January 13, 2006  ·  Lessig

The Washington Internet Daily (which apparently is not on the Internet) has a story predicting the Telecom Bill will pass the House this year. The only sticking point seems to be the “controversial” “net neutrality” proposal. Says Howard Waltzman, the committee’s majority chief telecom counsel, and “net neutrality” opponent: “We’re going to rely on the market to regulate these services and not have a heavy hand in government regulation.” Waltzman thinks net neutrality regulation would turn “broadband pipes into railroads and regulating them under common carriage.” As he explains:

“The reason the Internet has thrived is because it’s existed in an unregulated environment. Regulating… under common carriage would be a complete step backward for the Internet.”

So half right, but wholly wrong. For of course, when the Internet first reached beyond research facilities to the masses, it did so on regulated lines — telephone lines. Had the telephone companies been free of the “heavy hand” of government regulation, it’s quite clear what they would have done — they would have killed it, just as they did when Paul Baran first proposed the idea in 1964. It was precisely because they were not free to kill it, because the “heavy hand[ed]” regulation required them to act neutrally, that the Internet was able to happen, and then flourish.

So Waltzman’s wrong about the Internet’s past. But he’s certainly right about what a mandated net neutrality requirement would be. It would certainly be a “complete step backward for the Internet” — back to the time when we were world leaders in Internet penetration, and competition kept prices low and services high. Today, in the world where the duopoly increasingly talks about returning us to the world where innovation is as the network owners says, broadband in the US sucks. We are somewhere between 12th and 19th in the world, depending upon whose scale you use. As the Wall Street Journal reported two months ago, broadband in the US is “slow and expensive.” Verizon’s entry-level broadband is $14.95 for 786 kbs. That about $20 per megabit. In FRANCE, for $36/m, you get 20 megabits/s — or about $1.80 per megabit.

How did France get it so good? By following the rules the US passed in 1996, but that telecoms never really followed (and cable companies didn’t have to follow): “strict unbundling.” That’s the same in Japan — fierce competition induced by “heavy handed” regulation producing a faster, cheaper Internet. Now of course, no one is pushing “open access” anymore. Net neutrality is a thin and light substitute for the strategy that has worked in France and Japan. But it is regulation, no doubt.

So while it is true that we have had both:

(a) common carrier like regulation applied to the Internet, and
(b) basically no effective regulation applied to the Internet

and it is true that we have had both:

(c) fast, fierce competition to provide Internet service and
(d) just about the worst broadband service of the developed world

it is not true that we had (c) when we had (b).

We had (c) when we had (a), and we have (d) now that we have (b).

But in the world where the President has the inherent authority to wiretap telephones, who would be surprised if facts didn’t matter much.

Broadband is infrastructure — like highways, if not railroads. If you rely upon “markets” alone to provide infrastructure, you’ll get less of it, and at a higher price. (See, e.g., the United States, today.)

  • http://www.michaelbernstein.com Michael Bernstein

    Larry, the prices you’re quoting should be adjusted for either a cost-of-living index or a median salary for each country, just so you’re comparing apples-to-apples.

    That said, making such an adjustment *still* makes US broadband look overpriced and slow.

    I tried to convey this to J.D. Power and Associates after they published the results of a recent ‘customer satisfaction’ survey for ‘high-speed internet’, but it became clear that their methodology is deliberately flawed to make the ‘winner’ among the companies they rate in each indistry look good by comparison.

  • poptones

    Why do you keep SPAMMING this place with your nonsense?

  • poptones

    What the hell are you talking about? You think I should post my goddamned drivers license number just to submit a comment here?

    Why are you so hung up on this bit about being “anonymous” anyway? Lessig has already explained to you the rules here, and lessig knows how to reach me if he needs to.

    Would it make you feel better if I posted under a “christian” name? Maybe I could post as Tom Clancy, or Jesus Christ. It would still be “anonymous” and it would be a complete lie, but it seems that is all it would take to shut you up about this stupid hangup on “anonymity.”

    You also seem obsessed (from what little I can make out of your comments) with some imagined “loss of human rights” every time someone speaks out about your COMPLETELY ANNOYING BLATHERING. The real problem here is You refuse to ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN SPEECH. When everything you say comes across like a mashup of Hochi Mhin and a penis pill spam, no one is going to want to listen to you. Saying so is NOT a “violation fo your rights” it is us exercising our RIGHT TO SPEAK. If you insist on being ANNOYING do not put the blame on others simply for telling you that you sound like a spammer or a troll.

    I realize there’s a language barrier here – I could certainly not form a coherent sentence in japanese.. but you also don’t see my littering japanese motherboards with my feeble attempts at doing so.

    I would not mind your posts were they not so completely disjointed, and I honestly don’t believe that is a problem strictly due to language. If you are going to continue SPAMMING this place can you not at least attempt to post something coherent and relevant to the topic you are allegedly “replying?”


  • poptones

    Anyway, back on topic… the difference between “then” (when we had pervasive dialup protected by “common carrier” status) and now isn’t entirely a fair or accurate comparison because…

    When dialup first bean to really take off and online services were facing customers who spent hours online, phone companies then began moving to restrictions on local calls. This took many foms but it eventually ended up with what we have today: it is “cheaper” for me to pay an extra few dollars a month for the “priviledge” of a slightly enlarged “local” calling area than to stick with the base plan in which I am forced to pay metered toll charges to call my cousin who lives all of five miles from here.

    I can buy a few phone lines, cheap modems, and plug them in an operate an ISP from my house. This is exactly what BBS operators did in the days before everyone discovered the internet. The barriers to entry are terrifically low for dialup service.

    I cannot, however, run wires through my neighborhood in order to connect us all on broadband service. Seven miles from here one can choose dsl service, but my area does not have the infrastructure for this type of service and probably won’t for another decade (if ever). Wireless could be a solution and in some places it is already deployed, but it’s still far too limited to be of use for “little guy” operators because of limited range and functionality in “real world” conditions (ie the technology is cheap if you live in a dry place like arizona or a dense place like new york or chicago, but it ain’t cheap at all in an area where there is moderate to high humidity, sparse population, and/or trees more than six feet tall)

    Assuming the FCC doesn’t just “auction off” every last bit of that newly created spectrum where TV now exists, UHF spectrum broadband could provide relatively low cost equipment that local operators could deploy in order to compete. But that’s still… how many years away?

  • http://ryanismy.name Ryan S.

    Monthly Bandwidth Allotment should be the future! An ISP should come into the market offerring MOnthly Bandwidth Allotment and shake things up…see Monthly Bandwidth Allotment

  • http://www.ryanismy.name Ryan S.

    THis should work

    Monthly Bandwidth Allotment

  • poptones

    That’s just one more subsidy package for the old school. I *already* pay a fee for my isp, a fee for my usenet access, pay for downloads from magnatune and from mp3.ru – and anyone who wants itunes or whatever is going to pay them as well. This “monthly bandwidth” package would just be a double-strike and it would put a huge regulatory burden on every person who wants to share their bandwidth.

    What happens when I, as a politically active and idealistic participant in this “world economy,” make available an open wifi hub? Now I have to keep track of every damn thing my users use or I will be paying for their downloads out of my own pocket.

    If you want to see how well this kind of thing work, subscribe to one of the US satellite internet services – or talk to a friend in australia where bandwidth on many services is rationed like water in the sahara. They have had a “monthly bandwidth alotment” for years now and everyone I have heard from about it thinks it sucks.

    I have no desire to subsidize the entertainment industry simply by participating online nor do I want my every byte tracked by my damn isp. What happens when I wish to use an “anonymizer” service and encrypt my traffic? Privacy would cost a fortune because everyone would be claiming it was their content that was being infringed and demanding payment for it.

  • http://www.ryanismy.name Ryan S.

    “That�s just one more subsidy package for the old school. I *already* pay a fee for my isp, a fee for my usenet access, pay for downloads from magnatune and from mp3.ru – and anyone who wants itunes or whatever is going to pay them as well.”

  • Yeah, but this is adovacting a healthier, more vibrant free market on the Internet! You can still use Usenet with MBA and Usenet would bear their customers’ bandwidth activities. Same would go for Itunes and other current content services. This would be a win for the public and private sector, as consumers would have more choices and businesses/ordinary people would see a return on their investments. Did you ever work and not get paid for your work?
  • Quote:
    “What happens when I, make available an open wifi hub? Now I have to keep track of every damn thing my users use or I will be paying for their downloads out of my own pocket.”

  • Why would you want to do that now? That’s foolish, for your users could be crazy pedophiles, downloading teenagers sharing the RIAA catalogue or some nut making national security or general threats.
  • Quote:
    “I have no desire to subsidize the entertainment industry…”

  • Yeah, that’s evident by your monthly Usenet subscription, but with MBA ANY copyright holder from big media to little joe would make money. This is what our fore fathers established copyright for, for the better of the people. As right now it’s for the better of those with the most money. With MBA that Star Wars kid could have made a killing!
  • Quote:
    “What happens when I wish to use an �anonymizer� service and encrypt my traffic?”

  • For reasons of national security and establishing this healthier, more vibrant free market this should be outlawed. Crazy thought, but what good does it do when the next 9/11 occurs and we learn the terrorists used an anonymizer to plan this attack. Also, as a normal LAW ABIDING citizen living in a civil society why use this, what are you trying to hide? Why not be apart of this new free market?
  • Well I hope more read my blog proposal! Im sure we’ll see this in the future. Big industries, nor our economy will allow consumers to pay a $50 monthly data bill which is used to access info, watch Cable TV like service(Bit Torrent) and communicate vocally(Skype). Sounds great, but it isn’t realistic!

  • poptones

    For reasons of national security and establishing this healthier, more vibrant free market this should be outlawed.

    This is why you and your prospective band of little hitlers will never deserve to win.

    If you truly believe that bullshit you jsut wrote, there’s nothing left to “debate” or even to discuss… you’re just another fear mongering social parasite and not worth listening to.

  • Mike Weisman

    Thank you Larry for these comments. This is a discussion that simply has to be taken out of the blogs and into the debate in Congress. Current proposals, and the thinking behind them, is terribly flawed.

    A couple of observations, first. When Larry talks about the ‘Internet’ he talks about the i’Net as he experienced it in the US during his formative period. The Internet was never about just the US. Today, it is even less so as the US falls further behind the rest of the developed world.

    Net Neutrality is a word that is used in some of Lessig’s books. Lessig focused on the content itself, advocating that the Internet should be free for all kinds of content, and that consumers should be able to connect any kind of device to the network (modem, telephone, etc.) But I suggest that neutrality is not really about content in the way Prof. Lessig has discussed it.

    New Neutrality has become the law (Lessig’s books are far more influential outside the US than inside it, due to the low educational level in the US) in all the developed countries that have implemented telecom reform. It is probably better understood as a principle that incorporates several fundamentals:

    1. Non-discrimination. All digital data is treated the same. A network operator/owner cannot discriminate against (or in favor of) any data on the network, including its own.

    2. Interconnection. All network operators/owner must connnect on resonable terms to any other network. Interconnection is actually the KEY to net neutrality, since neutrality means nothing if you can’t send or receive data.

    3. Access to end-users. I use the word end-users instead of customers because end-users might be another network, a device, or a person. Under the open access principle, every end-user has a right to connect (on a non-discriminatory basis) to any other end-user.

    Now about regulation. The EU, which is 50% larger than the US, has no central regulatory agency like the FCC. Its not necessary of the legislation creating the networks are clear, fair, and self-enforcing. Also, remember that the telephone networks are owned by the ratepayers and operated under license by the companies. Our laws don’t make this as clear as it should be. All other networks, that receive advantge from use of the public networks, are also subject to a public interest requirement.

    Not only is this scenario possible, it is today the predominant system in all the developed countries we compete against.

    Mike Weisman, JD, LLM

  • http://mutualist.blogspot.com Kevin Carson

    Yeah, if you didn’t subsidize infrastructure, and people had to pay for it on a cost basis, they might actually have to make rational decisions of how much to consume based on the cost of providing it. Awful, huh?

    Then, you might be buying something from a small factory 15 miles away, instead of from a big factory 1000 miles away that’s able to invade the local market because highway subsidies make it artificially competitive. You might be buying produce from a local farmer, instead of from corporate agribusiness plantations in California using subsidized irrigation water from the Army Corps of Engineers and shipping their food cross-country on subsidized highways. Without subsidized transportation to piggyback on, Wal-Mart’s artificially efficient distribution system might not be able to drive local retailers out of business.

    Awful, just awful.

  • Mike Weisman

    The public telephone network is not subsidized by ratepayers. It is OWNED by ratepayers. There is a big difference. In the US, the public subsidizes private business. Its pretty rare to find examples of private business caused to subsidize or serve a public purpose anymore. If we follow the examples of the EU, Japan, S. Korea, Canada and Taiwan, we will strip the reverse subsidies out of the system over time.

    But there is another issue. We all remember the picture of telephone lines in the 1920′s, obscuring views and causing hazards. We don’t want to see a recurrance of that, above or below the right of way.

    Mike Weisman, JD, LLM

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