Garcia, Katrina: Net Neutrality

Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days. Indeed, it is this neutrality that has allowed many companies, to launch, grow, and innovate. Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online. Today, the neutrality of the Internet is at stake as the broadband carriers want Congress’s permission to determine what content gets to you first and fastest. Put simply, this would fundamentally alter the openness of the Internet or rather Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success. The neutral communications medium is essential to our society. It is the basis of a fair competitive market economy. It is the basis of democracy, by which a community should decide what to do. It is the basis of science, by which humankind should decide what is true. Let us protect the neutrality of the net.

“Network Neutrality” is the idea that Internet access providers should not discriminate with regard to what applications an individual can use, or the content an individual can upload, download, or interacted with over the network. Individuals acquiring services from Internet access providers should be able to use the applications and devices of their choice, and interact with the content of their choice anywhere on the Internet. The concept of “Network Neutrality” is essentially traditional Common Carriage. Common carriers are carriers of goods, people, and information such as trains, planes, buses, and telephone companies. They can not discriminate with regard to what they carry or where they carry it. Common carriage embodies the ideal that the efficient movement of goods and information is essential to our economy, our culture, and our nation, and therefore carriers must not discriminate or favor particular content or individuals. Smithsonian (“Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century the telegraph became one of the most important factors in the development of social and commercial life of America.”) NSFNET Final Report (1995) p. 4 (“Infrastructures, for purposes such as transportation and communication, have long been vital to national welfare. They knit together a country’s economy by facilitating the movement of people, products, services, and ideas, and play important roles in national security.”)[Odlyzko Efficiency and Fairness 2009 48 (contrasting NN to railroad and telephone common carrier policy)

Telecommunication carriers (those communications carriers that transport information back and forth) are one type of common carriers and have been classified as such for 100 years. This status was essentially inherited from telegraph companies. Forty years ago, the FCC initiated the Computer Inquiries which established the telephone network as an open platform over which computer networks could be constructed. The FCC also resolved the Carterfone proceeding, holding that individuals could attach devices (ie, faxes, modems) of their choice to the telephone network. These proceedings created an environment where any computer network could be constructed for any purpose and go anywhere.

Computer networks which are provisioned over telecommunications services, and in particular, Internet service providers, were classified as Information Services and did not have telecommunications regulations imposed upon them. Because these ISPs were interstate networks, they fell under the jurisdiction of the FCC and not state public utility commissions. ISPs hold the same role as telegraph and telephone carriers, carrying information central or critical to our society and nation.

This policy moved from the dial-up world to the broadband world. However, when the Internet moved from the dial-up world to the broadband world, it moved from something that was done over the common carrier network, to being the network. The question posed was whether, with this metamorphosis from some thing over the network, to being the network, the Internet would take on the common carrier status.

Advocates argued that cable modem service and DSL should be classified as telecommunications carriers so that the Computer Inquiries would apply. This is also known as the Open Access debate. Here the FCC policy of an open communications carrier shifted dramatically; the underlying communications network had always been a common carrier for 150 years. But when broadband Internet became the underlying network, the concept of common carriage was eliminated. The FCC concluded that these new communications networks were “information services” which did not need to be shared, did not fall under the Computer Inquiries, and did not fall under the non-discrimination provisions of title II of the Communications Act. This is a move from an Internet access service classified as an information service provisioned over a telecommunications network classified as a common carrier – to a network where the whole thing top to bottom is an unregulated information service.Generally, common carriers are not liable for damage caused by what they carry – for example, a train that transported Al Capone would not normally be an accessory to his criminal acts. With the advent of the commodity Internet, Internet service providers have been immune from liability for the content which they carry – just like common carriers.

While the term “network neutrality” may be new – the concept has a long history.

Principle:

Network neutrality (also net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks and potentially for all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams. The principle states that if a given user pays for a certain level of internet access, and another user pays for a given level of access, that the two users should be able to connect to each other at that given rate of access.Though the term did not enter popular use until several years later, since the early 2000s advocates of net neutrality and associated rules have raised concerns about the ability of broadband providers to use their last mile infrastructure to block Internet applications and content (e.g. websites, services, protocols); particularly those of competitors. In the US particularly, but elsewhere as well, the possibility of regulations designed to mandate the neutrality of the Internet has been subject to fierce debate.Neutrality proponents claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms. Vinton Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web, and many others have spoken out strongly in favor of network neutrality.Opponents of net neutrality include large hardware companies and members of the cable and telecommunications industries. Critics characterised net neutrality regulation as “a solution in search of a problem”, arguing that broadband service providers have no plans to block content or degrade network performance. In spite of this claim, certain Internet service providers (such as Comcast) have intentionally slowed peer-to-peer (P2P) communications. Others have done exactly the opposite of what Telecom spokespersons claim and have begun to use deep packet inspection to discriminate against P2P, FTP and online games, instituting a cell-phone style billing system of overages, free-to-telecom “value added” services, and anti-competitive tying (“bundling”). Critics also argue that data discrimination of some kinds, particularly to guarantee quality of service, is not problematic, but highly desirable. Bob Kahn, Internet Protocol’s co-inventor, has called “net neutrality” a slogan, and states that he opposes establishing it, warning that “nothing interesting can happen inside the net” if it passes: “If the goal is to encourage people to build new capabilities, then the party that takes the lead in building that new capability, is probably only going to have it on their net to start with and it is probably not going to be on anybody else’s net.” However, he also said “by virtue of doing that, you tend to fragment the net. And anything that will tend to fragment the net I’m opposed to, provided it’s not an incremental evolution of a new technology that’s happening.”Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet. The Internet has operated according to this neutrality principle since its earliest days… Fundamentally, net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content. Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.

Definition of NET NEUTRALITY:

Neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Net neutrality advocates have established three principal definitions of network neutrality: Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

Three Principal definitions of network neutrality:

Absolute non-discrimination – “Network neutrality is best defined as a network design principle. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally.” Or that a neutral Internet must forward packets on a first-come, first served basis, without regard for quality-of-service considerations.

Limited discrimination without QoS tiering – United States lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow quality of service discrimination as long as no special fee is charged for higher-quality service.

Limited discrimination and tiering – This approach allows higher fees for QoS as long as there is no exclusivity in service contracts. Ex. “If I pay to connect to the Net with a given quality of service, and you pay to connect to the net with the same or higher quality of service, then you and I can communicate across the net, with that quality of service.” “[We] each pay to connect to the Net, but no one can pay for exclusive access to me.”

Development of the Concept of NET NEUTRALITY:

Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination. The paper considered network neutrality in terms of neutrality between applications, as well as neutrality between data and QoS-sensitive traffic, and proposed some legislation to potentially deal with these issues. Throughout 2005 and 2006 network neutrality and the future of the Internet was debated by cable companies, consumers and Internet service providers (ISPs), although the issue was almost completely ignored by the media until 2006. The concept of network neutrality predates the current Internet focused debate, existing since the age of the telegraph. In 1860, a US federal law was passed to subsidize a telegraph line, stating that:messages received from any individual, company, or corporation, or from any telegraph lines connecting with this line at either of its termini, shall be impartially transmitted in the order of their reception, excepting that the dispatches of the government shall have priority …

An act to facilitate communication between the Atlantic and Pacific states by electric telegraph, June 16, 1860

In 1888, Almon Brown Strowger invented an automatic telephone exchange to bypass non-neutral telephone operators who redirected calls for profit.

Arguments for network neutrality are the following:

Control of data- Supporters of network neutrality want a legal mandate ensuring that cable companies allow Internet service providers (ISPs) free access to their cable lines, which is called a common carriage agreement, and the model used for dial-up Internet. They want to ensure that cable companies cannot screen, interrupt or filter Internet content without court order. Allowing broadband carriers to control what people see and do online would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.

Digital rights and freedoms-Net neutrality ensures that the Internet remains a free and open technology, fostering, amongst others, democratic communication.

Competition and innovation- Net neutrality advocates argue that allowing cable companies, or what is termed “content gatekeepers”, to demand a toll to guarantee quality or premium delivery would create what Tim Wu calls “the Tony Soprano business model”. Advocates warn that by charging “every Web site, from the smallest blogger to Google”, network owners would earn huge profits and would be able to block competitor Web sites and services, as well as refuse access to those unable to pay. According to Tim Wu cable companies plan to “carve off bandwidth” for their own television services and to charge companies a toll for “priority” service. Proponents of net neutrality argue that allowing for preferential treatment of Internet traffic, or tiered service, would put newer online companies at a disadvantage and slow innovation in online services. Tim Wu argues that without network neutrality the Internet would undergo a transformation from a market “where innovation rules to one where deal-making rules.” SaveTheInternet.com argues that net neutrality creates an “even playing field” and that “the Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit.”

Without net neutrality, the Internet would start to look like cable TV. A handful of massive companies would control access and distribution of content, deciding what you get to see and how much it costs. Major industries such as health care, finance, retailing and gambling would face huge tariffs for fast, secure Internet use … Most of the great innovators in the history of the Internet started out in their garages with great ideas and little capital. This is no accident. Network neutrality protections minimized control by the network owners, maximized competition and invited outsiders in to innovate. Net neutrality guaranteed a free and competitive market for Internet content.

Preserving Internet standards- Numerous commentors have cautioned that authorizing incumbent network providers to override the separation of the transport and application layers of the Internet signals the end of the authority of the fundamental Internet standards and indeed, of the standards-making processes for the Internet themselves.

Advocates of network neutrality observe that any practice that shapes the transmission of bits in the transport layer based on application designs will undermine the design for flexibility of the transport.

Preventing pseudo-services- any violations to network neutrality would realistically not involve genuine investment but rather the provision of pseudo-services which amount to bribes or extortion. He argues that it’s extremely unlikely new investment will be made to lay special networks for particular websites to actually reach end-users faster, but rather that violations to net neutrality will involve using quality of service in an artificial way to essentially extract bribes from websites to avoid being slowed down.

End-to-end principle- Network neutrality is needed in order to maintain the end-to-end principle

End to end Principle- it is one of the central design principles of the Internet and is implemented in the design of the underlying methods and protocols in the Internet Protocol Suite. It is also used in other distributed systems. The principle states that, whenever possible, communications protocol operations should be defined to occur at the end-points of a communications system, or as close as possible to the resource being controlled.

According to the end-to-end principle, protocol features are only justified in the lower layers of a system if they are a performance optimization, hence, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) retransmission for reliability is still justified, but efforts to improve TCP reliability should stop after peak performance has been reached.

Examples- In the Internet Protocol Suite, the Internet Protocol is a simple (“dumb”), stateless protocol that moves datagrams across the network, and TCP is a smart transport protocol providing error detection, retransmission, congestion control, and flow control end-to-end. The network itself (the routers) needs only to support the simple, lightweight IP; the endpoints run the heavier TCP on top of it when needed.

A second canonical example is that of file transfer. Every reliable file transfer protocol and file transfer program should contain a checksum, which is validated only after everything has been successfully stored on disk. Disk errors, router errors, and file transfer software errors make an end-to-end checksum necessary. Therefore, there is a limit to how secure TCP checksum should be, because it has to be reimplemented for any robust end-to-end application to be secure.

A third example (not from the original paper) is the EtherType field of Ethernet. An Ethernet frame does not attempt to provide interpretation for the 16 bits of type in an original Ethernet packet. To add special interpretation to some of these bits, would reduce the total number of Ethertypes, hurting the scalability of higher layer protocols, i.e. all higher layer protocols would pay a price for the benefit of just a few. Attempts to add elaborate interpretation (e.g. IEEE 802 SSAP/DSAP) have generally been ignored by most network designs, which follow the end-to-end principle.

Arguments against network neutrality are the following:

Innovation and investment- Prioritisation of bandwidth is necessary for future innovation on the Internet. Telecommunications providers such as telephone and cable companies, and some technology companies that supply networking gear, argue telecom providers should have the ability to provide preferential treatment in the form of a tiered services, for example by giving online companies willing to pay the ability to transfer their data packages faster than other Internet traffic. The added revenue from such services could be used to pay for the building of increased broadband access to more consumers. Opponents to net neutrality have also argued that net neutrality regulation would have adverse consequences for innovation and competition in the market for broadband access by making it more difficult for Internet service providers (ISPs) and other network operators to recoup their investments in broadband networks.[44] John Thorne, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Verizon, broadband and telecommunications company, has argued that they will have no incentive to make large investments to develop advanced fibre-optic networks if they are prohibited from charging higher preferred access fees to companies that wish to take advantage of the expanded capabilities of such networks.

Counterweight to server-side non-neutrality- Internet is already not a level-playing field: companies such as Google and Akamai achieve a performance advantage over smaller competitors by replicating servers and buying high-bandwidth services. Should prices drop for lower levels of access, or access to only certain protocols, for instance, a change of this type would make Internet usage more neutral, with respect to the needs of those individuals and corporations specifically seeking differentiated tiers of service. Network expert Richard Bennett has written, “A richly funded Web site, which delivers data faster than its competitors to the front porches of the Internet service providers, wants it delivered the rest of the way on an equal basis. This system, which Google calls broadband neutrality, actually preserves a more fundamental inequality.”

Tim Wu, though a proponent of network neutrality, claims that the current Internet is not neutral as, “among all applications”, its implementation of best effort generally favors file transfer and other non-time sensitive traffic over real-time communications.

Bandwidth availability- Since the early 1990s Internet traffic has increased steadily. The arrival of picture-rich websites and MP3s led to a sharp increase in the mid 1990s followed by a subsequent sharp increase since 2003 as video streaming and peer-to-peer file sharing became more common. In reaction to companies including YouTube, as well as smaller companies starting to offer free video content, using substantial amounts of bandwidth, at least one Internet service provider (ISP), SBC Communications, has suggested that it should have the right to charge these companies for making their content available over the provider’s network. Bret Swanson from the Wall Street Journal said that YouTube, MySpace and blogs are put at risk by net neutrality. Swanson says that YouTube streams as much data in three months as the world’s radio, cable and broadcast television channels stream in one year, 75 petabytes. He argues that today’s networks are not remotely prepared to handle what he calls the “exaflood” (see exabytes). He argues that net neutrality would prevent broadband networks from being built, which would limit available bandwidth and thus endanger innovation.

Andrew Coburn, vice-president of Catastrophe Research at Risk Management Systems, says there is potential for a major overload, if not a full crash. Coburn says that while we can cope at current traffic levels, an external event like a terrorist attack or a flu pandemic could easily overload the network. “A massive increase in traffic that resulted in overloads of router buffers and caused localised and progressive failure through the network is one of our major concerns. Packet loss leads to degradation of service, increased waiting times and reduces reliability to the point of unusability.” But there just isn’t enough information to determine how real the risk is, he says. “Each of the many thousands of individual service providers knows their own demand-supply relationships and the reliability that they expect,” says Coburn. “But these data are not public, and each sees only their own small part of the overall network. Nobody has more than a glimpse into the total network that comprises today’s internet.”
Opposition to legislation-

Given a rapidly-changing technological and market environment, many in the public policy area question the government’s ability to make and maintain meaningful regulation that doesn’t cause more harm than good.

For example, fair queuing would actually be illegal under several proposals as it requires prioritization of packets based on criteria other than that permitted by the proposed law. Quoting Bram Cohen, the creator of BitTorrent, “I most definitely do not want the Internet to become like television where there’s actual censorship… however it is very difficult to actually create network neutrality laws which don’t result in an absurdity like making it so that ISPs can’t drop spam or stop… attacks. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 excludes reasonable network management from regulation

The Wall Street Journal believes that: “Government’s role here, properly understood, is not to tell Comcast how to manage its network. Rather, it is to make sure consumers have alternatives to Comcast if they are unhappy with their Internet service.” This is despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of residential consumers subscribe to Internet access service from 1 of only 2 wireline providers: the cable operator or the telephone company, something cannot be changed by the FCC, (who had called the hearing) but could be promoted by Congress with the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act, and/or with the promotion of municipal broadband.


References:

  • Vinton Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol, Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the web. Bob Kahn, Internet Protocol’s co-inventor
  • Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, published and popularized a proposal for a net neutrality rule, in his paper Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination.
  • SaveTheInternet.com argues that net neutrality creates an “even playing field” and that “the Internet has always been driven by innovation.
  • Bret Swanson from the Wall Street Journal
  • Andrew Coburn, vice-president of Catastrophe Research at Risk Management Systems
  • NSFNET Final Report (1995) p. 4
  • Odlyzko Efficiency and Fairness 2009 48 (contrasting NN to railroad and telephone common carrier policy)
  • FCC resolution of the Carterfone proceeding
  • non-discrimination provisions of title II of the Communications Act
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