End of the Internet As We Know It!

There has been quite a bit of unwarranted fear mongering going on among the non-technical left about the Internet lately and much of it has found a home right here at DKos.

A week ago in the Daily Kos, under the heading Google decides it can be evil, sells out on net neutrality-- Joan McCarter spoke of "secret meetings with the FCC to determine how to essentially kill net neutrality" she also made the claim that "Google sold out to Verizon" because while the reported deal would retain net neutrality on landlines, it "wouldn’t apply such limits to Internet use on mobile phones."

The thrust of her diary seems to be that the big telecoms like Verizon and Google, which she also considers a telecom, can't be trusted and the FCC should step in and take a strong hand in regulating the Internet. In fact she ends by saying "As this story develops, one thing remains clear: These companies should not be determining Internet policy--the FCC should."

This fear mongering was initiated by an August 4th article in the prestigious New York Times with the title Google and Verizon Near Deal on Web Pay Tiers that began:
WASHINGTON — Google and Verizon, two leading players in Internet service and content, are nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.
...
Such an agreement could overthrow a once-sacred tenet of Internet policy known as net neutrality,

We now know that this story was very miss-leading. First off, there is no 'deal' only a joint legislative proposal to give the FCC the authority to enforce network neutrality in the traditional, i.e. wireline, Internet. This is an authority it doesn't now have. No 'deal' and no tiers on the pillow. Hardly the 'overthrow' the NYT promised in the Wednesday edition.

But hey, it's the NYT so it must be true. On Friday Amy Goodman's Democracy Now reported "The internet and telecom giants Verizon and Google have reportedly reached an agreement to impose a tiered system for accessing the internet." Then they went on to discuss the deal that "many fear could spell the end of the internet as we know it." Josh Silver of Free Press was the expert on the show and based on the NYT report he declared "The era of Google doing no evil just ended." He also looks to the FCC to exercise a dictatorship, saying "Chairman Genachowski—he has the votes—to simply move what’s called a reclassification of agency authority, and he could reestablish his authority" and "solve this problem."

Craig Aaron of Free Press, writing in the Huffington Post, called it the "pact to end the Internet as we know it" He too looks to the FCC for salvation saying "We need the FCC" and ending his piece, like Joan McCarter, by pleading for the FCC, telling his readers "If you haven't yet told the FCC why we need Net Neutrality, please do it now."

I thought we had net neutrality. Is it gone already? That fast, huh?

Tuesday Keith Olbermann also spoke of "the Google-Verizon deal with the devil" He then went on to falsely imply that they were trying to take away FCC rules that already existed! "What Google and Verizon agreed to was this: that FCC rules ensuring equal access to the Internet should still apply to wired devices like a computer on your desk, but those rules should not apply to wireless devices, such as mobile phones or smart phones or iPads." His guest from CNET comforts us "The government writes laws. The FCC passes regulations."

This call for the FCC to take over has reverberated throughout the non-technical left recently.

Well the world wide Internet has developed quite nicely under the regime of the companies and organizations that have managed it thus far, thank you. And I must also tell you that many who have championed Internet freedom and net neutrality long before it became fashionable at the Daily Kos or Huffington Post, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF], think that the FCC call to enforce net neutrality is a Trojan horse for a lot of regulation the Internet doesn't need. Back in October it asked Is Net Neutrality a FCC Trojan Horse? In that commentary they warned that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's rule making on network neutrality "is built on a shoddy and dangerous foundation – the idea that the FCC has unlimited authority to regulate the Internet." EFF has been the home of the fight for civil liberties on the Internet for more than 20 years. I have a sticker from them on my front door. It says "Come Back With A Warrant."

The Internet is more than a way to blog here or watch silly YouTube videos. It is a social organization that is unique in human history. I remember being in a room some years ago with less than a thousand people and a speaker told them that if they walked off the job, the Internet would grind to a halt in a few weeks. I looked around the room and realized it was true. The event was a USENIX SysAdm meeting and the people there were some of the most important system administrators on the Internet. USENIX is a Unix and Internet users group that formed in 1979 and since has played a vital role in organizing and regulating the Internet.

Other bodies that play important roles in making the Internet work and so far have done a very good job of keeping it free and innovative include the World Wide Web Consortium [W3C] "an international community that develops standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web," The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers [ICANN] is a technical coordination body for the Internet. InterNIC oversees the domain name registration system. The Internet Society is the home of groups responsible for Internet infrastructure standards and provides leadership in chartering the future of the Internet. The Internet Architecture Board is responsible for oversight and some Internet standards. The Internet Engineering Task Force [IETF] is a large international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet. It is open to anyone who wants to join. There is also People for Internet Responsibility [PFIR] a group concerned about many present and future aspects of the Internet, including regulation.

While not comprehensive, this is a pretty good list of the organizations that have brought you the Internet as it exists today. Net neutrality is the standard and the Internet has been relatively free by the design of these people. They are not government agencies and they are all international bodies. The Internet is an international social and technical structure, it's knows no national borders except where governments try to interfere, and appropriately, it has been run by international bodies. That's why governments like China that try to have it their way find they have a hard row to hoe. These people don't play that.

Now comes the national chauvinistic American left demanding that the FCC take over.

And the names of these organizations, that have taken the Internet from 15 nodes in 1971 to were it is today? They have played almost no role in our recent discussions on net neutrality, because the knowledge of the Internet among most of the people doing the talking is very shallow.

In that regards I must again toil to clean out the mess in the stables left by some of this recent commentary. This is stuff I have said elsewhere, but it bears repeating.

First. What is Network Neutrality? Network Neutrality means that data, of the same type, is treated the same irregardless of source or destination

There has been a bit of confusion around this with some people mistakely promoting the idea that it means different types of data must be treated the same and that dog just doesn't hunt.

The NYT propagated this idea in the article I've already cited when it spoke of the "Internet policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another." Josh Silver carried on the same way on Amy's show warning "losing net neutrality then allows these companies to prioritize some traffic—video, say—and de-prioritize others." and so did Craig Aaron in the Huffington Post saying "Real Net Neutrality means that Internet service providers can't discriminate between different kinds of online content and applications."

What they are suggesting as net neutrality really would end the Internet as we know it because if realtime packets for realtime services like video and voice can no longer be given priority over email and web packets, some services we now take for granted aren't going to work anymore.

Consider this description for a new DLink router for the home sold on Amazon:

Typical Internet applications such as e-mail and chat require minimal bandwidth. But other applications such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and video streaming/conferencing require much higher bandwidth as they are real-time sensitive. The DI-102 Broadband Internet/VoIP Accelerator uses an intelligent engine to detect and prioritize bandwidth-sensitive packets so that they can be sent over the Internet as soon as the request is made. This results in faster processing of real-time based packets, less latency, and a better user experience. For instance, there are two computers on your network and both are online - one is using an e-mail program and the other is making a VoIP call.

When data packets from each computer are sent to the Internet at the same time, the DI-102 will automatically classify the VoIP call as more important and send the VoIP packets first, and the e-mail data second. The user on the phone can immediately notice the benefits whereas the user sending e-mails will barely notice a change.

If net neutrality ala Silver and Aaron were to prevail, this type of technology, which is already widely used, would be illegal. They, including the NYT in this case, don't know what they are talking about. Once again, network neutrality means that data, of the same type, is not discriminated against because of its source or destination. All else is confusion.

Then there is the question of wireline versus wireless. The technically clueless have been of one voice in demanding that they be treated as equals. They see Google as turning to the darkside because they have taken the position, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that "The issues of wireless versus wireline get very messy...and that's really an FCC issue not a Google issue."

Unlike the bloggers here, Schmidt, Google and anyone else that has to route real Internet traffic has to deal with certain realities, certain laws of physics, if you will, that most people here are oblivious to. In the wireless world bandwidth is both fixed and limited.

As a tech savy poster to Slashdot pointed out in their much more sophisticated discussion:

The bandwidth available for wireless transmission is determined by the range of frequencies available, divided by the number of users on that band. It's a FIXED amount. The FCC's not going to widen it just because, there are too many considerations for it.

You can only achieve a given data speed over wifi. We've improved it over time. But there is a physical limit for reliability of the signal, and that's why wireless is a different story. With wired (or land-based into wifi hotspots) you can just lay more lines in parallel, add a separate color laser to your fiber, etc. which makes it feasible to upgrade and widen the bandwidth. When you have an easily maintainable infrastructure, you don't mind letting it be used freely without priority restrictions.

Now pictures this: if wireless providers went all net neutral as per your calls, then a phone call would have the same priority as an app downloading updates in the background. Do you know you're going to always have good enough reception to guarantee call quality? Or are OS/firmware updates not more important than that stupid youtube of a dog who can't get up?

The point is that for wireless, there is a need to prioritize bandwidth, and because it's a fixed bandwidth, if you want priority over something else, you can't just claim it like you do on a landline network.

Are you really demanding equality between 911 data and Facebook apps? There are some very good reasons for not including wireless in the first run of network neutrality rules. It's not just about corporate greed.

And finally there is Google. Yes, Google is now a multi-billion dollar corporation. But Google is also a product of this Internet and Open Source community. It started as two guys with some Linux computers in a dorm room and the fantastical dream of making all of humanity's knowledge available to all of humanity. So far they have come damn close. I know some people that work there and they like it. Google hasn't been perfect but they have given a lot back. They made Android open source, they could have owned it. They blew the whistle on DHS demands' for search engine data after AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft had quietly complied. They balk at Chinese censorship as the others went along and while they have been back and forth on their China policy, they have always championed open access and recently stared the Chinese government down.

It is just possible that after the courts ruled that the FCC didn't have the authority to enforce net neutrality, Google thought that they could then best advance the cause by grabbing the telecom named most likely to agree and hammering out some sort of proposal to make net neutrality law. They might do that because it's the right thing to do and it because makes good business sense for them. Anyway, thanks to them, something will now almost certainly be done to secure net neutrality. I don't see that Google has suddenly broken it's pledge to do no evil and I think they have been treated in a very shabby manner by this community.