Net Neutrality. – by “Matthew A – YLT2012”

Net Neutrality one of those cleverly taken positions that given its title, seems obviously right. That is, before I even new what Net Neutrality was, I assumed it was good, and approached the subject with the attitude that someone needed a damn good reason to convince me why the net should be un-neutral, and not the other way around. The implications of net neutrality (just the title itself) are that no one controls it, everyone has access, it favors no one, all sentiments that are very American in nature and distinguish us from such freedom-devoid lands as say China where the net is controlled.

It turned out, to my surprise, that Net Neutrality is not wholly the question of government control or censorship but actually a very complex principle guiding the governance of treatment of all content on the internet. Dealing with questions like whether or what can be preferred material on the internet, or who could be responsible for making preferred material possible.

Network Neutrality (NN) holds that all content is treated equally. This is evocative of the famous phrase “all men are created equal”. This sounds American. So far I’m for NN.

Unfortunately, things are complicated a bit because NN also prevents companies from making certain logcail business decisions. A service provider cannot take money from a content provider to make that content move faster than the rest, according to NN. This seems to contradict Capitalism, which is also very American. Now I am bemused.

Ultimately the argument is over  whether NN or non-NN would make us more money, not which is more American (though there is an argument to be made over the difference between the two). But rather than repeat the arguments for both sides here, I’d like to belabor one point a point made eloquently by either Zittrain or Lessig on the Berkman radio show (I dont know which voice was which).

The thought is that whether NN or good or not, it is very dangerous to move forward with our economy without a principle of NN established. Without NN enshrined as a guiding principle, businesses will develop entirely on the promise that there will not be neutrality. Once these businesses get big and rich and powerful and have lots of money and spend millions of dollars on lobbyists and then effectively control the government and consequently the “independent” FCC, it will be impossible to go back to NN. In other words, as long as NN is the guiding principle, we can experiment with non-NN but it is impossible to go the other way.


Look at everything comcast owns!

Another thought: Verizon and AT&T together have 2/3rds of the wireless market (source).


google search engine market share

Should any of these market-dominating forces profit from non-NN, as Zittrain and Lessig point out, they will also be willing to spend the value of their profits on fighting for non-NN. For companies as big as these, that’s more money than our weak-willed lawmakers can reasonably be asked to resist, is it not?

Indeed, in its joint proposal with Google, Verizon has stated that it supports non-NN in the wireless world. While this proposal seems in many senses magnanimous, it allows for exactly the state that damns us: entrenching non-NN as an interest of the largest companies in country.

I dont know if NN is right. Additionally, NN is not a black and white issue, some compromises seem less offensive then others (like when data congestion does occur, something has to be preferred). But I do know that I don’t like the idea that our net policy will encourage large corporations to fight for a privileged use of the Net. So Let’s intend to keep the net neutral and see what happens.


Net Neutrality? Not necessarily. – by “Rasmus B – YLT2012”

Net neutrality is the idea that we get the most out of a network, when it is less specialized. This is what network design aficionado’s call end to end networking, and what in laymen’s terms means that you can watch cat videos and download anime comics using the same network. A bit is a bit, and every bit costs the same. The Internet is basically founded on this principle, and therefore it isn’t surprising that it caused some stir in the pond, when people (read corporate America) started suggesting something as outrageous as a non-neutral Internet. There are several great arguments against a non-neutral Internet, but before you jump on the bandwagon, and join Anonymous in the fight against corporate America, I would like to give you some examples were non-neutral networks are actually a benefit not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.

Let’s start with the network of roads. Anyone can use a road, at any time – a piece of tarmac is a piece of tarmac. But roads suffer from a problem that is common within networks. Congestion! Cars swamp the highway during rush hour and people waste hours upon hours holding still on this ever-lovely tarmac.

One way to fix this problem is something as simple as toll roads. Simply put, the toll is higher during rush hour, than at, say, 8 p.m. This means that the people who really want to drive during the rush hour pay a little more, whereas those who aren’t really bothered, drive at another point of the day. All this of course leads to less congestion, but also a lower risk of car accidents. Both of these effects are beneficial not only to society, but also the individual.

Wouldn’t you pay to get out of this?

Now, you might say that the problem of congestion doesn’t exist, or might already be fixed with regards to the Internet, because people can just buy a faster Internet connection. However this is like driving a Ferrari during rush hour; you might have one hellufa engine, but it doesn’t really help you when you’re stuck in traffic. A bigger engine doesn’t guarantee you an open highway.

This is exactly the problem with the Internet as it is today. You are never guaranteed the speed or the access that you want (for a more technical explanation see Chris Yoo’s commentary here).

In this case, paying a higher toll, doesn’t necessarily guarantee more speedy access either. So let’s look at another network more akin to the Internet. Let’s look at the electric grid. Tim Wu says: “The electric grid does not care if you plug in a toaster, an iron, or a computer. You pay for electricity, and you can use it for what you want.” In other words, the electric grid is neutral. However this might be true in some places, it’s not true everywhere. Take for instance the Norwegian KILE-project. In Norway the problem is not only congestion, but also that there isn’t enough electricity to go around for everyone. Both elements make it difficult to guarantee a constant stream of electricity to everyone.

Here’s one way they’ve tried to fix it: Quality incentives. Basically quality incentives are based on the idea that electricity is more important to some users than to others, e.g. the ice manufacturer is much more dependent on a steady stream of electricity than the vacation hut in the middle of nowhere. Because of this, electricity companies are penalized more when electrical load is lost for more important services. In other words: losing a bit of electricity to the ice cream manufacturer costs more than losing the same bit of electricity to the hut. By creating these incentives, electricity companies prioritize the ice cream manufacturer, thus minimizing social costs (This particular approach is one that penalizes failure, but it could easily be turned around, such that it rewards success. One way to do this, would be to let the ice cream manufacturer pay more for the same electricity, in order to make sure that she receives a steady stream of electricity). Once again, this sollution leads to a less neutral network, but arguably one that is more of a boon to society.

Maybe the electricity grid isn’t as neutral as you would think

I think an approach like this could benefit the Internet. Imagine for instance the difference between Skype and email. Whereas it doesn’t really matter whether or not the email is 1 second delayed, a 1 second delay on Skype is detrimental! As mentioned, the problem is that Skype can’t guarantee us the level of information that we need to use the service, but wouldn’t it be better if Skype could actually guarantee this, if we could somehow discriminate between  between a Skype-bit and an email-bit? I think it would, and here’s how: One way to do this would be by dividing the markets. For instance, instead of just paying for the speed of your Internet, you could also pay for what kind of Internet you would get; in his debate with Tim Wu, Chris Yoo argues that “… deviating from network neutrality might make it possible for three last-mile networks to coexist: one optimized for traditional Internet applications, such as e-mail and website access; a second incorporating security features to facilitate e-commerce; and a third that facilitates time-sensitive applications such as streaming media and Internet telephony.” Yoo further argues that this would not only help guarantee the level of information needed for the given services, such an approach would also make it possible for smaller and more niche based service providers to survive in a competitive market.

Also this approach might even make the Internet more accessible. Take for instance grandma Olga; she doesn’t want to surf the Internet looking for lolcatz or trolling innocent Youtubers, but what she might want to do, is be able to read emails and read the news. By allowing us to deviate from the traditional neutral net, we can make this a cheaper possibility for Olga, because now she doesn’t have to pay for the potential use of Youtube. Granted, this might make it more expensive for the youtube troll, who has to pay for his media streaming, but quite honestly I don’t se the problem; she’s just paying for what she gets.

Why should grandma pay for your endless hours on Youtube?

To sum up: Networks don’t have to be neutral. In fact many networks have benefitted for some sort of de-neutralization, and the Internet might just as well. So before you start going all John Perry Barlow on me, you might want to consider what you – and society – is missing out on, if you want to keep the Internet completely neutral.

Net Neutrality: The Debate No One Hears About, but Will Change the World as You Know It – by “Daniel D – YLT2012”

It always surprises me how many people who use the web today take internet speed for granted.  On the train ride home from Thanksgiving I discovered that AmTrak offers WiFi on its trains and I was elated, but that quickly transformed into frustration and despair when my connection became extremely spotty.  I imagine this irrational frustration is a regular experience for many who were raised in an era with internet access in every home, and as of the last few years, around every street corner.  We have evolved into high-maintenance prima donnas, victims of our privileged environment and culture, perpetually impatient and expectant, where the spinning ball of death can make anyone want to throw his computer against the wall.

While I’m not here to advocate the use of Samsung Memory, I am here to explore one of the most important ideas in securing a consistently fast and dependable internet on a global level – the concept of network neutrality.  Net neutrality is an idea that has never really reached mainstream audiences, and most internet users have never heard of it before.  Like most things in life, net neutrality has become a concept we simply take for granted on a daily basis.  Yet it very much shapes our entire online experience.

So what is net neutrality?  It is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), the companies which provide you with internet access such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, should be required to ensure that content from various websites across the net is delivered equally to you.  Meaning, ISPs should not be able to restrict certain pieces of content, make certain websites run faster than others, or block certain websites entirely.  All content, websites, and platforms would be treated equally.  This way, companies such as Comcast, which owns NBC, could not tamper with internet speeds and content accessibility in order to favor their own content or the content of websites with which they have business partnerships.  Many people simply take these principles as a given, but in fact this principle has been hotly disputed for years, and today we live in a world with a sort of quasi-neutral net that has grown out of a decade of developments in this ongoing debate.

Net neutrality began to become a topic of public discourse in the early 2000’s, and in 2004 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell delivered a speech in which he outlined four basic internet freedoms:

  1. Freedom to access content – If you pay for high speed internet, you should not be restricted from accessing websites or certain content on websites.
  2. Freedom to use applications – As long as the application you want to use is not disrupting the network you should be able to use it.
  3. Freedom to attach personal devices – You should be able to attach any device you want to a connection you pay for (Comcast can’t sign a deal with Apple so that it will only provide internet to Apple computers).
  4. Freedom to obtain service plan information – Service plans should be transparent, and customers should know exactly what limitations are placed on whatever service they are using.

Since 2004, there have been several bills and court cases which have set a number of precedents in the field of net neutrality.  In 2005, Madison River, a telephone company, blocked Vonage VoIP services, which marked one of the first instances of ISP discrimination against certain kinds of content.  the FCC put a stop to it, but did not establish clear regulations to set a strong precedent to prevent this from happening again.  In 2006, Congress tried but failed to pass its first net neutrality bill, with ISPs and hardware makers against any sort of legislation and Internet content providers and engineers in favor.  2007 marked a similar failure.  In 2008 another bill was introduced, and the FCC found that Comcast was interfering with its users’ peer-to-peer networking applications by blocking certain files.  The FCC ordered it to end its discriminatory plan, and Comcast complied and then sued the FCC in 2009, marking one of the most significant cases in net neutrality to date.  The court ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority and failed to justify its mandate to regulate the behavior of ISPs on their networks, calling into question the FCC’s ability to take action to protect consumers on the internet.  Subsequent to this case, the FCC has proposed a “third way,” Google and Verizon have proposed their own suggested policy framework, and Congress has attempted to pass another bill.  As more court cases and legislation reshapes and redefines freedom of the net, the ideal of net neutrality remains a guiding force for many, from content providers and entrepreneurs, whose products benefit from a level playing field, to students and hacktivists, many of whom are inspired by the portrayal of the net as the final bastion of freedom in the world, a pure haven untouched by the corruption of the corporate world.

But some reject this notion of net neutrality as some lofty goal, and argue that an unregulated net is either harmless or even beneficial to companies and consumers alike.  Net neutrality has often been criticized by its opponents as “a solution in search of a problem” (an argument Verizon advanced in its challenge to the FCC’s Open Internet Order), and they argue that the discrimination of websites and content is an unfounded fear by many advocates of a neutral net, and that even if it were true it would be beneficial rather than harmful.  Robert Pepper, senior managing director at Cisco Systems and an opponent of net neutrality, argues, “Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing.  They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer.”[1]  In Pepper’s view, government regulation is simply leading to market inefficiency.  They also argue that prioritization of bandwidth is necessary for future internet innovation, and that certain sites which offer certain forms of content simply need more bandwidth than others.

These claims do not impress Eric Null, a strong advocate for net neutrality, who notes “There has been a history of other discriminatory actions, including Comcast blocking BitTorrent and Madison River Communications blocking VoIP.  There is no shortage of examples of discrimination by providers…Thus, the idea that network neutrality is a solution in search of a problem lacks merit.”[2]  He further goes on to note a paradox in Verizon’s claims to rights of editing the internet, as such a claim inherently contradicts their previous assertion that the idea that ISPs would edit or block content is unrealistic and unfounded: “First, [Verizon] claims that it is like a newspaper and has the right to edit the Internet.  Then, it claims that FCC is hallucinating the problem in the first place.  But, the very fact that Verizon is claiming that it should be allowed to edit the Internet (as a first amendment “speaker”) means that this problem the FCC spares no words in analyzing actually does exist.  In other words, the FCC predicted correctly.”

Today the debate continues as the net struggles to define exactly what net neutrality should entail and what degree of government regulation should be imposed on ISPs.  At stake are the fundamental questions of freedoms of the internet, freedoms of the consumer, and freedoms to innovate, and regardless of which side of the aisle you might find yourself falling on this issue, it is perhaps one of the most important yet virtually unknown debates in the world today.  But if you do care about maintaining a fast and fair internet, I strongly encourage you to stand behind net neutrality and spread the word .





Legal Questions in a Cloudy Future – by “Ric B”

We're all headed for the sky


Cloud computing is the future, and it may be here sooner than we think. This past June, Google rolled out the Chromebook, its cloud computing clients pre-installed with ChromeOS. The idea is simple: almost everything we can do on our PCs locally, we could also be doing on the internet; on someone else’s computer. Why not strip away all of the excess, and let our computers be small, sexy, and sleek while the heavy lifting is done on “the cloud”?


A Google Chromebook: "Nothing but the Web"
...and a whole host of legal uncertainty

We could start with the fact that well-acquainted internet doomsayer Jonathan Zittrain would blow a gasket over the loss of generativity, as outlined in Chapter X in his “The Future of the Internet”, where X stands for any chapter number in his book. The minute we start letting someone else tell us what we can and cannot do with our computers, we begin to stifle the very innovation that created the Internet as we know it a.k.a. the best thing evar. Is he right? Who knows. This topic has been in beaten to death this course anyway. There are other relevant issues at hand, such as privacy, and I’d like to examine some of the relevant laws and legal questions associated with cloud computing before we plunge headfirst into the future.



This is the Big Issue. The 4th amendment protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures”. If we recall from Katz v. United States, one component of what constitutes an unreasonable search is whether or not one has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Should I have a reasonable expectation of privacy with my data on the cloud because a Zoho spreadsheet functions just like the excel one on my personal hard drive, or because I’m hosting it on the internet can I not possibly expect privacy? Enter the Stored Communications Acts, part of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act.


The SCA protects users from warrentless invasions of privacy, or, at least it did in 1986. The SCA stems from a time before the cloud when server space was more expensive, and when all e-mails were downloaded off of the server and onto your hard drive. As such, the SCA  made a distinction between e-mails that were less than 180 days old, and e-mails older than this. An e-mail on the server for 180, it was thought, was thought to be abandoned, and someone could not reasonably expect privacy of their abandoned e-mails. Thus, the government can, under the SCA, freely demand anything off the cloud that older than 180 days. Makes sense 25 years later with cloud computer, when the cloud has replaced users local hard drives, and people use 3rd-party servers for longterm storage of their data, right? Didn’t think so. The good news is, this has been challenged legally, and at least one district court has called the SCA unconstitutional in Warshak v United States. The bad news is, the SCA isn’t the only relevant law at stake…

How the government can do whatever it wants


Enter the PATRIOT Act, a new government doctrine which says, in summary, that government can, with regards to getting information, basically do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, regardless of where the the information is stored. That means anything on any cloud is fair game for the government’s eyes. In fact, under the PATRIOT Act, somehow, the US government can get information off a server stored in Europe without a warrant or consent. Whoa. It’s already stopped one major defense firm in the UK, BAE, from adopting Microsoft’s Cloud 365 service, because they are afraid of the US government stealing state secrets off of the cloud, which is something that could happen under the PATRIOT act. Privacy being basically a notion of the past with this law, let’s move on to other legal issues.


Net Neutrality

The future of cloud computing is dependent on strong network neutrality laws that are not yet in place. If you are relying on the internet to provide functionality for you computer, and the internet becomes restricted, so does the functionality of your computer. For example, imagine that your ISP begins to put out a web productivity suite designed for use on the cloud. Should they choose to prioritize or filter data away from competitors on your Chromebook, not only does your ISP limit what you can do on the internet, they are now limiting the basic functionality of your computer. The idea that you are free to hack a device that you own to make it do whatever you want doesn’t really apply when the functionality of your product requires the ongoing participation of your ISP.



As we know, jurisdiction already makes things legally thorny on the internet. At any given time, you could be accessing data owned Australians hosted on Russian servers from your laptop in America, and it wouldn’t be uncommon. Right now, however, if an French website gets taken down for violating French laws, it might be upsetting to you if you like to visit that website. However, if your French cloud computing service, where you hold all of your data, gets taken down for violating French laws, it could mean the loss of all of your data. You may be bound by local laws with regards to what data you could be allowed to store on your cloud, effectively limiting what kind of data documents you can have. For instance, while in America the first amendment gives you every right to deny the Holocaust, you may not be able to store your papers saying so on cloud services in Germany. In fact, the a paper you had been writing, editing, and storing on a German cloud, could suddenly vanish, and you’d have no way of getting it back. Scary.


In summary…

The Internet is a complicated landscape legally. Cloud computing has many advantages, like making your data more portable, and allowing your computers to be more powerful. While Google would have you believe that using GoogleDocs is just like using Microsoft Word on your computer, and it may feel that way on the surface, legally the two are worlds apart.


...we really, really hope


In an interview two years ago, CEO Eric Schmidt was asked the question “People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?”. His response? “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” Using cloud computing involves not only entering a complicated legal framework, but trusting your 3rd party cloud source, perhaps the way that Hoffa trusted Partin. For the time being, I don’t use GMail, and my programs, e-mail and data are on my personal hard drive. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

The ISP Oligopoly: Can a User’s Voice Be Heard? – by “Grant P”

While I was researching Net Neutrality I stumbled across a policy analysis written by the CATO institute (the libertarian think tank), which is highly critical of the concept. The article was written just short of seven years ago, and makes several predictions about the trajectory of the Internet and how government regulation could be detrimental to the ISP industry. However, most of its arguments don’t seem to be withstanding the test of time.

One of its main contentions is that the interests of consumers will be able to balance the interests of Broadband Service Providers (BSPs) sufficiently, and that there is no need for FCC involvement to ensure competition and quality in the market:

“BSPs will have to strike a delicate balance, but the profit motive provides them with a powerful incentive to not overzealously police or restrict activities on their networks. That is especially the case as the broadband market grows increasingly competitive and consumers have more options from which to choose.”

Ignoring the particularly troubling spliced infinitive, there are more unsettling things about this statement. Is the consumer really being heard? It seems to me that the industry—which is a bit of an oligopoly—has developed several ways to insulate its profit margins from public opinion and dissatisfaction with its services. In addition to unsavory existing practices, there are several disconcerting, yet plausible business plans that ISPs may yet pursue without at least some degree of FCC involvement.

Bandwidth Throttling

The cat is you. The weird rodent is Comcast. The window behind it is a BitTorrent file. Really, I just wanted to use this picture.

Throttling is an increasingly popular method for controlling bandwidth congestion. In this practice, ISPs target users or downloads that are particularly taxing on bandwidth, and limit data speed. CATO argues that this type of discrimination is no different than “consumers paying more for roses on Valentine’s Day” or giving discounts to senior citizens. But there’s a pretty big difference: a lack of transparency and impenetrable unity within the industry.

First of all, most of the throttling that’s happening today is pretty surreptitious. Before Comcast admitted to throttling P2P applications, it denied the allegations. If Comcast thought its use of throttling was a legitimate management technique, why’d they feel the need to lie about it? And why didn’t they tell their customers up front? CATO says that this type of discrimination may be “perfectly rational and legitimate” and that “[t]he presumption should be that network operators are the best managers of their networks and will seek to artificially curb network use only when necessary to preserve the integrity (speed and reliability) of their networks.” Sure—maybe throttling is sometimes a legitimate bandwidth management technique, but companies should at least have the integrity to own up to it.

Also, let’s consider the case of smart phone providers. It’s a good thing that the “profit motive” CATO mentions has kept the market in check, otherwise I’d worry that all of the smart phone providers are headed in the direction of bandwidth throttling, even in the face of strong consumer criticism. Wait…AT&T, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile are all implementing throttling plans? Hmm…when it comes to throttling, it looks like the oligopoly—not the people—has spoken.



Traffic Prioritization and Discrimination    

Prioritization is the act of showing favoritism in the distribution of bandwidth. While some present-day prioritization attempts seem to be benign at least in principle—like Comcast’s arguably ill-advised attempt at managing bandwidth scarcity—the practice could be corrupted outright. The FCC is worried that sites and providers may band together to make pay for prioritization agreements. For instance, say some small email service offers better service than a much larger competitor, and begins to win over some of its competitor’s users. Who’s to say that the large competitor couldn’t pay ISPs for traffic to its site to be prioritized over the smaller company’s, effectively degrading the smaller company’s product? Similar practices have attacked other telecommunications services; in the 1940’s and 50’s, it became common for record companies to pay radio stations to play their music in an effort to increase public opinion of it, in a practice called payola.

Fast Food Chains and Fast Lanes

             Why would Pay for Prioritization be bad? In a Slate Magazine article, Tim Wu analogizes the Internet to the interstate highway system, as opposed to a fast food chain. Let’s say a fast food chain has a deal with Pepsi to purchase only Pepsi products. Since fast food is a readily available resource, that’s totally fine; consumers can take their pick of hundreds of other restaurants if they don’t like Pepsi. Several of those are bound to offer Coke.

As a southerner, I sympathize.

Now, let’s say Ford buys an interstate lane and says that only Ford cars can be driven on it. Even if better brands exist, consumers may be more likely to purchase a Ford, simply because it gives them access to the Ford lane. By doing this, Ford blocks useful automobile innovation, and the car industry becomes preoccupied with highway deal-making, not quality improvement. Since access to the Internet—like access to interstate lanes—doesn’t have a very large number of options, it’s important that innovation be protected in the market.

What appears to be CATO’s go-to reasoning tactic is that competition in the market means that consumers can choose their ISP, and if they have an issue with the business practices of one ISP, they can simply choose another. Unfortunately, this laissez-faire approach is unconvincing because the oligopoly of ISPs doesn’t provide a good number of options for most people. While none of us are happy about bandwidth throttling in smart phones, which company are we going to switch to? If not Verizon or AT&T, then whom? Ultimately, CATO’s free-market approach doesn’t work because the ISP market isn’t diverse enough, and threatens to tend towards anti-competitive behavior.

Is Net Neutrality the Right Solution?

 In the past, the United States has protected openness in telecommunications networks to great success. The United States’ protection of open access—that is, the ability to create new devices that use an existing communications system—started with Hush-A-Phone v. United States. Hush-A-Phone was a device invented to attach onto Bell Telephones to provide a greater degree of acoustic insulation in phone calls. AT&T argued that the Hush-A-Phone was a “foreign attachment” to its network, and that only the network owner should be able to produce such attachments. The FCC initially ruled in favor of AT&T, but was reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals, which argued that as long as a device “does not physically impair any of the facilities of the telephone companies,” it should be able to connect to the network.

Hush-A-Phone, the world's most poorly named invention

The decision turned AT&T’s network into an open network, and anyone was able to produce any invention that lawfully interfaced with the telephone wire. This paved the way for innovations like the fax machine, answering machine, and eventually the modem—the very device that made the Internet accessible to the modern household.

Why shouldn’t we protect the openness of the Internet in the same way? The oligopoly of ISPs could conceivably threaten the burgeoning free market of Internet sites. Should it not be the responsibility and purview of the FCC to protect it?


On Dodd @ the MPAA and COICA – by “Bill T”

Rumor has it that Chris Dodd will be taking over the leadership of the MPAA’s policy operations, despite his claims (and the legal obligation) that he’d not become a lobbyist after leaving his 30 year time in the Senate.

The MPAA’s agenda last year ended in a wash, as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was stalled in the Senate. This bill would have made it easier for the government to shutdown websites which were “obviously” directed at distributing copyrighted material, though it also has the danger of unfairly targeting perfectly legitimate websites.

Dodd’s potential ascension leads me to wonder where the MPAA’s efforts will be directed next. Under interim leader, Bob Pisano, the priority has been very clear: stop piracy. The MPAA’s ardent support of the COICA is a clear reflection of that. But Dodd’s history as a legislator may indicate a much needed shift in the forthcoming MPAA legislative agenda. Dodd’s prior support of net neutrality is clearly at odds with the MPAA’s concern that a neutral internet is also a piracy-friendly internet.

Perhaps Dodd’s conflict with his potential future employers will lead both to consider a new approach to current issues in file sharing and copyright infringement. In focusing so much of its efforts on directly stopping filesharing, the MPAA has ignored the fact that the websites the COICA and other measures seek to eliminate are simply individual heads of a hydra, and without cauterizing the hydra’s wounds (by adapting to the new contours of the movie business), the problem simply won’t go away, and only the consumers will be left battered and bruised by overbroad protective measures.

The MPAA, and its counterparts in other industries need to understand that their industries have changed. They do not need to give up on the powers of copyright, but neither ought they hold on to the dominance of an increasingly obsolete top-down hierarchy. Regardless of the illegal origins of the new attitude toward creative works, consumers are simply no longer willing to pay nearly as much as they used to for movies and music. The businesses need to adjust their own models and meet the consumers where they are now, rather than hope that they can ultimately fix the problems with the free exchange of copyrighted materials on the internet. It’s hard to compete with free. But it’s not impossible.

International Network Neutrality – by “Christopher M”

Of course, the network neutrality policy debate in the US deals with a very particular set of players and circumstances. Amongst other factors, we have to consider the current structure of competition between Internet service providers, the ability of existing market conditions and regulatory avenues to address concerns over neutrality, and the precedence for new legislation on the issue.

Naturally, each of these factors differs significantly across national boundaries. For example, we see that even the dominance of various high-speed Internet technologies (DSL vs. cable vs. fiber-optic) varies widely between countries at similar stages of technological development and even in close geographic proximity. This simple difference largely affects the competing interests an ISP might face and thus the actions that might warrant regulation in the name of neutrality (are ISP’s also phone companies and thus interested in limiting VoIP traffic, or are they cable TV companies and thus interested in video content?)

Broadband Connections by Type (2007) – Review of Network Economics (Vol.8, Issue 1 – March 2009)

However, when considering the pros and cons of various regulatory (or anti-regulatory) schemes, it’s still important to examine what strategies have been employed to address concerns over net neutrality in other countries. Examining past case law and loose economic precedence simply can’t provide the practical analysis necessary to fully understand this issue.

That said, I had very little luck finding countries where network neutrality has been dealt with effectively. If anything, international policies tend to be inconsistent, even contradictory, and many countries are still stuck in the same policy limbo as the US. Since no clear solution can be agreed upon, yet practical problems arising from ISP content control or anti-competitive activity have been very limited, like the US, governments around the world seem hesitant to act. Google and Verizon received quite a bit of flack for neglecting to address network neutrality in the wireless sphere in light of “the competitive and still-developing nature of wireless broadband services.” Although allegations would point to ulterior motives behind this statement, perhaps the message is still helpful. Until broadband technology (wired and wireless alike) stabilizes and real problems from content blocking and prioritization begin to arise in greater number, it may be difficult for any country to reasonably decide whether or not to protect network neutrality and how to manage any regulation addressing the subject.

Nevertheless, I’ve included some notes on the state of net neutrality policy in two countries below. If one thing is consistent about these policies, it is that they are constantly being reworked or changed all together. Let me know if anything I’ve reported is now out of date (or just plain wrong) and I’ll do my best to make any necessary updates.

South Korea:

Lauded as perhaps the worlds most connected nation (very high broadband penetration and average connections speeds 10-40x times that of US broadband), South Korea has always been considered a model for Internet policy makers around the world. However, its net neutrality policies are mediocre at best.

The government claims to fully support network neutrality, which Korea’s ambassador to the US recently endorsed in a speech, explaining that it, “can encourage competition, protect consumers and foster growth in services and applications.” And in fact, South Korea has done a lot to encourage the policy, if not through direct regulation. First, as part of the 800 million dollar “Korea Information Infrastructure plan,” the government invested strategically in the development of a variety of broadband technologies, including DSL and fiber optic networks.  As seen in the figure above, these technologies now compete fairly equally for control of Korea’s broadband market, an achievement that the government believes discourages monopolistic behavior amongst ISP’s. Its difficult for network companies to discriminate against certain content without risking the loss of their consumer base, which can easily switch to alternative broadband providers.

Additionally, Korea forcibly decoupled telecom network companies from ISPs when broadband networks were first created (network infrastructure companies could only lease bandwidth to independent internet providers). Although this policy is no longer in place, its legacy ensures that there is still ample ISP competition within single networks. Additionally, the country still considers network companies “common carriers” so they have not been able to discontinue bandwidth leasing.

However, several South Korean policies have directly contradicted its commitment to promoting competition and thus network neutrality. First, in an obvious move to protect South Korean VoIP providers, the government has established a policy of blocking traffic from any VoIP carrier that is not federally licensed. Skype and Vonage are included in the companies that have been blocked under this anticompetitive policy. Furthermore, in 2006 several cable broadband providers blocked traffic from HanaTv, a new Internet video-on-demand service, claiming that it used too much traffic. However, many claimed that the speed of most Korean networks could easily handle the traffic and the block was motivated by a desire to prevent HanaTv from competing with cable television offerings. Although the Korean government eventually forced ISPs to renegotiate bandwidth contracts with HanaTv, it hesitated to act and did not condemn the anticompetitive action outright, which some say shows a lack of commitment to network neutrality when large corporate interests are at stake.

Germany is interesting in that it has been slow to adopt policies to promote network neutrality; even while the European Union and most of is neighboring countries support the issue. This largely stems from a desire to promote continued infrastructure development and innovation – a consideration that is also important to the US network neutrality debate.

Almost all German broadband is serviced through DSL, a result of the joint monopoly Deutsche Telekom used to hold over both cable and telephone networks. With little incentive to upgrade in a non-competitive market, the cable network remains extremely outdated and its usefulness for broadband is limited. Although DT’s monopoly has since been regulated, no new market entrants are large enough to make substantial infrastructure contributions to Germany’s cable network. As a result, the government has, in a sense, turned back to monopoly.

In 2006, a law was passed to temporarily wave all decoupling regulations on DTs newly developed fiber-optic network, with the hope of providing the company with increased incentive to expand this key DSL alternative. Although this deregulation certainly raised concern amongst net neutrality advocates, who warn that a lack of intra-network competition prevents natural market policing of content blocking and prioritization, it is hard to argue that it was not at least temporarily beneficial in promoting the expansion of broadband internet. DT’s investment plan was directly contingent on the government’s decision to deregulate and no other companies where prepared to make any significant infrastructure investment under decoupling.

The law was eventually overturned in 2009 by the European courts – a step inline with increasing EU concern over network neutrality. Like South Korea, the EU has trended towards the promotion of ISP competition and away from direct regulation in the hope that market solutions will arise to deal with most net neutrality concerns.

Nevertheless, Germany showed continued hesitance to adopt network neutrality as national policy in a recent article published by parliament, raising concerns that technology is shifting too rapidly to make concrete policies and that net neutrality might stifle innovation and infrastructure expansion. Interesting, T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsch Telekom, recently blocked Skype traffic in Germany to reduce mobile competition, so the countries stance on the issue should be tested once again in the near future.

Tea Party and Net Neutrality? – by “Joshua K”

In this blog, Eliza Krigman at Nextgov argues that the Tea Party could actually help advance the cause of network neutrality by supporting Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-CA) proposal, which basically would have restored the pre-Comcast status quo without requiring a reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. Though Tea Party activists would like to see no new federal regulation of the Internet, according to Krigman, many of them view the Waxman bill as the lesser of two evils by limiting the FCC’s authority to reclassify broadband  and thus impose more extensive regulations. As conservative blogger Neil Stevens puts it at Redstate, “We need [legislation] to stop this ever-expanding scope that the FCC is claiming for itself.”

Politico released a list of 10 Tea Party candidates to watch, so I decided to check out their websites to learn the Tea Party’s stance on Net Neutrality.

  • Joe Miller-No mention
  • Jesse Kelly-No mention
  • Ken Buck-No mention
  • Dan Maes-No mention
  • Marco Rubio-No mention
  • Rick Scott-No mention
  • Raul Labrador-No mention
  • Rand Paul-No mention
  • Sharron Angle-No mention
  • Mike Lee-No mention

None of Politico’s list of most influential Tea Party candidates have a mention of network neutrality on their website. Seeing that Krigman’s piece references only think-tank analysts, it is hard to see if the actual members of the Tea Party, the voters and the candidates they support, will use their influence to advance network neutrality legislation in Congress. Since network neutrality requires some level of government interference in the marketplace of the Internet, I can’t imagine any serious Tea Party candidate supporting either the FCC’s or Rep. Waxman’s proposal. With Rep. Waxman’s proposal gaining little momentum in the current Congress, we can expect even less work to happen after the election and a likely Republican takeover. Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight has the Republicans winning the House at 73 percent and 18 percent in the Senate. Thus the future of the Internet and network neutrality most likely now lies in the hands of the FCC and the Obama administration.

The biggest fear might be a Republican Congress actively legislating against any new federal regulations to enforce network neutrality. Senators Kay Bailey Hutchinson, John Ensign, Sam Brownback, David Vitter, Jim DeMint, and John Thune have already introduced an amendment to an appropriations bill that would block FCC funds from developing or implementing new Internet regulations. Though this attempt may have failed, under a different Senate, Hutchinson’s amendment might get passed. The network neutrality debate is far from settled.

The Ultimate Showdown: Blumenthal v. Craigslist – by “Thad D”

“Seeking Partner In Crime”

“looking for fun”

“Looking for some ACTION!!!!!!”

Ranging from apparently harmless to incredibly graphic, the “Adult Services” section of Craigslist has long provided people far and wide with the ability to search for and find others looking for “adult services”, whatever that may mean.  That is, until last week, when Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, along with 17 other state attorneys general, told Craigslist to permanently remove their adult services section worldwide.

Before delving into the obvious issues with censoring Craigslist (net neutrality, questions of jurisdiction, website application immunity), it’s important to understand what Craigslist is and its history.  Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark, Craigslist is a website that serves as a sort of virtual bulletin board for local postings.  With subdomains for major metropolitan areas around the world, users can post solicitations for anything from old TV’s, to job inquiries, to requests for relationships.  Listed as the most used classifieds service in any medium, Craigslist sustains its operating revenue mostly from small fees required to post job openings in major metropolitan areas.  The site’s annual net income is undisclosed.

However, the seemingly noble intentions of Craigslist have not stopped many from abusing its site.  For example, in early 2009, Julissa Brisman, a young masseuse, was murdered in a hotel room by a man who hired her through Craigslist.  Then, earlier this year James Sanders, a father and devout Christian, was gunned down in his home by criminals who responded to an ad he posted on Craigslist to sell his wife’s diamond ring. (Credit to NBC and NewsRoomJersey)

Three weeks ago, 17 state attorneys general jointly wrote to Craigslist telling owner Craig Newmark to permanently remove its adult services section worldwide.   Two weeks after that, four other private, Washington D.C. based non-profit organizations spoke out about their disapproval of the site’s adult services. In response, this past week Craigslist put a black and white “CENSORED” bar where the adult services hyperlink had previously been.  However, as of today, the black and white bar has officially been removed and there is no adult services section on the site’s home page.

Craigslist Adult Services Section Censored
Wait, You Didn't Want to Remove Your Adult Services Section?

So, now that we’re all on the same page, I would like to throw something out there: I believe Richard Blumenthal is putting up this huge front in order to be elected to the U.S. Senate.  What?  “No!” You cry out, “This cannot be!”  Well, consider the following conversation between two average voters:

Joe the Plumber: Gosh, the Senate election is coming up, soon.
Bob the Builder: Well, who’s running?
Joe the Plumber: Looks like it’s **Googles for ten seconds** Linda McMahon and Richard Blumenthal.
Bob the Builder: Wasn’t she a wrestler?  And who is Richard Blumenthal?
Joe the Plumber: I don’t know.  But apparently **Googles for five more seconds** Blumenthal is really against prostitution and human trafficking on Craigslist.  And Linda McMahon never said she didn’t like prostitution or human trafficking.  Looks like I know who I’m voting for.
Bob the Builder: I second that.  I am no fan of the Internets or prostitution.

Take it for what it is, that is my personal opinion.  Beyond the questions of political pandering and insincerity raised by the timing of his attack on Craigslist, Blumenthal’s offensive raises several other important issues.  Unfortunately, I do not have time to discuss all of them, but I would like to discuss what I think is the most important: net neutrality.

What do we mean when we use the term net neutrality?  Generally network neutrality means that for any network (be it peer to peer or the Internet), the principal service provider (i.e. Comcast, Charter), the government, or any other regulatory body should have no right to censor the content posted by members of the network.  In fact, the original design choices of this Internet such as decentralization and the FCC’s Broadband Policy Statement lend the Internet to being an open, neutral network.

Blumenthal and the attorneys general joining his suit are directly challenging the fundamentals of net neutrality by forcing Craigslist to remove its adult services section.  I want to make a very clear and unequivocal distinction.  Telling Craigslist it needs to seek out and remove postings soliciting illegal activities such as prostitution or human trafficking is NOT challenging net neutrality.  Without the rule of law, the Internet would become a safe haven for criminals and create an environment no one would feel comfortable entering.  However, Craigslist should not be told to remove a whole section because certain users abuse the site’s services.

If users demanded content controlled by a single source, with government interference and site material changing based on mere political whims, everyone would still be getting their Internet content from Compuserve.  Think I’m wrong?  Why do we have Google, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon,, streaming video of any sort (thanks porn industry), or all of the amazing web applications we have today?

For now, Blumenthal will not let sleeping dogs lie.  Although Craigslist has removed the whole adult services section Blumenthal insists, “Simply removing one portion of your site where you permitted and profited from prostitution ads is insufficient if ads go elsewhere.”  (Credit to The Associated Press)

Vinton Cerf, father of net neutrality and, the best thing it brings with it, competition on a previously unparalleled scale, we salute you.  Richard Blumenthal may be thinking that Craigslist is “thumbing their nose at the public interest”, but let’s be honest: since when did a 64 year old whose alma maters include Yale and Harvard ever represent the public interest?

You’re tied in a knot, but I’m not gonna get caught – by “Aditya K”

After from scrutiny from the FCC, AT&T announced that it was allowing for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) on its 3G networks. Yes, this includes programs like Google Voice on the iPhone. Josh Silverman of Skype lauded AT&T’s move, saying how this is the right step, not only for Skype, but for the Internet in general. Apple was “very happy” too and will add VoIP applications to their App Store.

The FCC—which was investigating AT&T’s competitive (or anti-competitive) actions when it came to (supposedly) blocking Google’s Voice program—will be voting on network neutrality rules at the end of this month. The net neutrality rules would apply to all broadband networks, which include wireless ones. AT&T’s actions, though very beneficial to the cause of network neutrality, come as a big surprise:

AT&T has never been too supportive of net neutrality, being one of the largest ISPs around. However, a few weeks ago, they surprised everyone by claiming that Google—one of the biggest supporters of net neutrality—was being hypocritical.

Google Voice utilizes a system where they block high-cost calls to certain rural telephone numbers. This is because many rural phone companies practice “traffic pumping,” which means that they charge exorbitant amounts of money to connect to these numbers, and they share their revenues with phone sex and conference call lines.

Just a few years ago, AT&T tried blocking calls to these phone numbers, but the FCC said no. AT&T is known as a common carrier, which is a business that is not allowed to discriminate because it carries out a public service (in this case, telephone calls). In AT&T’s eyes, Google Voice is doing the same exact thing that they tried to do—and getting away with it.

So basically, AT&T is calling Google out on not being net neutral, citing the fourth principle of the FCC’s open internet rules (“consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers”). Google Voice either acts as a pseudo-network provider, or it acts as an application—either way, it must abide.

Google responded almost immediately, claiming that those neutrality principles should not apply to Google Voice because: Voice is a free software application (thus no common carrier laws should apply); Voice isn’t replacing phone services because you need a wireless/land line to use it; and Voice is invite-only currently.

The major questions that arise are: Can Google be considered a common carrier with its Voice application? Should its call discrimination be bound by net neutrality principles? The fact that neutrality applies to phone services but not to software applications that utilize the phone services seems a bit iffy. Though the FCC’s rules specifically apply to network providers, perhaps they should reevaluate their rules to apply broadly. Though AT&T’s line of reasoning may be flawed, perhaps they do have a point.