Internet

President Obama Supports Net Neutrality. But Does He Understand It?

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Hmmm…

Earlier this week, President Obama participated in a people-powered YouTube Q&A session, answering questions sent in from Real Regular People On The Internet. Mid-way through the session, the host reported that the number one question topic in the jobs and economy category was Net neutrality. He then proceeded to ask Obama the following question:

"An open Internet is a powerful engine for economic growth and new jobs.  Letting large companies block and fill their online content services would stifle needed growth.  What is your commitment to keeping the Internet open and neutral in America?"

Not surprisingly, Obama responded by reiterating his commitment to keeping the Internet open and neutral:

Well, I'm a big believer in net neutrality. I campaigned on this.  I continue to be a strong supporter of it. My FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski, has indicated that he shares the view that we've got to keep the Internet open; that we don't want to create a bunch of gateways that prevent somebody who doesn't have a lot of money but has a good idea from being able to start their next YouTube or their next Google on the Internet. So this is something we're committed to.

We're getting pushback, obviously, from some of the bigger carriers who would like to be able to charge more fees and extract more money from wealthier customers.  But we think that runs counter to the whole spirit of openness that has made the Internet such a powerful engine for not only economic growth, but also for the generation of ideas and creativity.

Obama is right that some of the big ISPs have resisted the FCC's push for neutrality regulations. But what he doesn't note is that recently, a federal appeals court has expressed strong skepticism about whether the FCC has the authority to regulate neutrality. So it's not just greedy corporations who're providing the pushback, it's government-approved legal authorities.

But Obama's response presents a broader conceptual problem as well: For what he says to make any sense, you have to figure out what you mean by "open and neutral." Net neutrality activists have made a business of inventing non-neutral Net nightmares in which giant, money-hungry corporate monsters stalk the digital landscape blocking everyone's favorite websites and demanding that struggling start-ups and politically inconvenient policy organizations cough up big bucks in order to secure the access they need.

But as Ev Ehrlich points out in this effective and entertaining rant, this is a vision of an Internet that just doesn't make any sense. Why? Because it's an Internet that no one wants. Not businesses. Not non-profits. Not the government. And certainly not individuals. And Internet service providers, whether they like it or not, still have to find customers who will buy what they're selling. And if they suddenly start offering a totally worthless product, that's going to be awfully tough to do.

Not only is that vision of a closed-off, gate-filled Web not really believable, it's not really what's at stake in the Net neutrality debate. And, contrary to the framing of both the question and Obama's response, it doesn't have much to do with jobs or the economy. Here's Erhlich:

To me, "open" means you can find anything you want, so long as it's legal.  That's unequivocally good – it's what I pay a provider to do for me. But neutral means that everything that's carried on the Internet travels on the same speed and the same terms as everything else, and I'm not convinced that's as good as seeing everything I want to see. I've talked about this before –not everything should travel at the same speed and on the same terms.  I've used the example (in other postings) of a medical device that's attached to me at one end and a hospital on the other via the Internet, and how I want that signal to travel faster than a download of a cat playing the xylophone.

I thought I was being literary – you know, cats can't really play the xylophone – but then I found this clip, which isn't exactly the same thing, but nonetheless a good example of something that I want my heart monitor to go faster than.   

Are you telling me that the economy would be worse off if companies like Comcast or Verizon or ATT or Clearwire or whomever else could let the hospital pay to have an uninterrupted connection to my thorax and let that connection take priority over the cat video if there's congestion on the Internet?

So despite what Obama seemed to suggest, specialized services and traffic prioritization aren't likely to harm economic growth. But the larger point, I think, is that when people worry about what might happen in the absence of neutrality regulation, what they're really worrying about is a lack of openness. Neutrality, on the other hand, isn't something that most people give much thought to. Yet it's neutrality that Obama and his FCC support, and neutrality (along with openness) that their favored regulations would enforce.

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  1. Net neutrality activists have made a business of inventing non-neutral Net nightmares in which giant, money-hungry corporate monsters stalk the digital landscape blocking everyone’s favorite websites and demanding that struggling start-ups and politically inconvenient policy organizations cough up big bucks in order to secure the access they need.

    In other words, a world where corporations are trying to improve their bottom line by excluding and pissing off their clients. Yeah, that makes sense . . .

    Idiots.

  2. We’re getting pushback, obviously, from some of the bigger carriers who would like to be able to charge more fees and extract more money from wealthier customers. But we think that runs counter to the whole spirit of openness that has made the Internet such a powerful engine for not only economic growth, but also for the generation of ideas and creativity.

    In other words, my administration seeks to violate the Laws of Economics (yet again) by making a scarce good (bandwidth) into a non scarce good (akin to air) by government fiat. Is that easy!

  3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  4. funny that the new government net neutrality regulations stand to cause the problems they were supposed to “fix”. like how you may see ISPs blocking Bit Torrent. we told you fools that giving the government more control over the internet was going to make things worse than minimizing its control of the internet.

    1. oops, forgot to include this: Slashdot Your Rights Online: FCC’s Net Neutrality Plan Blocks BitTorrent http://yro.slashdot.org/story/…..BitTorrent

      1. oh and in my first comment, problems should read “problems”

        1. You’re wasting far too much bandwidth here, Hacha.

          1. I was wondering what the source of the electron shortage was.

  5. And Internet service providers, whether they like it or not, still have to find customers who will buy what they’re selling. And if they suddenly start offering a totally worthless product, that’s going to be awfully tough to do.

    As I type this via a Comcast broadband connection, I can assure you, it’s not that tough to get people to buy something that’s almost worthless if they have one competitor (in my case, Verizon) whose product is even more worthless.

    And most of the country is even worse off than I am in the broadband competition department.

    1. Irrelevant. I’d rather have to deal with a shitty company with a government-granted monopoly than let the government take over. New technologies are coming into play that will eventually destroy the shitty companies’ advantage, but once you let the government into something, you will never get it out.

      Giving the government control over the internet because Comcast is currently pissing you off is absolutely, 100%, grade-A retarded.

      1. Oh, I still oppose net neutrality by govt fiat. I just disagree with Suderman’s contention that ISPs are unlikely to exploit their ability to give certain traffic preference over other.

        1. Which is meet and right, should my 30 tetrabytes of asian ass porn have priority over someone trying to view the news, or research/communicate on medical, technological or legal problems?

  6. Will these fuckers ever just leave us alone?

  7. Caption contest: “Speak no evil”

  8. Read the Google/Verizon “Finding Common ground on the Internet.”

    http://googlepublicpolicy.blog…..ernet.html

    It is the opponents of “Net Neutrality” that are struggling to invent a bogus list of “horribles”.

  9. Live and let live is what we want but strong interests can even control what corporate &/or govt. accept. See this video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEQWxdLr65I
    Examples of censorship can be found monitoring Youtube or Amazon’s discussions.

  10. I can still see some “neutrality” being called for — ISPs often have content or data service interests, and might be tempted to use their control over the lines to shut competitors down. As for the argument that they won’t do that because it’s “an internet that no one wants”, internet with overpriced data and content services is still a lot better than no internet at all, which is the only other option for many people. The amount of extra money they stand to make by cutting off cheaper competition in data services vastly outweighs the small number of customers that would cut themselves off in protest. They might experience somewhat more discipline in duopolistic markets or from mobile internet providers, but it still leaves them with a great deal of power to screw consumers and any competitors that don’t own their own infrastructure.

    As reliant as telcos are on government privileges and regulations, they can essentially be considered investor-owned GSEs. ISP monopoly over the low-level data network is a necessary evil due to the issues with rights-of-way, but there’s no reason to let them use their necessary monopoly power in data transmission to secure monopolies in other areas which are naturally vibrant and competitve (ie, most of the services built on top of that infrastructure).

    Besides, it’s hardly unprecedented. FERC antitrust regulations place a wall of separation between the portions of a utility that produce, sell, and trade energy, and those that manage transmission. The latter are usually large regional monopolies with legal obligations to maintain the security and reliability of the grid, while the former often operate in a “market” which can include many small, independent power producers. Common carrier laws provide similar benefits for roads, rail, and so on. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that these laws and regulations cause particularly terrible unintended consequences.

    Now, government might use net neutrality as an opportunity to try to regulate data services, rather than the low level physical data transmission infrastructure, which would be a recipe for abuse of power and technological stagnation. But if their efforts are focused at opening up access to raw bandwidth, and are based on standard common carrier law, they might be for the best.

  11. I think the fear of some is that (A) cable internet providors will give favorable treatment to their own content, and (B) an internet where it is easier to access the content of the people who have the most money to pay to have their content delivered faster, will tend to lead to an internet dominated by a few large media companies. I.e. people will go to CNN’s website, instead of some guy’s blog, because CNN is paying extra to have their video delivered faster.

    I am not going to discount that fear.
    I’m not sure that’s actually what would happen though. For one, ISPs have an interest in building out bandwidth faster than their competitors even if they are favoring their own content. It makes more sense to lay more cable than it does to prioritize content, since the extra bandwidth is just going to make your service more attractive all around. The whole priority/favoritism thing only works in a monopoly market (albeit this might be true in some places), where you don’t have to compete on overall speed. Otherwise, your competitor will start offering faster service for everything, not just certain content.

  12. Net neutrality activists have made a business of inventing non-neutral Net nightmares in which giant, money-hungry corporate monsters stalk the digital landscape blocking everyone’s favorite websites and demanding that struggling start-ups and politically inconvenient policy organizations cough up big bucks in order to secure the access they need.

    As opposed to the government doing it?

  13. I’m generally in agreement with preventing the government from getting anywhere near the internet.

    The only real problem is that AT&T or Verizon doesn’t have to screw over their own customers, due to the fact that, for example, AT&T owns a large amount of the backbone of data transmission, they could just slow anything not theirs that routes through their servers.

    I don’t think government is the answer, but there needs to be a way to prevent any group from taking advantage of the physical structure of the network itself to damage the internet.

    Also, considering how quickly the teleco’s provided the feds with all sorts of info sans warrants, we shouldn’t trust them either.

  14. I recently completed cources and I am receiving public assistance and I can get the additional classes funded but I do not have transportation.
    I can not voulenteeror even get an internship to get the work experience I need. please help.

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