Net Neutrality & The Business Of The Internet

Grand Potentate

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Thought this was a good piece outlaying what happened with the Netflix/Comcast deal yesterday and why we're staring down the barrel of more bad choices in the future:

Comcast’s deal with Netflix makes network neutrality obsolete
  • by Also On The Switch, Here's What Reformers Say Is Missing From Congress' Cellphone Unlocking Bill
  • Feb. 23, 2014
  • 5 min read
  • original
For the past two decades, the Internet has operated as an unregulated, competitive free market. Given the tendency of networked industries to lapse into monopoly—think of AT&T's 70-year hold over telephone service, for example—that's a minor miracle. But recent developments are putting the Internet's decentralized architecture in danger.

In recent months, the nation's largest residential Internet service providers have been demanding payment to deliver Netflix traffic to their own customers. On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix has agreed to the demands of the nation's largest broadband provider, Comcast. The change represents a fundamental shift in power in the Internet economy that threatens to undermine the competitive market structure that have served Internet users so well for the past two decades.

The deal will also transform the debate over network neutrality regulation. Officially, Comcast's deal with Netflix is about interconnection, not traffic discrimination. But it's hard to see a practical difference between this deal and the kind of tiered access that network neutrality advocates have long feared. Network neutrality advocates are going to have to go back to the drawing board.

The classic Internet

To understand what's going on, it's helpful to review the structure of the "classic" Internet.


(Washington Post)

This diagram is an idealized depiction of how the "classic" Internet of the late 1990s worked. Backbone Provider B provides Internet service to Yahoo, carrying traffic to users around the world. Provider B connects with other companies, such as Backbone Provider A. The residential ISP on the right is a customer of Backbone provider A, and it, in turn, offers Internet access to individual households. The red arrows indicate who pays whom for service. Because the two backbone providers are roughly the same size, they engage in what's called "settlement-free peering": They exchange traffic with each other with no money changing hands.

A big advantage of this industry structure is that the backbone market is competitive. If Backbone Provider B overcharges Yahoo for connectivity, Yahoo can switch to another backbone provider. I've only drawn two backbone companies, but in the real world there were a number of them competing with one another. The fact that the largest backbone providers engage in settlement-free peering ensures that every computer on the Internet can reach every other computer. Competition among backbone providers helps keep prices down and service quality up.

This industry structure has another virtue, too: Network neutrality is protected by default. Traffic from Yahoo comes to the residential ISP in a big bundle along with traffic from lots of other Web sites. As I argued in a 2008 paper for the Cato Institute, that makes non-discrimination the default and gives residential ISPs limited leverage over distant Web sites. If the residential ISP wanted to discriminate against Yahoo traffic, it would need to make an explicit decision to block or degrade it, which would likely trigger a customer backlash. That has allowed network neutrality to thrive in the 1990s and 2000s even though there was no formal network neutrality regulations until 2010.

But the Internet is changing. One sign of that change is the just-announced deal between Comcast and Netflix. Another is Ars Technica's recent story about a dispute between the backbone provider Cogent and Verizon. Netflix is a Cogent customer. Surging Netflix traffic has been overwhelming the links between Cogent and Verizon. Cogent has asked for those links to be upgraded, but according to Cogent, Verizon has demanded payment for upgrading the links. (When Ars asked Verizon for comment, a spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the negotiation.)

We can depict the dispute like this:


(Washington Post)

In this version of the Internet, two big things have changed. First, Netflix is really big. The video streaming site now accounts for about 30 percent of all traffic on the Internet. Second, Verizon acquired the formerly independent backbone provider MCI in 2006, helping to turn itself into a major backbone provider in its own right.

Those changes matter for Cogent's negotiations with Verizon. In the first chart, Backbone Provider A's leverage was limited by the fact that Backbone Provider B could always connect directly to the residential ISP, potentially costing A a customer. That gave A a strong incentive to keep its network fast and its interconnection terms reasonable.

The negotiation between Cogent and Verizon is different. Verizon plays the role of both backbone provider and residential ISP. That puts Verizon in a much stronger negotiating position, because Cogent doesn't have any practical way to route around Verizon. If Cogent wants to reach Verizon's customers, it needs to cut a deal with Verizon.

The FCC's dilemma

The fact that Netflix agreed to pay Comcast suggests that Cogent will likely lose its fight with Verizon as well. And as Cogent's chief executive Dave Schaeffer told Ars, "once you pay it's like blackmail, they've got you, there's nowhere else to go. They'll just keep raising the price in a market where prices [for transit] are falling."

Indeed, in the long run, this development threatens the survival of independent backbone companies like Cogent. If it becomes industry practice for backbone providers to pay residential ISPs, companies like Cogent will become mere resellers of access to the networks of large broadband companies. Or they may be cut out of the loop altogether, as large customers such as Netflix cut deals directly with broadband providers such as Comcast.

Cutting out the middleman might make the Internet more efficient, but it will also make it less competitive. Cogent has many competitors. Verizon's FiOS service does not. If companies like Cogent are squeezed out of business, it will make these already powerful network owners even more powerful.

It would also transform the network neutrality debate. As I mentioned before, the conventional network neutrality debate implicitly assumes that residential ISPs receive Internet traffic from one big pipe. Network neutrality advocates want rules prohibiting ISPs from divvying this pipe up into fast and slow lanes based on business considerations.

But in a world where Netflix and Yahoo connect directly to residential ISPs, every Internet company will have its own separate pipe. And policing whether different pipes are equally good is a much harder problem than requiring that all of the traffic in a single pipe be treated the same. If it wanted to ensure a level playing field, the FCC would be forced to become intimately involved in interconnection disputes, overseeing who Verizon interconnects with, how fast the connections are and how much they can charge to do it.

At this point, the FCC doesn't have any good options. Regulating the terms of interconnection would be a difficult, error-prone process. Trying to reverse the decade-old mergers that allowed America's broadband market to become so concentrated in the first place would be even more so. But the growing power of residential broadband providers will put growing pressure on the FCC to do something to prevent the abuse of that power.

One clear lesson, though, is that further industry consolidation can only make the situation worse. The more concentrated the broadband market becomes, the more leverage broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon will have over backbone providers like Cogent. That gives the FCC a good reason to be skeptical of Comcast's proposed acquisition of its largest rival, Time Warner Cable. Blocking that transaction could save the agency larger headaches in the future.

Here's an interesting counterpoint article:
Inside The Netflix/Comcast Deal and What The Media Is Getting Very Wrong
On Sunday, Comcast and Netflix announced a commercial interconnect relationship between the two companies, which is in the very early stages of implementation, and as a result, many who clearly don’t understand how the Internet works are writing about the news. Those who don’t cover network infrastructure for a living should not be trying to explain the technical details behind today’s announcement. Articles from mainstream outlets like TechCrunch, WSJ, NPR, Time and many others aren’t even getting the basics right. Words like transit, peering, speed, bandwidth, capacity, etc. are being used interchangeably without any understanding of what they mean. [Updated 10:15pm: Time was originally mentioned due to a short piece they quickly put up when the news was announced. Since that post, they have done extensive, detailed coverage which is actually very good, so in fairness to them, I have removed them from the list.]

Naturally, many of these same people are also implying that because Netflix has to pay Comcast, consumers will foot the bill for this as Netflix will have to charge more for their service. This could not be further from the truth. Those stating this have no clue how Netflix delivers their content today or what costs they already incur. If they did, they would know this is not a new cost to Netflix, it’s simply paying a different provider, and it should be at a lower cost. It should actually be cheaper for Netflix to buy direct from Comcast, and they also get an SLA, which also improves quality and that’s a good thing. Given that Netflix has many options to buy transit from many different transit providers, why would they pay more? They wouldn’t.

Some are mad at this deal as they say this will start a trend where content owners will need to pay multiple ISPs to have good video quality, which isn’t true. The problem with that idea is that the vast majority of all content owners use third party content delivery networks ( to get the content to ISPs and are NOT trying to build their own CDN like Netflix has. Only Netflix, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, Google and a handful of others have built or are building out their own CDNs. Every other content owner out there including MLB, CBS, FOX, Disney, Viacom, NFL, etc. all use third party CDNs. So this has no impact on any of them as they aren’t trying to place servers inside last mile networks and use companies like Akamai, Level 3, Limelight and EdgeCast for content delivery.

Even worse, some want to imply that today’s announcement has to do with Net Neutrality and Tech Crunch went as far to say that the deal “may be legally outside of the traditional net neutrality rules.” May be? Are they serious? Commercial interconnect relationships, also referred to as paid peering agreements, have been around since the Internet started, and it’s how the Internet works. Commercial interconnect deals have NOTHING TO DO WITH NET NEUTRALITY. Implying otherwise shows a complete lack of regard in understanding how traffic is and has been exchanged across networks for the past twenty years. The media as a whole should stop trying to insinuate or imply that everything that happens between two networks comes down to Net Neutrality. It doesn’t. [See: Netflix’s Streaming Quality Is Based On Business Decisions by Netflix & ISPs, Not Net Neutrality]

In the hopes of trying to educate the market, let’s clear up a lot of the confusion many in the media have created. The first one is that consumers need more “speed” from Comcast or Verizon to get better quality video streaming from Netflix. This is not the case. Netflix’s videos are encoded at a certain level of quality, which requires the consumer to have a specific level of throughput, to get that quality. It has nothing to do with “speed”. If you want to stream a 2Mbps video or a 4Mbps video from Netflix, you don’t need more “speed”, you need more throughput. Speed is the rate at which packets get from one location to another. Throughput is the average rate of successful message delivery over a communication channel. SPEED AND THROUGHPUT ARE NOT THE SAME THING. Next up are articles where it says that transit allows two networks to exchange “bandwidth”, which is not accurate. Transit allows providers to exchange traffic, but bandwidth and traffic are not the same things. Bandwidth is simply the data rate measured in bits per second. Traffic is data in a network encapsulated in network packets.

Another statement I have seen people write about is saying that the deal focuses on the “two company’s pipes”. Netflix is not a network operator, they don’t have any “pipes”, they buy capacity from other network providers who have the pipes. So while this deal is about the interconnection between Comcast and Netflix, Comcast is the only one who actually owns the pipes. Netflix is simply leasing capacity from other network providers. In addition, Netflix does not own an “Open Connect Network”. Open Connect is a program, it’s not a network that Netflix “owns” as the servers caching and delivering Netflix’s content are sitting inside the ISP networks, which isn’t owned or operated by Netflix. Open Connect is just another CDN. It is most similar to Akamai, except Open Connect doesn’t have SLAs with their customers.

Lately, many have been writing about transit with no real idea of just how many types of transit one can buy or how transit deals work. You can buy full transit, partial transit, select routes, on-net routes, etc. and ISPs will create a service and price around the customer request. Transit deals vary greatly, in size, type, price and host of other factors and are not a one-size-fits-all model. So when people write about “transit” without any definition, they are being too generic in its description. Many transit deals are alike, but transit relationships also vary greatly based on the region of the world you are buying transit in. CDNs like Netflix typically connect with many transit suppliers. This helps them route around problems and helps them avoid becoming a traffic problem by overloading any one path.

One thing not mentioned in all of these stories is all the different ways in which Netflix is currently streaming video. To date, a large percentage of Netflix’s traffic, by my guess 50% or more in the U.S., hasn’t been moved away from third-party CDNs and into the last mile. There are three different ways Netflix currently streams their videos. Via ISPs that are in their Open Connect Program, through third-party CDNs Level 3 and Limelight Networks and via Netflix’s own CDN where they lease network services and run their own servers. So most writing about Netflix don’t even know the basics of how their content is delivered today or how CDN and transit providers are involved.

Today’s news is very simple to understand. Netflix decided it made sense to pay Comcast for every port they use to connect to Comcast’s network, like many other content owners and network providers have done. This is how the Internet works, and it’s not about providing better access for one content owner over another, it simply comes down to Netflix making a business decision that it makes sense for them to deliver their content directly to Comcast, instead of through a third party. Tied into Netflix’s decision is the fact that Comcast guarantees a certain level of quality to Netflix, via their SLA, which could be much better than Netflix was getting from a transit provider. While I don’t know the price Comcast is charging Netflix, I can guarantee you it’s at the fair market price for transit in the market today and Comcast is not overcharging Netflix like some have implied. Many are quick to want to argue that Netflix should not have to pay Comcast anything, but they are missing the point that Netflix is already paying someone who connects with Comcast. It’s not a new cost to them.

This how the Internet has grown since its inception. Senders and receivers of content have funded access, services, backbone and growth costs across the Internet. Each may pay different costs per Mbps based on volume, competition, location and many other factors. This is where being big and powerful helps negotiate a more favorable deal based on efficiencies you may be able to drive. If you get into picking and choosing that a really big CDN player gets bandwidth free because they are powerful, but a small CDN or content owner has to buy transit, that’s not fair either. That is why companies have settlement-free interconnect policies, which are based on balanced and shared network investment. Commercial deals around interconnect help alleviate the bright lines between settlement-free interconnect (or peering) and a customer buying a retail product. Wholesale commercial deals take into account efficiencies and many other factors to drive a much lower unit cost.

There are no major “peering wars”, as the media likes to portray, disagreements yes, but they are based off of business decisions, like any other contract for services. [See: Netflix’s Streaming Quality Is Based On Business Decisions by Netflix & ISPs, Not Net Neutrality] Many options exist in the market for exchanging traffic and what is taking place between Netflix and ISPs is not new. These types of commercial arrangements between carriers, ISPs, content owners and transit providers happen every day. This time its simply high profile because it involves Netflix and the media picks up on it and implies or assumes things that simply aren’t accurate.

Outside of authors who cover networking for a living, I wonder if any member of the media even knows how to do a traceroute. You’ll notice that this whole Comcast/Netflix story broke early as a networking person who isn’t a member of the media, published what he saw in a traceroute. If you write about content delivery, LEARN HOW TO DO A TRACE ROUTE and see how content is being delivered how you get to the source of where the content is being delivered from. If you are too lazy to learn, then you should really stop writing about the subject. I’m no networking engineer, so even for my piece I made sure to speak to those who design, build and connect networks for a living. Bottom line is this is good for Netflix, Comcast and for consumers and it has absolutely nothing to do with Net Neutrality.

The internet is fucked
  • by Nilay Patel
  • Feb. 25, 2014
  • 12 min read
  • original

Here’s a simple truth: the internet has radically changed the world. Over the course of the past 20 years, the idea of networking all the world’s computers has gone from a research science pipe dream to a necessary condition of economic and social development, from government and university labs to kitchen tables and city streets. We are all travelers now, desperate souls searching for a signal to connect us all. It is awesome.

And we’re fucking everything up.

Massive companies like AT&T and Comcast have spent the first two months of 2014 boldly announcing plans to close and control the internet through additional fees, pay-to-play schemes, and sheer brutal size — all while the legal rules designed to protect against these kinds of abuses were struck down in court for basically making too much sense. “Broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness,” concluded Judge David Tatel in Verizon’s case against the FCC’s Open Internet order, adding that the FCC had provided ample evidence of internet companies abusing their market power and had made “a rational connection between the facts found and the choices made.” Verizon argued strenuously, but had offered the court “no persuasive reason to question that judgement.”

Then Tatel cut the FCC off at the knees for making “a rather half-hearted argument” in support of its authority to properly police these threats and vacated the rules protecting the open internet, surprising observers on both sides of the industry and sending new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler into a tailspin of empty promises seemingly designed to disappoint everyone.

“I expected the anti-blocking rule to be upheld,” National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Michael Powell told me after the ruling was issued. Powell was chairman of the FCC under George W. Bush; he issued the first no-blocking rules. “Judge Tatel basically said the Commission didn’t argue it properly.”

In the meantime, the companies that control the internet have continued down a dark path, free of any oversight or meaningful competition to check their behavior. In January, AT&T announced a new “sponsored data” plan that would dramatically alter the fierce one-click-away competition that’s thus far characterized the internet. Earlier this month, Comcast announced plans to merge with Time Warner Cable, creating an internet service behemoth that will serve 40 percent of Americans in 19 of the 20 biggest markets with virtually no rivals.

And after months of declining Netflix performance on Comcast’s network, the two companies announced a new “paid peering” arrangement on Sunday, which will see Netflix pay Comcast for better access to its customers, a capitulation Netflix has been trying to avoid for years. Paid peering arrangements are common among the network companies that connect the backbones of the internet, but consumer companies like Netflix have traditionally remained out of the fray — and since there’s no oversight or transparency into the terms of the deal, it’s impossible to know what kind of precedent it sets. Broadband industry insiders insist loudly that the deal is just business as usual, while outside observers are full of concerns about the loss of competition and the increasing power of consolidated network companies. Either way, it’s clear that Netflix has decided to take matters — and costs — into its own hands, instead of relying on rational policy to create an effective and fair marketplace.


In a perfect storm of corporate greed and broken government, the internet has gone from vibrant center of the new economy to burgeoning tool of economic control. Where America once had Rockefeller and Carnegie, it now has Comcast’s Brian Roberts, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, and Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, robber barons for a new age of infrastructure monopoly built on fiber optics and kitty GIFs.

And the power of the new network-industrial complex is immense and unchecked, even by other giants: AT&T blocked Apple’s FaceTime and Google’s Hangouts video chat services for the preposterously silly reason that the apps were "preloaded" on each company’s phones instead of downloaded from an app store. Verizon and AT&T have each blocked the Google Wallet mobile payment system because they’re partners in the competing (and not very good) ISIS service. Comcast customers who stream video on their Xboxes using Microsoft’s services get charged against their data caps, but the Comcast service is tax-free.

We’re really, really fucking this up.

But we can fix it, I swear. We just have to start telling each other the truth. Not the doublespeak bullshit of regulators and lobbyists, but the actual truth. Once we have the truth, we have the power — the power to demand better not only from our government, but from the companies that serve us as well. "This is a political fight," says Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press. "When the internet speaks with a unified voice politicians rip their hair out."

We can do it. Let’s start.


Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility.

There, you’ve just skipped past a quarter century of regulatory corruption and lawsuits that still rage to this day and arrived directly at the obvious conclusion. Internet access isn’t a luxury or a choice if you live and participate in the modern economy, it’s a requirement. Have you ever been in an office when the internet goes down? It’s like recess. My friend Paul Miller lived without the internet for a year and I’m still not entirely sure he’s recovered from the experience. The internet isn’t an adjunct to real life; it’s not another place. You don’t do things "on the internet," you just do things. The network is interwoven into every moment of our lives, and we should treat it that way.

"Common carrier rules are basically free speech."

Yet the corporations that control internet access insist that they’re providing specialized services that are somehow different than water, power, and telephones. They point to crazy bullshit you don’t want or need like free email addresses and web hosting solutions and goofy personalized search screens as evidence that they’re actually providing "information" services instead of the more highly regulated "telecommunications" services. "Common carrier rules are basically free speech," says the Free Press’ Aaron. "We have all these protections for what happens over landline phones that we’re not extending to data, even though all these people under 25 mostly communicate in data."

It’s time to just end these stupid legal word games and say what we all already know: internet access is a utility. A commodity that should get better and faster and cheaper over time. Anyone who says otherwise is lying for money.


None. Zero. Nothing. It is a wasteland. You are standing in the desert and the only thing that grows is higher prices.


70 percent of American households have but one or two choices for high-speed internet access: cable broadband from a cable provider or DSL from a telephone provider. And since DSL isn’t nearly as fast as cable, and the cable companies are aggressive in bundling TV and internet packages together, it’s really only one choice. And that means the level of innovation from these providers has almost completely stagnated, even as prices have gone up.

Why are cellphones so much cooler now than they were in 2000? Because Apple and Google and Samsung all had to fight it out and make better products in order to survive. They’re competing. Comcast hasn’t had to fight anything, at any time. It is fat and lazy and wants nothing more than to get fatter and lazier. That’s why Comcast is spending $45 billion on Time Warner Cable instead of integrating Netflix into its cable boxes and working with Apple and Google and Microsoft on the real next generation of TV: when you’re the only real choice in 19 of America’s 20 biggest markets, you get to move real slow and still make a lot of money. It's not clear Comcast even knows what real competition looks like.

"Unless the FCC thinks that there is a realistic chance that the deal will reverse two decades of rising prices, it should stop the merger," writes Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu. "Passing on savings has never been part of Comcast’s business model." Monopolies are nice like that.

Despite the innovation in phones, the same is true for mobile internet. There are only four major national carriers, most of whom run incompatible networks and all of which are stronger in various regions. If you hate your Sprint or Verizon service, switching to AT&T or T-Mobile is anything but simple and probably requires paying off a two-year contact of some kind. (Even T-Mobile, which is aggressively eliminating contracts for service, maintains a number of device payment plans that require a contract.) Chances are once you’ve chosen a wired broadband carrier and a wireless carrier that works well in your area, you’re stuck: there are few other places to go, and even if you have choices the high costs of switching mean you’re not very likely to leave at all.

(And if anyone tries to tell you that ultra-expensive mobile broadband is somehow competitive with wired service, ask that person to buy you a nice dinner and tell you the story of when they realized dignity had a price. You’re talking to a cable industry lobbyist; they can afford it.)

What happens in countries where there’s real competition? In the UK, where incumbent provider BT is required to allow competitors to use its wired broadband network, home internet service prices are as low as £2.50 a month, or just over $4. In South Korea, where wireless giants SK Telecom and LG Uplus are locked in a fierce technology battle, customers have access to the fastest mobile networks in the world — up to 300Mbps, compared to a theoretical max of 80Mbps on Verizon that’s actually more like 15 or 20mbps in the real world.

Americans pay more for slower speeds than anyone else in the world

And Americans pay more for these slower wireless speeds than anyone else in the world: in Germany, where customers can freely switch between carriers by swapping SIM cards, T-Mobile customers pay just $1.18 per Mbps of speed. In the US, our mostly incompatible wireless networks lock customers in with expensive handsets they can’t take elsewhere, allowing AT&T and Verizon to charge around $4 per Mbps each and Sprint to clock in at an insane $7.50.

American politicians love to stand on the edges of important problems by insisting that the market will find a solution. And that’s mostly right; we don’t need the government meddling in places where smart companies can create their own answers. But you can’t depend on the market to do anything when the market doesn’t exist. "We can either have competition, which would solve a lot of these problems, or we can have regulation," says Aaron. "What Comcast is trying is to have neither." It’s insanity, and we keep lying to ourselves about it. It’s time to start thinking about ways to actually do something.


Mobile carriers like AT&T and Verizon love to pretend they are special flowers, the magicians who managed to fill our thin, empty air with the magic of wireless broadband. Mobile is so difficult, they argue, and spectrum so scarce, that any sort of check or oversight on their behavior would crater their delicate business and derail the entire industry.

This is nonsense, of course. If anything, we need to keep a sharper eye on the endless shenanigans of mobile carriers, because they pose a constant and growing threat to the overall health and innovative potential of the internet. The bad behavior is real, and it’s been happening for years: AT&T blocking FaceTime and Hangouts and Verizon knifing Google Wallet is just the tip of the iceberg. These industry behemoths also wield the wireless spectrum they lease from the public like a weapon, denying both competitors and potential competitors the most fundamental tool they need to get into the game.

The shenanigans of mobile carriers pose a Constant threat to the internet

Wireless executives will tell you they need to own as much wireless airspace as they possibly can, going on about a so-called "spectrum crunch" that has never really materialized: networks haven’t been brought to their knees by an apocalyptic wave of iPads with a voracious appetite for streaming video. In fact, cable companies bought a wide swath of prime spectrum in 2006, only to let it sit unused for years before flipping it to Verizon years later. Even the inventor of the cellphone denies that the crunch is a real phenomenon.

This shit is insane. It is unacceptable. The smartphone revolution was about putting a powerful computer and an internet connection in everyone’s pocket; it was not about creating a new class of economic gatekeepers with the unchecked power to control and destroy markets with zero oversight and little true competition. Famed venture capitalist Fred Wilson at Union Square Ventures has called the net neutrality situation a "nightmare" for startups trying to get funded, saying that he expects telecom companies to "pick their preferred partners, subsidize the data costs for those apps, and make it much harder for new entrants to compete with the incumbents."

And allowing these companies to get away with these antics has repercussions we’ve barely even begun talking about: a recent Pew survey found that 45 percent of the poorest Americans use a mobile phone as their primary internet device. Same with nearly half of all Americans aged 18-29, and particularly among minorities and the less-educated. Young, poor, not white: let’s definitely make sure we put them in the ghetto internet of corporate control.


The Federal Communications Commission is ostensibly in charge of managing broadband deployment and regulating companies like AT&T and Comcast, but it’s shown no actual ability to do so in a focused and effective way — and when it tries, it does so in such a half-assed way that it gets smacked around in court and loses.

Part of the problem is historical: before former Chairman Julius Genachowski released the first National Broadband Plan after taking office in 2009, the FCC wasn’t even completely focused on the internet, and was mostly known for enforcing indecency rules on radio and TV stations, a role that reached the pinnacle of absurdity in 2004 when Janet Jackson’s nipple was exposed for just over half a second during the Super Bowl halftime show. The agency under then-Chairman Powell responded by wildly issuing indecency fines, ultimately resulting in ABC stations across the country declining to air Saving Private Ryan on Veteran’s Day for fear of government reprisal and yet another major loss in court when its indecency rules were found unconstitutionally vague in 2012.

"Comcast and Verizon have taken all the reasonable options off the table."

Genachowski succeeded in shifting the agency’s entire focus to the internet, but he instantly crumpled in the face of high-powered telecom lobbying. Genachowski’s first attempt at net neutrality rules were framed the right way and classified internet service providers as common carriers, but the industry succeeded in utterly killing that plan by stoking political outrage at the idea of "regulating the internet" — resulting in the half-baked rules that just got thrown out because the FCC didn’t call broadband providers common carriers. "Comcast and Verizon have so much clout in Washington that they’ve taken all the reasonable options off the table," says the Free Press’ Aaron. "Regulators come at things sideways." Genachowski had the right ideas, but his soft-pedal tactics led to inherently weakened regulations — Cardozo Law School’s Susan Crawford called his approach a "house of cards."

The FCC also sat in the back seat when AT&T tried to buy T-Mobile, has remained virtually silent about the rumored linkup between Sprint and T-Mobile, and has offered little public comment about the Comcast / Time Warner deal — instead letting the Department of Justice take the lead in opposing these obviously anticompetitive mergers. The FCC’s stunning lack of presence and leadership during these watershed moments in communications history is an extraordinary failure for an agency that is officially tasked with protecting the consumer interest.

The FCC "doesn’t seem to have the confidence to stop a merger," says Columbia’s Wu. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has "to be willing to take the heat," if he’s going to get involved, says Aaron. "If you’re going to take this job, you have to lead," he says. "The whole reason we have an independent agency is to shield it from Congress."

But there are no rules shielding the FCC from the companies it’s supposed to regulate, leading to an uncomfortable pattern: FCC commissioners are drawn from the ranks of industry lobbyists, while industry lobbyists are drawn from the ranks of FCC commissioners. Current Chairman Wheeler has served as president and CEO of both the NCTA cable lobby and the CTIA wireless lobby; former Chairman Powell is now the current president and CEO of the NCTA; former Commissioner Meredith Baker, who voted in favor of the Comcast / NBCUniversal merger, is now the head of Comcast’s DC lobbying office. "I think for the top jobs the industry can veto people who they might think would be too hard on them," says Wu. "After all, it’s their agency."

"The FCC is scared of one thing: actual people."

This cozy relationship leads to the repeated insistence that consumer protections are too difficult to implement, even when they’re not complicated. "Somehow when they’re pushing through unpopular things that a few big companies want, the FCC can do it," says Aaron. "But when it’s things the people want that the corporations don’t, it’s suddenly impossible."

But not all hope is lost. "The FCC is scared of one thing: actual people," says Wu. "When they sense that something is a popular issue suddenly the FCC is terrified."


So there’s the entire problem, expressed in four simple ideas: the internet is a utility, there is zero meaningful competition to provide that utility to Americans, all internet providers should be treated equally, and the FCC is doing a miserably ineffective job. The United States should lead the world in broadband deployment and speeds: we should have the lowest prices, the best service, and the most competition. We should have the freest speech and the loudest voices, the best debate and the soundest policy. We are home to the most innovative technology companies in the world, and we should have the broadband networks to match.

We should stop fucking it up.

"There is much greater consensus around the fundamentals of the open internet than this binary up and down debate that’s going on," says former FCC Chairman and current NCTA President Michael Powell. "There is common ground to find an answer."

Free Press president Craig Aaron is blunt. "What we need right now is decisive action," he says. "We can still unfuck the internet."


Beyond net neutrality
The new battle for the future of the internet
by Timothy B. Lee on May 2, 2014
When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, he didn’t need to ask Comcast, Verizon, or other internet service providers to add Facebook to their networks. He also didn’t have to pay these companies extra fees to ensure that Facebook would work as well as the websites of established companies. As soon as he created the Facebook website, it was automatically available from any internet-connected computer in the world.

This aspect of the internet is network neutrality. And a lot of network neutrality supporters fear it's in danger.

President Obama pledged to support net neutrality on the campaign trail in 2007. But many Obama supporters have felt let down by Obama's choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler.

Last week Wheeler announced a new set of network neutrality regulations. The details haven't been released yet, but press accounts indicate that Wheeler's proposal will allow internet service providers to offer a "fast lane" for online services, a concept that's anathema to network neutrality stalwarts.

This is about ensuring that the internet remains a fertile ground for new innovations
Yet Wheeler's decision to water down network neutrality regulations isn't even the biggest threat to the open internet right now. The internet itself is changing in ways that threatens to make the conventional net neutrality debate almost irrelevant. In recent weeks, Netflix has agreed to pay first Comcast and then Verizon for private connections directly to their respective networks. Netflix signed these deals under protest, charging that it had been coerced to pay "tolls" just to deliver content to their own customers.

That might sound like a net neutrality violation, but the practice doesn't actually run afoul of the network neutrality rules advocates have been pushing for the last decade. Those rules ban "fast lanes" for content that arrives over the internet backbone, the shared information super highway that carries the bulk of the internet traffic today. But what Netflix paid Comcast and Verizon for amounts to a new, private highway just for Netflix traffic. Conventional network neutrality rules don't regulate this kind of deal.

These private connections are going to be increasingly important to the American internet in the coming years. That might force net neutrality proponents to go back to the drawing board. Otherwise they might win the battle for net neutrality and still lose the war for a level playing field on the internet.

The problem with fast lanes
It's a typical weekday evening and you and your neighbors are all using the internet in various ways. You're watching Netflix videos, playing World of Warcraft, checking email, downloading podcasts, and reading cardstacks on The information required to display all this content is sent from servers all over the world. But it quickly finds its way to your internet service provider, the company that provides you and your neighbors with home internet access.

Internet usage is particularly heavy this evening, and your ISP doesn't have the capacity to handle all the data you and your neighbors are downloading. So your neighbor's World of Warcraft game starts to stutter. Another's House of Cards episode freezes up and starts buffering. Your Skype video chat to your sister becomes pixelated and jerky. A digital traffic jam is ruining everyone's internet experience.

Some people think a "fast lane" arrangement is the solution to this problem. Some applications are more affected by congestion than others. Some applications are more valuable to users than others. So maybe the network ought to give top priority to applications that need it the most. And why shouldn't your ISP use the same method as FedEx to decide who gets the fastest delivery? Applications that need faster delivery can pay extra for it. The network might look like this:

Here, MyFlix has paid AT&Tcast to give its content priority over the content of its competitors. MyFlix customers get an excellent experience, but using YouBook or FaceTube might not be as pleasant.

But this isn't how the internet works right now. For the most part, internet connections work on a first-come, first-served basis, with no one's packets getting special treatment. And net neutrality supporters think that's a good thing.

There are several arguments for this neutral internet model. One is simplicity. There are thousands of networks around the world. The miracle of the internet is that anyone can set up a web server, anywhere in the world, and instantly reach everyone else, no matter where they are or what network they're using. But if broadband providers started dividing their networks up into fast lanes and slow lanes, things could get more complicated. To get satisfactory service for your website, you might have to negotiate fast-lane agreements with thousands of ISPs all over the world. Companies that didn't have the money — or the manpower — to do that would be at a competitive disadvantage.

Smaller companies with less cash and fewer lawyers are going to be at a competitive disadvantage
There's also a danger that large internet service providers will abuse their monopoly power. Most of the leading American broadband companies also sell paid television services that compete directly with online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Network owners might be tempted to relegate online video services to the slow lane to prevent them from becoming a competitive threat to their lucrative paid television businesses. Or they might charge competing services a big markup for access to the fast lane, ensuring that they won't be able to undercut them on price.

A final problem is that a multi-tiered business model could give ISPs perverse incentives. An ISP might be tempted to make its slow lane slower — or at least not upgrade it very quickly — to encourage content companies to pony up for fast-lane status.

At root, all of these arguments are about ensuring that the internet remains a fertile ground for new innovations. When Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim invented YouTube in 2005, they didn't have to negotiate special fast-lane contracts with ISPs around the world. They also didn't have to worry that incumbent broadband providers would view them as a threat to their cable services and relegate them to the slow lane — or demand fast-lane fees so high they couldn't afford to pay them. YouTube could compete with much larger companies on a level playing field. Network neutrality advocates want to make sure it stays that way.

The changing internet
When an ISP receives the bulk of its traffic through one big transit provider, as in the figure above, network neutrality is relatively easy to define. It just means that the ISP needs to handle the packets it receives over that big pipe on a first-come, first-served basis.

That's how things worked when Tim Wu, an academic who's now a law professor at Columbia, coined the termnetwork neutrality in 2002. ISPs purchased connectivity from a handful of companies that operated long-distance networks known as the internet's backbone. Companies that provided this service, known in industry lingo as "transit," acted as middle-men, carrying data between ISPs and content providers.

But the internet's structure is changing. Both residential ISPs and content companies have been growing larger and more sophisticated. And increasingly, they are cutting out the middle-men.Instead of relying on transit providers to carry traffic between them, they're connecting to each other directly. As a result, the internet increasingly looks like this:

The similarity between this figure and the previous one should be obvious. In Figure 2, MyFlix routed traffic through Global Transit (a transit provider), but it paid AT&Tcast to give its packets top priority. In Figure 3, MyFlix and AT&Tcast have established a direct connection, bypassing Global Transit altogether.

The practical result of the second scenario is identical to that of the first. MyFlix gets a fast lane, or more precisely a private "fast road." As a result, its content reaches customers faster than content sent by FaceTube and YouBook. It's worth asking: should net neutrality advocates be as worried about this kind of arrangement as they are about the "fast lane" in Figure 2?

The standoff
In the fall of 2013, Comcast customers started to notice that their Netflix streaming experience was getting worse. The average video quality got lower and it became more common for videos to suddenly stop for "buffering." These problems were cropping up because the bandwidth available to each Netflix subscriber on Comcast's network was falling rapidly:


According to Netflix, this was happening because "Comcast allowed its links to internet transit providers like Level 3, XO, Cogent and Tata to clog up." In other words, the big highways connecting Comcast with the rest of the internet were getting congested, and Comcast wasn't investing in new lanes. Comcast wouldn't speak to me on the record, but in a blog post the company doesn't dispute that clogged transit connections were responsible for the declining performance; it just blames Netflix for the problems.

Comcast and Netflix were playing a high-stakes game of chicken. Netflix, and the companies Netflix had paid to deliver its content, thought Comcast should accept traffic from them for free. Comcast thought it should be paid to accept the traffic. The result was a months-long standoff. Netflix usage increased, but the network didn't get upgraded to accommodate the traffic growth. So each user got less and less bandwidth.

In February, Netflix blinked. Unable to get the speeds it wanted through third-party transit providers, it agreed to pay Comcast for a direct connection between their networks. Here's what happened next:


Comcast says this was an ordinary business negotiation. Netflix says Comcast was making unreasonable, even unprecedented, demands. But Netflix lost the negotiations — of course that's what they would say.

This might seem like a classic he-said, she-said situation, but Netflix has a point. Industry insiders wouldn't talk to me on the record, but sources who have been on both sides of this kind of negotiation tell me Comcast's demands were highly unusual. Normally, broadband ISPs pay transit providers like Level 3 and Cogent to deliver data their customers have requested. Here, Comcast was demanding that money flow in the opposite direction.

In a competitive broadband market, Comcast's gambit wouldn't have worked. "Here in Europe with a lot of competitive networks (to each home) that's a difficult strategy to follow," says Rudolf van der Berg, a telecom analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris. "You're punishing your customers and they can go to another operator relatively easily."

But most Comcast customers have no more than one alternative. And for many of them (including people like me who are only served by Verizon DSL) that alternative is so much slower than Comcast's network that it's not a serious option. So Comcast didn't have to worry about customer defections the way a European ISP would. That means it wasn't taking much risk by refusing to upgrade its transit links.

"The big challenge with this whole internet interconnection world is that everything is opaque"
In contrast, Netflix does face serious competition. Services like Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and iTunes would love to lure customers away from Netflix. Customers can also get video content from YouTube, broadcast television, and many other sources. So Netflix's declining video quality was inevitably costing it customers.

Comcast's victory in its dispute with Netflix didn't surprise Vishal Misra, a computer scientist at Columbia who has modeled this kind of negotiation. "If there is competition on the content side but not on the eyeball side that increases the leverage that the eyeball side has on the content side," he wrote in a February blog post. If customers who subscribe to both Comcast and Netflix are dissatisfied, they can dump Netflix a lot more easily than they can dump Comcast. That gave Comcast the upper hand.

A broader concept of network neutrality?
We shouldn't be too concerned for Netflix. It's a big company, and the fees Comcast is demanding won't drive them into bankruptcy. The larger problem is that this strategy of delaying network upgrades to force Netflix to the bargaining table creates a lot of collateral damage.

Comcast says it wasn't deliberately degrading the performance of Netflix traffic, which would have been a violation of network neutrality. But that implies that every website that used the same transit provider as Netflix was experiencing similar performance problems. That's obviously bad for Comcast customers, and it's also bad for startups that are trying to become the next YouTube or Netflix. If the only way to get excellent service on America's largest broadband networks is to negotiate a private connection directly to those networks, smaller companies with less cash and fewer lawyers are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.

In other words, those public transit links that were providing Netflix with subpar service could become the de facto slow lanes on Comcast's network, while private, direct connections could become the fast lane.

Yet interconnection disputes are generally treated as a distinct issue from network neutrality. Neither the FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order, which the courts struck down earlier this year, nor FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's new proposal, would govern this kind of interconnection dispute. Wheeler has said that he intends to monitor the interconnection situation closely, but he hasn't put forward any concrete proposals to address the issue.

A poorly written rule could create a lot of work for lawyers without actually preventing abusive practices
One reason for this is that Comcast's hardball tactics are relatively new. According to Wu, "we never thought much about" interconnection issues when the concept of network neutrality was developed in 2002. That was "mainly because it seemed like, 'Why would anyone do that?'" It was generally assumed that consumer ISPs would always buy enough transit to serve their customers' needs.

Wu worked in Silicon Valley prior to 2002. And he says he remembers that "solving a joint technical challenge" — that is, making the internet work as well as possible — "was the predominant motivation of the engineers." That's still true in most parts of the internet. But some of the largest ISPs now seem to view declining network performance not as a technical problem to be solved so much as a source of leverage in business negotiations.

Another reason is that regulating interconnection is much more complex than a "classic" network neutrality rule. When all of an ISP's traffic comes through one cable, it's not too hard to write a rule requiring that the packets in that cable be treated equally. But it's harder to write a rule governing when and how ISPs must interconnect. Someone needs to pay for the cost of these connections, and the fairest way to split the costs depends on many subtle factors, including geography, traffic patterns, and the relative size of the interconnecting networks. A poorly written interconnection rule could create a lot of work for lawyers without actually preventing abusive practices.

A good first step would be to require more transparency. "The big challenge with this whole internet interconnection world is that everything is opaque," says Kevin Werbach, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania who has long emphasized the importance of interconnection in broadband regulation. "You're seeing this now with Netflix and Comcast, both sides are firing back and forth making representations about what's going on. The public doesn't actually know."

Wu says he's still mulling the best way for regulators to address this new challenge. But he believes one promising approach would be for regulators to mandate that large ISPs accept traffic bound for their own customers without payment.

Concerns about abusive interconnection practices also provide an argument against Comcast's proposed merger with Time-Warner. Comcast's sheer size gives the company leverage in its negotiations with both content and backbone companies. Further consolidation could make the problem even worse.

The bottom line is that network neutrality advocates will need to broaden their thinking to respond effectively to the internet's changing structure. Merely banning fast lanes isn't going to accomplish much if the largest ISPs are allowed to sell new private roads.
I don't think its either regulation or deregulation. This is huge money pressuring government again.

As far as calling it regulation, a simple law that says that "all data moving across the internet shall be treated equally" sounds more like a right.
The internet is not a right. If people want access to all types of data equally they'll pay for it. It's the stupid local monopolies granted by government to comcast and time warner that cause this in the first place.
First off, you are correct that the internet is not a right, but it should be, and that is a central crux of many arguments in favor of Net Neutrality. Secondly, it is not the local monopolies that cause Net Neutrality issues. Its the inaction of the FCC and these companies ability to operate with virtually no oversight. I believe they refer to that as regulation, but I have to do some more research on the topic.
Actually, the internet is largely akin to a utility, and as evidenced by the oligarcchy of providers it is something of a natural monopoly. Hence it must be regulated in the people's interests. This means fairly. Now if you want to charge per megabyte of transfer, go for it. But this nonsense they're trying is analogous to choking off water pressure or full wattage of house current unless you pony up more bucks.

However...when the fuck is the law gonna get serious about spam? The vast majority of e-mail bandwidth is unwanted bullshit. Are there laws against this yet that are just not being enforced? That Do Not Call list and the threat of fines has worked very nicely. Do it with e-mail! Come on FCC or FTC or whatever.
That's like using automated toll collection to tabulate speeding: if they did it, they'd lose all their customers.
The CP is already sanctioned.
I think we were referring to it like a utility, not as a utility. It's fine to moan about regulation, but its pretty clear the lack of government agency accountability to the public is creating a nasty situation nobody wants except for a few corporations.
Once you let the cunts in they never leave. They've ruined radio and broadcast TV. Give them the chance and they'll ruin the internet too. They just can't do it. They are incompetent assholes. I'm not saying your goal of net neutrality isn't a good goal, I'm saying it simply can't be done.

The internet and its neutrality has been around almost 20 years... how has it been done up until now then?
Because the government had nothing to do with it. The government ruins everything they touch.

Well, if net neutrality is the goal, and corporations are trying to fuck it up, and the government would fuck it up even worse, then what would you propose?
Not to be an argumentative douchebag, but how has it been done for almost 20 years?
Actually, the internet is largely akin to a utility, and as evidenced by the oligarcchy of providers it is something of a natural monopoly. Hence it must be regulated in the people's interests. This means fairly. Now if you want to charge per megabyte of transfer, go for it. But this nonsense they're trying is analogous to choking off water pressure or full wattage of house current unless you pony up more bucks.

However...when the fuck is the law gonna get serious about spam? The vast majority of e-mail bandwidth is unwanted bullshit. Are there laws against this yet that are just not being enforced? That Do Not Call list and the threat of fines has worked very nicely. Do it with e-mail! Come on FCC or FTC or whatever.
No, the internet is not akin to a utility. Nor is it a utility. That is a major crux of the argument here - that despite being an essential service in people's lives, it has no such status, and thus is free to have business corrupt it so. The regulation "in the people's interests" would be by turning it into a utility. I have absolutely no idea how that analogy makes any sense, or what it relates to.

JimmyRustler would regulate your spam by himself, since, you know, no regulation is involved. And clearly the business are doing fine on their own with this shit.
All other things being equal, I'll take net neutrality. Corporations fuck things up at least as bad. How do you think we ended up with the government we have? It wasn't thru people's votes, that's for sure.
I mean seriously, has there ever been a government program that hasn't been corrupted by corporate influence? The answer is no. Giving the government more power just means you're giving the corporations more power.

I'm not saying you're right or wrong, I'm just saying that corporations will fuck things up way worse than the gov can. Corporations are the bigger evil as they are the puppet masters.

You're right, there is no clear reasonable thing to do, we are past that. The clear reasonable thing to do is for everyone to accept it's for the common good to have net neutrality and not fuck it up, but corporations have started to fuck it up so I'm going to side with what's in my interests. We're in this situation because corporations can't respect net neutrality as a good thing to have. They're trying to profit off of fucking up our internet, so in this sense, I believe it's better as a utility.

It's the same as trusting corporations to protect our water supply, prisons, fire departments or water. I'm not saying the gov does a good job with any of those, save maybe water, but you'd be drinking water laced with Powerade if it were the other way around.
WTF, why were our posts deleted?

Per above, there is choice, and then the illusion of choice. Don't be fooled into thinking you have one. I'll keep it short since the dictator here is feeling deletey.
Sure, Rambo approved political speech is allowed in Today in Awesome but present an opposing viewpoint and get shuffled off.
Your dumbass viewpoints not withstanding, that thread isn't the home for your political ranting.
WTF, why were our posts deleted?

Per above, there is choice, and then the illusion of choice. Don't be fooled into thinking you have one. I'll keep it short since the dictator here is feeling deletey.
Not deleted, just moved to the Jimmy's Bullshit thread.
Your dumbass viewpoints not withstanding, that thread isn't the home for your political ranting.

Not deleted, just moved to the Jimmy's Bullshit thread.

You might as well have deleted it. Nobody posts in there.
you can always choose an alternative with the corporations

ISPs are an oligopoly at best and need regulation to guarantee they act in the consumer's interest and are not colluding.
If one company existed that maintained net neutrality voluntarily, that would be evidence of non-collusion. That won't happen. If a company can bilk customers into paying more for less, with no real risk of loss because of a lack of competition, they will. That is tacit collusion and is totally contrary to the free market.
The free market requires regulation.

As for the Bell example, is land line telephone service any cheaper now that we have phony competition?
As for the Bell example, is land line telephone service any cheaper now that we have phony competition?

Interesting point. You know Verizon charges more for cable and internet than it does for cable, internet and phone? They basically force a land line on you.

Long distance is cheaper, but that's a red herring. We should be paying for a data connection, that's all. Phone calls, internet and TV are all just streams of data and they come into your house in the same pipe. And if they don't where you are, they could with some infrastructure.

Somehow, Verizon feels it makes sense to charge you for 3 services. And they make you pay for hundreds of channels you could never even name.

But yet somehow, some believe that this is a result of a free market, with free market principles. In reality it's a completely closed club just like the banks are.
No company will ever act in the consumer's best interest. That's not why you run a business. The idea that the government can guarantee this is a joke, as the government will never act in the consumer's best interest either.

And who the fuck still has a land line? I can say that my cell bill is half the price of a landline I had in 1998, even without adjusting for inflation. And I can watch porn for free on my phone without having to dial one of those 900 numbers and having a fat hog breathe longingly into my ear while I desperately Jack off.

And the free market does not need regulation. The reason we have monopolies like Comcast is because of regulation, not in spite of it. When they have unfettered access granted by local governments to the infrastructure there can be no competition.

Not true. You run a business. Aren't you acting on the consumers of your service's best interests?

The government will act in the best interests of whoever contributes more to it's campaign kitty.

See my post above about a land line.

In fact we do have regulated monopolies because of regulation. The alternative is that they'd all eventually merge into one media company and then you'd never have a choice again because they'd squash any attempt to compete. Just like Rockefeller, Carnegie and JP Morgan once did. Their business practices go so abusive it forced action, like it or not. The quaint idea that pure competition is somehow the solution and perhaps more misguided than the idea government can solve the problem. Capitalism is a failed system just like communism, it has just managed to last longer.

We're not a capitalist country anyway, though we delude ourselves of that fact. We're a nation that has socialized losses and privatized profits. The 1% wins again, and people keep on cheering their NFL team, political party, and read about Ebola. This is what you get when you become a nation of stupids.

I don't really recall all the Ted Cruz anti-government types chiming in when the patriot act came into being. Now we have an NSA massively spying on us but whatever, Monday night football is on.
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Sure, Rambo approved political speech is allowed in Today in Awesome but present an opposing viewpoint and get shuffled off.
I've moved all of the posts, including the original cartoon to the Net Neutrality thread. You were absolutely right to call me on this bullshit. I apologize for that and for my shitty comment about your views. While I obviously disagree with them, it wasn't right to speak out loud like that. I was in a lot of pain earlier and wasn't in the best mood. This is obviously not an excuse, but its at least honest.

Sorry to everyone else who's posts I shuffled around as well. I'll try to do better.
Since I don't want my embarrassment to be the most recent post, I'll post some news:

OfficePants OfficePants you'll like this one

How Much Money Big Cable Gave the Politicians Who Oversee the Internet

Minutes after President Obama unveiled his plan for net neutrality yesterday, Republicans leaders like Ted Cruz came out swinging. You can chalk up the backlash to more than just partisan spite; Cruz has taken his share of campaign money from telecom giants. And he's far from the exception.

Democrats and Republicans alike received over $8 million from the four major telecom companies and their trade group in the 2014 election alone. For some context, the top five pharmaceutical groups spent only half as much in the same cycle.

It's no big surprise that corporations throw their monetary weight around. But it is especially worrying when the FCC is already cozy with the very industry it's supposed to regulate. Who, in turn, is supposed to make sure the FCC does its job? Why, that's your elected officials of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet and the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology—almost all of whom have received campaign funds from cable giants.

We've collected all the campaign contributions to these politicians from Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T, and their trade group the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA). These are megacorporations with many political interests—including piracy, taxes, privacy, and spectrum allocation to name just a few—so their donations reach a wider pool than just these subcommittee members. But it's hard not to notice patterns, such as the trade group's near-consistent contribution of $10,000 to almost every Republican member of the House subcommittee.

Here is exactly how much telecoms gave to the election and reelection campaigns of the politicians tasked with overseeing the FCC.

Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet

The lone senator on the subcommittee who has not taken money from the telecom industry is Maria Cantwell of Washington. It's probably no coincidence that back in 2011, she introduced a bill to strengthen net neutrality rules.

On the other hand, the money trail is always so clear either. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, another vocal supporter of net neutrality, received the most generous contribution from Comcast in the 2014 elections. Yesterday, he called Obama's plan a " game changer." It may be that Comcast's donations were related to other political issues, or it may simply be money can only buy you so much influence with a politician who's made up his mind.

House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

Telecom money is greasing many pockets in the House, but it may be worth pointing out Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a Republican who has called net neutrality rules "socialistic." She also introduced an amendment to limit the FCC's power to help create community broadband networks that compete with big cable companies.

The Long, Convoluted Money Trail
But these numbers don't even paint the whole picture. Corporations can also donate to a candidate's associated leadership Political Action Committee (PAC), whose money the candidate doles out for the campaigns of political allies.

Take, for example, the case of Senator Mark Pryor, chairman of the senate subcommittee. In this election cycle, Pryor received $10,000 from Comcast itself. His PAC, called Priority PAC, actually netted another $27,500 from Comcast.

But wait—we can keep playing this game—that's not all. The Federal Election Commission also tracks the employer of individuals who contribute to campaigns. This might not seem relevant, until you see that from 2013 to 2014 Pryor received $30,750 from employees of Comcast, all of eight of whom are Comcast executives. In total, Comcast has actually spent $70,650 on Pryor, becoming his second biggest contributor. For his part, the senator has never made a strong stance on net neutrality.

If it all seems confusing, yes, that is deliberate. If it all seems like a way to obfuscate exactly how much money is going where, yes, that is deliberate, too.

Pryor, by the way, lost his bid for reelection last week. What his loss and the GOP takeover of the Senate will mean for the issues still remains to be seen. But you can bet on plenty of money sloshing around on the Hill.

Correction: The charts in this post have been updated to correct for math errors.

Note on methodology: Since senators are elected every six years, the Senate chart includes data from 2010, 2012, and 2014 to account for campaign contributions to every member. The House chart includes only the 2014 elections. All data comes from FEC documents collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.
There are two separate thought streams being banged together. One is actual net neutrality. A byte should be a commodity and corporate price discrimination simply leads to censorship and corporatization of the internet. The more recent issue is that the government, especially the current one, is incompetent and untrustworthy. Both are true and not necessarily mutually exclusive.
If net neutrality is enacted in a simple, almost constitutional, way with a few direct statements, most would likely favor it. I think the opposition, as seen by Ted Cruz's words, fear a byzantine muck that actually achieves the opposite of what is desired.
Interesting how the comments on this have swung away from Net Neutrality. I used to never see negative comments in the articles at Gizmodo. Now they're pretty prevalent:

That's because corporations have started to deploy their evil. Not kidding. This is manufactured. People are getting paid.

Just look above at the list of politicians getting paid for reference if you doubt this "news" push against net neutrality is real.

I have a close friend that works for one of the largest corporations in the world, and her department is responsible for coordinating these types of things to serve the company interests.

We saw this same thing recently when it was exposed how the NFL has shills all over the place to control stories before they break.

Lies, people. Lies.

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