Net Neutrality: A Counter Viewpoint

Net neutrality to me is obvious. I don't want the Internet to go the way of cable television. Expanding capacity is how you respond to an increase in traffic load.

But it is okay to listen to a counter viewpoint.

The Right Way to Fix the Internet
Letting go of an obsession with net neutrality could free technologists to make online services even better. ..... the Internet never has been entirely neutral. Wireless networks, for example, have been built for many years with features that help identify users whose weak connections are impairing the network with slow traffic and incessant requests for dropped packets to be resent. Carriers’ technology assures that such users’ access is rapidly constrained, so that one person’s bad connection doesn’t create a traffic jam for everyone. ..... It costs more to get online in the United States than just about anywhere else in the developed world ..... U.S. service is sometimes twice as expensive as what’s available in Europe—and slower, too. ...... the Internet arose in an ad hoc fashion; there is no Internet constitution to cite. ..... their equivalent of the Federalist Papers: a 1981 article by computer scientists Jerome Saltzer, David Reed, and David Clark. The authors’ ambitions for that paper (“End-to-End Arguments in System Design”) had been modest: to lay out technical reasons why tasks such as error correction should be performed at the edges, or end points, of the network—where the users are—rather than at the core. In other words, ISPs should operate “dumb pipes” that merely pass traffic along. This paper took on a remarkable second life as the Internet grew. In his 2000 book Code, a discussion of how to regulate the Internet, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig said the lack of centralized control embodied in the 1981 end-to-end principle was “one of the most important reasons that the Internet produced the innovation and growth that it has enjoyed.” ...... “unavoidable vagueness” about the dividing line between allowable network-management decisions and impermissible bias. .. The line remains as blurry as ever, which is one reason the debate over net neutrality is so intense. ......... if profit-hungry companies are left unfettered to choose how to handle various types of traffic, they “will continue to change the internal structure of the Internet in ways that are good for them, but not necessarily for the rest of us.” ........ codifying too many overarching principles for the Internet makes many engineers uncomfortable. In their view, the network is a constant work in progress, requiring endless pragmatism. Its backbone is constantly being torn apart and rebuilt. The best means of connecting various networks with one another are always in flux. ......... “You can’t change congestion by passing net neutrality or doing that kind of thing,” says Tom Leighton, cofounder and chief executive of Akamai Technologies. .. To keep traffic humming online, Leighton says, “you’re going to need technology.” ........ A central tenet of net neutrality is that “best efforts” should be applied equally when transmitting every packet moving through the Internet, regardless of who the sender, recipient, or carriers might be. But that principle merely freezes the setup of the Internet as it existed nearly a quarter-century ago, says Michael Katz, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has worked for the FCC and consulted for Verizon. “You can say that every bit is a bit,” Katz adds, “but every bitstream isn’t the same bitstream.” Video and voice transmissions are highly vulnerable to errors, delays, and packet loss. Data transmissions can survive rougher handling. If some consumers want their Internet connections to deliver ultrahigh-resolution movies with perfect fidelity, those people would be better served, Katz argues, by more flexible arrangements that might indeed prioritize video. Efficiency might be more desirable than a strict adherence to equity for all bits. ......... For many years, high-volume sites run by Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and the like have been negotiating arrangements with many companies that ferry data to your Internet service provider—backbone operators, transit providers, and content delivery networks—to ensure that the most popular content is distributed as smoothly as possible. Often, this means paying a company such as Akamai to stash copies of highly in-demand content on multiple servers all over the world, so that a stampede for World Cup highlights creates as little strain as possible on the overall Internet..................... Netflix last year was accounting for as much as one-third of all U.S. Internet traffic on Friday evenings. .... In the short term, Netflix resolved the problem by paying for more of the peering points that carriers such as Comcast and Verizon required. More strategically, Netflix is arranging to put its servers in Internet service providers’ facilities, providing them with easier access to its content. ....... the Netflix fight shouldn’t distract regulators who are trying to figure out the best way to keep the Internet open. They should be focusing, he says, on making sure that everyday customers are getting high-speed Internet as cheaply and reliably as possible, and that small-time publishers of Internet content can distribute their work. .... A tiny video startup doesn’t generate enough volume to force Comcast to install extra peering points. ........ “zero rating,” in which consumers are allowed to try certain applications without incurring any bandwidth-usage charges. The app providers usually pay the wireless carriers to offer that access as a way of building up their market share in a hurry... In much of Africa, people with limited usage plans can enjoy free access to Facebook or Wikipedia this way. ......... In the United States, T-Mobile lets customers tap into a half-dozen music sites, such as Pandora and Spotify, without incurring usage charges. ...... When Tim Wu talked about net neutrality a decade ago, he framed it as a way of ensuring maximum competition on the Internet. But in the current debate, that rationale is in danger of being coöpted into a protectionist defense of the status quo. If there’s anything the Internet’s evolution has taught us, it’s that innovation comes rapidly, and in unexpected ways. We need a net neutrality strategy that prevents the big Internet service providers from abusing their power—but still allows them to optimize the Internet for the next wave of innovation and efficiency.


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