It's July 12th! (in Coordinated Universal Stack Exchange Time)

Today we're gonna be showing a banner directing readers to the blog post (and thus, indirectly, this discussion) from every Stack Exchange site.

Special thanks to Jon Chan for whipping up a dismissible banner for this, so we didn't get stuck abusing system messages for it.

BIG thanks to everyone who has participated in this discussion thus far; there's a lot of good information and debate here, I've learned a lot from it and I hope y'all did too.

This discussion started as a way to help me focus my thoughts while I was working with Kaitlin on the blog post to announce this company's support for Fight for the Future's Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

In particular, I want to get a better feel for why would anyone be against this. To better understand both why folks feel it's important and what gives them pause when asked to support it.

So if you've got something to add, please do write an answer!

A bit of background

Back in 2014, the United States Federal Communication Commission, in response to numerous complaints and concerns, implemented a set of rules that prohibit Internet Service Providers from blocking specific content providers or charging them for access to their networks. Essentially, a set of rules that prevent an ISP from double-dipping on service they're already being paid for, or blocking access to specific websites just for the hell of it.

In order to do this, they had to change how ISPs were classified, moving them from a "Title I" classification to "Title II" - more or less the same framework for regulation that's been in place for phone companies for decades, establishing them as a so-called "common carrier" - that is to say, one which may not discriminate between customers. If you already assumed that this is how the Internet worked, you're not alone; however, due to how they were classified previously the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) had been unable to enforce rules that would ensure that traffic over the Internet would continue be allowed to work as, well, traffic over the Internet was expected to work.

In 2016, US President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai as Chairman of the FCC. Pai is former Associate General Counsel for Verizon and he is leading the Net Neutrality rollback.

If this all sounds really boring and procedural... Well, it is. The bit that's gotten so many people worked up is that there are companies and officials actively fighting against it, including the current chairman of the FCC.

The reason to get interested in this now

I'm gonna save some space here and link to a couple of relevant sites:

I strongly encourage reading both of them if you wanna get a better feel for what this is about, but the short version is: fairly soon, the FCC will vote on these proposed changes. So if there's a chance at influencing the outcome of that vote, we gotta speak out now.

Your thoughts

So why bring this up for discussion? Because this is something that has the potential to directly affect Stack Overflow, both the company and anyone using the site. Even folks who aren't based in the US have probably benefited from the work of those who are at one point or another; if nothing else, this is where our servers live so any additional headaches when it comes to providing access are gonna be a problem.

More than that though... As many of you have observed at one point or another, y'all are smarter than me. Better informed. So if this is something Stack Overflow is gonna be involved in, it should be your voices that are heard, whether in support of this campaign or especially if you have objections. As I said a few months back, we need more of this sort of discussion here on meta, and this is a prime example of an issue where informed public discussion is critical.

So let's hear it: why should or shouldn't we all head over to https://www.battleforthenet.com/ right now and use the handy form to send a letter to the FCC?


Hat-tip to Alexander O'Mara for digging up two fascinating questions on net neutrality from Network Engineering and Economics:

Hat-tip to BobbyA for sharing this Ars Technica piece on How to write a meaningful FCC comment supporting net neutrality

Special thanks to EBrown for writing a detailed response here, including advice for folks who don't live in the US.

And props to Ben Collins for writing at length about why he believes the government shouldn't be involved in this.

Procedural note: I'm gonna be clearing comments on the question (deleting them) periodically as a practical measure - please leave an answer if you've something useful to add here. Alternately, join me in chat.

  • 91
    Don't feel like writing an answer? Tired of informative, well-considered debate? Hate not being interrupted by tangential opinions while you're typing? Join me in chat! But if you wanna post here, please do it in an answer; I'll be clearing comments on this question periodically from here out. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:52
  • 1
    Meta: assuming you might use that dismissible banner for other things in the future, I hope that the dismissal that's sticky enough to last the day isn't sticky enough to last forever. – Monica Cellio Jul 13 '17 at 0:52
  • 5
    It is a shame that the whole post just fails to address why a non US citizen is reading this, at least until the edit mentioning EBrown's answer. – Nikhil Girraj Jul 13 '17 at 6:21
  • 2
    Umm, it's July 13. not July 12 folks! – EKons Jul 13 '17 at 10:06
  • 8
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about a past event and new answers can't really be relevant anymore. (Ideally, historical lock would be applied) – Shadow Wizard Oct 31 '17 at 12:04
  • 1
    Net Neutrality is in the news again. There is a question here asking if Stack Overflow (the company) will involve itself and/or the community in this discussion. – S.L. Barth Nov 22 '17 at 12:25
  • Wanted to post an answer but question is closed. There is a statement in Russia's civic code basically saying that air cannot be sold i.e. it is illegal to ask for payment for doing nothing (intellectual rights obviously do not fall under this statement because author produced the thing he owns before asking to pay for usage of it). It means that any attempt to require payment from either client or resource to access some specific resource at full speed would be illegal (but it won't be illegal to throttle access to the specific resource indefinitely). Is there anything similar in USA? – Euri Pinhollow Nov 27 '17 at 20:20
  • Why am I not surprised that "50,000 net neutrality complaints were excluded from FCC’s repeal docket"? arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/12/… – SDsolar Dec 6 '17 at 1:32
  • Now the FCC has voted to repeal net neutrality, it's up to Congress to overturn the decision. But it doesn't look good. – Mast Dec 14 '17 at 23:59
  • Want to visualize the internet without Net Neutrality? See medium.com/@lex.sheehan/net-neutrality-illustrated-b4d23d9d5320 – l3x Dec 16 '17 at 2:10

51 Answers 51

In Russia, not only don't we have laws specifically restricting ISPs from doing such nasty things, but also Internet censorship is actively put to practice by one of our federal services, Roskomnadzor.

Most of the ISPs in Russia don't even have means of DPI, which is why sites are primarily blocked by IP addresses, which often leads to catastrophic consequences. For example, they are not hesitant to add IP addresses from pools of Amazon and such, which can effectively block thousands of websites. Not to mention that some social networks (e.g. DeviantArt) and blogging platforms (e.g. Blogger and Tumblr) are blocked entirely just because some small fraction of their users post something "inappropriate for children" (but it's blocked for everyone, not just children).

We've lost this battle a long time ago, and now it became a guerilla war: recently Russian Internet-freedom activists started to sabotage censorship by buying blacklisted domains and setting their DNS records to IP addresses of Roskomnadzor sites, *.gov.ru sites, and some of the most popular resources out there (Wikipedia, Google, etc.). Many smaller ISPs directly add IPs from DNS records to their blacklists, and as a result, they blocked those websites.

With that being said, I honestly envy you guys in the USA. First, you still have a chance to affect the decision of the FCC. Second, you are, as far as I can see, much more politically active in general compared to us Russians.

Don't give them any chances to limit your rights. If they will have a chance to use censorship of any kind, they most definitely will, as the law of the instrument says.

Good luck.


Note for net neutrality naysayers and those who are pro-censorship.

You are welcome to visit Russia. If at some point your MacBook will stop receiving updates, or your favorite news site doesn't work, it's probably because they accidentally blocked some IP address from a floating IP address pool or something like that. Enjoy the pain.

@Machavity And yes, they have already blocked Google at least once, that time by accident.

  • 49
    I'm not surprised by this (Putin isn't exactly a free speech guy). But saying that Net Neutrality is about censorship is a gross mischaracterization of this issue. In fact, outright censorship would be illegal in the US (Constitution and First Amendment). And it should be noted that the EU (which has Net Neutrality) is also a growing proponent of Internet censorship. Let's not conflate censorship with Net Neutrality. – Machavity Jun 30 '17 at 12:30
  • 76
    @Machavity I read this as a warning of "it's a slippery slope, and it starts here". The border between "censorship" and "protecting your customers' interests" is fuzzy and hard to argue about. It's a different battle, but to my understanding net neutrality is currently the main restriction on ISPs that prevents that battle from starting. – Anko Jun 30 '17 at 12:57
  • 91
    @Machavity Censorship is directly forbidden by Russian Constitution as well (article 29, part 5: "Цензура запрещается." / "Censorship is prohibited."). But guess what? They say it's "for protecting the children". So they block everything left and right. How can you protect children by blocking LINE messenger, for example? (And now they want to block Telegram.) It was already shown that blocking sites selling illegal drugs did not lead to a decrease of illicit drug use among teenagers, so their "reasons" are merely excuses. – scriptin Jun 30 '17 at 13:26
  • 26
    As for Putin, you may mistakingly think that he's a rare exception, but I imagine that many ISP companies in the USA can possibly have their own smaller putins who would like to do, if allowed, anything what benefits them. Power corrupts. – scriptin Jun 30 '17 at 13:39
  • 58
    @Matt Net Neutrality is about censorship too. Yes, my answer is about censorship. But it's still relevant. Throttling can be used as a "mild" censorship as well, but it's not the point. What I wanted to say is, once you give anyone control over what you see on the Internet, they will abuse it for their benefit. For example, most social networks do that by suggesting you the posts which you are most likely to like/share, not those that will inform you about most important things. In the long run, for a large number of people, it's a big deal. Fewer things like that you have, the better. – scriptin Jun 30 '17 at 15:09
  • 13
    They blocked Github at least 2 times, and for quite prolonged period of time. Linkedin is blocked to this day. To those who claim it's the problem of Russia only, I should remind that US banned all of US-based services in Crimea, from GMail to Docker. – polkovnikov.ph Jun 30 '17 at 15:14
  • 18
    @Abyx - a crime happened. A website user posted child porn (which is illegal pretty much everywhere btw). Punishing people who had nothing to do with this is counterproductive and isn't harming the people who perpetrated the crime. We should force our governments to fund a UN special unit to provide investigators to find the culprits and do horrible things to them so that it can not happen again. We do have international police and ways of dealing with international crime. We do have international courts. We can find and we can prosecute these people, then do horrible things to them. – Engineer Dollery Jun 30 '17 at 15:49
  • 2
    @Matt The OP literally calls for answers that expand upon the topic. That means answers can focus primarily on one aspect to the exclusion of others. – iheanyi Jun 30 '17 at 21:18
  • 7
    @Abyx We have an example of country that is fine to kill millions for the sake of prosecuting one Iraq leader for disobedience. If collateral damage happens, it cannot be called law. – polkovnikov.ph Jun 30 '17 at 22:32
  • 7
    @PeterTurner I know we have it forwards. It appears you have it qɐɔʞʍɐɹps ⅋ ndsᴉpǝpoʍu. Title II explicitly disallows censorship, and makes no exceptions for your beloved hate speech. You might try checking your facts [redacted unnecessary and speculative insult --ed.]. – Alexander O'Mara Jul 1 '17 at 17:35
  • 2
    @SuperJer It's only confusing if you don't know the difference between regulation (to prevent censorship by ISPs) and government censorship. I actively oppose things like SOPA, which could have been misused for censorship. – Alexander O'Mara Jul 2 '17 at 16:14
  • 3
    @AlexanderO'Mara My point is, the perceived need for net neutrality regulation here in the US is actually the result of a complex system of other regulations that should be rolled back instead. These other regulations effectively establish monopolies, prevent competition, and disable the consumer's ability to hold the companies with which they do business from effectively holding them accountable. Net neutrality regulation adds another layer of complexity that will have far-reaching unintended effects that are obscured by the wash of causes already in place. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 16:22
  • 2
    Net neutrality is a practical need. It is only perception that the only way to get it is through regulation. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 16:37
  • 3
    @SuperJet Sure, but that's not really what we are discussing here. There are only two options present in the immediate future. Net neutrality by regulation, or lose net neutrality entirely. – Alexander O'Mara Jul 2 '17 at 16:43
  • 5
    @PeterTurner Net neutrality means no censorship. It sounds like you want even more net neutrality than we have now, not less. The FCC's basically doing the opposite of what you want. That's what everyone's upset about. – Nat Jul 3 '17 at 16:53

Summary

Absolutely encourage people to vote to continue the "common carrier" enforcement of ISP's. We do it for telephone companies, we should do it for all communication companies. (Including TV, radio, Internet, etc.)

But...

However, we need to empower the people to understand what the broader effect of the lack of net neutrality is. The comments on Patric Hoffman's answer help indicate that even some high-profile users here don't quite get it, and I think a big portion of that is coming from persons outside the U.S., having lived here for my entire life, and growing up through the net-neutrality discussion, it's easy for me to visualize, but we need a good explanation and information for our foreign friends. You cannot ask this many people to support something of this magnitude without helping them understand it. You absolutely have to teach them, even if it takes a little while, why it's necessary.

We need a good potential example, how Stack Exchange (and the broader Internet community) would be affected by this change. How ISP's could begin extorting Stack Exchange for additional money for any arbitrary reason, how the entire Internet as a whole could be negatively affected. Hell, according to this article up to 70% of Internet traffic comes through Northern VirginiaNo idea on accuracy, but if it's even halfway decent that's still roughly 35% of all Internet traffic, coming through the U.S., which makes this a global issue.

If we empower the users to make this decision with the right information, we can set a global example for a solution to a problem that could end up being very dangerous. Even the most basic example of competitor sites bribing ISP's (which is acceptable without net-neutrality) to put their traffic over SO/SE could be devastating. Consider the number of developers who visit the Stack Exchange sites daily. It's literally millions of hits. That's a lot. We can't just sit in the corner of the Internet and ignore everyone, we need to set an example for how the Internet can be protected and used as a tool, and we need to help the users understand it. If the U.S. removes the net-neutrality laws, the global community will suffer and they need to understand that. This is one of the very few U.S. political actions that I absolutely encourage international persons to participate in. This affects us all!

Stack Exchange is not an Internet Service Provider, they're at the whim of the people who service them traffic. We cannot forget that, we need to do everything in our power to protect our community, or it could very shortly end existence. Don't discount your users, we're an international community which means for some of us this is the first time we've heard of 'net-neutrality' and 'common carrier', explain it like I'm five.

Let's turn Stack Overflow into the poster-whatever for how a lack of net-neutrality in the United States is a bad thing™!


Regarding Foreigners

Some might say that "foreigners" (non-U.S. persons) might not have a say in this, but as I said above this is one of the few times I encourage them to. The scope of this is too large. If the FCC pushes and has net-neutrality redacted, we're literally talking about the possibility for the U.S. ISP's (if they really wanted to) to start de-prioritizing international traffic. That's the actual scope of this issue. So every site that you use as a non-U.S. citizen (including Canadian, Central and Latin American, etc.) can be crippled or shut down for you.

If you don't think that'll happen, and you don't think our ISP's will abuse this if it comes back, you really haven't paid attention to the U.S. for the last few months and I feel like you have a significantly larger amount of faith in my government than I do. As a foreigner you all have the same responsibility in this manner that we do: speak up. If you say nothing you've effectively aligned with the idea that we don't need net-neutrality, and you've said it's O.K. for carriers to prioritize traffic for any reason, even arbitrary ones like "we don't like your nation because you [won't give us a good deal on _____ | support person _____ whom we don't | just aren't a nation we like], so no more Internet for you."

So as a foreigner, the specific form Shog9 linked to won't let you fill it out and send a letter to the FCC as you need a United States address, but the FCC has a contact page, so you can still tell them to suck-it (figuratively speaking). You can also view official comments on this proceeding and add your own, simply click "+ New Filing" or "+ Express". (You can even upload documents if you click "+ New Filing".) And if for some reason that link quits working, search for proceeding "17-108", that's the "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal to eliminate net-neutrality.


An Example

As for a concrete example, use an analogy.

You're at a barbecue with your friends, two of your friends are really close to the guy handing out food. Well you, you're really good friends with the woman on the grill. So you ask her if she can give you one of the best burgers to come off the grill. She says "of course!", you're friends after all. So she tells the gentleman handing out food that "these two are for my friend." Well you and your friends already paid him off, but he gives them the good burgers and you the burnt one. Why? You all paid your fair share.

If we discontinue net-neutrality that is the grim world we can look forward to. A world where the person you get service from can arbitrarily change the quality of your service to benefit someone else.

  • 43
    Your answer encourages international users to participate, but you could make it clearer what actions you think they can take which would have any tangible effect on the FCC, on US politicians, on US voters, or on whoever else you mean for their actions to affect. I think that part of the answer could be clearer about what you're seeking/advocating. – Glen_b Jun 30 '17 at 2:11
  • 1
    @Glen_b Shog9 already indicated they have a plan for what they plan to say about how people can participate in the upcoming blog-post, this question was finally the first time they asked us for approval: "So let's hear it: why should or shouldn't we all head over to battleforthenet.com right now and use the handy form to send a letter to the FCC?" – 202_accepted Jun 30 '17 at 10:10
  • 6
    This is exacty the issue I was worried you might be getting at -- how would a foreigner have any impact on the FCC? Indeed wouldn't they open themselves to exactly the sort of accusations (and perhaps investigations) of connections to/influence from other countries that the current administration is struggling with? Isn't the FCC's responsibility to Americans? Indeed such considerations would seem to require a show of ignoring international pressure especially in the current climate -- so bringing any would seem potentially counterproductive – Glen_b Jun 30 '17 at 10:17
  • 4
    @Glen_b The problem is that this has an international scope. If you're not in the U.S., then I encourage you to research how many websites (including Stack Exchange) that you visit that are exclusively located in the U.S., and you might find that a lot of the ultra large ones like Google, Amazon, Netflix are probably geo-located to your international location (assuming you have one), but I bet some of the somewhat smaller ones are only found either here or there. This has a global impact, there's no doubt about that. – 202_accepted Jun 30 '17 at 10:32
  • 6
    I completely agree it has an international scope. At no point did I so much as begin to suggest otherwise. I was discussing the value of foreigners trying to pressure the FCC -- if their responsibility is only to Americans they will likely get more value (in political capital) from being seen to ignore the international impact than listening to it (as has happened many times in the past with US institutions -- such behavior always seems to play well with a segment of the US population). From the tenor of your response I feel like you didn't really read my comment at all. – Glen_b Jun 30 '17 at 10:41
  • @Glen_b I read it, I just didn't respond to exactly what you said because you're using the wrong point of view. The interesting thing about our government is that they're easy to pressure. The other thing is, what's the worst that can happen if you, an individual, sends them a comment that you disagree with net-neutrality? They ignore it? Great, so you wasted a couple minutes but someone, somewhere probably read it. You can at least flood them with messages about how you think it's a bad idea. No action is the worst action: because you're at the whim of whomever does take action. – 202_accepted Jun 30 '17 at 11:02
  • @Glen_b At any rate, I've updated my answer and if you're going to continue to debate whether or not foreigners should do something I have no interest in that, the chat room might have a good discussion on it though (maybe they can convince you why participating is necessary and how). – 202_accepted Jun 30 '17 at 11:03
  • 6
    This starts out by saying how important it is to help people understand net neutrality, then there's an irrelevant wall of text, and at the end a highly contrived and strained analogy that doesn't help that much. – erickson Jul 2 '17 at 4:53
  • 2
    @Glen_b - Australian here. The biggest problem from my perspective is the precedent that the US will set should these changes be implemented. I think that "foreigners" (myself included) can help by reaching out to our own local elected people and sharing our concerns on the topic with them (rather than the FCC or the US Congresspeople). If they see this concern filtering through based on the US decision they will be less ready to adopt the same practices locally, which in turn could feed back into the US's future decisions/plans if enough of the international community don't support it. – Robotnik Jul 12 '17 at 4:25
  • 2
    Add more examples so they do not read about barbecue only :) – Kyslik Jul 12 '17 at 8:08
  • I just post the link about this to chatroom but it seems like not much people care... So sad, I'm from Taiwan, I've just finished the comment to FCC. – Niing Jul 12 '17 at 8:40
  • What does this have to do with the bill? AFFAIK the bill and you are aligned, right? – user319967 Jul 12 '17 at 20:04

I've only found one article about Net Neutrality that clearly explains the case in favor and the case against, gives actual quotations from articulate and high-profile proponents and opponents, and does not attempt to force the reader into agreeing with one side of the issue. For anyone who feels you are missing some orientation to why this is even under debate...

...why would anyone be against this? —Shog9

...I highly recommend "A Tangled Web" by Price Colman.

If you're in a hurry, just read the section headed "Good, Bad and Ugly."*


Here is one excerpt, just to show the reservations that are held by some high profile proponents of net neutrality. (Emphasis added.)

Many in the tech sector are leery of government and regulatory intrusion. While they endorse the “bright line” and transparency rules, they have reservations about other aspects of the order.

“I think the order did the right thing,” said Corynne McSherry of Electronic Frontier Foundation, a longtime advocate of Net Neutrality and the protection of personal privacy on the Net.

For the EFF, Net Neutrality is “pretty fundamental,” McSherry said. “Think of all the ways in which we use the Internet—to organize, communicate, get jobs, get educated. We depend on the Internet for so many things. That means we need a fair Internet.”

But, she says, the order gives the FCC leeway to crack down on ISPs’ practices that violate the spirit of the order, but aren’t specifically addressed in the order. That worries her.

It seems like [the FCC] has given itself a bigger window for overregulation. The signal to us is that we have to pressure the FCC to do the right thing.”


Personally, I am in favor of Net Neutrality, but I regard the FCC itself as a necessary evil that must be kept closely in check. I do not trust government appointees to "do the right thing" and I find it odd when people loudly arguing that corporate executives are "evil" and are "only profit-driven," place implicit trust in government appointees to rein in such evil tendencies. "Who will watch the watchers?"

I am also informed enough to know that there are many aspects of FCC regulation that I don't understand, and I am leery of oversimplification, especially by those who themselves fail to see other points of view.

A call to action without a commensurate call to get informed, I would regard as a disservice.

That said...if you want to make a blog post such as you describe, I think that sounds like a wonderful idea. Just, please:

  1. Avoid the embarrassing ad hominem attacks on those who disagree that imbue so many of the answers on this very page. This is a very multi-faceted issue.
  2. Avoid inflammatory language (which should go without saying).
  3. Avoid oversimplifying the issue.
  4. Please make some effort to really consider and understand opposing views, and be sure you are not presenting "straw man" arguments in the guise of "presenting both sides." The evil "fast lane" scenarios are not seriously advanced by anyone (and certainly no one high profile) as a desirable future.

Well, I'm not gonna lie - I think revoking the current rules is a bad idea, and I'm gonna say that. I'm not gonna say you suck if you're against 'em, but I am gonna ask folks to come here and elaborate on their reasoning. —Shog9

Although I am in favor of Net Neutrality, I'm in favor with certain reservations. I have hereby elaborated upon my reasoning. :)


*If you're writing a lengthy blog post on the subject, though, you don't qualify as "in a hurry." ;)

  • 31
    Quoting for great justice: "A call to action without a commensurate call to get informed, I would regard as a disservice." - this is something that never ceases to annoy me about many, many articles I've seen on the topic. In particular, if you're writing a story about a rule or proposal and don't link to the canonical source you're doing a massive disservice to readers who wish to become more informed; they're left to either take you on your word or (as I suspect is often the case) discount everything you've said and leave in disgust. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 23:36
  • @Shog9, I've never encountered the phrase "quoting for great justice" before and a google search turns up nothing much enlightening. Could you please define it? :) – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 1:44
  • 3
    @Wildcard: Drop the first word. urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=for%20great%20justice – Nathan Tuggy Jun 30 '17 at 1:56
  • 3
    I appreciate your answer too, @Wildcard. Disagreeing with people like grown-ups just shouldn't be all that hard. – Ben Collins Jun 30 '17 at 5:47
  • @BenCollins thank you. I can't work out what the "too" in your comment is in reference to, though.... – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 6:21
  • Hmm....I...dunno either :-) – Ben Collins Jun 30 '17 at 6:44
  • 56
    Freedom Magazine is not a reliable source. It is (as explicitly stated on the website) a publication of the Church of Scientology, with no neutrality of its own, and the CoS is an organization with its own vested interests in promoting regulation and censorship of the Net. – user362183 Jun 30 '17 at 8:29
  • 3
    @user362183 I was wondering how long before someone showed up with an ax to grind against Scientology. You make an odd choice of attack on a group that literally pioneered use of the FOIA to shed light on corrupt government practices and promote greater transparency. As you say, the affiliation is explicitly stated—better already than most "news" sites—and if you actually read the magazine, you would see that they are emphatically against censorship, but instead are strong proponents of responsible reporting (i.e., old school journalism, where "facts" are verified and bigotry avoided). – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 9:35
  • 39
    @Wildcard You mean to argue that the organization that committed the largest infiltration of the US government in a criminal conspiracy to censor information on the organization that they felt showed it in an unfavorable light is in fact an organization that might actually be interested in supporting censorship? No, it's not an odd choice to bring it up at all. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 13:34
  • @Servy, the illegal activities of certain members of the Guardian's Office (disbanded in 1983) were a distortion of the actual program; even Wikipedia, for all its overwhelming bias against Scientology, admits that the original program called for legal action and defense only. This doesn't negate decades of work since then by actual Scientologists in advocating freedom of information. Nor is it relevant to the article linked. – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 17:41
  • 24
    @Wildcard The CoS has a track record of suing ISPs to take down specific information, suing ISPs to unmask anonymous internet users, harassing journalists, and criticizing web anonymity. I'm not sure how they come across as unbiased in this. – user362183 Jun 30 '17 at 17:48
  • 17
    @Wildard Freedom Magazine does not maintain high standards of journalistic integrity, and has been roundly criticized for its lack of journalistic standards, e.g. uni-marburg.de/fb03/ivk/mjr/pdfs/2001/articles/… – user362183 Jun 30 '17 at 17:49
  • 3
    The argument that I keep seeing against NN is that it gives the FCC "potential for overreach" or, as the article you quoted says, "a bigger window for overregulation". Why aren't the people who are concerned about this also concerned that without NN the ISPs have a much larger potential for overregulation and censorship with far fewer checks or ramifications? Removing neutrality from any major communications system would open the Pandora's box of first amendment violations. – Brian Jul 12 '17 at 14:54
  • 1
    @Wildcard I did read the article, and that's what lead to my question. Could you please clarify which part of the article answers it? – Brian Jul 17 '17 at 14:47
  • 1
    @Brian, the part I directly quoted is relevant to that question. Also (especially) the quotes from David Farber in the same section of the article. To comment upon your question directly, the key is that the FCC has adequate tools for prevention of the dire scenario you portray without reclassifying the internet under Title II. As David Farber mentions, the FCC Chairman at the time said they will forbear from the types of draconian control that Title II classification allows...but future FCC chairs (including the current one!) are not bound by that in any way. – Wildcard Jul 17 '17 at 19:24

As you note (and as is clear from some of the comments and answers), there needs to be an educational component to this effort -- many people don't understand net neutrality in the abstract or the practical consequences of losing it. People have questions.

SE is a place for questions.

Perhaps we should use our own sites to ask and answer questions about this (questions that people actually have, I mean), and collect links to the ones with good answers in that blog post or some other central place.

There's no one site where these questions might arise. Depending on the question, people might be asking on Law, Information Security, Tor, Webmasters, Politics, Travel, User Experience, Skeptics, or others. Most of us won't see most of that on our own.

  • 4
    That's a great example of how to use the "Ask Question" button. – EKons Jul 12 '17 at 9:20
  • 3
    We could make a tag on this site – Noah Cristino Jul 12 '17 at 12:35
  • @NoahCristino Looks like we already have a 'net-neutrality' tag – freginold Jul 12 '17 at 13:01
  • @freginold Then why not use that? – Noah Cristino Jul 12 '17 at 13:05
  • @NoahCristino We should; help to keep everything linked. – freginold Jul 12 '17 at 13:07

As you work on the post, I think it would be useful to be very careful about how you frame the various points of fact. For example, the regulation of "common carriers" goes quite far beyond "[not] discriminat[ing] between customers", and the biggest objections to the FCC proposal from free-enterprise advocates as well as from the providers themselves center largely on aspects of that regulatory framework that you don't mention at all (here). Not a big deal in this post, of course - you're soliciting feedback. But in an explanatory post, which essentially would be a position paper, if you do the same thing you'd be failing to address the primary objections which would make the whole exercise kind of pointless in my view.

Also, it's worth noting that the FCC rules under discussion have a complicated history, and effectively have only ever been proposals. The most controversial idea is the one that suggests the FCC should re-classify ISPs as "title II carriers" - and it's only ever been an idea. Like you say: procedural and boring (although if there was a crowd with an interest in arcana and detail, this is probably it). But I suggest that if you're going to delve into that part of it, handle the facts carefully. One big takeaway from an accurate understanding of all this is kind of important: "Net Neutrality", as people currently understand it, has only very recently been a thing in the US. It has historically not been effectively regulated either by statute or regulatory rule - which means that all this time the internet has been working pretty well without it. That's not necessarily dispositive proof that no action is needed, or that Stack Overflow's position isn't valid, but it also helps us understand that this is not a scenario wherein we return to the Bad Old Days if the "Net Neutrality" position doesn't prevail, or that we will achieve Internet Nirvana if it does. This is not doomsday one way or the other.

For a detailed perspective into a lot of this nuance, I recommend Episode 72 of the "Political Economy", here: https://ricochet.com/podcast/net-neutrality/. Brent Skorup does a pretty decent job of laying out the broad view of what proponents of net neutrality are trying to achieve by relying on the Title II classification of ISPs and FCC power to arbitrate violations of it.

<opinion>

Cards on the table

So, I'll put more of my cards on the table, since the direct questions were "why should or shouldn't we.." and "why would anyone be against this?" I'm opposed to the Title II classification, and I don't think Stack Overflow has a strong case to be for it from a business perspective. Political perspectives of people in the company are what they are, and I don't view them as particularly relevant here because I'll not be changing any strongly-held opinions in this one post - but maybe I can take a shot at answering the questions at hand from my own perspective.

Note: for context, this is all very US-centric.

I think any scenario where the government doesn't need to be involved is the better scenario. So in a pragmatic approach to this issue, it kind of boils down to demonstrating need (and the contrapositive, demonstrating that regardless of need, there is a downside to government involvement).

The need (or lack)

The primary common argument for net neutrality, as I understand it, is that ISPs might block or throttle lawful traffic, or charge for prioritization ("fast lanes").

I don't know of many cases of this actually happening. There is the one famous instance between Netflix and Comcast (which they resolved without the help of regulators).

More to the point, ISPs don't have much incentive to do this. There are indeed areas were there is only one option for broadband access - but I think those are getting fewer and fewer - and this trend is only going to accelerate as more wireless ISPs come online: both fixed wireless and 5g/Wimax/Mmmmmagic. Available options are only going to become more plentiful.

Despite the common refrain of a lack of competition, that complaint is mostly from a consumer point of view. From, say, Comcast's point of view, there is plenty of competition. In any major market, they are competing with other major providers like Verizon and AT&T, who also offer multiple modes of access: DSL, Fiber, Wireless. There are many consumers who do actually have a choice. In my view, it's enough to prevent egregiously anti-competitive behavior from providers.

And indeed - anti-competitive behavior seems to be the primary concern. But this is already regulated. The Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission already enforce these laws and have always been able to prosecute in the courts bad actors who violate antitrust laws as they occur.

Antitrust law and the standards applied by courts have been developed and refined over decades. In comparison, new regulations contain untested definitions and standards, which would be interpreted and enforced by constantly rotating commission.

Antitrust law governs the conduct of all participants in the internet marketplace uniformly, and prosecutes conduct once it occurs on a case-by-case basis and determines whether parties actually engaged in improper conduct. Regulation would only apply to a select group of entities, and is a one-size-fits-all approach that creates a burden on everyone regardless of whether they are acting unlawfully. And consumers often ultimately bear the cost of this regulation." (some paraphrasing)

http://thehill.com/special-reports/net-neutrality-september-16-2014/217862-use-antitrust-laws-not-regulations-to

To address Stack Overflow's interest directly: I think it is exceedingly unlikely that an ISP would apply the aforementioned bad practices. There is simply no reason, and no business model for them to do so.

Update: It seems like a good idea to address the claim of a lack of competition as a reason for Title II classifications - that somehow, the state of things in Internetlandia resembles the telephone networks and AT&T from the 1930s. I just don't see any evidence to suggest this is actually true. According to broadbandmap.gov:

nationalized distribution of fixed-line providers

nationalized distribution of wireless providers

It looks to me like there are actually very few people who have fewer than 4 providers available to them. I don't see why that's not enough to prevent the kind of bad behavior envisioned by proponents, in the main. It also bears repeating: improvements in wireless technology are changing this a lot, and for the better (in terms of access).

The downside

There are a few, but let's start with forbearance. Broadly speaking, government entities that have had the power to do something eventually do it. So the FCC promised to forbear from applying the most stringent parts of Title II (say, like rate fixing - which would be a disaster) - but I just don't trust that promise at all. Maybe Mr. Wheeler (the chairman in 2015) meant it earnestly, and it appears that he and the commission abided by that promise. Good for them. What happens when an entirely different commission decides, arbitrarily, that they will no longer forbear - something I view as all but inevitable if the rules stay in place? Do we want them to have arbitrary and capricious power over such an important part of the national infrastructure, and a service that over half the country has come to rely on? I don't.

Skorup makes a extends this argument further with a helpful example in National Affairs:

The FCC's tendencies, in the words of economist and judge Richard Posner, result in "unprincipled compromises of Rube Goldberg complexity among contending interest groups viewed merely as clamoring suppliants who have somehow to be conciliated." The discretion it reserves for itself undermines its work because its approval processes are frequently sidetracked by powerful interests in and outside of government. For example, one wireless company, LightSquared, spent billions of dollars converting satellite spectrum for use as mobile broadband, in the hopes of competing with AT&T and Verizon. The FCC tentatively encouraged that costly process for a few years before rescinding crucial permissions under intense political pressure. The bureaucratic shift immediately bankrupted LightSquared and deprived Americans of the benefits of another major wireless operator.

If the neutrality rules stick, I think it's likely that ISPs will lobby to have content providers regulated as well because in some respects they compete (say, Xfinity vs Netflix - or even Google vs Bing - or how about CDNs, which are effectively fast lanes) and they're going to work to negate competitive advantages that are held over them. The coiner of the term Net Neutrality also "argued in congressional testimony that the FCC should be charged with "protecting an open society," "safeguarding the political process," and prohibiting media companies from silencing political viewpoints." Another way to put that is: tell media companies (which would include Stack Overflow) what they are and are not allowed to publish on their distribution networks. I'm not for that.

Even "Lawrence Lessig penned a piece in 2008 for Newsweek titled, "It's Time to Demolish the FCC," in which he bemoaned the problems of industry capture and the FCC's increased politicization. Echoing many conservative complaints, he concluded that, when it comes to technology, there's an urgent need to "remove the government from the mix as much as possible."

Also, David Clark amusingly pointed out that a legal regime of net neutrality is seriously anti-investment, which is a common argument against it.

The way I prefer to think of it

My view is that the prior regime of antitrust enforcement coupled with letting free markets figure things out is the superior approach.

Part of why I think the blanket regulatory approach is a bad idea is that the nuts and bolts of how all this boils out is completely opaque to most people. How many people understand how peering works? What about CDNs? Datacenters? How do these things apply where all this stuff comes together? Was the Netflix v Comcast thing really an instance of bad behavior vis-à-vis network neutrality, or was it just an instance of a major provider trying its best to make its network work better, and a participant got its finger caught in the door (so to speak)? Did anyone notice that there weren't any antitrust enforcement actions against Comcast in that case - to me signifying that the way it ultimately worked out was far better than every internet participant having to shoulder the burden of blanket regulation.

To add to this point, definitions are very tricky too. Why isn't a CDN the same thing as "paid prioritization"? When Bittorrent was a really "impolite" program and absolutely crushing consumer networks, was it an anti-competitive action for ISPs to throttle it? Even the basic statement of principle on battleforthenet.com doesn't stand up to very much scrutiny: "Internet providers should not control what we see and do online". Taken literally, that would mean they couldn't manage their networks effectively.

Kayne and Layton very interestingly note in US News that Denmark, consistently a leader in connectivity and telecom services to consumers, doesn't have a centralized regulator like the FCC. They dismantled their centralized telecom regulator in 2011. "That Denmark's broadband market has flourished without centralized government regulation should be instructive to the United States. Clearly, top-down rules are not the only way to produce consumer friendly outcomes. "

To me this is a solution in search of a problem. Real problems include:

  • lack of deeper broadband penetration
  • lack of consumer choice

There are definitely others, but these are the ones that come to mind. The net neutrality rules don't help these problems, and I think I could make a case that they make them worse (regulatory capture, yadda yadda). Instead, we could try to figure out how to let municipalities build last-mile broadband infrastructure. We can get the FCC to auction off more of the wireless spectrum that the government is currently hogging. There are other better approaches to real problems that I think would have a more positive effect. They just take more work.

Anyway, there it is. I could go on and on and on, but this is already a wall o' text that only Shog is going to read anyway :-) Just to be clear, I am not wound up and anxious about this, and I don't think histrionics are appropriate responses to policy questions. If the FCC keeps the rules, we will muddle through. I think things will be a little worse if they do, but it's not the end of everything good and right. If they don't keep the rules, I think it's a step in the right direction, but that's about all.

P.S. - my apologies to upvoters who may now want to retract their votes (which is totally fine)

</opinion>

One last thing: good luck. Politics is hard.

  • 25
    While I agree with the desire expressed here to be careful in how we frame this, I gotta emphatically dispute the assertion that ISPs are currently not classified as Title II carriers. As with the current proposed rule-making, the change to classification was proposed in 2014. It was then voted on in February of 2015, passed, and issued on March 12, 2015 (PDF linked to there contains the two dissenting opinions). – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:36
  • 8
    In short, the classification and relevant rules (which, I should in fairness note, do not include all rules commonly applied to common carriers), have been active for over two years, sufficient time for at least the initial outcome to be observed and discussed. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:40
  • 15
    Well, I'm not gonna lie - I think revoking the current rules is a bad idea, and I'm gonna say that. I'm not gonna say you suck if you're against 'em, but I am gonna ask folks to come here and elaborate on their reasoning. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:57
  • 12
    I really appreciate this reasoned and measured response. As a software engineer who wears many hats at a small (~3k customers) ISP, I support the idea of what I think net neutrality is, but have thus far been able to technically define it. From what I have seen in our telephone subsidiary, the tons of regulations and red tape around telephone service should not be applied to the world of technology. (Our telephone subsidiary has merged with the rest of the company but has not renamed because it would be prohibitively expensive (thousands of dollars?) to file the paperwork.) – Azendale Jun 29 '17 at 23:49
  • 21
    ISPs sure seem to think there is incentive to do this. In fact, Verizon has even admitted in court they would do it if they could. Why else would they keep spending so much money trying to push the limits? freepress.net/blog/2017/04/25/… – Alexander O'Mara Jun 30 '17 at 6:00
  • 20
    “There is the one famous instance between Netflix and Comcast (which they resolved without the help of regulators).” So you would characterize an ISP sabotaging a customer and shaking them down for money, and the customer finally caving to their extortion, a satisfactory and healthy resolution? Kind of a case-in-point against your position, if that’s the kind of thing that’s being touted as the success of the unregulated position. – KRyan Jun 30 '17 at 14:21
  • 10
    @KRyan I don't agree with your characterization. It seems to me more the case Netflix content was having a huge impact on Comcasts networks, and in order to better serve their customers, they needed to come up with some peering arrangement that they could both live with, which they did, Netflix's public protestations notwithstanding. I see this very much in the same vein as a similar dispute between Comcast and Bit Torrent which was similarly resolved. Neither of these instances seem to me like an obvious gap that net neutrality would have helped. – Ben Collins Jun 30 '17 at 14:26
  • 22
    @Won't I’m a Comcast customer and a Netflix customer. A portion of what I am paying Comcast money for is to deliver Netflix content. Comcast’s sabotage not only affected Netflix—it affected me, too. In fact, during that time, I measured dramatically lower bandwidths than advertised when connecting to Netflix servers. In short, Comcast was not providing me with the service I was paying for at that time. And Comcast suffered absolutely nothing for doing so, and ISPs in generally routinely defraud their customers without any problems. Yes, I think we need net neutrality protect us from ISPs. – KRyan Jun 30 '17 at 15:11
  • 13
    @BenCollins How is it inaccurate to characterize dramatically slowing down a single company's traffic, with the sole purpose of intentionally disrupting the company and its consumers' ability to use the service that they're paying Comcast for, sabotage? How would you characterize it? – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 15:22
  • 9
    Its amazing both Comcast and Netflix are still around and their customers are still getting internet and movies for reasonable prices at reasonable speeds without the intervention of the federal government. How the hell did that happen without NN? – Won't Jun 30 '17 at 15:22
  • 22
    @Won't Comcast is still around because they have a monopoly, and their customers have no choice but to use them if they want internet access. Netflix is still around because they paid the extortion money, and then eventually the fact that they were extorted ended up coming out and as a result of the subsequent publicity improved regulations were passed to make the net more neutral to prevent such behavior from happening in the future, removing Netflix's need to continue paying the extortion money, thanks to the intervention of the federal government. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 15:25
  • 13
    @Won't Cable company monopolies is a part of the forefront here. Sadly, the industry itself is a natural monopoly. It's not a service that lends itself well to competition, as it requires a large and expensive infrastructure, which would need to be duplicated for real competition to exist, and expensive and inefficient solution. The common solution to natural monopolies in various domains (power, water, etc.) is government intervention. As far as extortion, there's a general definition of the term and a legal definition, that differ in a matter of degree. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 15:38
  • 20
    It's the network you - as a customer - are paying them for, @Ben. Managing congestion is a critical function of running that network; hamfisted restrictions meant to avoid having to manage congestion isn't. This calls back to the old days of AT&T, where you couldn't attach a 3rd-party phone or answering machine because (they claimed) it could harm the network in some way; in practice it amounted to a thin excuse to maintain a monopoly on expensive equipment rentals. – Shog9 Jun 30 '17 at 15:54
  • 11
    @BenCollins If they do a bad job of managing congestion then customers won't do a damn thing, because they have nowhere else to go, and their only choice is to just deal with it. It may be the outcome that you want for a major company to be forced to pay a bribe in order for a company to provide the services they had already been paid for, but that's not an outcome that many other people consider desirable, hence the regulation to prevent such behavior. You may not see how it's necessary or fair for a government to put policies in place for the benefit of society, but many others do. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 17:57
  • 25
    Thanks for spending the time to dig up data on this, Ben - vastly improves your post. I gotta quibble a bit with the charts you posted: much as I'm looking forward to the day when it isn't true, I cannot seriously consider wireless a competitor to wireline at this time: most providers have either extremely limited geographic coverage, extremely limited data caps, or both. Focusing solely on wireline, over half the country has <=2 providers; that's not a healthy competitive market. – Shog9 Jun 30 '17 at 22:05

I've always had trouble explaining what Net Neutrality is to people who do not work in tech. To aid in that explanation, I made this flyer which imagines a world where 'Neutrality' did not exist for electricity providers.

An analogy for Net Neutrality.

Here's a high quality PDF if you are more into that:

https://github.com/ryanpcmcquen/ryanpcmcquen.github.io/raw/master/assets/a_net_neutrality_analogy.pdf

  • 3
    this is a poor analogy. the whole argument is specifically centered around content, not something that is undifferentiable like electricity itself. we are talking specifically about content. your illustration is deceptive. – l--''''''---------'''''''''''' Jul 12 '17 at 17:11
  • 37
    The analogy is perfect. With neutrality, data is undifferentiated. Without, you are charged for each web service you consume. – Josh Caswell Jul 12 '17 at 19:05
  • but the "control" issue is specifically about CONTENT. it is directed towards specific resources. it is not a bandwidth issue. – l--''''''---------'''''''''''' Jul 12 '17 at 22:28
  • 2
    It most certainly is about bandwidth. ISP's throttling content was one of the core issues that brought all of this to light (comcast and other's treatment of torrents). While content censorship is also an issue, that is not what is currently at stake. This imagery is spot on. – Travis J Jul 12 '17 at 22:58
  • 3
    Don't want the hassle of a Fubar package? Simply switch providers! Leave your slow, local energy behind with the Premium FUBAR Subscription. Say goodbye to lights out, and hello to Fubar! – nope Jul 13 '17 at 3:05
  • What would have happened without being classified a utility is at this point pure conjecture. How do you know that unshackled, the power companies would not have innovated and already had superlative solar-panel roofs, energy storage devices and super-efficient HVAC systems? Competition - the fight for survival always wins. The FCC on the other hand is a monopoly. Are you going to similarly argue for phone makers to be regulated as a utility? – Καrτhικ Jul 13 '17 at 12:12
  • @Καrτhικ I think the point is that, if a big, complex infrastructure is required, it's next to impossible for start-ups to do it. Therefore it can often only be done by one company. There's a choice: monopoly or utility. For water, electricity etc. utility was chosen. For internet, monopoly <del>was chosen</del> <ins>grew <del>organically</del> <ins>however it grew</ins></ins>. – wizzwizz4 Jan 6 at 19:22

Net Neutrality is really important, and I don't disagree with your motives. But I just have to call this out:

So if there's a chance at influencing the outcome of that vote, we gotta speak out now.

There isn't any such chance.

Republicans, both in Congress and on the FCC, have been consistently opposed to Net Neutrality in its current form (Title II) since at least 2015 if not substantially earlier. The current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, strongly criticized the Title II plan both before and after it passed, and has been specifically planning this repeal since at least April.

But let's suppose one of the other two Republicans on the Commission somehow defects (one of them voted the same way as Pai in 2015, and the other worked under him, so this is wildly unlikely). Then what happens?

The White House doesn't seem to like Net Neutrality. Neither do the Republicans who control both houses of Congress. At any time, they could pass a law rescinding Net Neutrality from the FCC's purview. If by some miracle the FCC fails to repeal the regulations directly, Congress will certainly attempt this course of action. Whether they would succeed is a bit of an open question, seeing as the Democratic caucus controls 48 seats in the Senate (incl. Independents) and can filibuster.

Regardless, however, the chances for Net Neutrality look pretty grim right now. So what can we do about it?

  • This is a marathon, not a sprint: We should be planning ahead for 2018, 2020, and beyond. Focusing too much on the present is liable to leave us fatigued and discouraged when it comes time for a more winnable battle.
  • Net Neutrality was never the whole solution: Improving the broadband market will never be down to a single policy or a single vote. There are other proposals we can and should draw attention to, such as last-mile unbundling. Unbundling in particular is more easily sold to consumers, who may not be receptive to the indirect, market-driven benefits of Net Neutrality (but can easily understand "you'll have more broadband options").
  • Go state-by-state: If the feds are against you, work on the states. A number of states currently have laws prohibiting municipal broadband. Previously, the FCC tried to preempt these laws, but failed in the courts. So this battle has to be fought at the state level anyway.
  • 3
    Downvoted because this essentially reduces the conversation to "well, we don't have to have a rationale for our actions, they won't listen anyway!". If you intend to retain moral high ground, you must be able to defend it. Throwing away your reasons and knowledge in favor of blatent partisanship does not make your position stronger; it alienates those who might have listened to you. While it may feel better, it will only hurt your cause in the long run. Your solutions at the bottom also have nothing to do with SE or the proposed blog post. – Knetic Jun 30 '17 at 4:53
  • 27
    @Knetic: What are you even talking about? I'm not trying to justify anything in the first place. This answer is about political strategy, not moral high ground. – Kevin Jun 30 '17 at 5:09
  • 7
    @Kevin Consider that you're speaking as if to a purely liberal audience. Many members of stack exchange are actually not liberal and will probably still vote for the GOP after this, but may want to know a way in which to influence their representatives on this issue regardless. – Magisch Jun 30 '17 at 8:26
  • 4
    @Magisch If you find a way, we are all ears, really! It's ridiculous difficult changing someone's mind once it's made up, unless they are open to change. So, how to to influence their representatives? Elect someone that is open to be influenced with reasonable arguments and take decisions based on facts, it seems like the only way. – Braiam Jun 30 '17 at 12:26
  • I'd like to know why states are preempting local communities from establishing municipal broadband. From what I've read, most communities that have municipal broadband enjoy greater speeds and lower prices than those that do not! – Zarepheth Jul 14 '17 at 0:50
  • @Zarepheth It cuts into the profits of private ISPs and thus they lobby against it on the state level. – JAB Nov 24 '17 at 3:47

What about non-US citizens?

It's like the whole internet is forgetting there are people from other countries out there who don't have any say (or at least it doesn't seem like they do) in these "letters to important people in power". What can we do?

I've read on many reddit threads that if you're not a USian, you can donate to EFF, but I'm not sure about that either.


What can we do if this doesn't work out?

It seems like we're going to a gun fight with a tiny plastic butter knife from a child's toy house set, if even that. But in this metaphor it's our internet comments vs very real and substantial money deals between large corporations and institutions. Do you think we can simply convince them with our words?

And as a pessimist, at this point in history of the world and the US in particular (talkin bout politics, yes) I'm more interested in the ways around this issue, should shit hit the fan.

The current structure of internet entities, as it is described even in this post, suggests that with all the decentralization that should in theory have been the base of every online service and site, doesn't exist in practice, and is a rare exception instead. Like this bit of technical info from the question:

[…] this is where our servers live so any additional headaches when it comes to providing access are gonna be a problem.

And it's not a secret that a lot of the US has only one or at best two ISPs in the area to connect to the rest of the world with. It's bad for competition and it's especially bad for when all of your 1 or 2 available providers turn evil and block or slow you down.

So, should every important site and service on the internet decentralize so that problems in one node don't result in problems everywhere?

I'm not an internet architechnician, but I'd like to learn about this aspect of the problem. Just to be better informed and possibly even prepared.

  • 18
    The problem is at the other end. Say you get your Internet service from Comcast. And say they decide that they want you to buy your streaming video from them, not from Netflix So they slow down the traffic coming from Netflix to your house. This has nothing to do with where Netflix's servers are. If you're Netflix you can probably pay the fee that Comcast demands to let your traffic through unhindered; if you're some indie video site, you probably can't. And while that much is a US problem, the secondary effects -- like Netflix raising fees to cover that cost -- affect everyone. – Monica Cellio Jun 30 '17 at 2:28
  • @MonicaCellio, but that doesn't cover the other side of the coin. If Comcast wants to set up new, faster infrastructure to stream their own video service (which would be a much lower cost than setting up faster infrastructure for everyone), would they be able to legally do so? I think not. Even if the end result would have been (a) sufficient profits from their streaming service to (b) incentivize the creation of the accelerated infrastructure in the first place and (c) enough money and experience in dealing with the new infrastructure at small scale to (d) make it available broadly. – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 3:08
  • 2
    @Wildcard yeah, I don't know those answers either. I was just trying to explain why it's not as easy as moving servers. – Monica Cellio Jun 30 '17 at 3:59
  • @MonicaCellio, ah, well that is certainly true. :) It's really an amazingly multifaceted issue—the least clear-cut of any modern hot button, in my opinion. – Wildcard Jun 30 '17 at 4:03
  • 3
    @MonicaCellio so, you're saying that no matter what kind of means of obfuscating where I'm trying to download my traffic from (VPN/Tor), if it's not from the "approved" places by my ISP (assuming I'm in the US, and it may be very well Comcast), it will get slowed down? Sounds to me like the only screwed citizens in this scenario are US citizens, as we're talking FCC which has no power outside US (granted, their decision might affect other countries, but not as much as US). Other countries may still have their own regulations in place against this kinda stuff. – user1306322 Jun 30 '17 at 7:43
  • 4
    "if you're not a USian, you can donate to EFF, but I'm not sure about that either." It's certainly possible to donate (a single time, or recurring) to the EFF even though you have nothing to do with the USA. – a CVn Jun 30 '17 at 11:24
  • 2
    @user1306322 remember that the internet has many layers, and some of them are kind of the only route between both points. If someone along the line wants to, they can screw anyone that pass through their network. – Braiam Jun 30 '17 at 12:29
  • 1
    @Braiam then we should strive to have more than just 1 route of communication between important points? Wifi or similar close-ranged mesh networking comes to mind as a potential solution, in absence of alternative high-speed wired connections. – user1306322 Jun 30 '17 at 12:59
  • 1
    @user1306322 which would be a cost and management nightmare. On infrastructure, it's recommended that the state regula.. nay, control it, like electricity, health, transport, etc. You cannot trust private interest to not use the leverage that brings natural monopolies to further their benefits. – Braiam Jun 30 '17 at 13:30
  • 5
    @MonicaCellio It's a problem at both ends (and in between). The ISP can not only stifle a competing services just before it reaches the consumer, but also between that competing services' servers and the backbone, or any time traffic from that competing service goes through any part of the network they control (even if they aren't directly servicing either endpoint). That means that this is most certainly relevant for foreigners, because access to those competing services can still be impacted before they leave the country (unless the competing service has servers outside the US). – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 13:45
  • 2
    I wonder if there's a completely decentralized solution, like a mesh of a huge number of nodes with a long range and no dependency on wires. Where the users don't rely on a single or even as little as <10 connections. Wifi seems too weak for achieving that. Maybe a mesh of LTE/4/5G wireless routers and access points? Latency and bandwidth aside, I'd like to learn about such potential options in case a local ISP goes rogue. – user1306322 Jun 30 '17 at 15:36
  • 3
    Strange to think that back when ARPANet was put together it was designed to maintain as good as possible as much as possible of the interconnectivity between the connected Hosts - so that should some links fail in, say, the unfortunate occurrence of something like a nuclear war the remainder would still get their packets through what remained in the network via even a tortuous route. Now it seems the FCC is trying to work exactly in the opposite direction - at least for those who are unwilling/unable to pay for "enhanced" access to the system. – SlySven Jul 12 '17 at 4:52
  • 1
    On a personal note I am seeing this sort of effect here in the UK! I have an Internet Connected PVR from YouView however my ISP/Cable TV Virgin Media operator is not one of the Media companies involved - they have their own Cable TV receivers which duplicates most of the functionality in a different way that YouView provides. However because of "differences in interpreting" a protocol or something the on-line functions of the PVR are totally crippled & useless with neither taking the blame/or fixing it. – SlySven Jul 12 '17 at 5:07
  • @SlySven: I'm on BT and they hijack DNS requests, rewriting all A-record requests to point to two of their servers, unless you use BT's own DNS which has censorship, and which redirects you to adware sites for non-existent domains instead of giving error/no response (breaking some software that expects RFC-complaint DNS). After weeks of phone calls BT have still not "been able to find the problem"... – Mark K Cowan Jul 12 '17 at 12:20
  • 1
    @cr0 there is apparently a way to use wifi with special towers to make a mesh network with flat hierarchy and thus low latency. The real world examples I've read about are still dependent on the existing bigger ISPs' backbone, but theoretically you could interconnect such wifi mesh towns with optic cables, if you ever got a permit to place the cable. Wifi doesn't seem to require permissions, but as always, local radiotelecommunication laws differ. – user1306322 Dec 1 '17 at 8:41

In India

Facebook introduced a scheme called Freebasics in which Facebook and some other sites will cooperate with a carrier called Reliance and provide free access to selected sites. At that time, around 70 sites. Many carriers, as well as websites, come against this saying it will kill net neutrality. They gave free access to some sites for users of specific carriers.

Later the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) asked them to stop doing this. The TRAI is an authority run under Indian Government and control everything related to Telecom (The Internet as well).

In India, there are some rules, but India never supports a Priority-based speed for customers.

Another one is JIO

Mukesh Ambany introduced a Telecom Company called JIO which provided everything for free for more than a year. First, they provided free service to their employees (in beta phase). Then, to people having selected brand smartphones (Samsung and LYF). Finally, it is opened to the public.

Sometime later, all other companies united and complained to TRAI and TRAI first refused it. Afterward, all companies cut off their prices in order to keep their customers with them.

Because JIO gave free internet (100 Mbps while tested, and 24-26 Mbps in the production phase), free voice and video calls, 100's of free TV channels, free music, movies, and everything, TRAI asked JIO to stop this plan in May and then JIO changed the name of the plan and giving it also for free.

India doesn't have such very strict rules on the Internet

However, if the ISP is able to prioritize users based on the amount they pay and serve them data based on that,

It will kill the internet. It will not only affect SO

It will affect many big companies having the server located in the US only.

And for sure, it will not only affect the US citizen. All of us. People from all over the world.

  • 8
    What goes into USA is blindly ported to India for some reason. Better it is stopped at its origin. – Firelord Jun 30 '17 at 16:10
  • We Indian has also applied for online petition and show our strict opinion for net Net Neutrality. And by this, the Airtel and many other operators have to step back for this type of actions. TRAI has also supported for equality thewire.in/21301/… – Sagar007 Jul 12 '17 at 4:18
  • It's been going for quite a while and many have supported net neutrality by signing the petition. But then they made the emails public, of those who signed. – ABcDexter Jul 12 '17 at 6:32
  • @Firelord: What goes into USA is blindly ported over the whole world in a matter of months at longest. It's long overdue for people of the world to acknowledge that the one world government is already alive and kicking, and that it's not something that proverbial 'conspiracy theorists' make up to amuse themselves. And first and foremost, people have to understand that this entity is anything but our friend. Without acknowledging this, humankind falls divided (yes, a 'one world' hypocrisy actually works by dividing, not uniting us) and loses everything, little by little. – sunny moon Jul 12 '17 at 13:30
  • "It will kill the internet." The US only just got net neutrality regulation. The internet isn't suddenly going to crumble because it's being removed again. I argue that there are other regulations that have created a situation where people incorrectly conclude that net neutrality regulation will help. This regulation is a bad idea that is being held up as a solution to problems that were caused by previous bad ideas. – SuperJer Jul 12 '17 at 23:19

Here's an attempt to distill all this down to a few sentences:

I want my ISP to invest my money in making my connection faster. Not spend it finding ways to make more money by selectively making my connection slower.

That's what we need regulation to prevent. Because if we don't prevent it, they're not going to leave that money on the table. You might think competition would make this an impossible business plan. It would, if we had that.

  • 3
    That is indeed one of the (can I say 'emotional'?) arguments for net neutrality: ISP should not double-dip. They already get consumers money for providing a connection. – Jan Doggen Jul 1 '17 at 18:41
  • You are saying for-profit companies looking for ways to make more profit is bad? Why should you get to decide how they spend their money? You don't see them looking in your wallet? – Weckar E. Jul 3 '17 at 7:49
  • 5
    @WeckarE. I'm saying a well regulated market is preferable to a peasant uprising where we kill all the rich people and make a musical about it. – candied_orange Jul 3 '17 at 8:08
  • 5
    @CandiedOrange, maybe having a proper market first would be a good idea? From the sounds of it, the major problem for lots of the US is no competition. – Benjol Jul 3 '17 at 9:44
  • 2
    @WeckarE. Of course it's bad. Pareto efficiency is only achieved in efficient markets. A necessary (but not sufficient) condition for efficient markets is the presence of sufficient competition. ISP markets are oligopolistic and are therefore inherently incapable of achieving Pareto efficiency without external intervention, i.e. regulation. Given the economies of scale and infrastructure costs inherent in providing ISP services, one should expect that the market will always be oligopolistic. Therefore regulation of said market will always be necessary, because otherwise the profit-seeking – Chill2Macht Jul 12 '17 at 9:37
  • 6
    You might think competition would make this an impossible business plan. It would, if we had that. A thousand times this. – zero298 Jul 12 '17 at 14:22
  • You might think competition would make this an impossible business plan. It would, if we had that. I totally agree. However with net neutrality regulation, we're asking the people who are responsible for the restriction of competition to add more restrictions to fix it, when instead, they could just as easily allow competition again. – SuperJer Jul 12 '17 at 22:53
  • @SuperJer That sounds like a better plan, but that's the first I've heard of it. How could they allow competition without stealing the infrastructure from the companies that own it? – wizzwizz4 Jan 6 at 19:41
  • @wizzwizz4 Allow parallel infrastructure on public rights-of-way. If you require that a company assures physical installation does not affect other utilities, does not unduly blight public spaces, and will not be abandoned without being removed, you have a good start on your requirements. – SuperJer Jan 8 at 0:48
  • Infrastructure is expensive. Even for Google. – wizzwizz4 Jan 8 at 7:47

I am sorry but I have a hard time understanding how this influences Stack Overflow and me as an user of the site (from outside the US in my case). I have read the article but it is still a bit unclear to me.

What exactly does it mean if the rules change? Does it influence businesses (aka SO), does it influence US citizens or everyone else too? Does this go further than a political standpoint as we have seen in the past of SO? What is the part of the proposal that should worry me?

I would gladly give my opinion on this, but I don't feel I am qualified enough to do so at this moment.

  • 55
    This influences/involves SE because they are not a large internet provider in the U.S., which means their provider could say "you need to pay us _______ additional or you might start mysteriously losing service." – 202_accepted Jun 29 '17 at 20:24
  • 48
    Even better: competing sites could bribe (legally!) ISP's to prioritize their traffic rover SE. – 202_accepted Jun 29 '17 at 20:28
  • 6
    Both, in this case. – 202_accepted Jun 29 '17 at 20:35
  • 33
    At some point every single request has to pass through our Internet provider wherever our servers are. So if that provider decided to do something mischievous, it would affect every single user, all over the world. – animuson Jun 29 '17 at 20:38
  • 22
    @PatrickHofman Unfortunately that's not a reality Americans can enjoy. Many places in the US only have one or two options for who they get Internet from. If your provider doesn't want to sign contracts, then you don't get Internet because there's no one else to go to. – animuson Jun 29 '17 at 20:39
  • 21
    This is, admittedly, a difficult topic to explain in a way that is particularly understandable (much less compelling). The immediate danger is that ISPs (companies that provide service to businesses or individuals) will either block access to sites or artificially slow down access in hope of garnering more revenue (from either/both the site owner or those connecting to the site). The broader danger is that if you stop thinking of ISPs as "common carriers" - akin to, say, a postal service - then you eventually end up with a series of walled gardens where everyone has to negotiate access. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 20:40
  • 8
    @PatrickHofman Because those are all restrictions on the provider end. Classifying them as Tier II allows the FCC (our communications governing body) to restrict these companies from creating an SLA, for example, that would provide 'Experts Exchange' with a higher priority than Stack Exchange. If we reclassify as Tier I, then that is a legal SLA/contract. By considering them 'common carriers' the risk for abuse is reduced slightly. – 202_accepted Jun 29 '17 at 20:41
  • 18
    It also gives the ISP the ability to not only block or slow access for monetary gain, but to do so to serve their own political agenda. They could, for example, block or slow access to any site that advocates for a free internet, or anything else that isn't in their own interests. – Servy Jun 29 '17 at 20:43
  • 21
    @GaneshSittampalam Of course there's a contract, but having no other competition means that the provider can give you whatever contract they want under whatever terms they like, and you can either agree to it or not have Internet. Trying to negotiate more favorable terms that prohibit the provider from doing something you wouldn't like just isn't an option in most cases. – animuson Jun 29 '17 at 21:03
  • 17
    @GaneshSittampalam I'm not aware of the options in the locations where our data centers are, but yes, many places in the US do only have one or two options and they tend not to care about creating custom contracts. They certainly don't compete with each other. – animuson Jun 29 '17 at 21:13
  • 5
    @GaneshSittampalam That's mostly for consumer-facing communications. My city, for example, has two providers that service the block I live on (which is in the centre of the city!), and I'm not a fan of either. (They shall both rename nameless.) If the one I use (which is a 50/50 guess, so pretty damn easy) were to be bribed to service SE lower than something else, well that's a problem for me, but maybe not you. Or it could be? Who knows. The biggest issue is that this would create unreliability across the board, domestically and internationally. – 202_accepted Jun 29 '17 at 21:15
  • 11
    @GaneshSittampalam Of course "just move to a new data center" is easier said than done. Such a move would bear a financial cost of 8 or 9 figures, probably. And that's not considering the technical load and workers they have to have to manage such a thing. – TylerH Jun 29 '17 at 21:27
  • 8
    @GaneshSittampalam A small number of providers service the entire country, and in most cases they each have their own geographic region(s). Likewise, that ISP that you just choose to spite (that may well provide access to tens of millions of people) could still limit traffic to your site for any of their customers, or any traffic going to you that goes through them (likely quite a lot of it) for being unwilling to play ball. The small handful of providers are also highly incentivised to cooperate, rather than compete, in such situations. – Servy Jun 29 '17 at 21:28
  • 8
    I'd originally written something much, much longer @Ben - there's a ton of history here, both directly (the 1996 revisions to the communication act attempted a different compromise which was later partially dismantled) and indirectly (predicting outcome based on hypotheticals is dodgy, but we can look at predecessors to the Internet and similar markets to gauge how current actors will likely behave). That's when I realized I'd rather put this up for discussion: listening to me ramble on about Compuserve isn't nearly as engaging as encouraging folks to share their own stories. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:47
  • 10
    @BenCollins You say, "costs associated with changes" and yet the current regulations are for the net to be free. The people arguing for changes are the ones who are arguing for the ability of ISPs to engage in abusive behavior. You are the one arguing for a change, and a change that has no benefits. (Your "best case scenario" is nothing happens and ISPs don't actually leverage their ability to discriminate against people, as opposed to them deciding to use the permission you're proposing giving them to legally engage in such actions.) – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 2:09

Let me preface this by stating that I am all for net neutrality. However, I am strongly against the government defining, requiring, regulating, or enforcing it.

History

Back in the '90s this debate raged as well. However, it had a different focus. Dialup ISPs competed for your business by offering lower prices, better features, or faster speed. Some of them, noticing a market need, even advertised that they were 'net neutral', promising the same priority to site X as to site Y, at no additional cost. Net neutrality was a good thing, and was willfully adopted by ISPs seeking to attract subscribers.

The Effect

Why did this happen? Why were ISPs bending over backward? The answer is competition. You could easily take your business literally to any ISP you wanted in less than an hour of time spent on the phone.

Why does this no longer happen? What is it now that makes ISPs complacent, threatening higher costs for certain services, limiting your bandwidth, and generally assuming you won't be taking your business elsewhere? The answer as you might expect, is the complete lack of competition. You can't take your business elsewhere. Everyone knows that if you want respectable internet speeds, you have to go with cable (or fiber in some places). Unfortunately, that means you have only one option, and depending on your location, that single option is going to be Comcast, Mediacom, or if you're kinda lucky, some local cable outfit. This is because there is only one cable provider in any given area.

The Cause

There are SO MANY CAUSES as to why we each only get one company to choose from when we want cable internet. Or DSL. Or some of us now, fiber. Some of it dates back 80+ years to regulations that were implemented federally to prevent too many carriers from running too many wires between towns, and between houses and businesses. Some of it is related to city regulation and planning under those same auspices, resulting in bidding wars and ultimately one choice. Some of it also is due to corruption (Legal, usually, but still corruption. See: 'kickbacks')

Like so many other well-intentioned regulations, the net neutrality regulations will bring us worse internet for more money. Or at the very least, hold us back technologically. Building out infrastructure that can support half an ISP's clients using Netflix simultaneously requires lots of money. Ideally, those that are causing the need for that infrastructure improvement would pay for it (be that Netflix, the ISP's subscribers who use it, or both). Mandating net neutrality basically ensures that ALL the ISP clients will pay, whether they use it or not, and Netflix doesn't need to do anything.

The Solution

So what's the answer? Asking the FCC to mandate net neutrality is like asking the guy who broke your arm (whether on purpose or by accident) to build you a cast for it. It would have been better to not have the broken arm in the first place, and the guy we're asking is probably the least qualified to fix it anyway. He'll likely just break your other arm when he's done, all the while asking, "You have a cast now. Isn't that better?"

We need to look beyond the net neutrality regulation's initial perceived benefit. Removing it is a good thing, but it's only part of the solution. The petition to the FCC shouldn't be to leave 'Net Neutrality' instated, but to remove the other regulations that are leaving us without choices.

We also need to be outraged at any city government who would trade individual choice for kickbacks, or who would hide behind the net neutrality debate as a way of dodging the criticism they've earned themselves.

Conclusion

There's a way out of this. However, too many people are espousing actions too similar to the ones that got us here in the first place. It's easy to say, "Yeah, the internet should be 'net neutral'." But until the landscape of our infrastructure regulation changes, it's impossible to say, "You know what? I'm taking my dollars to the company who gives me the most value." We've seen this problem solved before, but now we're asking the wrong people to solve it again in the wrong way.

Net neutrality has existed in the wild before, and I think we're smart enough to get back to it without asking the perpetrators of its demise to mandate its blessing. There would be so many benefits to doing it this way.

  • 5
    Be careful about anthropomorphizing "government"; leads to some really bizarre analogies. The actual history here, as you know, is bizarre enough. That said, real competition would be infinitely better than a handful of weakly-enforced rules... The danger right now is that we can quite easily end up with neither! – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 16:42
  • 2
    @Shog9 I don't know. As a whole, if you averaged all of our government and distilled it down, I think you'd end up with a pretty solid picture of an incompetent person gathering power around himself, while thinking he's doing the rest of humanity a big favor by doing so. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 16:49
  • 3
    Whether or not that's the case, that isn't what we have in practice. We don't drink a homogeneous "Gov't milkshake"; we get different people doing different things at different times. Hence the massively inconsistent approach to telecom over the past 40 years, wherein TPTB encourage competition for a while, then crush it; encourage consumer protection for a while, then call open season; encourage growth, then encourage decay. – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 16:59
  • 3
    My approach to most any nation-wide issue is to decentralize the solution. The problem with the FCC is that when the fix fixes it for everyone, there's no test/control comparison to see whether it even worked. There's also a suspicious correlation between the growth of our federal government, its unelected regulatory bodies, and the size of company monopolies. Put the control back closer to where the individual has effective say, and a lot of these problems get solved. Have the big government debate, but have it in smaller batches with more accountability. FCC+Net Neutrality isn't this. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 17:08
  • 4
    There's something to that, but I kinda doubt we'll be seeing a Bell-sized break-up any time soon. In the meantime, I've watched local governments try to negotiate with national corporations, and it has generally ended with the locals getting a raw deal. All but the largest cities have vastly inferior resources to what a company like Comcast can bring to bear. – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 17:32
  • 2
    @Shog9 And I think I might disagree about the milkshake. Until it's brought down a notch, government at the federal level is out of control no matter who is in charge. People seeking power always spells aggravation for those who don't. Hence my insistence that local and state government should actually be higher authority than the federal government. Laboratory of the State and all. I think some smart men back in the day mentioned something about that. I think the Net Neutrality regs debate would be a drop in the bucket of their concerns over the FCC and what it has become. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 17:32
  • 2
    @Shog9 RE: local gov vs. big corp: A lot of that is due to the subsidized monopoly backing of the federal government. Though I agree with most who say we'll never know for sure. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 17:34
  • 6
    As a philosophical point... The federal government was supposed to mainly be concerned with interstate trade. If we had more local companies working together with national interconnection providers, I'd be happy to see the feds concern themselves with the latter and stay the hell away from the former... But that ain't what we have. – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 17:36
  • 4
    Bingo. Highfive. – SuperJer Jul 2 '17 at 17:38
  • 3
    What most troubles me about this line of reasoning is the underlying subtle-yet-toxic contempt for government that has slowly pervaded the US body politic since the Reagan administration. Without some government oversight, a free market cannot be counted on to become or remain a fair market. The Net Neutrality issue is sure to prove to be a case in point. – Eric Lloyd Jul 12 '17 at 5:58
  • 8
    @EricLloyd Oh, I'm not subtle about my toxic contempt. But don't confuse contempt for bloated, uncontrollable federal government with contempt for government in general. When a state or local government implements a bad idea, it can be fixed or abandoned. When the federal government implements a bad idea, it's a catastrophe. Bad ideas need to be able to fail, and the federal government offers the least opportunity for this, but the greatest consequences. – SuperJer Jul 12 '17 at 11:46

One note regarding the execution of whatever the result will be of this discussion: make sure you're anticipating that small subset of the user base who do not agree with consensus/eventual decision. There are even users who feel oppressed when SO publicly endorses civil rights, so it should be expected that a non-trivial amount of people will disagree with what I expect will turn out to be a site-wide vast support of net neutrality.

You will either have to act in a way that doesn't implicitly represent users who disagree, or be prepared to lose them. This divide has arisen multiple times (whenever SO the company made official statements outside of programming or other relevant scopes). Any decision of the company to handle this conflict is fine, but it should be a conscious one.

  • 8
    I get push-back when I announce the results of elections. I always expect some negativity; at the end of the day, I'd rather say what I think and catch flack for it than say what I don't and still catch flack. – Shog9 Jun 29 '17 at 22:42
  • 11
    @Shog oh, flak is one thing:) But I've seen the aftermath (overstatement, but you probably know what I mean) of the LGBTQ rights event, and I saw the reaction to Joel's recent post. I don't think anyone minds if you express your opinions; it seems to me that what some people object to is if they feel represented by said expressions of opinions. Not that it should matter, but I'm happily represented by these statements, and I wouldn't mind if there were more of them. But these political frictions are what might actually drive users away. – Andras Deak Jun 29 '17 at 22:45
  • 8
    Needless to say, I wouldn't want to hang with the users who are driven away by these gestures, but SO is supposed to be built around expertise and technical subjects, so the fact that I completely disagree with these people is irrelevant; what matters is that they help build the knowledge base that is SO (and the SE network in general). – Andras Deak Jun 29 '17 at 22:52
  • 5
    This is what I can't stand, all the political messaging on this site is costal groupthink, the kind of garbage that got Brandon Eich fired. Nobody has brought up here that they want to regulate the content of the Internet and make it more like broadcast media. And in the end we'll need licenses to have websites, podcast and blog. – Peter Turner Jun 30 '17 at 15:35
  • 3
    @PeterTurner Brendan Eich wasn't fired. He resigned. Also, if you have something new nobody has brought up, you should post an answer. Just remember, [citation needed]. – Alexander O'Mara Jun 30 '17 at 23:19
  • 4
    @alex I have posted a not so well recived answer already. As for Eich, I'd say they made it might unconfortable for him for reasons having nothing to do with his ability to perform his duties - worse than being fired. – Peter Turner Jul 1 '17 at 2:40
  • 3
    I don't think anyone minds if you express your opinions - It seemed like plenty of people minded, especially on the last one. Some were "don't speak for me" but some were just "No, shut up" and some were "don't speak for me, oh but there's no way for you to say it in a way I won't insist you're trying to represent me so shut up". – BSMP Jul 1 '17 at 7:36
  • 2
    @BSMP What I meant was "if you express your opinion, people who disagree will hate you" as opposed to rage-quitting for political reasons which can be the result of feeling misrepresented. Let's face it: most people already have a solid opinion of Shog9 ;) – Andras Deak Jul 1 '17 at 10:07
  • @chill dude nobody's opinions matter more. That is not how our government works. – Peter Turner Jul 12 '17 at 11:36
  • @PeterTurner I would agree that nobody's opinions matter more. I suppose I am upset about whose opinions politicians spend more lip service pretending to care about than others, but that actually is fairly pointless, i.e. complaining about whose opinions representatives bother to pretend to represent the most. Hopefully the robots manage to make a perfect society for themselves after they kill us all, although I doubt it, since we would be the ones who made them, and therefore they will be indelibly tainted to some extent with the remnants of our own flaws. – Chill2Macht Jul 12 '17 at 11:58
  • 2
    As a dissenter, standing strongly opposed to net neutrality regulation, I'm not troubled in the least by OP's 'question', or the fact that SE is used as a platform for its publication. I have no right to SE, and I will continue using it for as long as it's available to me and serves my needs. – SuperJer Jul 12 '17 at 23:13
  • 1
    Regardless of politics, good to have you on board, @SuperJer :) – Andras Deak Jul 13 '17 at 0:20
  • I personally get annoyed when companies, not prominent individuals who work for companies, make public declarations on politics that has no relation to their business. SE has an opinion on net neutrality? Makes perfect sense. SE has an opinion on some civil issue? Makes no sense. Bad example: Starbucks. Just make the effing coffee. Mixed example: NFL kneeling players. I feel like "just play the effing game", but I understand these are individual players, not team owners or the NFL. Good example: most companies that just make a good product/service. – fredsbend Dec 8 at 18:49

For folks getting their viewpoints from insular sources (StackExchange being one of them), please consider reading these two articles written from a different viewpoint.

In The FCC’s ‘Open Internet Rules’ Make the Internet Less Open, Ian Tuttle, writing for the National Review, asserts:

Relevant portion:

Net neutrality was always a solution looking for a problem. When, in 2010, the FCC announced its first extensive regulations on ISPs (what would become the core of the 2015 rules), it could cite just four examples of anticompetitive behavior, all relatively minor. In 2005, for example, a North Carolina telephone company blocked the Internet phone service Vonage. In 2007, Comcast slowed down (“throttled”) the operations of file-sharing service BitTorrent.

and its potential dangerous impact:

None of this was necessary. There was very little evidence that ISPs were engaging in the sorts of malpractice that net neutrality was designed to prevent — and even if they had been, it would not have followed that reclassification was the proper remedy. In fact, a more honest appraisal of the sequence of events is that the Obama administration and left-wing activists succeeded in pressuring the FCC into a maximal power-grab that is likely to do much more damage to Internet freedom than Comcast was doing. Why is the FCC’s monopoly not as concerning as that of any given ISP?

In A Truly ‘Open Internet’ Would Be Free of Burdensome FCC Regulation, Brent Skorup, writing for the National Review, observes:

The substance of the new rules is almost immaterial, save one, the “general conduct” rule, which with vague language swallows all the others and allows the agency to investigate and prohibit any online service, app, or business practice that it determines is “unreasonable.” When asked which activities the Internet-conduct standard could regulate, the FCC’s then-Democratic chairman replied that “we don’t really know.”

That quote, from then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler at a press conference shortly after the current rules went into effect when questioned on the general conduct rule, reads in full:

We don’t really know. We don’t know where things will go next. We have created a playing field where there are known rules, and the FCC will sit there as a referee and will throw the flag.

(source: Obamanet’s Regulatory Farrago, L. Gordon Crovitz writing for WSJ's "Information age" opinion section)

  • Great answer. I would only quibble with calling stack exchange an echo chamber. Your answer gives minority opinion, but here it sits with 18 up votes and visibility commensurate with those votes. – fredsbend Dec 8 at 19:13
  • If you want a good example of an echo chamber on this issue, read the comments on any article from ars technica about FCC or Ajit Pai. They are viciously hostile against dissenting minority opinions. I quit the site because of it. – fredsbend Dec 8 at 19:14

The practical downside for YOU

Many people fail to see the practical application of this. Here it is:

From the consumer side, ISPs could:

  • charge you money to access certain sites (google, facebook, etc)
  • slow block sites that they don't like (sites for net neutrality, etc.)
  • slow down sites that they compete with (making netflix lag so their streaming service is faster)

From the website owner side, ISPs could (for US-based sites):

  • Threaten (legally) to prioritize a competitor's website unless they pay (SO/SE is really slow, ExpertsExchange is fast)
  • Block incoming traffic altogether for certain sites (like battleforthenet.com or SE) because they don't like them

But I'm not in America, so this doesn't affect me!

Wrong. Do you use any sites that use American servers? (yes you do, you are viewing this.) Therefore you can and will be affected.

  • Many countries have state regulators to prevent such abuses. It worked in EU against Microsoft, it worked in Russia against Google. Make a regulator for the internet - problem solved, no foreign help needed. – Abyx Jul 12 '17 at 21:46
  • @Abyx That was the intent of the net neutrality rules. – JAB Nov 24 '17 at 3:29

tl;dr- Net neutrality's core economic value is that it regulates a common service that everyone uses to operate in a manner that's generally palatable to all. This saves everyone tons of time-and-effort at minimal opportunity cost.

Any proposed change to net neutrality should demonstrate that it:

  1. Has a real economic benefit, e.g. by significantly increasing the positive correlation between desired market behavior and profit maximization.

  2. Doesn't impart a large economic penalty on consumers, e.g. by minimally complicating the economic question of "Which ISP, if any, is right for me?" for the vast majority of consumers.

  3. Doesn't impart a large societal penalty, e.g. by minimally causing social/political/legal conflict, or, ideally, reducing such conflict. Both society and the market take huge hits whenever such battles rage.


Ideal market vs. real market

In principle, it'd be better if all market participants were free to do whatever they want, allowing rational consumers to engage in the economy as they desire. Then, arguably, some regulations could exist to prevent blatantly unethical behaviors, e.g. organized crime.

In reality, people aren't "rational consumers" because we're cognitively limited. We're not able to research-and-analyze all of our options at length, then come to an optimal decision after eons of careful consideration. Any market based on the notion that consumers have infinite time to consider all options is going to fail under the weight of reality.


Costs vs. benefits

The core economic value of net neutrality is to remove the extensive cost of considering highly complex options that could appear if ISP's were suddenly able to start doing whatever the heck they want, including throttling particular sites, users, etc., at different times, rate plans, etc.. Seriously, you'd have to get a Ph.D. in your local ISP's practices to even begin to make an optimal decision for yourself, and the market simply can't bear everyone spending that much time on a single economic decision.

The core economic cost of net neutrality is that ISP's and users can't arrive at optimal, customized plans, as they could in an ideal free market where everyone had the time to research-and-analyze all of their options.


Value of regulation = benefits - costs

The value of regulation is the reduction in decision complexity less the opportunity cost of the prohibited alternatives.

For net neutrality, we're enjoying far more simplicity in choosing ISP's and ISP's engaging with customers. Additionally, we help ensure free speech, saving us the costs of defending it when infringed.

For losses, we have cases where services like Netflix can use an out-sized portion of bandwidth, then that cost is distributed to all users.

While the losses are losses, the actual economic detriment from them appears to be pretty modest, while the economic benefit of everyone not having to police their own ISP is huge. Overall, the net economic value of net neutrality appears to be hugely positive.

Personally, I'm glad that I don't have to watch out for what my ISP might be doing; that'd be a real annoyance! Especially since I've lived in lots of areas where there was literally just one viable ISP.


Relaxing net neutrality

Conceivably, we might want to relax net neutrality in some limited, carefully considered ways.

Under the economic principle of coupling desired market behavior to profit maximization, relaxations to net neutrality should allow people to take options that they realistically have time to consider in a manner that better couples costs to benefits, increasing market freedoms.

This retreat from market neutrality makes sense in, say, cellular networks if bandwidth can be too limited. Then, we'd want carriers to better reflect real costs in their pricing plans.

The danger here is that our system currently allows anti-market practices, e.g. artificial market segmentation and exploitation of pricing power. These behaviors are anti-market. No capitalist who believes in the primacy of the free market should want to live in a world where such corrupt tactics are used because these tactics demonstrably result in a decoupling of utility vs. profit maximization. Any relaxation of net neutrality should ensure that customers don't have to watch their ISP's for such bad behavior.


The issue of censorship

Since the internet is a primary mechanism for information transit, any modification to it can be used to effect some sort of censorship, even if partial.

Some might argue that censorship could be illegal and fought in the courts. However, having to fight minor acts of censorship in court would be a gross economic burden. Our court systems are already expensive and overburdened; we don't need more of that, nor do we want to effectively require that everyone have to get involved in suing their ISP over such issues.

  • 4
    Even in principle the ISP market shouldn't be deregulated -- even (unrealistically) assuming rational buyers, due to economies of scale en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economies_of_scale the ISP industry is not and will never be even remotely close to satisfying the assumptions of perfect competition en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_competition and therefore can not achieve a Pareto optimum without external intervention, i.e. regulation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_efficiency Saying simply that "people are stupid" encourages people to remain ignorant of basic economics. – Chill2Macht Jul 12 '17 at 9:44
  • I didn't read through you entire answer, but one point that I see missing in your "Ideal market vs. real market" section is the fact that we can't vote with our wallet. You either pay the ISP that will shaft you or you don't get internet. There is no competition to facilitate offering better service up to being limited by cost. – zero298 Jul 12 '17 at 14:30
  • "We're not able to research-and-analyze all of our options at length". Whose definition of 'rational consumer' includes this point? This is a straw man. – fredsbend Dec 8 at 19:19
  • "Seriously, you'd have to get a Ph.D. in your local ISP's practices" A gross exaggeration based on another straw man. Numerous highly technical decisions by rational consumers are made all the time, and the economy is not suffering for it. In fact, we can argue the opposite, that piles of consumers constantly criticizing technical products make those products better and easier to use. A situation of "municipal internet" or similar leaves the provider with one critic of import, the government official. – fredsbend Dec 8 at 19:23

I recommend moving this discussion to a Stack Exchange forum that's germane to the topic and not pursue this as advocacy.

Many people are sick to death of companies inserting themselves into political debates. Many or most participants in the Stack Exchange community won't care about your views and would prefer to not be involved.

  • 3
    This might be better as a comment, rather than an answer. – HDE 226868 Jul 2 '17 at 1:39
  • 9
    @hde I had the same thought, but the OP said he would be clearing out comments so that option wasn't available. – Chris Johnson Jul 2 '17 at 1:41
  • 1
    Shog9 obviously feels strongly about NN, but many of us see the whole push for NN as an effort by Netflix to exert pressure on Comcast during their interconnect disputes. Plenty of people bought into Netflix's narrative. In any case, if the traffic was piling up at Netflix's ISP's routers when trying to route traffic to Comcast customers, and Comcast didn't have a commensurate amount of traffic piling up to get back to Netflix's ISP, I can see Comcast's point about asking for said ISP to pay the majority of the cost of stringing up new lines to send traffic over to Comcast. – Nathan L Jul 12 '17 at 17:28
  • 1
    There's no point in being young if you can't find a cause to be passionate about. – Nathan L Jul 12 '17 at 17:29

I am against Net Neutrality. Instead of writing a long post that will be ignored and downvoted I will summarize my thoughts. Also, with all do respect to Shog9 but asking for discussion on this biased forum is a little naive.

The problem that Net Neutrality is trying to solve is ISP charging (or slowing/restricting) access to a given content provider. It is not about censorship, don't confuse the two problems. The issues I have are two fold.

Is this really a problem?

The current standard for broadband and mobile data is to charge a rate for a minimum speed and amount of data transfer, ie 10 GB @ min 25 MBs. No one seems to think this is outrageous and gladly pays their cellphone/cable bills. You may not like the price but you don't mind paying for the service. Saying that AT&T or Comcast should not charge for faster speeds or more data is like saying fast food and fine dining should cost the same. Should content providers be except from the same pricing model the consumer pays? If Netflix was forced to pay for more bandwidth they may invest in a better way to compress/deliver digital video over the internet or invent the futurenet.

What is the solution?

Making a regulation that says "play nice" is ridiculous on it's face. Is the answer to regulate all ISP's to cap profits at 10%? To say they all must provide 100 MB/s download speeds everywhere? Let's examine the first one. If Comcast is capped at 10% profit they can have a healthy business and never upgrade equipment or coverage area. There is no incentive for expansion. Instead of being "pro Net Neutrality", purpose a regulation that will work. Most of us are pro saving the fluffy bunny. Do we kill the cuddly rabbit to do it?

No proposed regulation I have read makes sense in terms innovation, expansion and profit. To argue that ISP's should only charge the consumer is fine. The content providers will pay nothing. So the entire cost of faster networks to accommodate the higher quality (both in terms of data and reliability) now must fall on the consumer. Let the free market determine the future of the internet. It did fine in determining the present growth of the internet.

  • 6
    +1 While I don't agree with you on this topic, the question did ask for reasons against Net Neutrality and this is a well thought out answer. I'd encourage you to expand on it, I think it could help others see view points that differ from their own. – kuhl Jun 30 '17 at 15:45
  • 8
    The problem that Net Neutrality is trying to solve is ISP charging (or slowing/restricting) access to a given content provider. It is not about censorship Net neutrality is about both. It's not just about throttling of a particular entities content, but also about it being blocked entirely. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 15:56
  • 10
    Saying that AT&T or Comcast should not charge for faster speeds or more data is like saying fast food and fine dining should cost the same. Your analogy doesn't hold, and it seems to stem from a lack of understanding of what's going on. What's happening is that you, as a person, pay $X for, say, 10 MBs of internet, but then your internet provider, on your end of the connection, only lets, say, 1 MBs of content come through from some company contrary to what you've paid for, and even if that companies servers are using an entirely different ISP. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 16:01
  • 11
    The problem here is not that the ISP Netflix is paying to connect to the network is asking to charge them for the bandwidth they use; that has always been the case, still is the case, and isn't what people have a problem with. What happened was other ISPs, ISPs connecting the internet backbone to consumers of Netflix, would throttle the traffic if they detected it came from Netflix. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 16:04
  • 9
    Also note that the regulations aren't capping profits, and they aren't mandating certain download speeds everywhere. What they are mandating is that traffic going through network needs to all be treated equally. You can't intentionally slow down certain traffic and not others when it's on the network. That doesn't inherently prevent ISPs from making a profit. Making it legal for them to discriminate against certain people or organizations is not essential for their ability to make money. – Servy Jun 30 '17 at 16:06
  • 6
    I assure you, Netflix and other content providers are paying for their bandwidth, even with the net neutrality rule currently in place. They have invested heavily in new compression algorithms &c to minimize their bandwidth usage. Thus, some company is already making money from Netflix's bandwidth usage. The pending rule change is saying that not only does Netflix have to pay for the bandwidth to the internet, and users' have to pay for connection to the internet, both of them might have to pay again to get Netflix. – Heretic Monkey Jun 30 '17 at 17:03
  • 3
    How about breaking up the big ISP's? We know that a big ISP is no better at servimg up the Internet than a small one, so why do we even let them get so big? – Peter Turner Jul 1 '17 at 2:45
  • Great deleted answer. – Peter David Carter Jul 2 '17 at 18:11
  • 3
    "You may not like the price but you don't mind paying for the service" I absolutely do mind. However, I have to use the internet. I have no other options for ISPs in my area so they get to gouge me. – zero298 Jul 12 '17 at 14:37
  • 2
    @zero298 that's an anti-trust issue, not a net neutrality one. – Matt Jul 13 '17 at 14:52

I believe that Stack Exchange fails to serve the needs of their core community. Those interested about why I think so can find a detailed explanation here.

Because of that, I am uncomfortable about SE taking a stand in political, social, ethical, etc. matters pretending to represent the community (which, as I said, I believe they fail to serve).

The above also applies to Net Neutrality. I would much appreciate it if SE abstain from statements that can be interpreted as representing the community.

  • 5
    to preempt comments about my personal take on NN, I am inclined to support it (though I am yet to complete studying of the materials referred in Shog's post to make sure that I got it right). But anyway, whatever it is, I would object against Stack Exchange pretending to represent my position on that matter for the reasons laid out in this answer – gnat Jun 30 '17 at 12:14
  • 3
    Oh well... This is the "just do your job" argument which has lead to the most horrific examples in human history. We are talking about the internet as we know it being hi-jacked by people who want to protect their old-world businesses against newcomers, killing innovation in the process. It is no less than a coup. Sure this is "political", most things that matter are. And it is any business's right to take side as it is yours to support that stand or not. You can stay "neutral" yourself, you know. – Martin Maat Jul 12 '17 at 12:26
  • @MartinMaat you seem to misread or misinterpret what I wrote, I don't know intentionally or not. I re-read my answer several times and honestly have no idea what could lead to conclusions you made – gnat Jul 12 '17 at 12:36
  • Could you make a bogus edit? I upvoted this, but then found out that upholding NN is too important for "don't sign me up until you do your job", and now I want to downvote this but can't because my vote is locked. – dorukayhan Jul 12 '17 at 17:13
  • 5
    I am uncomfortable about SE taking a stand in political, social, ethical etc matters pretending to represent the community... You're completely entitled to your opinion, but I don't see where SE is claiming to represent the community. SE is making its opinion known, just as other companies do -- i.e. Facebook, GitHub, etc. -- but that doesn't imply that its membership supports that opinion. – freginold Jul 12 '17 at 19:33

In general I agree that Net Neutrality is a good thing, or let's put it the other way round: The fundamental lack of Net Neutrality would be a very bad thing. Yeah, this way around makes more sense, as something that protects you from evil is not necessarily good; the enemy of your enemy is not your friend, just because you share some common interests.

There are two things I'd like to point out in this discussion:

  1. Most people have the incorrect belief that the Internet has always been neutral until recent and now the big companies try to change that. The truth is: The Internet has never been neutral. The Internet, as we know it, which emerged from the ARPANET sometimes in the 80s, had no guarantee for neutrality in USA prior to February 26, 2015 when then FCC reclassified broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service. Prior to that date, the Internet may or may not have been more or less neutral as there was no regulation that would force ISPs to be neutral and traffic prioritization at Universities for example (the earliest civil Internet members of all) used to be the norm as bandwidth was scare and expensive at that time. In other parts of the world, the Internet may have always been neutral, never been neutral up to today, or not have been neutral until recently. The fact that despite the lack of any regulation in that area most people always had a rather neutral access in most parts of the western world shows that even without regulation the neutrality doesn't have to be in danger.

  2. The consequence of (1) is that by forcing Net Neutrality upon the Internet means, the Internet as we used to know it from the 80s to 2015 won't be the Internet of the years to come. Forcing neutrality is not preserving the status quo, it is creating something new, it is a change. Or let's say it was a change in 2015, as since that day neutrality is the new status quo. Still, it's a pretty fresh change and change is not a synonym for improvement, it only means things will be different and different is no synonym for better. While I'm pretty sure the positive aspects outnumber the negative by far, I'm not neglecting that there might be negative aspects if neutrality is forced without any valid exceptions like increasing prices, less competition, or a decrease in capital investment. As for you the Internet is just a communication medium, but for the companies that keep it alive it is business.

Keep in mind that use is not the same as abuse. If we'd forbid to sell anything that can be abused, some stores would be pretty empty. The opposite of neutrality is also not censorship. Censorship breaks neutrality but traffic prioritization does as well, just like selectively charging for traffic. I'm strictly against censorship and I'm strictly against any kind of market abuse and Net Neutrality fights both, but it's not a necessity to fight both.

All the negative aspects ISPs mention about Net Neutrality are actually true. The fact that most here would wish they were not or don't like to hear them doesn't make these claims false. Well, of course, they are exaggerating the situation a lot, they fear for their income, especially the loss of existing of future income sources, so there's also a lot of whining, take it with a grain of salt; but at its core the statement is not a lie. This enforcement will have consequences and it already had a few negative consequences for some people. If the "business" Internet access becomes unattractive, most companies can easily give up on it and concentrate on something else, it's their former customer that will have a problem then.

In an ideal world, there would be plenty of ISPs available everywhere you can just choose from and the competition would give us all low prices and high bandwidths. In an ideal world, we could vote by feet, we wouldn't need a law forcing neutrality, if we want neutrality and one ISP is not offering it, we go to its competitor who is, let's see how long an ISP can survive without any customers. Yeah, in an ideal world... just that the world is nowhere near as ideal. And the enforced Net Neutrality, for example, won't do anything to improve that situation, it will not change anything there (best case) or it will make it even worse for some people (worst case).

There cannot be light without shadow. And it's okay to accept some shadow. I just cannot stand it when people pretend that the shadow doesn't exist because they want to make their point of view to look even better than it actually is, despite the fact that they are already in the stronger position. It's okay to admit that a solution is not perfect, I mean, what is perfect anyway? Just my 2 cent.

  • Eh. Brazil uses a very, very broken system for ISP providers - probably one of the worst in the world - and we can work nicely with Net Neutrality without issues, since the Marco Civil of the Internet. Sure, we had some hiccups, but without Net Neutrality we would have been stuck with ISPs taxing a few extra dollars for Gmail Access. Or a whole ten bucks extra for Youtube. Without this thing, some services that are now changing the way we consume media (like Netflix) wouldn't be viable. – T. Sar Jul 12 '17 at 11:21
  • 1
    @T.Sar You are confusing use with abuse. Charging extra for Gmail access would just be abuse. It would also be abuse in a net without any neutrality as it clearly is blackmailing customers and that is always abuse, in every system and in every country. – Mecki Jul 12 '17 at 12:06
  • Net Neutrality is what protects users against this form of abuse. Without it, this type of "abuse" would be perfectly legal. ISPs would be authorized to charge differently for whatever thing you chose to use. That's the big deal, and that is what people who oppose it aren't grasping. – T. Sar Jul 12 '17 at 12:12
  • 2
    You are correct that for a long time the net was neutral by convention rather than by regulation. Providers choose to be neutral rather than being legally required to. There was indeed a change to make that convention into a legal requirement. But that legal change didn't come out of nowhere. It didn't just happen out of fear of what might happen. What changed was the ISPs who had started breaking the convention and violating net neutrality. Since the convention was being broken, and they could no longer be trusted to self-police, they forced regulations onto themselves. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 13:28
  • 2
    So to then say that we can revoke these new regulations because the ISPs can be trusted to self-police, is demonstrably false. We know they can't, because even though they had been for quite some time, they choose to stop keeping the net neutral. They are also the ones who have been fighting to remove these regulations; if they were so interested in following these same policies anyway, by convention, why would they feel the need to fight them. The only real reason to be so concerned with repealing them is because *they want to continue the abusive behaviors that they had been doing. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 13:31
  • "If we'd forbid to sell anything that can be abused, all stores would be empty." - fixed it for you – MolbOrg Jul 13 '17 at 2:28

If we allow any government intervention, it should be to support the free market system.

If I go to the grocery store and they don't have a certain brand of milk that I want, then i will go to a different grocery store to get the milk. similarly, if my ISP won't let me watch netflix, then i'll go to a different ISP.

any government intervention should be to support the anti-monopolization of ISPs, instead of telling the ISPs what products they are required to offer

furthermore, if i start my own ISP and i want to block all porn content, or severely slow it down, why should i not have this right? if you want porn, then i would suspect that you do not want to be my customer. i'm not going to sue you for that.

What If I want content from both ISP A and ISP B? The direct and rapid response to this would be the emergence of ISP aggregators, that will serve the exact content that we want, at the exact speed that we pay for.

Why should I have to pay for porn to be streamed to millions of users, when I don't even use it?

  • 7
    Suggesting that people go to a different ISP simply isn't possible for most people, as there tends to be too few ISPs serving a given location. It's not a market that has the level of competition that grocery stores can provide. It's also not something that can have meaningful competition. It's extremely expensive to put the infrastructure in place to provide the service to an area; having multiple ISPs in an area means redundantly spending all of that capital; the free market will tend toward monopolies in such circumstances. That's why utilities are regulated by governments. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 17:06
  • fine, if you want gov regulation, get them to limit each ISP to 1m users max, then comcast will be broken into hundreds of companies, each serving a specific demographic, then you can have proxies on top of these ISPs that while maintaining subscriptions to them, will aggregate services and package them to be tailored exactly to what their customer wants. why should i pay for the millions of gigabytes of porn that is streamed by other users? – l--''''''---------'''''''''''' Jul 12 '17 at 17:09
  • 2
    Making the companies smaller doesn't actually solve the problem, as they still have a monopoly in their region, and can therefore abuse their power in that region, giving the people that live/work there no options but to deal with it. What you're paying for from your ISP is bandwidth, not the type of content that the bandwidth serves. The porn company is paying for the bandwidth that they're using, just as the company showing children's cartoons is paying for theirs, and one shouldn't be charged more for the same services than the other just because you only use one of them. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 17:15
  • When you live an apartment complexes that have deals with providers that limit you to one choice it can be impossible to switch to another provider. – Joe W Jul 12 '17 at 17:30
  • Free marketing does not work with the internet. – user319967 Jul 12 '17 at 20:19
  • @Servy - "Suggesting that people go to a different ISP simply isn't possible for most people" - actually a simple thing - if they do not have the option to switch provider restriction should not apply(besides tariff plan you choose). It is easy to prove are there options to switch provider or not. – MolbOrg Jul 13 '17 at 2:43
  • @MolbOrg What restriction isn't going to apply when you can't switch providers? You're saying that providers need to be net neutral if and only if they're the only provider for a location? – Servy Jul 13 '17 at 13:16
  • "if and only if" - I do not say that. I against NN and any regulations - the job of a provider for which I pay is to deliver me throughput according to the plan I pay for. However, it can be clearly seen and easy proven situation where concurrency between ISP's does not work and where they have a monopoly. The situation where the market does not work. And it rather would be better to address that issue. An ISP may pursue their policies to run the business more efficiently(freedom of ISP), but in monopoly situation, they should meet some quality standard(Protection of user). – MolbOrg Jul 13 '17 at 17:13
  • @Servy With goals to create an incentive to increase the quality of service and fix local regulations. As for standards, which ones it is the question of discussion. There are different solutions for US situation. Their main problem is that they too sparse populated in some areas, and have too old infrastructure in other areas. – MolbOrg Jul 13 '17 at 17:13
  • 2
    @MolbOrg The current restriction says that ISPs are required to treat all data submitted over their network equally, rather than treating different types of data differently. There is currently a proposal to recend that, and allow ISPs to discriminate indiscriminately. You say you're against NN, and then in the same sentence, say you expect your ISP to do what you pay for, namely to deliver your content at the specified throughput. That's what NN is, it's requiring your ISP to simply deliver your data, and do nothing else. And again, it's rare in the US to have many providers. – Servy Jul 13 '17 at 17:21
  • @Servy I'm not sure what contradiction you are seeing: "You say you're against NN, and then in the same sentence, say you expect your ISP to do what you pay for, namely to deliver your content at the specified throughput. " - I want to be able to subscribe to an ISP that gives precedence to wordpress content over CNN, I am against the government shoving porn in my children's faces. I do not believe porn should be treated with the same preference as msdn articles. – l--''''''---------'''''''''''' Jul 16 '17 at 2:37
  • And what if your ISP decides that porn should be given significant preference to other content (it's highly profitable after all, unlike MSDN). You think it's more appropriate that a single corporation have complete control over what you have access to through the internet than the government saying that no one should have any control over what content you can access? Sure if you had access to hundreds of ISPs, you could find one that offers what you want, but people don't have choice. They have one, maybe two, companies to choose from. – Servy Jul 16 '17 at 22:17
  • if my ISP decides that porn is more important, then i'm sure there will be plenty of people like myself that will create the demand for a different provider. the government can say what ever they want, but in the end you are allowing the government to make decisions for you, and i'm sure you know that they have an agenda, as well as their own definitions of what porn is and what your children should be learning in school – l--''''''---------'''''''''''' Jul 17 '17 at 0:31
  • People have been entirely unsatisfied with their ISPs, and demanding major changes, for years. Notice how much competition that complete lack of user satisfaction has generated? Basically none. It takes an enormous amount of money to get into the business, and there are many other barriers to entry besides just money, and for anyone that does manage it, there is so little competition that there's no actual incentive to actually do a good job, because you won't have other competitors. – Servy Jul 25 '17 at 15:10
  • As for the government making decisions for us, the only decision that they're making here is that no one is allowed to make decisions for you as to what content you consume. If you actually have a problem with other people (whether it be the government, or me, or anyone else) what you can consume, then you should support that. You are the one advocating that others should have a say in what you can consume, and that you don't want to have the freedom to decide for yourself. – Servy Jul 25 '17 at 15:10

I'm not living in U.S., why do I see this banner on every SO site I visit, SO-on-Russian included?
Upd: on every device.

It is internal U.S. politics, please keep it internal.

I don't want foreigners to meddle with my country, so why do you ask a foreigner like me to put pressure on the government of your country?

Gathering a cheering mob of bystanders has nothing to do with democracy. There isn't much of a difference between using unrelated people and using shills.


Inb4 "but what if U.S. regulations would affect SO in a bad way"?
A: it's their [U.S.] business, I have no say in that.

  • 1
    No one's asking you to meddle. I'm asking you to become aware of what's going on, and - if you feel moved to do so - speak up. Does what you say matter? That's impossible to know; but if you say nothing then it is guaranteed to not matter. Communication is the essence of democracy. – Shog9 Jul 12 '17 at 15:32
  • 1
    @Shog9 Cool. Now I'm aware although I didn't want to. But I have no say in U.S. internal affairs anyways, how can you ask me to speak up? – Abyx Jul 12 '17 at 15:42
  • @Shog9 imagine you'd tell us your salary and ask us to speak up about it so that your boss would raise it. – Abyx Jul 12 '17 at 15:44
  • Perhaps you have friends in the US, or colleagues. Let them know. Perhaps you have neither, but can apply some of what's discussed here to your own situation. Sad though I would be if this situation in the US is nothing but an example of what to avoid for others, it would still serve a purpose. – Shog9 Jul 12 '17 at 15:46
  • 3
    @Abyx Think of what the consequences of the most powerful country regulating the internet (internally) would have on the rest of the world. This wont just affect the US. – Javia1492 Jul 12 '17 at 15:51
  • 2
    @Shog9 Influence US citizens, I see. Look, I've already told some people from US that Trump is better than Hillary, and now you have Trump. How do you like such influence from foreign people? – Abyx Jul 12 '17 at 15:51
  • @Shog9 they are speaking up. Apathy is a valid response. – user319967 Jul 12 '17 at 20:21
  • 1
    @tuskiomi That's not an "apathy". It's a displeasure caused by ignorance and disrespect to non-US people. – Abyx Jul 12 '17 at 20:28
  • @Abyx You think that this is ignorance, but he seems to know very clearly what he wants.. – user319967 Jul 12 '17 at 20:32
  • maybe they wanted Russian hackers to read the banner and do their usual magic to help Net Neutrality win – gnat Jul 12 '17 at 22:53

I thought I'd just say this: being in New Zealand, the Great American Net Neutrality Debate seems to be a symptom of a far bigger issue with infrastructure, regulation, and competition. In short, the NZ consensus is:

Its pretty much a non issue here because our system isnt sh*t

https://www.reddit.com/r/newzealand/comments/6cffdy/net_neutrality_in_nz/

While you're lobbying for net neutrality, you could also try to get your local loops unbundled properly (NZ did this in 2003) to bring prices down and improve competition and service:

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-there-no-Local-loop-unbundling-in-the-USA

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/06/we-dont-need-net-neutrality-we-need-competition/

By the way, most of NZ has fibre now thanks to a public-private partnership. Result: insanely fast internet for everyone and overall benefits for the economy. Maybe you could also lobby for that too.

In short, blazingly fast internet, the ability to choose from a myriad of ISPs, investment in infrastructure, and robust competition (and a government competition watchdog that jumps on anything that even smells like anti-competitiveness) seem to obviate this issue. Maybe I've totally got the wrong end of the stick but that's how it seems to me.

  • 3
    underrated advice. – MolbOrg Jul 13 '17 at 2:35

Why all giants coming together only for net-neutrality in US?

If all the giants are coming together for this cause then why only target US? You guys have power to draw the potential of 90% of Internet users, then why only target it towards FCC (concerning only specific country)? Majority of these users will be non-US residents/citizen and will still have to fight for the net-neutrality separately in there own country with much less power, where all these tech giants won't even care to support/highlight the movement.

Things going on around the world:

Fight for this same cause has gained much momentum all round the world. For example, this is what happened in India in the fight for net-neutrality. You can also go and watch videos (majority of them in English) made by various online content creators to support the cause and educate people on how they can stop government form doing bad sending email.

I am sure just like here in India, many other countries have gone through this. Why didn't these same tech giants come together to change things there. Mind well netizens, here is one more US agenda movement where these same companies will go back inside their caves once their goal is achieved in just the US.

I would like to call upon all the people to share how citizens in their countries fought for net-neutrality and let the companies running because us know that their is a whole big world out there beyond US.

Broaden the scope of this movement to each and every country and I will be the first one to stand there with you in the front to take the bullet.

  • Individual power is all that counts here: a company with a million users speaks in there own selfish interest, but perhaps those users have insight of their own - were they to speak. – Shog9 Jul 12 '17 at 15:43

What exactly are you going to do in the Day of Action, July 12?

Will you have a special system wide banner with some message?

Will you shut down SE for a day as sign of protest, so that the authorities will notice?

"Day of Action" sounds good and promising, but I really have no idea what is really behind this, so getting more details of what will actually happen will be nice.

(I was going to post this as comment on the blog post, but you closed it for comments after getting whole two comments, which makes tons of sense.)

  • Meant to redirect comments here from the start, didn't get it right. Disqus is bad. Thinking dismissible banner pointing at the blog. – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 2:21
  • Thanks @Shog agree Disqus is bad, but that's what being used in the blog. Dismissable banner sounds fine, cheers! :) – Shadow Wizard Jul 2 '17 at 9:53
  • 2
    Good reason not to use blog comments at all then, eh? At least, not when discussion is actually important. Look at the folks here who've spent serious time researching their answers; you think that'd happen on a disqus thread? More importantly, even if someone did... It'd quickly get buried under a mountain of gab. – Shog9 Jul 2 '17 at 16:48

IMO the whole net neutrality thing is a band-aid for a bigger problem.

The real problem is vertical integration. Last-mile communications to homes and small buisnesses is a natural monoploy. When last-mile communications service is vertically integrated with ISP service the ISPs can get away with treating their customers like shit.

Furthermore in some cases the last mile access providers are integrated with tier 1 transit providers. Tier 1 providers don't have to buy any transit and hence have little motivation to set up any new peering.

I think the fears of this affecting foriegners access to american websites are largely unfounded. Hosting is a much more competitive market incentivising the providers to treat their customers well. Hosting providers in turn have a wide spectrum of transit providers to choose from for their international connectivity needs.

  • 3
    Well, yes. This is very much the larger problem, and NN is at best an attempt to stop the bleeding but is unlikely to heal the greater wound. It would therefore be preferable to keep the bandage intact and seek to address this lack of competition, these incestuous business relationships... Rather than ripping the bandage away while claiming loudly that there would be no wound but for its dressing. – Shog9 Jul 12 '17 at 15:40

So let's hear it: why should or shouldn't we all head over to https://www.battleforthenet.com/ right now and use the handy form to send a letter to the FCC?

An aspect of this question which I've not seen or heard discussed is the right-of-way that was granted decades ago (in the US) to private companies (phone company, electric company) to run wire through municipalities on utility poles and from there to houses and apartment buildings.

Maybe someone here knows the legalities? Is there anything local municipalities can do, vis-a-vis that legal right-of-way that was granted decades ago, to demand that those who have the right-of-way not restrict content or favor the content of one content-provider over another? Is there some federal law governing the terms and conditions of that right-of-way, or is it still subject to state and local law?

  • Broadly (because I don't remember the details right now) a few municipalities have tried to run their own pipes and ISPs, and have been fought tooth and nail by the existing providers (AT&T and Comcast spring to mind), who got the state lawmakers involved to try to quash it. I believe there was a case of this in Tennesse two years ago. Ars Technica should have something about it. – Josh Caswell Jul 12 '17 at 19:08
  • That is where the real fight is and we need to prevent these companies from obtaining local monopolies. If they don't have these monopolies and leverage at the local level, they surely won't have it at the federal level. – 0tyranny 0poverty Jul 12 '17 at 23:01
  • In my municipality, it is a duopoly on the utility pole: cable company and phone company (if we don't include the copper wire for electricity, which isn't used for broadband here). Any competing ISP that needs a wire (or fiber) must piggyback on one of the two that are already on the utility poles. – TRomano Jul 13 '17 at 9:27
  • I am interested in knowing if there is any legal leverage those old right-of-way agreements might offer. Did they give the right-of-way holder carte blanche, or were there some restrictions? – TRomano Jul 13 '17 at 9:29
  • I'm sure it varies by location. – Josh Caswell Jul 15 '17 at 13:00
  • Ars article about the Tennessee situation: arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/03/… – Josh Caswell Jul 16 '17 at 21:06

Very good points made by Sagar V in his answer about India and how net neutrality came into focus in India.

I don't understand why such companies act in a way that leads towards destruction of net neutrality? Surely, they have got intellectuals who are as much aware as anyone here about the consequences of such schemes/acts.

This should be opposed at all the corporate levels from where such ideas emerge about compromising net neutrality.

Or do these intellectuals just don't care and want to maximize profits at any cost?

  • The last paragraph, unfortunately. Power corrupts. – programmer5000 Jul 12 '17 at 11:58

I hope it's okay to use this to ask questions to learn more about net neutrality here.

A common concern I hear about net neutrality that I haven't heard properly address, is that it may make it more difficult for new ISPs to enter the market, making the monopolies stronger. This seems analogous to a lot of regulations I've seen intended to regulate big players, but ultimately being ineffective to address the core issue, monopolies. Does net neutrality do anything to reduce the monopolization of ISPs?

  • 2
    No, the idea of net neutrality is to address the fact that ISPs are a natural monopoly. The idea is that since having proper competition isn't practical or reasonable (as is the case for many utilities in general, due to the infrastructure costs) the best option is to have regulations in place to prevent the monopolies from abusing their position. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 14:33
  • 1
    @Servy It may be difficult to break into the market, but not impossible or unheard of. Preventing monopolies from abusing their position is much more difficult. Increased competition is often more effective. I would like to know how net neutrality would change the equation for trying to break into the market. – Goose Jul 12 '17 at 16:04
  • It's not impossible for a new ISP to be created, however because the physical infrastructure is so expensive, it takes an absurd amount of capital to go around and actually provide redundant physical connections to an entire area in order to compete with another ISP in that area. And in the cases where that does happen, one is generally going to run the other out of business (at least in that area) and force them out. Physical utilities are a natural monopoly this way, in that free market forces will push a given region closer and closer to a monopoly over time. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 16:11
  • As mentioned, the purpose of net neutrality is not to prevent there from being monopolies, or to make it easier for a ISP to be created; it's to attempt to deal with the fact that monopolies are a reality, and to prevent (certain) abuses from those monopolies. While it's not always easy to regulate monopolies, in cases of natural monopolies (in particular, utilities like power, water, phone, and internet) that tends to be the only practical option. In markets that don't have inherent natural monopolies, you're quite right that breaking up the monopolies tends to be easier and more effective. – Servy Jul 12 '17 at 16:11

Every citizen in his right mind who understands what is going on should be Standing Up for Net Neutrality and Defending the Internet from being Piratized (more fitting term than Privatized).

The Internet was built using our (USA) tax dollars. Now we have ethically challenged corporations and their lapdog corrupt politicians trying to claim it as their private domain and figure out ways to charge us ever more for using it. This is their modus operandi, socialize the risks, piratize the gains.

The Internet either belongs to no one or belongs to everyone. It is a public resource and belongs in the public domain.

Should we allow private companies to facilitate Internet Access, Yes.

Should we allow private companies to monopolize local Internet access, No, it's not theirs.

There are costs to run the Internet, but why are American paying so much more for less bandwidth?

Easy, because we don't have competitive options for Internet Access at the local level. We don't have competition because private companies claim ownership of the network of optical fibers, coaxial cables, twisted-pair telephone wires, and yes even in some cases wireless spectrum rights that are necessary for physical layer access to the network.

Other countries typically don't have this hodgepodge of private interests laying claim to sectors of a public network. The telecommunications networks, postal service, Internet are all public and run by the government or public non-profit organization typically called the PTT.

This article outlines some solutions on cost-effective Internet Access, both in rural and urban areas. The key is creating options for Internet access to break the ISP monopolies. This would include both technology methods and preventing the municipalities from granting monopolies, and rolling back local laws and ordinances that granted the monopolies. It would include rolling back state and local laws that allows private companies to claim ownership of the network infrastructure mentioned. These should be owned by the municipality and all citizens in the municipality should have equal right to connect, upload, and download.

Free wifi networks set up by the townships and schools should be encouraged.

While we should all be contacting our congress legislators and the FCC to protect Net Neutrality, our greater effort and fight is at our municipalities and townships. We must keep in mind that while most of us are too busy with our personal lives to follow Internet Access legislation at the state and local level, this is not the case with industry lobbyists like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) that are dealing with our state and local politicians full time to push through legislation that benefits the ISPs but to our detriment.

If we can take back access to the Internet at the local level, the private interests will have much more difficulty in corrupting net neutrality. They are doing this now because they can.

You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Travis J Nov 22 '17 at 7:17

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .