anyone. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to start up your own ISP (well, at least a Stub Autonomous system, which is what customers use..). This idea that the ISP’s own the infrastructure is a flat out lie.

    Your historical examples fall flat. Look up “Railroads” and the exorbitant fees they charged before Teddy Roosevelt broke them up. That’s what will happen. The innovation is mostly driven by academics and defense spending. Maybe if ISP’s spent a reasonable amount on R&D, i’d beleive you, but they hardly spend ANY money on R&D. Preventing ISP’s from destroying end-user traffic wont have any effect on defense spending nor on academic research.

  18. >ISP’s dont own the ‘pipes’. The transport infrastructure, believe it or not, is public domain.

    That is false. Networks like AT&T, Level 3, and Comcast own the net’s backbone. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_backbone

    > The original case which broke up the major telephone companies so long ago ruled their infrastructure was public domain.

    That is false too. AT&T was broken up because it was a government created monopoly. Monopolies are only possible when they are maintained by coercive government intervention – a form of fascism.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_System_divestiture

  19. >ISP’s don’t own the ‘pipes’
    >> Networks like AT&T, Level 3, and Comcast own the net’s backbone.

    You’re both wrong. Our telecommunications infrastructure is a private-public partnership. The government grants special powers (such as the power to force landowners to let a transmission line to be run across their property), special access (such as the right to dig up public roadways to lay cable), and special rights (such as right to use a portion of the broadcast spectrum). In return, the public companies must agree to live by the rules set by government.

    Government holds public property in trust for the people. The government is (supposed to be) the people’s representative.

    It is thoroughly appropriate for government to regulate ISPs. That’s the deal they signed up to.

  20. > Our telecommunications infrastructure is a private-public partnership.

    State control of nominally private enterprises is fascism. There can be no “partnership” at the point of a gun.

    • They willingly entered the partnership.

      ISPs could have decided never to get involved, just keep the “internet” another tiny unimportant government system.

  21. Telecommunications companies have spent billions of dollars on network infrastructure all over the world.

    WRONG! Straight up. In most countries it was government funded, including the US. They received billions upon billions for this.

    And you have absolutely 0 understanding how BGP and other Level 1 traffic mitigation techniques work. You have made countless factual errors throughout your document.

  22. The post basically casts ISPs as companies with the same amount of control over their products as other companies. Most of the points have already been rebutted in the comments, but I’m just amazed at how much of the “information” here is just replicated from other “sources,” with no double-checking whatsoever. There’s also a lot of lofty rhetoric backed by incorrect examples (basically that ISPs own anything, as opposed to simply providing services).

    See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DanBrowned

  23. Broadband isn’t something the free market can regulate, because the barrier to entry is too massive. You’re dealing with wires through people’s homes and neighborhoods, and because of this, we’ve ended up with what amounts to regional monopolies. You can’t just say “I don’t like the way Comcast does business, I’m going to switch to Time Warner,” because by their own admission, these companies do not compete with one another. You list that as the beauty of capitalism, and it literally does not apply here. If a person wants high-speed reliable broadband internet, they tend to only have one choice. If for no other reason than that, the internet needs to be regulated to prevent abuse of the public.

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