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Understanding Net Neutrality

Regarding Net Neutrality… I want to explain for people who have been brainwashed by Fox and conservative talk radio.

More government is USUALLY not a good thing, but at times it’s needed. This was totally one of those times. Let’s look at what was taking place.

First let’s take a big company like Netflix that provides a popular service. They have to pay for all the bandwidth to their facilities, and I’m sure they pay handsomely.

Then you have consumers, who have to pay for all the bandwidth to their houses. If you are a total hog, you end up paying extra. If you only need a little, you buy a cheaper package. I pay a lot for mine, because I use a lot. You may buy it directly from a Tier 1 provider like Century Link, or you may buy it from someone who buys from a Tier 1 provider, like Comcast.

Tier 1 providers run most of the backbone of the ‘Net, and they make money by either selling directly to end consumers, or by selling to medium and large businesses like Charter, Comcast, Google, Rackspace, Hostgator, Microsoft, Netflix, and others.

The bandwidth to serve content and run the backbone is PAID FOR, at both ends. Both by the uploader, and by the consumer. Nobody is getting screwed, everything is paid for, and everyone is happy. Or was happy.

Then some of the Tier 1 providers got a bright idea… they realized that some content providers (like Netflix) are bigger than others, and have deep pockets. They realized that they could throttle these content providers traffic, and demand they pay extra to have “normal” service restored. Lets be clear on this… they wanted to charge extra not to provide a better service, but to STOP PROVIDING A WORSE SERVICE.

Normally, this is called a protection racket… pay to be safe, or we will harm you and/or your business.

Now, it’s not like you can choose not to do business with a particular Tier 1 provider. They have territorial monopolies over backbone traffic. So this isn’t an instance where we can let market pressures decide, because you can’t just say “we’ll use X instead of Y”. There are customers who can only be accessed through Y.

So what happened is this… We had a capitalist system that was working great, and then somebody inevitably starting acting like an ass. Some of the players got greedy, and created a situation where consumers AND content providers were being screwed if protection money wasn’t paid. Well, that’s crappy, and not in the public interest. And worst, it harms the internet itself, by artificially degrading performance for those who can’t afford to pay the ransom. It was 100% correct and good for the government to step in at this point, and lay down some rules.

Good job, and applause. The argument is over, case closed. The lesson learned is this: If you didn’t want the government up your arse, don’t start acting like the mafia. But let’s examine the extended arguments on both sides.

On one side, the slippery capitalist slope. It goes like this. Soon, content providers all start buckling to the threat (or go under, when they can’t afford to pay, and their service becomes unusable). Lots of big providers start paying extra to restore “normal” service for their content. Then, the argument goes, pretty soon the backbone providers will say “Why bother giving away perfectly good bandwidth to those who don’t pay the ransom? Let’s throttle ALL traffic unless they pay. It is in our best interest after all to only provide bandwidth to the highest bidders.” Pretty soon, you have an internet that is well-nigh unusable, unless you want to hit one of maybe 100 major sites that can afford the extra fee. Everybody else is routed and throttled into the gutters. Like every small business. Every blog, every personal site, every smaller news outlet, every struggling business trying to get a foothold. So how valid is this scenario? I don’t have a crystal ball. The problem is that some Tier 1 providers DID start down this route, and so it seems possible. It is the same crappy spirit, followed to its logical conclusion. So I rate this as: possible, if not probable.

On the other side, the slippery government slope. And a lot of FUD. Primarily being put out by the conservative party. Somehow anti-Net-Neutrality became a conservative issue, I guess because they like big business have zero restrictions and the ability to screw everyone as they choose. And everyone knows that complicated explanations of facts (see above) are no way to motivate the conservative base. So the conservative FUD engine fired up in an attempt to scare up some popular opposition. They tried to frame this as “the government is coming to control your interwebs!”, and “the governments wants to silence conservative voices on the Net!”. Don’t try to deny it, I listen to talk radio. So how valid is this scenario? I don’t have a crystal ball. Do I think this will lead to selective censorship of viewpoints? No. Do I think it gives the government new abilities to screw with us? No. Look at the facts. They are already eavesdropping on every bit and packet, already intercepting mobile phones, and already raping our rights. They are already abusing the crap out of us. Frankly, though, that isn’t what this is about, and it’s not the motivation for the Net Neutrality rules. This side of the argument loses, simply because it ignores the history and actions that led to the legislation. This isn’t a power grab out of left field… it’s a government RESPONSE to a problem CREATED by some of the Tier 1 providers that was going to affect all consumers, and damage the internet. This is one of the (maybe few) times the intrusions will have a positive effect.

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