Command and Control

Friday, April 09, 2010


As a practical matter, who controls the internet is whoever enables you to access it -- and in the U.S. that would be service providers like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner. The only check on their power has been the Federal Communications Commission. That is, until this week when a court invalidated that power. Bob speaks with two advocates about the pros and cons of an unregulated net.

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Comments [10]

Will Caxton from Waterloo

There's an important distinction that's almost always missed in discussions of net neutrality. First, ISPs have a right to manage their resources: to manage bits AS bits. For example, if Comcast wanted to allow each subscriber 30 gigabytes of data per month and charge an additional fee for data over that amount, they could. However, if Comcast wants to disable a particular application (like BitTorrent) on the basis that the application uses a lot of bandwidth, that's different. Discriminating against particular applications, rather than simply managing data, is indirect, inefficient, and improper.

Mr Cleland's contention that it's in the interest of ISPs to serve their Internet customers is questionable, since the major ISPs all have other business interests. Comcast, for example, runs a cable TV network as well as Internet services. If Comcast's customers were able to watch TV over the Internet and therefore didn't need cable TV, wouldn't it be in the interest of Comcast to disable that service?

Apr. 21 2010 11:42 PM
Matt Matson

Scott Cleland's arguments are incoherent or transparently dishonest.

His basic argument is: ISPs have not been regulated; the Internet is amazing; ergo, there should continue to be no regulation.

He claims ISP have "voluntarily" allowed equal access "for the last six years," however, during this time, the FCC claimed the power to regulate ISP behavior. Thus, the ISP's conduct was not voluntary, but based on a fear of the FCC's power.

The Internet is great. But, the question is not whether the Internet has provided benefits, but whether the services provided by our ISPs is better or worse as a result of being regulated or unregulated. Contrary to his comments, the US's broadband access is not superior to other developed nations.

Even if it were true that ISPs have self-regulated and our internet access were superior to other nations, it would not answer the question of whether the public would benefit from regulation requiring net-neutrality, or at a minimum requiring ISP to disclose their policies.

Cleland's terrible beach metaphor also deserves condemnation.

This raises the question: Why have Cleland on the show? His opinions and arguments are paid for by companies that have a direct interest in obtaining and exploiting market power, and his argument does not make sense. On the Media regularly questions whether the "two-sides" model or reporting is beneficial or appropriate. Wasn't there an "expert" who (1) knew about the issue, (2) does not favor regulation, and (3) is not paid for by ISPs? If not, shouldn't that fact be reported?

Apr. 19 2010 02:48 PM
Philip Prindeville from Boise, ID

Having worked in the Internet community since 1985, I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Cleland's portrayal of ISPs. I've worked for Network equipment manufacturers, telcos, and I've even helped set up more than one ISP.

I've first hand experience with the following horror stories and more:

I've had Verizon deliberately change IP addresses on a renewed DHCP lease to foil attempts to run a server, use Peer-to-Peer services such as bit-torrent, and yes even bring down VoIP conversations mid-call with Vonage and other providers. This is a violation of the DHCP specification, which requires additional effort to deliberately and maliciously subvert the protocol from working as it should.

I've had Comcast blackhole packets marked with QoS bits for VoIP or IPTV or VoD, and AT&T Wireless will readily admit that they block SIP calls on their 3G network as a way of forcing subscribers to use their voice services.

I've even dumped DOCSIS configuration information and caught Cable operators deliberately under-provisioning customers at data rates well beyond what they advertised. I.e. they tell you you'll get "X", they bill you as if you're getting "X", but they provide you with "Y" (for X>>Y).

Going back as far as the early '80's, I remember Chesapeake and Potomac Bell (then Bell Atlantic, now Verizon) deliberately injecting noise in clean subscriber loops for residential customers running recreational BBS's out of their basements as a way of forcing them to use Business services (at a much higher price), even though they weren't involved in commerce.

It is not in the DNA of the monopolies (RBOCs, cable operators, etc) to "do the right thing" out of magnanimousness, because, quite plainly, it doesn't exist. They are not used to working in a competitive environment on equal footing, and resort whenever they can to restore the imbalance of power they became accustomed to as monopolies.

Oversight and regulation are simply not optional.

Apr. 14 2010 07:40 PM
William from Michigan

I work for an ISP. We have a semi-rural area as our primary coverage area, and I can say from experiance that the large, monopolistic, ISPs are NOT covering those who live outside of the large cities. The 95% coverage that was bantered around by Mr Cleland doesn't seem to include Michigan. I know for a fact that over 50% of the households in Michigan are not covered by broadband. I do not define broadband as anything that can be directly affected by the water in the atmosphere, like Satellite or Wireless via the cellphone networks. These technologies contain too much latency to be use for anything interactive, therefore are not true communication lines.

My customers are fighting to get speeds, ON DIALUP, in excess of 26.6Kbps because the local telephone companies are multiplexing the lines, instead of upgrading them and laying either additional copper, or fiber to handle the growth in our areas. We offer DSL, and daily we have customers call us looking for DSL services. In excess of 90% if those we cover cannot get DSL, Cable, and many of them cannot even get Cellphone service. I say that Mr. Cleland's facts are wrong, at least for my area. I've also spoken to other smaller ISP's that claim the same. We can not trust the big mega-corporation ISPs. They even force their control onto the little ISPs though our need to backbone access.

Someone needs to stand up to these people in the mega-corps and show them that their quest for mega-profits are hurting those that generate their income. I know I have been trying, but the mega-cop I deal with won't let me talk to those in charge. I just get secretaries and assistants that claim they take my report, but I hear nothing from there. Nothing gets done, and nothing changes, yet the masses cannot use the benefits of the internet, yet we pay the same as everyone else.

Apr. 12 2010 10:19 PM
Brett Glass from Laramie, WY

A very biased segment, full of much misinformation. The fact of the matter is that in the 26 years for which the Internet has existed, no ISP has ever censored legal content. Ever. Ms. Gigi Sohn supports the regulation of the Internet not because any threat actually exists, but rather because the lobbying organization she operates -- Public Knowledge -- receives large amounts of money from Google, the corporation which has monopolies on Internet search, advertising, and video distribution. Google wants regulation that will increase its profits, prevent other companies from competing with it, and allow it to exploit its monopolies. And so, it pays Ms. Sohn and her group to "cry wolf" and push for onerous regulation.

The fact is that the regulation she advocates is not just unnecessary; it would be harmful to consumers. It would raise the price of broadband, destroy competition (so there would be fewer choices of providers), deter broadband deployment, and kill innovation.

NPR needs to report the biases and funding of its guests, and select impartial ones where possible, to avoid misleading the public.

Apr. 11 2010 12:24 PM
Draco18s from Philadelphia

Your guest Scott Cleveland was about as wrong as he could be about broadband penetration in the United States.

15th in speed, tied for 8th in speed, and 12th for cost.

Japan has 1/3rd higher cost, but 20 times the speed (though lower penetration).

South Korea has the 5th highest penetration, twice our internet speed, and only 50% higher cost. The US is not leading the market.

Facts, Scott, facts do not lie. A charismatic man can spin them any way he wants, but he's still lying.

And we obviously CAN'T trust the ISPs if Comcast has violated that trust by throttling torrent traffic. Q. fucking E. D.

Apr. 11 2010 11:45 AM
David from Lawrenceville, NJ

Good segment. And thanks for having BOTH sides on. This could have been a whole show! Again, thanks.

Apr. 10 2010 09:56 PM
Steve from Austin, TX

Good thing the flak for the ISPs was on the radio because on TV we could see his nose growing.

Apr. 10 2010 03:45 PM
John S. Erickson, Ph.D. from Norwhc, VT

As a high-tech consultant trying to make a go of it in Vermont, I can say with authority that we CANNOT trust the ISPs. Our only hope is an infrastructure that takes control away from the monopoly-driven ISPs and puts it into the hands of cooperatives, such as those like our own ECFiber which are trying to bring broadband to citizens who Fairpoint Communications refuse --- yes, refuse --- to serve.

In many parts of the US, including huge swaths of New England, citizens are behind denied economic opportunity because our monopoly providers are allowed to refuse us service. Since government is both unable and unwilling to act, our only option are cooperatives where we take care of ourselves.

Apr. 10 2010 03:00 PM
acw from Boston

Great segment and choice of quests. Particularly the person from public knowledge. Thank you.

Apr. 10 2010 01:44 PM

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