Inside the net neutrality dispute, and why it's important to Apple users

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2015
Though you may pay a premium for one of the fastest internet connections your cable provider offers, a lack of net neutrality could cause your iCloud backups and iTunes movie rentals to take hours, rather than minutes. Here's why Apple users, and consumers in general, should care about net neutrality.




Internet service providers and cable companies are currently fighting for the ability to throttle Internet traffic from certain sources, while giving preferred content a fast lane over their network. That means regardless of your Internet connection speed at home, your ISP could give priority bandwidth to YouTube, rather than Apple's iTunes.

At the heart of the current net neutrality debate is Netflix, which earlier this year began paying cable provider Comcast to prioritize its service, allowing content to be delivered to users faster. The streaming service has since struck a similar deal with Verizon.


Average Netflix streaming speeds from Cox (Blue), Comcast (Green) and Time Warner (Orange) between July 2013 to July 2014.Source: Netflix ISP Speed Index


Those deals apply to the so-called "last mile" of the Internet -- the lines owned by a cable provider that connect to your home.

When you access Netflix on your Apple TV, the entertainment provider does not have a direct line to your modem or Wi-Fi router. That direct line into your home is instead owned by whatever cable company spent millions of dollars physically laying cabling or fiber to offer your neighborhood Internet service.

That movie or TV show you begin streaming on your Apple TV must travel down two roads to get to your house: from Netflix to the cloud (Internet) and from the cloud to your device.

Until recently, these "roads" from content providers to the cloud and back down to the user have been treated like open pipes, completely unregulated. For years cable companies had no issue leaving these pipes wide open, as most of the content being delivered were static websites, images, Flash, and the occasional low-resolution video.

Now, a majority of the traffic moving through their pipes comes in the form of entertainment. Services like iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and others offer virtually unlimited entertainment for just dollars a month. With Apple TV, iPad and other Internet-connected devices, these services are now directly competing with the company trying to sell you a cable subscription.




Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T and just a few others control virtually all of the copper and fiber to homes in America. For years they could sell the "triple" package to pretty much anyone: cable TV, home phone and internet.

But with the rise of streaming entertainment and ubiquity of smart phones, some users wish to purchase just Internet service through their cable company. Not only does this cut into the profits of ISPs, but the situation becomes even more complicated with companies like Comcast, which now owns NBC Universal and is both a creator and deliverer of content.

Cable companies also want the ability to prioritize certain popular events, like the Super Bowl or Academy Awards, to respond to heavy traffic needs. In order to meet the demand of its customers, an ISP could give a TV network or streaming video content priority over Apple, making your iCloud backup or iTunes movie rental relegated to a 5-megabits per second download, as opposed to the 60-megabit downlink you actually pay for.




As high-definition content, mobile applications and iOS updates increase in size, there is concern among net neutrality advocates that companies like Apple could be forced to pay Internet providers for faster access to ensure the best customer experience. That precedent, net neutrality supporters say, has already been set by Netflix in its arrangements with Comcast and Verizon.

The concern is that if cable providers keep cutting those types of deals, renting a movie from iTunes could be a different experience on Comcast than it is for Time Warner customers. If Apple paid Comcast for prioritization on its network, their customers could rent a movie and begin watching quickly, while Time Warner customers could still be waiting for it to buffer.




The other issue with cable providers is competition. Many Americans have only one or possibly two choices for purchasing home Internet service, thanks largely to the huge investment required to build the infrastructure to provide cable and Internet to users' homes.

No third party can offer an alternative for Internet access without spending huge amounts of money and taking years to build it out. Google Fiber, is attempting this but is only offered in a few cities across the country and is slow to expand.

The crux of the net neutrality regulation recently proposed by the administration of President Barack Obama is to prohibit cable providers from making these distinctions between "fast lanes" for certain companies, and "slow lanes" for others.



But while the Obama administration has come out in strong support of net neutrality, the final decision isn't in the president's hands. Instead, that responsibility falls on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Obama issued a statement this week urging the FCC to keep the internet "open and free." In it, the president urged the commission to adopt the a series of net neutrality principles. In his letter to the FCC, Obama wrote about four key points. In his own words:
  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player -- not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP -- gets a fair shot at your business.
  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others -- through a process often called "throttling" -- based on the type of service or your ISP's preferences.
  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs -- the so-called "last mile" -- is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a "slow lane" because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet's growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

I'm urging the @FCC to keep the internet open and free. Here's my plan to protect #NetNeutrality for everyone: http://t.co/3y3YLQD6MB -bo

-- The White House (@WhiteHouse)
Within 24 hours of Obama's video being released, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proclaimed in a meeting with Web companies including Google, Etsy, and Yahoo that he would break from the president's proposed plan. In effort to appease both the cable companies and content providers like Netflix, Wheeler said, "What I've got to figure out is how to split the baby," according to the Washington Post.

Wheeler has taken some heat for those comments, and critics have noted that before he was appointed as chairman of the FCC, he was actually lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry.

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler


Net neutrality critics decry the idea of government regulation over ISPs. They argue that open, free-market competition is the answer.

In some countries, like those in the EU, the government forced ISPs to give third parties access to parts of their cable network. This would bolster competition and make it easier for additional companies to offer internet service. As with net neutrality though, this would take cooperation from the FCC and cable companies to surrender partial control of the very cable they spent years building out.

The FCC originally stated a decision on net neutrality would be made this year. But with the recent statement from Obama and in the face of increased scrutiny, the FCC has officially delayed its decision until 2015.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 255

    I’ve found that, in many cases, less control–not more–leads to greater success.

  • Reply 2 of 255
    I was right in my endless arguments over this, and this proves it: http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/14/fcc-fires-back-at-att-net-neutrality/
  • Reply 3 of 255
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

    I was right in my endless arguments over this, and this proves it: http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/14/fcc-fires-back-at-att-net-neutrality/

     

    Like a petulant toddler. Denied what it wants, it lashes out with its fists and voice and throws a tantrum until it is either appeased (wrong) or ignored (right).

     

    It’s high time to put legal teeth behind the “of, by, and for” on which our republic is founded.

  • Reply 4 of 255
    I’ve found that, in many cases, less control–not more–leads to greater success.
    I was right in my endless arguments over this, and this proves it: http://www.engadget.com/2014/11/14/fcc-fires-back-at-att-net-neutrality/

    Wait, so you two want ISPs to be able to block and throttle content as they see fit? Would you also want the USDA dissolved to let the free market handle what is considered safe to eat?
  • Reply 5 of 255
    Ah, more government control. Just what we need.
  • Reply 6 of 255
    robmrobm Posts: 1,068member
    Wheeler is obviously a political appointee. He is in no-mans land.
    A paper tiger.

    A clear vision is what's needed, not some shitfight over who has more money invested and therefore claims has more say.
  • Reply 7 of 255
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Net neutrality critics decry the idea of government regulation over ISPs. They argue that open, free-market competition is the answer.

    I don't think the argument from the right is that the free market would do a better job. The argument is that having a fast Internet connection is nice, but it's not as important as upholding indvidual rights. In this case the private property rights of the people who own the cables.

  • Reply 8 of 255
    bugsnwbugsnw Posts: 707member

    Wheeler has taken some heat for those comments, and critics have noted that before he was appointed as chairman of the FCC, he was actually lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry.

    ---------------

    Well that just sucks. I love free markets and competition so when I hear parts of both sides, I get a little confused on which one has more virtues. But I don't want throttling and preference and interference. I don't trust government as far as burdensome regulations either. I know that in other countries, where competition thrives in this area, the service is faster and cheaper.

     

    But I don't drive on public roads not expecting traffic lights and rules-of-the-road and law enforcement penalties for violations of those rules. We need some regulation in all things, but not too much. Too many traffic lights and toll roads and cops-on-the-side-of-the-road is a bad thing.

     

    I guess i'll root for the opposite of what the cable companies want. As I understand it, cable has become more and more expensive even as its service and performance has decreased. That's the wrong direction on two counts.

  • Reply 9 of 255
    ascii wrote: »
    I don't think the argument from the right is that the free market would do a better job. The argument is that having a fast Internet connection is nice, but it's not as important as upholding indvidual rights. In this case the private property rights of the people who own the cables.

    Since I'm not going to get an option to choose my backbone ISP nor my last mile wired ISP I am leaning heavily toward the side with the USDOT, FAA, USDA, FHWA, FRA, FMSCA, OSHA, IEEE, and many other organizations that help to regulate things not suitable for laissez-fairism.
  • Reply 10 of 255
    globalpix wrote: »
    Ah, more government control. Just what we need.

    Well, you basically have 2 choices. Let the gov "control" this or let the service providers. Who could charge whatever they want, speed up or throttle whoever they want, and are usually the only (or one of few) providers in the area of most place in this country. Not that competition between them would help, as they all want to control the access to your internet. I never understood how anyone considers that freedom, being bound by a company instead. Even though that gov "control" is just to say the Internet should be open for everyone, not just those who can pay, or worse are favored by your nearly nonexistent "choice" of service provider.

    I know some of you think any gov regulation is too much, but it's easy to just say you want freedom. Who's freedom? Comcast's? Google's? You can't say everyone, because freedom for one isn't for the other. And either way, we lose. The only true "freedom" coming from not having internet, and who wants that? I don't like anyone telling me what to do either, but we still need a gov to protect OUR freedoms. I'd like the freedom not to be murdered even at the cost of someone else not being free to murder me, I'd rather my food be regulated so it's less likely to hurt me even if it means the companies that make and sell it want to save a few cents, and I'd rather TimeWarner be less controlling over my internet even if they want to make more money at my expense.

    Besides the obvious that our version of "freedom" already costs us more money for less, you guys really want them to be able to make things even worse for their customers (us) just to make even more money, and call THAT freedom?
  • Reply 11 of 255
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismY View Post





    Since I'm not going to get an option to choose my backbone ISP nor my last mile wired ISP I am leaning heavily toward the side with the USDOT, FAA, USDA, FHWA, FRA, FMSCA, OSHA, IEEE, and many other organizations that help to regulate things not suitable for laissez-fairism.

    Well I hope you enjoy your ill-gotten gains.

  • Reply 12 of 255
    bugsnw wrote: »
    I love free markets and competition so when I hear parts of both sides, I get a little confused on which one has more virtues. But I don't want throttling and preference and interference. I don't trust government as far as burdensome regulations either. I know that in other countries, where competition thrives in this area, the service is faster and cheaper.

    Neither side is virtuous, and no one likes regulation that affects them negatively, but what you're describing is not actually just free market. Competition thrives where gov has broken up monopolies and forced companies to do things like interoperate. Look at Verizon and AT&T being unable to share all of their towers thanks to having completely different standards. That's not regulation, it's lack of it, and doesn't help competition as much as it hurts it. I have TW internet in my area and couldn't get Comcast if I wanted it, let alone AT&T or Verizon. That's not freedom for me. So for those who want less regulation, and that is the argument, it's not going to do anything for the consumers freedom, only these companies profit margins. Some regulation is good, because while no one wants the gov controlling them, no one wants a company controlling them either. Especially if we have to pay for it. We've subsidized these companies like other countries have as well, but get far less for it. They use our infrastructure, and they're only charging us to access the internet, not own it.

    I'm frankly surprised that anyone who isn't a service provider is against net neutrality. But I guess it's confusing who wants what. And people have such a visceral reaction to any regulation, some blowback is bound to happen. Even from those who benefit from it and would be hurt by throttling. Seems pretty simple to me, I want the gov to protect my freedom from the monopolistic service providers who want to take my money and still control my internet experience.
  • Reply 13 of 255

    I want to be free, free as the wind. Free is when you don't have to pay for nuthin' or do nuthin', I want to be free, I've got to be free.

     

    — Frank Zappa

  • Reply 14 of 255
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,137member
    ascii wrote: »
    Well I hope you enjoy your ill-gotten gains.

    His ill gotten gains is free and unfettered access to the Internet?
  • Reply 15 of 255
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    And what about the small startup--or next big thing--that can't pay what the big guys pay to not be throttled? We need net neutrality to allow innovation and competition.

    "before he was appointed as chairman of the FCC, he was actually lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry."

    Exactly. And Ted Cruz has taken big bucks from Comcast to spread misinformation. BOTH the right and left should agree on this. But money talks. Those poor little cable companies, won't someone think of what they want!

    That's called corruption, and as always hides behind lies and cynical plays on emotion. Throw the words "freedom" and "babies" and "puppies" in there.

    Don't be gullible.
  • Reply 16 of 255

    wheeler used to be employed as the head of the lobbying arm of comcast.

     

    do you honestly think for a single solitary second that he gives two sh*ts about what the american people might want in their internet? he made a living from the companies he is now about to pass judgement on. worst choice ever, conflict of interest and all.

     

    america is one of the richest countries with one of the most expensive and slower internet speeds. compared to some third world countries, america's internet is lacking, severely. 

     

    the way comcast and time warner are allowed to just carve up the u.s. is sickening. they purposely try not to compete against each other. and there are many times that comcast and time warner have taken small start ups which provide faster and cheaper internet to court over 'unfair business practices' that have a far out court date meaning that the start ups run out of capital and eventually shut down before the court date and therefore comcast and time warner come out on top. just disgusting. 

     

    sometimes the 'invisible hand' is only too visible.

  • Reply 18 of 255
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,775member
    I’ve found that, in many cases, less control–not more–leads to greater success.

    Yes Wall Street thanks you for agreeing with them and that worked out really well didn't it? Equally too much and the Stalins of this world are happy. Common sense, to me at least, says that a balance is always required between free market and regulations. Without that we would fear drinking water, breathing air or stepping outside. You know, like many countries on the planet right now.
  • Reply 19 of 255
    morkymorky Posts: 171member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ascii View Post

     

    Well I hope you enjoy your ill-gotten gains.




    This idea that any regulation is really off. Financial deregulation was at the core of the great recession. Most broadband internet markets are really monopolies at the last mile, so the implication that regulating a monopoly is trampling rights is just crazy. Anti-trust laws were written for good reason. The world your ilk is itching to return us to (Gilded Age, robber barons) was not very nice and didn't have a stable economy.

  • Reply 20 of 255
    analogjack wrote: »
    I want to be free, free as the wind. Free is when you don't have to pay for nuthin' or do nuthin', I want to be free, I've got to be free.

    — Frank Zappa

    I am a huge Zappa fan -- both his music and him as social philosopher -- but I don't recall his giving away his music for free. In fact, he would rail against others even sampling his music.
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