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Congress to Debate Net Neutrality 227

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the future-of-freedom dept.
evw writes "The NYTimes is reporting that legislation was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday in support of Net Neutrality. It is bipartisan legislation introduced by Olympia Snowe, R-Maine and Byron Dorgan, D-N. Dakota, however the article notes that Senator Snowe is one of the few Republicans that supports it. "Senior lawmakers, emboldened by the recent restrictions on AT&T and the change in control of Congress, have begun drafting legislation that would prevent high-speed Internet companies from charging content providers for priority access." This isn't the first attempt. Last year a similar amendment was blocked. However, conditions placed on AT&T in its merger with SBC have emboldened supporters of the legislation."
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Congress to Debate Net Neutrality

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  • I find this funny (Score:1, Insightful)

    by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:26AM (#17539718) Homepage Journal
    Congress spends almost a century enacting policies that have restricted the growth of communications that the market desires -- the FCC and a variety of laws and regulations that have mandated micro and macro-level monopolies. Instead of working to promote free enterprise, they want to enact MORE laws that restrict where the market will head based on consumer demand.

    Net neutrality is fraudulent, because no one knows what the market will want tomorrow. When selection is mandated to a certain level, nothing rises above it, and little falls below that bar. Instead, you end up with an attempted "one-size fits all" scenario, which never works. It restricts long term development, new technology, and also restricts those who want to spend more for more, or spend less for less.

    Net neutrality is bad idea -- just like most regulation of industry. How about revoking some of the pro-monopoly laws that exist, and allowing the market to go where the consumer wants it to? Voting with your dollars gives us cheaper goods in greater quantity. Setting regulations does the opposite.
  • by dr_dank (472072) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:37AM (#17539916) Homepage Journal
    C'mon congress, learn from history.

    If they truely learned from history, the Justice Department wouldn't allow AT&T to buy up its old subsidiaries that it took years of court battles to cleave apart.

    and I'm SURE it wouldn't have anything to do with letting the intelligence agencies have unfettered access to the data flowing through the pipes in exhange for resurrecting Ma Bell with little fanfare.
  • Idiot. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:41AM (#17539980)
    Why don't you stop being a knee-jerk libertarian for a minute and think about things. It sounds like you would like to repeal all laws. I'm sure you'd scream bloody hell if some Govt. backed Corporation walked up and took all your land for a casino for the "Betterment of the Community". Anyone that thinks that large corporations will look out for any interests other than the large stockholders needs their head examined. Look what happened to Enron. That's the poster child for your deregulated market.
  • Re:The internets (Score:1, Insightful)

    by 91degrees (207121) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:45AM (#17540060) Journal
    Why do people focus on this bit of what Ted Stevens said? It's just a metaphor, and as such, about the only part of his whole statement that made sense.
  • by CmdrGravy (645153) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:46AM (#17540088) Homepage

    Voting with your dollars gives us cheaper goods in greater quantity
    I think there is more to life than cheap goods and cheap goods is certainly not the sole and overiding goal of any society I'd like to be a part of.
  • Re:IPTV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PingSpike (947548) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:47AM (#17540112)
    The concern isn't that the telcos will use QoS to make their IPTV service faster. Its that they'll choke any IPTV packets that don't come from their own IPTV service, effectively shutting the competitors out of the market and leaving you with yet another local monopoly to deal with. Or try to extort money out of big content providers like google for instance. Hell, one of those fat fucks actually said he was planning on doing just that.
  • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:48AM (#17540134) Journal
    Net neutrality is fraudulent, because no one knows what the market will want tomorrow.

    Let's go easy on the rhetoric; net neutrality might lack merit, and it's proponents might on occasion make fraudulent claims* but "net neutrality" is not fraudulent. And while I agree that people too often use static thinking when talking about markets, I strongly suspect people will ALWAYS want to know when their access to something is being throttled because the provider has been bribed to make your access more difficult by someone who can't compete on a level field.

    *though more often it happens the other way around. Ted Stevens and Professor Woo, I'm looking in your general direction. Except about the internet not being a truck. That part you got right.
  • Re:Idiot. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:49AM (#17540150) Homepage Journal
    Don't mod this guy troll, mod him funny.

    Enron was the poster child of over-regulation -- everything Enron did was because it was allowed monopoly status in a market that was never deregulated. They tried to free wholesale prices from regulation but capped retail prices. That's like saying oil should be a free market for wholesalers, but don't sell it for more than $1 to consumers. The same thing would happen. Bad accounting practices doesn't come from corporations, it comes from impossible-to-understand tax and accounting rules -- loopholes don't exist in a free market.
  • by Zeek40 (1017978) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:55AM (#17540260)
    Tell this to your local utilities company,they'll agree wholeheartedly because it's incredibly expensive to lay down the infrastructure to compete. Your electricity bill and water bill will go through the roof without the government smacking them on the hand. These sorts of things are natural monopolies where the cost of competing in the industry outweighs potential benefits to the consumer. There are very few cities in the US that i know of which have multiple cable companies servicing them, do you really want your only option for high speed internet access to have the freedom to determine what services (that they're not providing to you, they're just delivering) you have to pay extra to see?
  • by hxnwix (652290) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:56AM (#17540276) Journal
    Selection? Selection of what? In what way does mandatory equality of QOS negatively impact the internet? I posit that the internet owes its success to carrier's whose motivation presently is to provide the best possible service. Breaking nuetrality means it will be the carrier's fudiciary duty to degrade all traffic and underinvest in their networks in order to force all users to pay unavoidable tolls. Users who refuse will see their traffic neglected and actively sabotaged.

    "Net neutrality is bad idea -- just like most regulation of industry. How about revoking some of the pro-monopoly laws that exist, and allowing the market to go where the consumer wants it to? Voting with your dollars gives us cheaper goods in greater quantity. Setting regulations does the opposite."

    You are working from an unsupported proposition - that all regulation is bad - and saying that since net nuetrality is regulation, it must also be bad. Your conclusion presupposes your conclusion. That's called begging the question.
  • Re:Idiot. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @11:57AM (#17540286)
    I don't think anyone's going to believe you that bad accounting practices don't come from corporations, the tax code contribute but the bad accounting comes straight from the business itself. The problem with deregulation is that you are forced to assume that a free market is actually free. The reality is that corporations are only mandated to create a profit for their CEO's and their shareholders and they will do so however they can. Thus it is in a corporation's interest to try to remove competition and ensure a steady stream of profit for the forseeable future, i.e., not make the market free. Why is it that libertarians ask for more of the same after they've been bent over a barrel?
  • Re:Idiot. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:26PM (#17540794) Journal
    The problem with modern version of Corporations is that nobody is willing to revoke a corporate charter for malfeasance by the corporation. I guarantee that if stock holders entire value was at risk for the ENRON type accounting fraud, they would enact much stricter guidelines for accounting than even the government requires. But since nobody is willing to revoke corporate charters and let the chips fall, we have an artificial barrier to self policing within the corporation.

    Throwing Ken Lay and a few others in jail for what happened at ENRON, isn't going to prevent others from trying similar tactics. And the share holders didn't care a lick when the profits were rolling in. The employees were rewarded for their lack of oversight. Enron only collapsed when it couldn't maintain the pyramid scheme. Up until that point, not enough people cared about Enron, nor its profits enough to stop it before it happened.

    I guarantee you that if the corporate charter could have been revoked, that threat would have had an entirely different effect. When profits are the only care, rather than proper stewardship of all the corporate assets, these things are bound to happen.

    BTW, The government grants corporate charters, as they are legal entities ordained by the government under the rules of incorporation. The government has lost sight that they can also revoke said charters.

    So, while your slam against "libertarians" was funny, it wasn't accurate towards true libertarians, who believe that ALL stockholders and stakeholders are responsible and should be held accountable for the actions of the corporation, at least to the degree of how much stock or stake holdings they have.

    I don't feel a bit sorry for Enron employees, shareholders or anyone associated with Enron. They got what they deserved for not looking deeper into those put in position of stewardship.

    I feel sorry for the stupid grandmas and grandpas who were suckered, but only to a degree. Rarely does "get rich quick" actually work. Most of the time it takes hard work or true innovation and often both.
  • by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:37PM (#17540982) Journal
    Listen, the USA is not an entirely libertarian free-market, nor should it be. A completely free market is not a good idea in theory, nor would it be in practice.

    The cable companies/phone companies/etc. are not currently existing in a free market. All corporate utility providers are subject to lots of government rules, and for good reasons. Many of those reasons are purely practical. Running utility lines requires a lot of wires and pipes and whatnot to be strung through our cities, or under the ground, through many different pieces of public and private property. Not setting some regulations for how all of that work would create huge logistic, safety, and performance problems. I wouldn't want six different power companies all stringing lines through my neighborhood, even if it did bring prices down some.

    So why would any businessman want to get involved in this? Because when a company agreed to provide utility services under those restrictions, they were usually given a monopoly in that market, without all the work of crushing their competitors.

    Technology, forever moving forwards, has led to some interesting circumstances, where digital technology is allowing some of those formally separate utilities to start to dabble in each others' markets. It's all turning to 1's and 0's, and our computers don't really care how that information gets into our house. Even the power companies are exploring bringing data to us over their lines. Add in the development of wireless, and all of a sudden these long-time monopolies are experiencing competition.

    There are plenty of examples of how monopolies tend to act in response to competition. They often involve using their current power to exert influence on other companies, and force unfair deals. These deals are seldom beneficial for the consumer. The Net Neutrality movement is an attempt to head off one kind of these dealings before they become a problem.

    To distill the point, let's put it this way:

    The government gave many of these companies their monopoly position. And now the government is trying to keep them from using that monopoly position to unfairly limit competition and new technologies.

    I guess a 100% free market argument would be that their never should've been any regulations on these utilities in the past. I don't think the argument for that is particularly strong, but even if you could, it doesn't change what has already happened, and getting rid of all regulation and pretending like it never happened is not a good solution.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:38PM (#17541012)
    How about revoking some of the pro-monopoly laws that exist

    I can see it now: instead of a series of telephone poles along my street with maybe ten cables and wires running along them, it'll be a solid wall of copper and fiber, one for each company providing a service.

    Oh, wait - if everyone had to run their own cable on the poles, the expense would be so high that nobody would make any money (except whoever owns the poles). That must be why some companies pay other companies to use their cables. This sounds vaguely familiar [wikipedia.org].

    Even with deregulation, you're still going to have oligopoly status in the broadband market (as opposed to the duopoly status we have today), and that oligopoly status will still lead last-mile ISPs to try to double dip by charging content providers who aren't their direct customers and to try to block services that they wish to provide by themselves like VoD and VoIP.

    By the way, you make a lot of generalistic claims without providing any justification for those claims. Instead of saying things like "regulation is bad" or "regulation restricts technology", you need to provide some specifics on why you think network neutrality won't work if you plan on convincing people, because those generalistic claims aren't always true.

  • by volkris (694) <volkris@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:38PM (#17541022)
    I think this Network Neutrality debate is a bit misfocused. If we want to ensure the ability of people to speak their minds on the Internet we would do better to attack the near-universal practice of ISPs blocking ports and restricting the use of home servers.

    THAT is where the free speech comes from: the people. The NN debate seems to be rather focused on the ability to choose between large companies that want to profit through our expression. Even though there may be more options it still represents a consolidation of content. If we want information we must get it from these providers; the only way for individuals to express themselves is to partner with some provider.

    It doesn't have to be this way. If ISPs would let us use even our measly aDSL uplinks (that we pay for) to legally serve our own content people would be able to self publish. Software would be created to deal with the technical challenges that would arise, perhaps with legitimate P2P providing interesting solutions to some of these problems. In any case, that small change in policy has the potential to really change the way people view and use the Internet.

    Network Neutrality proponents love to talk about a level playing field... lets level the playing field between the consumers and the providers as a whole.
  • Re:Idiot. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shaneh0 (624603) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:39PM (#17541038)
    The success of the freemarket can be measured by look at the whole of human history prior to the 20th century.

    There were thousands of years when all you needed to be, say, a shop keeper was a shop to keep. No business license or sales tax or liability insurance or health codes.

    Socialism and a regulated market economy are inventions of the past 100 years. Maybe it's just a total coincidence that during this time a middle class emerged, but I really doubt that.

    We did it your way for 10,000 years. Now it's time to try it our way.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:41PM (#17541082) Homepage Journal
    Libertarian theory is that government is bad because it's violent and because you can't take your business to another government.

    Telecom companies haven't been out there committing genocide, but they are often monopolies and duopolies. They have power that the market doesn't control. They're in a position to limit other people's freedom and have announced plans to do so. Minarchist libertarians, as opposed to anarcho-capitalists, see a role for government in fighting other enemies of freedom.

    Libertarians, by and large, also see a role for government in policing fraud. Verizon has said that Google is getting a "free lunch" on bandwidth. Lies poison a free market.
  • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:43PM (#17541124) Journal
    There is a difference, even if subtle one, between adding value (higher speed) for a cost, and restricting access unless a toll is paid.

    In California, we have a couple of toll roads, and a bunch of free ones. Most people choose the free ones and most of the time it works well enough that most people choose the freeways. However during periods of high congestion some people, who have extra cash, can route around the traffic and go through the toll roads.

    I don't have a problem with this.

    However, if the fictional freeway company were to suddenly change the way the freeways work, so that only one lane was available UNLESS people paid the toll, or worse, only those with BMWs could use that free of charge, and everyone else had to pay the toll, well then that is a big problem, since we all paid for the roads (through taxes).

    In otherwords, I pay ATT for my DSL, I expect full speed access on their network. I Pay for the highway with my monthly fee. Using the highway metaphor (yes, metaphors are broken) it is like the city of San Diego charging extra for people to use their off ramps, for "content providers" charging extra for their content.

    I say, let them charge for their content, and put up toll booths on the offramps (Yahoo, etc). Don't expect me or the Highway company (ATT) to want to get off in your city. I don't want to pay extra for getting off in San Diego every month, because I happen to live in Nor Cal, and hardly ever go there.

    Net Neutrality is like this fictional/metaphorical highway. I really don't see a need for the government to get involved, one way or another. Let Yahoo try to extort from me, and see if I use Yahoo ever again. However if Yahoo and ATT can assure great content as part of the package (dedicated road for ATT customers), then fine. If they charge too much, I'll just move. I do have other alternatives.

  • by BadMrMojo (767184) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:45PM (#17541148)
    /.ers tend to have strong libertarian leanings. /.ers are also vehemently and overwhelmingly in favor of Net Neutrality, which anyway you slice it still amounts to federal regulation of a free market.

    Ok, I'll bite. You are correct in that this is pretty blatantly hypocritical.

    I can't speak for anyone other than myself (obviously) but on this particular issue, I've weighed the possibilities as I understand them and I feel that governmental regulation is - for better or worse - more likely to produce a desirable outcome than corporate interest. For the sake of results, I'm willing to swallow my pride and endorse an option which is very clearly against my general leanings.

    Similarly, I won't vote for candidates purely along party lines but on individual merits instead. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether that constitutes hypocrisy or wisdom.

    Personally, I'd rather deal with the consequences of compromise than those of zealotry.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:46PM (#17541178) Homepage Journal
    >Net neutrality is fraudulent, because no one knows what the market will want tomorrow.

    Net neutrality is _vital_ because no one knows what the market will want tomorrow.

    If huge and stupid companies get to decide what internets go over their tubes(*), we won't get innovative new services coming out of nowhere. If the huge and stupid companies simply sell bandwidth for us and the innovators to use as we please, then tomorrow's applications can thrive.

    (*) Poor Ted Stevens
  • by Zeek40 (1017978) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @12:55PM (#17541346)
    Here is how I see this scenario working out, please show me where you disagree.
    1. Company A is the only utilities provider for the Towns, and is charging exorbitant prices.
    2. Company B sees the opportunity to compete in the market with Company A, and invests billions of dollars in infrastructure necessary to compete as a utilities company, laying lines to the entire town and creating their power plant.
    3. Company A recognizes what company B is doing and lowers its rates in each area that Company B services to sell utilities at a loss, relying on their dominant market position and the capital that they have accrued while being the only shop in town.
    4. Company B tries to compete for customers with Company A, but with the new low rates company A is charging, Company B finds itself short of customers and with angry investors who would like to see a return on their investment this decade breathing down its neck.
    5. Company B files for bankruptcy after it is unable to recoup its massive intitial investment in laying down infrastructure to the town. Unfortunatley, as their assets are liquidated, they find that there are very few people willing to buy a backup power plant and backup power grid for an entire town, and their investors really take it in the shorts.
    6. Company A resumes charging its exorbitant rates.
    7. Repeat as often as there are investors dumb enough to try to get into the market.
    The problem is the massive up front investment in assets that are worth very little outside the market.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:05PM (#17541562)
    Natural monopolies generally don't exist in a free market.

    I agree! I have my choice of 8 driveways, three sinks, 12 phone numbers, and 4 sets of outlets so that I can take advantage of all the wonders that competition and capitalism can offer.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:06PM (#17541582)

    We are a democratic republic, and we have the rule of law. In order for the government to legitimately regulate the marketplace, law must be passed.

    We are more like a "Corpocracy" these days. We have a rule of law, but who's deep pockets have the greatest influence over the success or defeat of those laws? While my letter writing and phone calls may help influence my congressman, I just don't have the resources to send a lobbyist. ;-)

  • by Fastolfe (1470) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:10PM (#17541696)
    I strongly suspect people will ALWAYS want to know when their access to something is being throttled because the provider has been bribed to make your access more difficult by someone who can't compete on a level field.

    Prioritization only matters when the network connection is congested. When it's congested, packets must necessarily be dropped. You can either drop all packets equally (your data transfer slows and your HBO starts cutting out), such as with a "neutral" Internet like today's, or you can prioritize (your data transfer slows more, but HBO stays on the air), in a "non-neutral" fashion.

    Customers won't just know what's being throttled, they will actively want it to be that way.

  • by electrosoccertux (874415) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:11PM (#17541728)
    I'm not sure why but everyone on /. seems to think libertarian must be 100% free market. The libertarian view is that government should get only get involved when the free market cannot regulate itself. Last I checked, the telecoms aren't interested in playing fair [savetheinternet.com]. This means we need the government to get involved.

    The public highway system is most definitely better than not.
    The USPS is fine for most peoples' needs.
    Corporations can't fund an army.

    The above government controlled systems are working pretty well. There's nothing wrong with the government legislating fair play. We need net neutrality.
  • by Snowgen (586732) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:18PM (#17541856) Homepage

    Wow, first Congress solved the spam problem, and now they're going to address net neutrality!

    Why don't I feel comforted?

  • by spectro (80839) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @01:23PM (#17541992) Homepage
    Your electricity bill analogy actually doesn't work. In this case it is power GENERATORS that CHARGE YOU for electricity usage, they are like the content providers that charge a subscription to give you access. ISPs would be like the power TRANSMISION companies, and we pay a flat montly fee for that service (at least here in deregulated Texas)
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:16PM (#17542990)
    Why should anyone be entitled to all you can consume bandwidth for a miniscule amount each month?

    Because I pay for it. If they aren't making money off it, they should change how they charge me, not make some backroom deal with some other company. I'm the one consuming the bandwidth. I'm the one requesting it from Google or wherever. So I should pay for my access, just like Google does. What "they" want is to still charge me $1 per month for "Internet access" so that no one else can come in with BBPL, wireless, cable modems, etc. and make money from it. They want to crush the competition with their monopoly status and low fees to the consumer, but then charge Google $1,000,000,000 to access their network at anything other than crippled speeds.

    No one is complaining about the prices or speeds of their connection. The complaint is about back room deals that are designed to be anti-competitive and hurt the consumer by abusing monopoly status.
  • by JesseMcDonald (536341) * on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @02:19PM (#17543050) Homepage

    Except that the ISPs aren't throttling based on what the customers want, they want to throttle based on how much HBO pays them to not be throttled.

    And HBO decides how much to pay for that service based on how much their customers (the advertisers) are willing to pay to make sure HBO stays "on-air".

    The advertisers, in turn, will decide how much they want HBO to stay on-air on the basis of how much they are willing to spend to ensure that HBO's viewers (to whom their advertisements are directed) keep watching HBO, and thus their advertisements. This roughtly correlates with how much the viewers desire a clear, non-throttled transmission (though there are obviously other factors involved, such as the quality of the shows).

    End result: Viewer preferences dictate the priority the ISP assigns to HBO.

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