I Reluctantly Support Net Neutrality

Being the CTO of Being Libertarian, an IT contractor, and a network administrator, I’ve been asked a lot about my views regarding Net Neutrality. Normally, I would say the government needs to leave the internet completely unregulated. However, much like the minimum wage argument being a side effect of government involvement in the form of the Federal Reserve, Net Neutrality is resolving a symptom of the crony capitalism of the Internet Service Provider market.

What do I mean by this? How many ISP’s can provide the internet to your residence or business? Most people in the USA have one quality choice, two if they are lucky. I can not tell you the number of times a company has come to me for IT services and I find the ISP is just not up to par. For example, a doctor’s office I was trying to service could only get AT&T DSL at 6Mbps (and wasn’t all that stable and the fastest I could get was 12Mbps). Meanwhile, merely one mile away at my house, I was pushing 60 Mbps and could, at the time, get up to 120Mbps. My provider Wide Open West was unable to service 1 mile down the road, not because they couldn’t technologically do it, but rather because it was in another municipality and there was a whole other bunch of regulations to figure out. I was then told it would be at least 6 months and around $3,000 initial cost to be able to have them roll out to that office, for an internet that would cost a mere $40 per month but be a lot more stable. I tried calling Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum): similar result. Our only solution was AT&T or a bonded T1 or partial T3 internet at a whopping $300-$1,500 per month for what we needed. So we ended up struggling, having multiple AT&T technicians come out to rewire their and reconfigure their DSLAM’s in the area, until it was finally reasonable. We waited a whole year and a half for AT&T to finally allow 24Mbps internet in the area after the initial contact with my client to manage their network.

You’ll find this weird issue with certain ISP services ending right where a new municipality begins often. I had this issue with my favorite ISP Wide Open West. When I moved from my childhood home to another municipality a mere two miles down the road, we found that we were not able to retain their service, so we went with the more expensive AT&T U-Verse, then Insight cable, which was gobbled up by Spectrum, and we were ecstatic when 2 months after Spectrum had bought our ISP, that a W. O. W. salesman came to our door, and we jumped back into their services as we loved the quality, competitive spirit and pricing they offered. All this after almost three years because we had no choice due to where we lived.

However, W. O. W. is a unique actor; they prefer to be a smaller ISP servicing fewer areas than the big ISPs; when I asked why, they told me it’s so they can roll out more competitive technology. Which is very true, as most ISPs are now advertising 300Mbps in my area, and W. O. W. is offering up to a whopping 1,000Mbps for comparable prices. W. O. W. doesn’t put artificial data limits, a.k.a. “data caps,” and they have never once throttled my internet connection, unlike Comcast and other ISPs. Because they are trying to be competitive they even call me up or send a letter saying, “we doubled everyone’s internet speed free.” So one day I was paying the same price, but getting twice the speed I originally ordered. That’s the beauty of a competitive free market.

The situations I described are actually not all that uncommon, believe it or not. There is just an incredibly small amount of ISP competition, and sadly the amount of said competition is shrinking. Entities such as Comcast, Spectrum, and AT&T are gobbling up smaller companies, as well as making cronyist deals to ensure a monopoly or oligopoly in many areas.

I looked into what it would cost to become my own ISP and be able to run my own lines to neighbors for a fee. It was more burdensome to deal with the ISP’s to allow space and the municipalities to allow me to provide the service than it was to actually get the equipment and hardware to allow us to become our own neighborhood ISP. In fact, it’s been documented that these big ISP’s go out of their way to destroy smaller ISP’s. According to Ars Technica down in Corrigan and Weston Lakes, Texas, a small ISP with 229 customers was destroyed.

“Telecom Cable LLC had “229 satisfied customers” in Weston Lakes and Corrigan, Texas when Comcast and its contractors sabotaged its network, the lawsuit filed last week in Harris County District Court said.

Comcast had tried to buy Telecom Cable’s Weston Lakes operations in 2013 “but refused to pay what they were worth,” the complaint says. Starting in June 2015, Comcast and two contractors it hired “systematically destroyed Telecom’s business by cutting its lines and running off its customers,” the lawsuit says. Comcast destroyed or damaged the lines serving all Telecom Cable customers in Weston Lakes and never repaired them, the lawsuit claims.

Luna says he did not oppose Comcast’s entry into Weston Lakes. Before Comcast began construction, Telecom Cable “made special efforts to mark its lines and equipment to prevent any inadvertent damage. Using an RF modulated transmitter and inductive connection to the cable, Mr. Luna located Telecom’s underground lines and marked the lines with industry-standard orange paint, as well as ‘buried cable flags’ for prompt and easy identification,” the complaint says. “Mr. Luna also mailed a map of Telecom’s system to the Director of Construction at Comcast’s Tidwell office.”

But then Luna was notified of service outages and “rushed to the job site” where he “found his severed mainline cable” along with Comcast contractors who were installing their own cable, the complaint says.

“The foreman acknowledged that Telecom’s cables had been marked—freshly marked, in fact—but the crew had inexplicably ignored the markings, purportedly because they assumed that the fresh orange paint marked an ‘abandoned’ cable plant,” the complaint says.

Luna says he repaired his own company’s cable and then made “futile” attempts to contact Comcast and a Comcast contractor.”

At the end of the ordeal, customers jumped ship and went to Comcast due to the amount of time it would take to repair the mainline. So, when you read stories like this, it’s kind of scary for the small ISP market, and understand why, between being gigantic enterprises and using these shady tactics, it’s no wonder competition is shrinking instead of growing.

But a large part of it is due to a large number of regulatory issues: not enough protections for the small ISP’s, and too many regulations that make it too difficult to enter the market, which amounts to cronyism in many local markets.  Don’t believe me? Look up how many Internet Service Providers are in your area using www.broadbandnow.com, then look up the reviews for the ISP listed. Are the reviews on sites like www.dslreports.com, positive or negative? How do your neighbors, especially those more tech savvy, feel about the ISP? Is your ISP the butt of many jokes with your IT friends (sorry, Comcast subscribers).

We simply don’t have enough competition in most markets. That’s why ISP’s like Comcast can have such negative press regarding their customer service, even having quite a few reach national attention in the USA, and yet they are still able to retain their business. If we could go back to where there were many ISPs competing with each other just trying to give their users the best product possible, just like it was when my father first hooked up a 256Kbps DSL line and put filters on our phones in the late 90’s or early 2000’s when we finally got rid of dial-up, we wouldn’t have these issues of Net Neutrality, because having a neutral network would have been a no-brainer. Now that we have a small number of gigantic ISPs, we have to worry about things such as data caps, bandwidth throttling, and fast lanes for certain ISPs. All in all, I reluctantly support Net Neutrality for technological reasons rather than ideological ones. It treats the symptom but not the cause of the problem.

 

Image: Wikipedia

This post was written by Alon Ganon.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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Knowledge of Mac, GNU/Linux, Windows but preferring to use GNU/Linux. Bitcoin user and expert, Cyber Punk, Minarchist libertarian, Businessman, Firearm lover, Constitutionalist, and a supporter of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS).Businessman and IT Contractor by trade available for hire. Specializing in Medical, Dental, and Small Business IT solutions https://alonganon.info
  • Matthew Whited

    “I’m a CTO of a blog so I know everything about networking”

    • Karl Lenin

      How much did Comcast pay you to post that, troll? Try addressing his arguments instead an ad hominem attack. If you had bothered to read the article you would have read that he’s a contractor in IT. What are your credentials, exactly?

      • Matthew Whited

        I’ve
        been working in IT and Software development for 17 years. I own a
        software consulting business, have been a software engineer/architect, network
        engineer and even a CTO for an actual software company.

        • Karl Lenin

          Okay, thanks for clarifying your credentials. Now, what about an actual argument against the author’s claims instead of just a sarcastic attack on his experience.

          I could do the same thing to you, saying that you’ve worked in so many areas that you must be a jack of all trades and a master of none, but that wouldn’t make for lively debate except for on the 24 hour news networks.

          So with your experience what faults do you find with the author’s arguments or where do you find them lacking?

          It’s spot on in my experience and I’ve been in IT for 11 years now. I did a lot of consulting work and have found that in my county the situation is great and there is at least some competition between fios and Comcast for both personal and enterprise service, but outside of my county but still in the metropolitan area there’s only one player and they don’t give a shit about improving their services and only try to maximize the money they can extract from subscribers. The big boys won’t expand since the outer counties are more rural and would be a significant expense without a guarantee of revenue and the big municipality had a co-op that tried to provide a little competition but it was sued out of existence by the existing operator.

          I agree that less regulation would be better, but you’re deluding yourself if you think the broadband markets in this country look anything like a free market. There are already tons of regulations and mono/duopolists aren’t going to sit by and let lawmakers undo their pet legislation that ensures nobody can compete with them.

          With fios I’m getting gigabit internet and a comparable TV lineup to what my brother in law in the other county has and I’m paying $50 less per month even though his internet is 50mbps and he has a data cap. Competition works but the telecommunications/pay TV industry is trying their damnedest to make sure they don’t have any of it and the scary part is they have the lobbying money and influence to see that pipe dream become a reality.

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  • William Bean

    Long, long time ago, long before the cell phone, long before the internet, there were several networks. The first public networking system was called the post office. Individuals use to write letters, send and receive pamphlets, and have packaged delivered. Prior to any central government exercising exclusive control (UPS was licensed as a special carrier and its shipments were treated with the same laws that applied to the US Postal Service) individuals could enter the mail or package delivery business and charge what they believed was the going rate. But central governments realized that there was money to be made and that the business needed a few basic controls. Guaranteed delivery, uniform rates, security, and needs of the state were all considerations. Then came the invention of the telegraph. Well, it was quickly recognized that if order was to reign, then that business would need to be regulated. After all, one didn’t want a number of different poles in one’s front yard or on the sidewalk with hundreds of wires strung all over the place and then have to deal with at least half a dozen telegraph companies. So the central government and the various state governments regulated the telegraph industry. It was the equivalent of the Victorian Internet. Then came the telephone, another business idea in search of a solution. Well, what was good enough for Western Union became good enough for Bell Telephone. I supply these histories for a reason. While postal services didn’t have a geographical monopoly, telegraph and telephone did.

    So we come to 1986. The telegraph industry has died a natural death. Its right of ways would become the property of a competitive telecom. The central government, while many consider it not to have been in it’s right mind, oversaw the breakup of the telephone network, of which there were several companies. AT&T was the largest followed by General Telephone, and a few smaller outfits trailing behind. CLECs were encourage to compete with the established companies and both special rules and in some cases, subsidies were meted out. Since we didn’t want telephone poles spring up all over the place or streets being dug up for more manhole vaults and conduit, we encourage (demanded) that the existing telcos share their facilities. Foti became a booming business and we placed more dark fiber in the ground than we could ever use in a hundred years (much of it is still “dark”, meaning unused). Not to be out done was cable television, which started in the seventies and graduated into the communications giants due to that same geographical monopoly. The telcos had to give the cable companies space on the poles and in the manhole vaults, and the buried trenches. All of this infrastructure cost money. It takes money to buy the right of ways, place the lines, and build all the central offices. Most every state has a Public utility Commission that regulates these natural monopolies. One doesn’t set rates for what ever the traffic will bear, one has to get approval from these PUCs.

    So what is net neutrality? A free ride for content providers. Where a telephone call, depending on its time of day, length of network used, and utilization time would cost a certain amount of money (don’t forget that the state and local governments got their share of that fee), we now expect a free ride. In Europe until recently, all land line calls were not free, even locally, and calling party paid. Of course in Europe there are no “private” telephone companies except for wireless operators. The internet providers use the state owned physical lines (ADSL or HSDL) with the equipment housed in the local central offices. The state pays the upkeep on that infrastructure. But who pays for the upkeep on the infrastructure here in the US? The content providers? No, you the user, the buyer of the internet connection. Every year the fees continue to rise while the content providers get a free ride on your dime. There is no such thing as free internet service, someone always pays and when you look in the mirror, that someone is you.

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