Net Neutrality and the Coding Horror Post

Posted about 3 years ago

A while back I tweeted about a post on coding horror, an insightful blog by a very clever man (despite him being so heavily embedded in Microsoft technologies) who goes by the name of Jeff Atwood.

The post was on the subject of net neutrality and referenced an article in the Washington post (from 2006) regarding a bill being passed in U.S congress at the time. I didn't learn anything from the actual article that was particularly surprising to me. What was surprising was the reaction to the article which was visible in the comments.

I searched far and wide to quote a reputable non-biased source for a definition of net neutrality and have had great difficulty, which is symptomatic of the problem I will discuss shortly.

"If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level."

Is a quote from the great Tim Berner-Lee, the inventor of the Internet, so he should know. You may need to re-read the quote to understand what he is actually trying to say, but once you understand the quote you should be able to admire it for it's simplicity (although some may argue that even Tim's argument carries some bias). What Tim is saying is, a user who pays for an Internet service at a certain level of quality shouldn't have that level tampered with by any organisation, ISP, government etc. who may wish to restrict, favour, or control in anyway varying types of traffic or content (I think he actually put it better personally but then he did make the Internet).

There is plenty of literature available about net neutrality, Tim Berner-Lee, Tim Wu and Google's stance and there are constant swings as to what will be the future of net neutrality holds. At present these swings are mainly centering around the Federal Communications Commission and whether it has the power to enforce the rules that were adopted to maintain net neutrality as stated in this article on FFC and the new rules. However in this post I only want to voice my surprise about the tech's reaction and state some of my reasons.

Putting aside the argument that the coding horror post had been overrun by a 'libertarian flashmob' (as described in the comments) as even if there was a campaign drummed to hit this post I believe if there was really such a strong opinion for net neutrality in the tech community, the hijacking of the site would have invoked a viscous and sizable back lash which didn't seem to be apparent.

First I would argue that in the post and in general the lines are yet to be clearly drawn for the discussion. There are various voices all arguing for and against different levels of net neutrality. Here are the different roles as I see them.

The ISP's - want complete control of traffic, at present they are arguing they only want control of types of traffic, streaming media, P2P etc... so they can provide a better quality of service to general users, opponents to this argument state that making such concessions may accelerate a power grab where the ISP's are then able to control content and traffic to particular sites promote there own services and the services of allies and large companies that get them lots of money. Thus trampling the smaller companies and stifling competition.

The Entrepreneurs - believe regulations should be removed, this would lead to heavy innovation as companies are let lose to see how they could profit from a new opener playing field with new rules, also there seems to be an underlying feeling in this camp that the ISP's own/maintain the network so they should be able to do what they want, which quite frankly is bullshit. A valid argument however is that initial proposals for de-regulation only incorporates traffic type and not control of traffic to specific sites (this is a vital point). The counter argument being innovation has been fueled by net neutrality and the ability for smaller newer companies to have the opportunity to be as visible on the net as the larger companies.

The Liberals - hate regulations and government incompetence, generally the idea of net neutrality only extends to traffic types and the improvement of quality of service by restricting certain traffic.

Net neutralists - want regulation to protect the neutrality of the Internet. The concept ISP's having greater control appears a frightening prospect. Sub category - Purists believe the Internet should conform to the laws laid out by the founding fathers


The argument is often distorted by inaccurate claims an example of which is that at present the networks are unable to implement quality of service measures because of the net neutrality regulations, which most informed people know is nonsense however quality of service mechanisms may be improved if such regulations are dropped. This point is particularly well illustrated by this comment from climbing_yggdrasil

"I'm surprised that no one has pointed out that net neutrality% kills babies. Surely that's a more important argument than "net neutrality%% requires all packets to be treated the same way" or "net neutrality** makes QoS illegal."

% Assuming you incorrectly define the phrase net neutrality to mean "killing babies" in order to win an argument. %% Assuming you incorrectly define the phrase net neutrality to mean "treating all packets the same way without regard to QoS issues or protocol" in order to win an argument.

On the other hand net neutralists try and sell the argument on the fact the ISPs will have free rain to control who goes to which domain and how fast, such proposals aren't even on the cards, although no doubt they will be if grip on legislation starts slipping.

No one wants the government in charge of matters they know little about, although are they the lesser of 2 evils? It's ISP's who buy up frequency ranges for Wide area networks without utilizing them to there potential because they know they are unable to spin a profit as effectively. I think despite government incompetence they have a greater interest in keeping citizens happy, the goal of a ISP is surely to move closer to total control of traffic as this is the way to maximize profits and by allowing certain aspects of net neutrality to slip it brings them closer to this goal.

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