Net Neutrality Could Actually Help ISPs

23 11 2010

CEO of Diffraction Analysis Benoît Felten released a blog post on Nov. 18th arguing that Internet Service Providers actually have more to lose from net discrimination practices than they have to gain.

Felten believes that his ISP clients have never “looked at the economics” behind net neutrality, and assert that the major cardholders are the biggest online content providers: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. This comes as something of

Benoît Felten, CEO of Diffraction Analysis and advocate for an open Internet.

a surprise, given that ISPs have actually attempted in recent years to assert their First-Amendment rights to charge for prioritized access.

Felten defends his logic by saying, “if Google was to refuse a toll to access the AT&T network and discontinued its services over the AT&T network as a consequence, who would suffer the most? I think it would be AT&T, and I think it would have very quick effects on their customer churn.”

He says of the net neutrality debate, “Net-discrimination is a typical case of a lose/lose scenario: network operators have nothing to gain, content and application providers have nothing to gain, and customers have everything to lose. Defending net neutrality is important for a lot of reasons, I just wish that those opposing it knew how little net-discrimination will serve them.”

Felten’s YouTube channel, like his blog, is “fiberevolution;” here he is discussing how “open access makes economic sense:”

 

 

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In Simply Recognizing The Problem, We May Find A Solution

10 11 2010

Literate techie manifesto Ars Technica grabbed my attention by questioning whether or not the Internet is dead. Intrigued, I read on.

While I was disappointed to discover another passive aggressive plea for net neutrality, it highlighted to me a notion I hadn’t previously considered in the great debate of the open Internet’s future: the very fact that the FCC has considered the possibility of the Internet someday not being open is a tremendous step in propelling net neutrality legislation.

The article, written by Ars Technica contributer Matthew Lasar, features excerpts of a letter written to the FCC praising them for considering the implications of prioritized data servicing. The group, referring to the letter as the “joint reply comments of various advocates for the open Internet,” lists over 30 members, including Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.

In December, the FCC wrote a proposal to supplement its Internet Policy Statement; said proposal included a provision banning Internet Service Providers from prioritizing traffic, as well as a transparency rule requiring ISPs to submit records of their network management practices. And that’s great.

However, the FCC still included in the proposal a section asking for comment on whether “managed or specialized services” should be allowed traffic prioritization. Such “specialized services” might include “telemedicine, smart grids, and eLearning applications,” but as Lasar also pointed out, it might include AT&T’s U-Verse.

The FCC also wanted feedback on whether or not prioritizing “specialized services” would stifle or stimulate investment in broadband technology, and whether or not traffic prioritization would leave enough bandwidth for the rest of user traffic on shared networks.

I think its fantastic that the FCC is contemplating these issues; don’t get me wrong. It confounds me though that when they have these provisions of the Internet Policy Statement already written and laid out, they insist on asking for feedback; it’s a sign of weakness and insecurity.

And now with the heavier Republican presence in Congress since midterms, the FCC canbe sure that their work with net neutrality is cut out for them.

However, Lasar manages to leave his piece on an optimistic note; he quotes excerpts from the letter addressed to the FCC, specifically such motivating bits like, “Transmitting packets without regard for application, in a best efforts manner, is at the very core of how the Internet provides a general purpose platform that is open and conducive to innovation by all end users,” and, “policy-making channels have not recognized the inherent value of the general purpose platform—and how this platform reflects the values of openness, free expression, competition, innovation and private investment.”

By highlighting these intensely American values represented by the idea of an open Internet, he describes the thought of net neutrality as “an intellectual time capsule.” Though it is bleak to think that net neutrality might be completely buried under the bullshit of today’s politics, it is at least positive to hope that it might be recovered and implemented by future generations with the knowledge they have of our times. Who knows, maybe it’ll be my generation.





The Filter Bubble

11 10 2010

While some first took it as alarming, many of us are now used to Facebook and Amazon providing us with targeted advertisements and product recommendations, based on interests we’ve indicated through web search queries. Now, Google and Yahoo! are doing the same things to our search results, according to an interview with MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser. MoveOn.org states in its About page that it is a cluster of organizations that “work together to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn is a service — a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” One of the goals of Pariser, a renowned Internet activitst, is the passage of net neutrality legislation. He also wants to promote awareness of the problem created by customized search results, an issue he calls “the filter bubble.”

 

MoveOn.org Board President Eli Pariser

 

Pariser describes the filter bubble in his interview with news and entertainment site Salon: “Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo! doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the “filter bubble”: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.”

Pariser explains that while these personalized search filters serve a purpose in helping us navigate through the vast amounts of information available online (an issue I delved into in one of last week’s posts), they’ll provide us with a plethora of information on the subject of search query, but nothing else. He says, “There’s a looping going on where if you have an interest, you’re going to learn a lot about that interest. But you’re not going to learn about the very next thing over. And you certainly won’t learn about the opposite view.” This results in a “feedback loop” creating an informationally-restricted environment: the filter bubble.

Pariser suggests a reasonable legal alternative to prevent this from becoming a locked-in part of social media SOP: that web sites become required to have users design their own privacy agreements. Rather than have users “read” pages of legal disclosures then agree to become a site member, Pariser suggests ” a standard format by which customers can have their own policy for how they want their data used.”

Implementing this, along with the success of net neutrality legislation, will prevent the Internet from becoming dominated by a few major media corporations, a disappointing trend of every telecommunication technology of the last century. This, Pariser claims, “is the project of the next couple of years.”

Pariser discusses the filter bubble at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum:





No Country For Open Internet

3 10 2010

Free speech suffers yet another blow as of September 29th, with the confirmed death of net neutrality legislation in Congress. The bill would have given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to re-regulate broadband Internet services, specifically to prevent Internet service providers (such as Verizon and Comcast) from controlling the prices of Internet access based on network user traffic.This most recent bit of legislation, the brainchild of Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Cali.), failed to garner enough bipartisan backing in the House of Representatives, leaving the future of Internet regulation ambiguous at best.

Rep. Joe Barton (R – Tex.) officially put the kibosh on Republican backing, claiming that re-regulation of broadband services (a key part of the proposal) would stifle investment in the “dynamic” economic sector of telecommunications.

This adds insult to the injury sustained by the FCC in April’s federal court ruling favoring Comcast; ultimately, the ruling made clear that the FCC did not have the authority to sanction Internet service providers for interfering with network traffic. The passage of net neutrality would change that, giving the FCC the ability to ensure that online content remains equally accessible by every user to every site, unafflicted by lobbyist influences by corporations or interest groups.

Sure, it’s pretty obvious that our economy has seen better days, and investment should be encouraged as a much-needed stimulant. All things aside, it is investment that will kill the openness that as of now characterizes the Internet as a medium of information. Keeping Internet service providers free from a federally-guaranteed system of legal checks and balances will allow the flow of information to be directed by the highest bidder. While Google has a history of publicly backing net neutrality, more recent press coverage makes for darker implications. And if purchasing prioritization becomes legal, why wouldn’t Google do it?

It’s not over yet. There still exists the possibility of introducing new net neutrality legislation. Even so, with the impending midterm elections foreshadowing a Republican comeback, passage of any kind of net neutrality bill will be more difficult than before.

Democrats must continue trying; the Internet cannot be managed by companies that auction off traffic to the highest bidder. Should such practices become standard procedure in dealing with Internet service providers, media conglomerates (left or right wing) will launch into bidding wars to ensure their content receives the most users. Rather than allowing information from any and every source make its way into the open global forum we have today, lobbying will turn the Internet into the red-and-blue political divide that today turns so many of us off of cable television news.