Creative Destruction

June 11, 2006

Another Brick In The Firewall

Filed under: Blogosphere,Politics — Off Colfax @ 7:19 am

With all the yammering and bleating these days about Net Neutrality, whether from the telco-neutral or regulation-neutral viewpoints, I find myself in a bit of a quandry. So pardon me for a moment while I explore (with my usual disjointed ramblings and parenthetical commentary) a few points of reasoning I find persuasive.

From both sides of the issue.

Item 1: How Can You Have Any Bandwidth If You Don't Eat Your Meat

As Momun so precisely put it in a post not-so-precisely titled "A Balanced View":

The real issue for "net neutrality" is that an advanced internet needs to be built, financed, and initiated through the government help, like it is in Korea, Japan, and China. That's why our access charges are so steep relative to these places. Put big pipes everwhere, and the high class QoS services can easily coexist with the best effort folks. That's an issue of capital infrastructure deployment and build-out, which in the US, with its lack of centralized planning for such things, doesn't exist.

Bandwidth is the problem that most of us actually face. But not on our end, where we can pay for a mini-T1 to sit in our bedroom closet, if not a full-out dedicated T3 connection. Admittedly, I do settle for 256k DSL here at home due to my personal financial situation and it is only when I get really active, as in 5 Firefox windows with multiple tabs plus streaming audio and program and/or MP3 downloads all happening simultaneously, that I actually start to notice the bandwidth pinch.

Instead, the bandwidth problems tend to happen in the intermediary routers. Those are what really gets our data from the server to our browser window, and it is those interchanges that create the traffic jams on this here Information Superhighway. (Official designation: I-666?) Why? Because of how they actually interact.

[Disclaimer: I am not an IT specialist, nor am I trained in the mystical arcana of programming languages. Hell, I failed a class in BASIC. So be it known that I could be completely off-base on the point I am about to make. This is also known as The Standard Caveat: I CAN ALWAYS BE WRONG. Consider it effective. You have been warned.]

From my home in the Greater Denver Metropolitan Area to a game I play based in Saint Louis, my commands to the game travel from here and bounce around Denver a few times before travelling to Fort Hood, Dallas, back to Denver, up to Chicago, and then to Saint Louis and the final destination server before the results of that command can start the return trip back to me. (Pretty long and convoluted for sending an attack command, don't you think?)

This is due to the fact that, while there are many service providers out there in the world, there are only a few dozen backbone servers running. And it is those backbone ISPs that have to feed in to perhaps two dozen or so server exchange points, which are located in major cities. Yet not always the cities we actually care about. So when the exchange points become overloaded due to random traffic spikes, our packet speed decreases drastically. Some of these exchanges can even become infamous for a specific website.

(We're constantly complaining about Savvis' connections in Chicago over on the game forums, for example. That's always where we see our big lag hits. And you air travellers think O'Hare is bad… Sheeesh. Sometimes Savvis makes O'Hare look like San Diego's Lindbergh Field, also voted the best domestic airport by SleepingAirports.net.)

And that, at least in part, is what the telecommunications companies are looking to improve upon. The connectivity issue is the true curb to internet growth and efficiency, and only with an influx of capital can additional exchanges be created.

Issue 2: Hey Telco! Leave Those Blogs Alone!

How the telecommunications companies intend to raise said capital is to charge increased fees to those who depend on the internet for business. Companies like Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and eBay, just to mention a few of the big names involved here, will have to pay more for their soon-to-be-much-improved accessibility. So if they would have to pay additional fees or higher premiums, would it not also follow that the middle-range (CNN, Washington Post, Wired, Associated Press, even Coast To Coast AM With George Noory) and lower-range systems (Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, even that abomination known as LiveJournal) that we here all depend on for our daily internet usage would also have to pay higher user fees as well?

All for that wonder known as accessibility and bandwidth, without which these systems will be useless. Yet will the little guys be able to afford to compete in the soon-to-be-possible pay-for-play internet? And it's not just here in the blogosphere (AKA The Land That Forgets What Time It Is And Typos Until Dawn, unless that's jsut me.) (Puns intended.) that this concern is rising.

Independent music distributors and artists, mom-and-pop storefronts, internet game creators, innovative idea makers, and religious organizations of every possible flavor are concerned that they will also be forced into a second-class-citizen status. For those types of websites, accessibility is second only to people knowing that they exist in the first place.

Now, it could be that Robert Reich's snark that it "would take you 5 minutes to download my blog" is a bit over the top. After the new backbone and server exchanges are created for the truly high-traffic systems, they could continue to use the old systems for the lower-priority (and lesser-funded) content. But until that point in time, we would have some web companies paying for first-class access to the existing backbone and the rest of us flying on standby tickets. (And in case you've never tried to fly anywhere while holding a standby ticket, let's just say that it is far from the most efficient way of getting from Point A to Point B ever created.)

While the folks at Hands Off The Internet insist that they do not want to censor what we consumers decide to access (See the comment here by Wilson, just above the one where I really need to start paying attention to bylines over at Ezra's place.), they could very well price many of us out of the niche we have carved out for ourselves. And that is, in effect, a form of passive censorship. Jeff Goldstein doesn't call me a civil liberties absolutist for no reason whatsoever, you know, so you can tell precisely how I feel about that concept. And for that, yes, the government should be involved with maintaining our fundamental right to freedom of the (e-)press.

So yes, I agree with the telcos that we need a better internet. Unfortunately for them, however, I believe that we all need a better internet. And if their great plan is to leave the rest of us choking in the dust, then we don't need no net neutrality.

It's already neutral where it counts. At the consumer end.

[Apologies to Pink Floyd for the titles, subtitles, and final snark. That song has been abused enough over the years, but I couldn't help myself.]

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1 Comment »

  1. they could very well price many of us out of the niche we have carved out for ourselves. And that is, in effect, a form of passive censorship.

    Is it a form of passive censorship when Kinko’s charges you to print flyers? Or when web sites get shut down because they exceed their bandwidth allocation and the owner isn’t willing to buy more?

    Charging people for the resources they use isn’t censorship, and neither is refusing to subsidize those who won’t. The infrastructure needed for blogs and other text-based applications is much cheaper to provide than that needed for video, so I would expect the costs to be trivial.

    If you think that the telcos are going to price some people out of the market by charging monopoly pricing, then you have to make that argument. You can’t just say that they’re going to screw us over because they’re big companies and that’s what big companies do.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — June 11, 2006 @ 1:01 pm | Reply


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