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Sameer Soleja’s misrepresentation of Net Neutrality

By 27 August 2010 12 Comments

It’s amazing how much ignorance is perpetuated about the issue of Net Neutrality and Sameer Soleja of the Baker Institute just posted the usual nonsense from the Internet regulation crowed.  Soleja posted this misleading blog entry on Net Neutrality that completely misrepresents the policy debate on Net neutrality and wrote:

“Let’s say you’ve settled into the couch in your living room to watch “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” streaming from Netflix. What if your Internet provider decides that Jack Nicholson is less important than your neighbor’s work e-mail attachment, and all of a sudden your movie stops playing for a minute? That’d be annoying.

Maybe you would be willing to pay just a bit more to make sure you could watch Netflix without interruption. Now, what if your provider were to charge you $50 a month for this privilege? Could you switch carriers in protest? Sure you could, unless your provider had an exclusive agreement to provide access to Netflix.”

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Net Neutrality debate and anyone familiar with any of the proposed regulation or proposed legislation on Net Neutrality knows this.  The nightmare scenario painted by Soleja is a non-issue in the policy debate because your broadband provider is contractually obligated by their peering agreements to carry Netflix traffic with best effort even without additional payment from Netflix or the end user to specifically access Netflix.

If your broadband provider blocks Netflix unless either you or Netflix pays the broadband provider, that is a violation of the broadband provider’s contractual obligations to its Internet peering partners and to its broadband customer.  The broadband provider would also get raked over the coal by the public, the media, the FCC and the Congress so it is a complete nonstarter.

However, your broadband provider is free to offer you or some website an enhancement at a fee, though the transactional cost and price sensitivity of consumers make consumer paid enhancements extremely unlikely to succeed in the market place.  The broadband provider can and is more likely to offer an enhanced service to Netflix or some other website at a price to performance ratio that is competitive in the marketplace to alternatives like generic IP transit service or Content Delivery Networks (CDNs).  So long as the offer doesn’t carry an implied or explicit threat to de-prioritize or block the site below best effort for rejecting the offer, it is legal practice in the Internet marketplace that will be adopted or rejected by the market place.

For example, reviews of Comcast’s paid peering service (likely taken offline due to the Non Disclosure nature of the information) suggested that it could at times perform twice as well as congested IP transit services while costing a third of traditional Internet transit rates.

Note: Most business to business (B2B) transactions are conducted under NDA because they are treated as trade secrets and Google for example forces all of its suppliers to sign NDAs.  An Intel executive once bragged about winning Google’s business and that didn’t go over well with Google.  This is why we rarely hear about the truly non-neutral and highly differentiated nature of the Internet.

Net Neutrality proponents want to outlaw these purely voluntary agreements and they’ve managed to get the current FCC majority to propose outlawing the sale of “enhanced or prioritized” services to Business to Customer (B2C) websites even if they are completely beneficial to the website, the broadband provider, and the consumer.  But to scare the public into supporting these restrictive regulations on voluntary agreements that are available at non-discriminatory prices to anyone, Net Neutrality proponents like Sameer Soleja wants the public to believe that they are stopping broadband providers from engaging in extortion.

Here are some more misleading arguments from Sameer Soleja about these supposedly exclusive agreements:

“Exclusive agreements are part of the long game, and one that net neutrality proponents worry about feverishly. Websites such as CNN might require Internet providers to pay them for access. Alternatively, Internet providers such as Verizon might charge individual websites to allow access for subscribers on their networks. (Neither of these scenarios, by the way, is far-fetched. ESPN360.com is only accessible to customers of certain telcos, and Verizon largely locks its subscribers into using Microsoft’s Bing search engine on their BlackBerrys.) At this point, the Internet starts looking like a giant cable television network. Consumers are definitely not on the winning end of that configuration.”

It’s very ironic that Soleja picked ESPN360 as an example of ISP extortion.  ESPN3 (formerly ESPN360) isn’t a case of ISPs holding up websites for money; it’s just the opposite.  I broke this story in 2006 that ESPN blocks entire ISP networks unless the ISP pays ESPN a per-subscriber fee.

The blackberry example has nothing to do with the wired broadband world and there are no such examples in wired broadband.  Soleja is conflating device and web browser settings with mobile broadband.  The mobile world operates very differently and the web browser search settings varies from device to device but can be changed by the end user.  It is no different than Google’s play on Clearwire and what Apple will be doing on their iPhone or iPad devices.

These misrepresentations about the Net Neutrality debate are widespread and even the Washington Post’s attempt at a thoughtful discussion had many serious factual errors about how the Internet works.  We cannot write good Internet policy based on emotions and myths.

12 Comments »

  • AllisonQ said:

    I think you mean that Soleja has written a misleading blog *post*, not a misleading blog. The “blog” is the publication–the “post” is a particular article within the publication. Pretty glaring error for someone who begins each of his own posts by talking about how ignorant everyone else is.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @AllisonQ

    When you have to resort to petty copy editing semantics to attack someone rather than pointing out any substantive issues, it doesn’t bode well for your argument.

  • AllisonQ said:

    I haven’t made an argument. I agree totally with your post and with your assessment of Soleja’s post. Just because I agree with you doesn’t mean I can’t criticize your incessant condescension and delight in your semantic errors.

    I don’t find my comments petty at all: you’ve made a glaring error (one that is a pet peeve of many bloggers who have been around for a while), while calling someone else ignorant. That particular mistake undermines your credibility as a blogger, and it certainly adds a level of irony to your constant accusations that everyone is ignorant except for you.

    Oh, and nice try with your effort to catch me making an ad hominem argument, but I didn’t. I don’t think your post is wrong because you think “blog” is acceptable shorthand for “blog post.” Next time you accuse someone of “resorting to petty copy editing semantics to attack someone rather than pointing out any substantive issues,” you should make sure he actually disagrees with you.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    Sorry if you don’t accept that shorthand, but “Glaring error” with implied equivalence in ignorance? “Delight” in these errors? It doesn’t matter if you agree with my main point or not, but that seems like an awful lot of nasty ink (figurative ink just in case you pull semantics on me) that you didn’t have to spill.

    I have to be “incessant” in calling out major ignorance because so many people are incessantly spreading false information with very substantive flaws.

  • Nealstar said:

    Give it a rest AllisonQ. George didn’t call it a “blog” but rather a “blog entry”. Try reading for comprehension. The post, entry or article was informative, accurate and easily understood and, in that you obviously have an issue with George rather than the content of his “blog post”, you engaged in a classical example of ad hominem argument in which you attacked the person and not the content.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @Nealstar

    Thanks for your defense, but I’m going to have to apologize to you for putting you in an slightly awkward position. I had changed it to “blog entry” after his correction. I didn’t want to use the repetitive phrase of “posting a post”.

    The mistake deserved a correction, though AllisonQ went overboard.

    We will note changes in an obvious manner for major errors or anything that changes the substantive meaning of a post. But for minor typos or grammatical mistakes, those just get fixed silently. This was the policy I learned at ZDNet when I was Editor at Large there.

  • AllisonQ said:

    Actually, Nealstar, an ad hominem argument is when one attacks an argument based on a non-relevant characteristic of the speaker. “George makes semantic errors, therefore his thoughts on Sameer Soleja aren’t credible” would be an ad hominem argument.

    “George makes semantic errors” by itself is not an ad hominem line of argumentation because, as I pointed out, it isn’t an argument at all and has no bearing on my assessment of the validity of his post.

  • Nealstar said:

    AllisonQ,

    “I don’t find my comments petty at all: you’ve made a glaring error (one that is a pet peeve of many bloggers who have been around for a while), while calling someone else ignorant. That particular mistake undermines your credibility as a blogger…”

    Stating that his “glaring error…undermines” his “credibility as a blogger” is an attack on the writer rather than an attack on the facts presented. Walking like a duck + quacking like a duck ≠ an owl.

  • ChristyR said:

    Must be tough having to spend your days pointing out the constant inaccuracies of the mere mortals that surround you. You are so pretentious, I don’t care if you are correct or not.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @ChristyR

    If I came off pretentious, then I should apologize. In retrospect, perhaps I didn’t use the right tone to start this blog entry. One of the challenges us engineer types face is that we aren’t as diplomatic as we should be and we’re often too blunt. All I can do is learn from it and improve next time.

    Regardless of style, being correct on the facts should matter in any important debate. To say that correctness doesn’t matter is just spiteful and it is an ad hominem attack that avoids dealing with the inconvenient facts. I’ll try to come off as less pretentious and I hope you’ll be a little less spiteful.

  • AllisonQ said:

    Nealstar, yes, of course it was an attack on the writer–that’s what I’ve been saying. He made a *blogging* error that made him look silly, particularly so to other bloggers.

    However, I have no attack to make on the facts George presented or his interpretations of their meaning. Well done, George!

    You seem to be having trouble processing the notion that I can criticize someone’s writing without criticizing their conclusions: the two are unrelated in my mind.

    If it has a bill and lays eggs, sometimes it’s a platypus, not a duck.

  • George Ou (author) said:

    @AllisonQ

    Silly if it were something that was supposed to be copy edited, but not so silly to have mistakes in blogs that are published in real-time. Mistakes in grammar and spelling happen and we correct them and move on.