July 17, 2006 11:36 AM PDT

Technologists square off on Net neutrality

WASHINGTON--Two Internet pioneers dueled on Monday over whether proposed Net neutrality regulations supported by companies like Google and Amazon.com are the best way to prevent "abusive" behavior by broadband providers.

A debate here hosted by the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research institute that brags of challenging "conservative thinking," pitted Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf, who co-developed the Internet's backbone protocols and has emerged as a leading proponent of congressional antidiscrimination mandates for network operators, against Dave Farber, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist widely considered to be a "grandfather" of the Internet.

The pair of technologists appeared to agree on at least one thing: Network operators, in general, shouldn't be allowed to interfere with Net users' activities. Where they disagreed was on the role that Congress and federal regulators should play in the ongoing debate over so-called Net neutrality, the idea that network operators must generally give equal treatment to all content that travels over their pipes.

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Without legislation that expressly bars network operators from engaging in such prioritization, start-up Web innovators will suffer and consumers may have to pay higher prices to reach the content they want, Cerf warned.

"I am very concerned that we do not have adequate competition today to act as a restraint on abusive practices on some of the broadband carriers," Cerf said, "and until we have that kind of competition, we still need oversight and some kind of constraints."

When asked by a Comcast representative in the audience whether the same antidiscrimination mandate should apply to browsers, operating systems and search engines like Google, Cerf dismissed the analogy as a "red herring." (One U.S. House of Representatives member, in fact, had put forth such a proposal, and one Senate Republican confessed to having a parallel idea up his sleeve, though he never formally introduced it.)

"There is plenty of competition and choice" in that arena, so new rules aren't needed, Cerf said.

Monday's event came as a massive communications bill, criticized by Net neutrality proponents like Cerf for failing to include adequate protections, awaits a vote by the full Senate. It remains unclear how soon the vote will occur.

Farber said he opposed the antidiscrimination language Net neutrality advocates are pushing, because the proposals are too "hazy" and could create a "slippery slope" to even broader regulations.

"I could see some future congressional politicians who would say, 'Well, you know, we really don't want traffic on the Net that, for instance, is X-rated, and we'd like to stop that,'" he said.

The most efficient way to deal with allegations of "real anticompetitive behavior" is through traditional antitrust and consumer protection avenues at agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, he said. (Farber worked at the FCC during the Clinton administration.)

At times, each technologist voiced exasperation about the direction in which the ongoing battle has turned. Cerf said it was time to renew "careful consideration" of the issue rather than "hurling bumper stickers back and forth at each other."

The debate has turned into a "show," with "everything in the kitchen sink...brought to bear under the Net neutrality banner," Farber said, adding, "I think it's obscured the fundamental question that should be addressed, and that's the future of our communications systems."

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Eh... yes and no.
Cerf was right in that the Comcast Rep's question about equivalent laws on OSes and browsers was a red herring, but his reasoning was not quite right - browsers and operating systems are not infrastructure, and thus operate under different dynamics.

Personally, I agree that laws should be avoided if at all possible, with the absolute most being done is a law that states, in effect: "Internet Service Providers shall not sort or prioritize packets or connections in any way with regard to content, source, or destination, for any reason." Nothing else is needed, [i]or wanted[/i].

I'm sure someone will pipe in ab't ICMP vs. TCP vs UDP and whatnot, but seriously - it's not the ISP's responsibility to filter packets - it's the end users who should be doing that.

Wanna get into the ISP game? That's your one and only rule.
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
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Real World
A law as simple as the one you state will *never* leave the US Congress. It will gather amendments for things related and unrelated to Net Neutrality. Thus, the best approach is to avoid a law altogether if possible.

I see a few basic questions. First, is there a problem today? If not, the mere discussion of the topic will serve as notice to the carriers to tread warily.

Second, can folks detect the throttling remotely? I should think so. If so, then we'll know when the problem does arise. At that point, we can decide what the carrier is actually doing and whether it is appropriate. If the behavior is deemed inappropriate, the carrier may simply kowtow to public pressure. If that fails, *then* we can enact a law.

Until there is a problem, let's avoid the law. Then we'll avoid the noise that accompanies what we need and prevent judges from inventing something never intended in the first place.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
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Standards?
I tend to discount slippery slope arguments. The basic premise is that if we allow this thing which isnt bad, it opens the door to something else that is. Im sorry, but I just dont buy it. Everything should be looked at in terms of the thing itself. But there does need to be an absolute standard to which everything is measured. The only way a slippery slope argument works is if there are no standards by which we can measure things. If that is the case, then everything is a slippery slope, and all action gives no certainty of the future. The debate over Net Neutrality should stand or fall on its own merit or demerit, not on what might occur, or camel under the edge of the tent arguments. Either it is okay for a company to impose any throttling of net traffic, or it is not. If it is not okay for net traffic to be selectively throttled, then it ought to be stated and the statement, if it has no force of law, is meaningless if there is any way for profit to be made by subverting it. If it is okay for net traffic to be selectively throttled, then Net Neutrality is a bad thing as it would restrict a valid action from being accomplished.

Personally, I believe it would be improper for the internet to have tiered service. A regulation that states: transmission shall not be given priority or restriction based on content or origin would be a good thing. It would preclude stating that content would be restricted, it would also preclude the carriers (dare I say common carriers) from doing any restrictions or priority routing of their own data. Giving the FCC the directive to assure that simple statement is followed would be no different than their directives to assure telephone service is interoperable among the many companies (many more than what the choices are for internet service).
Posted by bwithnell (12 comments )
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Slippery Slope
The problem with your discounting "slippery slope" arguments is that it is couched firmly in an ideal world. In the real world, legislators tack on amendments that exclude one thing or another or introduce things wholly unrelated to the purpose (and name) of the bill. Beyond that, once there is a law, judges are terribly inventive at extending its application in ways unimagined by the legislators. Thus, there is most definitely a slippery slope to be avoided whenever possible.

If there is a *real* problem with Net Neutrality, rather than one invented or exaggerated, then the ideal is a simple law such as you have proposed. Sadly, we'll never see that ideal leave the US Congress. Don't forget that directing the FCC or other agency to monitor these things either implies increasing funding to enable the monitoring or a paper tiger.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
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Yay! Affirmative action for retarded websites!
Red Herring eh? Well while we're on the topic of logical fallacies Cerf is guilty of both Hasty Generalization and the Relativist Fallacy. Proof of his Hasty Generalization - How many broadband providers are using discriminatory practices on their networks? Percentage wise? How many cases of this have happened in the US and _only_ in the US? The truth: There have been like 5 instances of this (Im close its small) and at least one from the likes of AOL. AOL being a grand example in this case because of the documented exodus of their customer base as a consequence of their all around poor service in general. When the people get wise there are always about 1,000 alternatives to turn to. Proof of his Relativist Fallacy - This type of law only applies to the service of networks? Not to for instance the speed of software running on the Microsoft OS? Why is the network suddenly so important to protect but not software? The truth: Because theyre not in Cerfs special interest group and they're not the ones paying him off today.

And the big question: Why is only one side presented with clarity in the entirety of this article? For instance do any of Farbers quotes ever seem to outline a serious counter argument to Net Neutrality? No, not really. Simple answer: Guess which side of this issue cnet is on? This is exactly proof of why government gets worse over time just as our US government has since its inception. Special interests groups, one by one, taking over the rights of the individual and the individuals trade in the market. And these special interests groups, one by one, get the media to subversively white lie to the public as this piece classically demonstrates in order to pass destructive laws with Orwellian newspeak names like Net Neutrality.
Posted by gunplay (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yay! Affirmative action for retarded websites!
Red Herring eh? Well while we're on the topic of logical fallacies Cerf is guilty of both Hasty Generalization and the Relativist Fallacy. Proof of his Hasty Generalization - How many broadband providers are using discriminatory practices on their networks? Percentage wise? How many cases of this have happened in the US and _only_ in the US? The truth: There have been like 5 instances of this (Im close its small) and at least one from the likes of AOL. AOL being a grand example in this case because of the documented exodus of their customer base as a consequence of their all around poor service in general. When the people get wise there are always about 1,000 alternatives to turn to. Proof of his Relativist Fallacy - This type of law only applies to the service of networks? Not to for instance the speed of software running on the Microsoft OS? Why is the network suddenly so important to protect but not software? The truth: Because theyre not in Cerfs special interest group and they're not the ones paying him off today.

And the big question: Why is only one side presented with clarity in the entirety of this article? For instance do any of Farbers quotes ever seem to outline a serious counter argument to Net Neutrality? No, not really. Simple answer: Guess which side of this issue cnet is on? This is exactly proof of why government gets worse over time just as our US government has since its inception. Special interests groups, one by one, taking over the rights of the individual and the individuals trade in the market. And these special interests groups, one by one, get the media to subversively white lie to the public as this piece classically demonstrates in order to pass destructive laws with Orwellian newspeak names like Net Neutrality.
Posted by gunplay (18 comments )
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Pipeline controls
The reason I want full control as an ISP is so that I can give you better service. I'm all about you man. Trust me.
Posted by aqvarivs (38 comments )
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