Monday, July 03, 2006

Net Neutrality Brain Freze....

Senator Ted Stephens (R-Alaska) explains why it took so long for his internet to get sent the other day (courtesy of 27B Stroke 6 on

This is certainly an enlightening article. I understand a great deal about the level of knowledge that this particular senator has about how the internet works (and how internet e-mail works. and the fact that internet e-mail is not the internet...).

Okay, so let's get to some deconstruction, shall we?

I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially.

So, an "internet" was sent by Senator Stephens' staff and apparently didn't arrive in the senator's inbox until (a day or two?) later.

Why did it take so long?  DNS problems?  An overburdened mail server with a very full queue?  A 5 megabyte powerpoint attachment in the mail message he was expecting?  Downloading mail over a dial-up connection?

Nope.  It simply got tangled up in the "commercial" internet.

That's not true, of course, but it *is* important.  It is important because either the senator seriously doesn't understand how internet email works (and what can slow it down so that it is not delivered until one or more days after it is sent), or he is making an argument that deliberately misstates the situation, or both.

He mentions that real-world businesses deliver DVDs to you, but it costs money, and that an online delivery would be free.  I don't know about the senator, but I'm pretty sure I have to pay my phone company every month for the privilege of connecting to the internet.  I suppose that he might not have to worry about that (perhaps he gets a discounted rate from his telecom company somehow?), but every other person connected to the internet does.

THAT is the most important point of all.  You pay for internet access.  So do I.  So do the companies that own and operate websites that we visit.  *Everyone* is paying for the data that is transmitted and recieved in every connection.  It's possible (not likely, but possible) that we are being undercharged, but the myth that there is no cost to have video content delivered via an internet connection is fiction.  It costs both the sender and the recipient because they pay for their internet connections.

My guess, and this is nothing more than a guess, is that someone explained (very patiently) to the senator how to tell people that the internet is a big old pipe that is getting clogged up by certain undesirable things...

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can charge anyone for massively invading this world of the internet". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time. [?]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

"They" apparently want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet, and the senator believes that doing so not only constitutes some sort of invasion, but that there is no cost for delivering said vast amount of information.

We've already swatted awway the whole "no charge" argument (and haven't even touched on the fact that you and I are already paying extra to help our poor put-upon telecom companies pay for and deploy new infrastructure), so let's discuss what the internet might be reasonably compared to.

The internet is not a series of tubes, it is a network, and a fairly complex network, at that.  The internet is most decidely not a truck.  I'm pretty sure nobody has said that the internet is a truck...or a car, or a bicycle (that would be SCO talking about Linux, but I digress).  The internet is a network of networks (hence the name).  Multiple paths connect from one point to other points.  Information can be routed around slow or malfunctioning points in the network and still reach its destination.

As a practical example of what happens when you send a lot of information across the internet (well, a big chunk of information), pick a friend who doesn't mind, and send him or her a large file via e-mail.  While the e-mail is being sent, try to use your web browser and visit a website or two (I highly reccommend  Your web browser will slow down, but it won't stop working completely.  It and your mail program will share the available bandwidth.

The same thing happens on the internet when multiple people are using a connection.  A bigger file doesn't suddenly take up all of some metaphorical pipe, it shares the amount of bandwidth equally with whatever else is being sent or recieved (unless the company in charge of the network can decide how fast particular types of traffic or particular sources or destinations can send and recieve data).

Basically, Senator Stephens is explaining the opposite of the truth, which is just baffling to me.  Allowing a two-tiered (or many-tiered) internet could, indeed, place us in an irritating situation where some content squeezes other traffic down to a trickle.  If you really want to see what slow internet traffic looks like, then opting to abandon Net Neutrality will definitely accomplish that.

Let telecom companies decide what traffic goes at what speed, and they'll be giving 90% of their spanking new 40GB backbone bandwidth to internet TV (commercials = revenue) and the rest to everything else (and even then, slowing down or blocking connections to customers from non-paying internet sites).  I pay for an internet connection, period.  I'm not paying for AT&Tnet, I just want to get online and not be hindered once I'm there.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense internet now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can't afford getting delayed by other people.

Actually, no, that's not why.  The reason the DoD has a seperate network to use is that they can't afford to have the typical problems that plague the public internet affect their operation.  The internet has become a piece of critical infrastructure for the DoD, and security controls using the public internet were just not feasible to implement and maintain.

The reason the DoD has their own dedicated circuits is for better performance, true, but they had that before, the change they made was primarily to insulate their systems from attack, and secondly to improve performance.

The whole concept is that we should not go into this until someone shows that there is something that has been done that really is a viloation of net neutraility that hits you and me.

That is, indeed, a concept.  I prefer the concept where we take proactive steps to ensure that our internet providers can't purposely degrade our service without our consent.

Maybe you have to be a senator in Alaska to understand the alternate point of view and consider it fair, and maybe the honorable Sen. Stephenson has Net Neutrality brain freeze.  Either way, if Net Netrality fails, we could all be left out in the cold.

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