Net Neutrality

It’s kind of disheartening watching the net neutrality decisions being made, given that neither the people making the decisions nor most of the people reporting on those decisions appear to have the faintest goddamn idea what they’re talking about.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a news article about net neutrality that didn’t contain at least one baldfaced lie about what neutrality actually is.

Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican, said during the debate that supporters of the F.C.C.’s order wanted “to give the F.C.C. power over business plans,” by restricting the ability of broadband service companies to offer tiered service, for which customers pay based on the amount of Internet bandwidth they use. Just as a customer at a fast-food restaurant pays more for a large Coke than for a small one, Mr. Terry said, Internet companies should be free to charge customers more if they consume a greater amount of bandwidth because of heavy use of features like streaming video.

That’s great, except for the fact that that’s not what tiered service means. It’s already legal to charge people more if they use more bandwidth. (My ISP has done it for years.) That has literally nothing at all to do with net neutrality.

“Tiered service” is completely different: allowing tiered service would mean ISPs would gain the right to effectively make some parts of the internet go faster by slowing down or completely blocking other parts of the internet.

Right now a packet of information is a packet of information, and they all get treated equally. That, in a nutshell, is the definition of net neutrality: the carrier has to be neutral in its handling of the information it carries. Allowing “tiered service” would mean that ISPs could decide to put some packets through faster, and others more slowly or not at all, based on, well, whatever they decide.

So ISPs could block bittorrent or streaming video, or they could favor their own services while making competitors’ services run unusably badly, or they could charge more for access to some websites than to others (or simply block some altogether if they choose.)

To compare it to telephone service: what Terry is describing would be like charging more for a ten-minute call than for a one-minute call; or charging more for a long-distance call than for a local call. What tiered service would allow is completely different: with tiered service they could charge more for a call from Alice than for a call from Bob, and prevent you from talking to Charlie at all.

It’s infuriating to see Rep. Terry putting out such a baldfaced lie. But it’s much much more infuriating to see the New York Times report it as just another he-said-she-said, and apparently not bother to do the tiniest bit of fact checking.

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