Category Archives: Net Neutrality

YouTube Shames Slow Internet Providers

YouTube logoHave you ever wondered why a YouTube video is taking a long time load, buffering, or refusing to play? YouTube has started pointing people towards the answer to that question. A blue bar will appear underneath the video that asks, “Experiencing Interruptions?” Click on the button that says “Find out why”, and the answer is revealed.

YouTube will automatically send you to Google’s new website, which is called Video Quality Report. It will show you the video streaming quality results for your provider in your area. Quartz describes it as “like a report card for your delinquent ISP”.

The notification system that YouTube has started using reminds me of what Netflix used to do. When a video was loading too slowly, Netflix was displaying a notification like: “The Verizon network is crowded right now”. Verizon threatened legal action, and Netflix has stopped doing that.

It has been said that efforts like what Netflix used to do, and what YouTube is doing now, are an attempt to shame internet providers who offer shoddy service. It is also a way make consumers acutely aware of which providers are better than others. That will enable people to switch to better ones (in areas where more than one choice is available).

It is also a way for YouTube (and previously, Netflix) to subtly point out what would happen if internet providers were allowed to create a “fast lane”. Those who didn’t get how net neutrality might affect them could have the “lightbulb” go on after seeing how a slow connection from their internet provider directly affects them.

Xfinity on Demand on the Xbox and Net Neutrality

ComcastIf you have an Xbox Gold Member and are a Xfinity (aka Comcast) subscriber you may have noticed a couple of additions to the Xbox app store, MLB, HBO Go and Xfinity on Demand. However if you try to log into HBO Go you will find yourself blocked, because HBO Go is not available on the Xbox if you get your Internet through Comcast. Just in case you think this is a plot against Xbox users by either Comcast or HBO Go, it isn’t HBO Go is also not available on the Roku for Comcast subscribers, although it is available on the iPad. I am sure this makes sense to someone at either Comcast or HBO Go, but I can’t think of a good reason other than someone wants more money, never mind, I just answered my own question.

Which means if you are a Comcast subscriber you can now watch Xfinity on Demand and MLB through your Xbox. (MLB does require a subscription) The difference is any content you watch on the Xbox through the Xfinity on Demand app does not count against the data cap. Comcast says this because it is being streamed through a private network. This has net neutrality advocates crying foul, since all other services including MLB do count against the data cap. Comcast says since they are treating all services that are on the public network equally they are still observing net neutrality. I find this argument difficult to swallow, if we follow their argument on I can see a future where there are two Internets, one for companies who can afford to pay for private networks and offer fast service and another for those who are relegated to the slower public network. Unless Xfinity on Demand because it is a part of the Comcast service takes a different private path to my residence and that path can only be followed by services owned directly by Comcast. If this isn’t true, then a packet coming from Xfinity on Demand is no different from one coming from MLB and uses the same bandwidth ( assuming all other things being equal). It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

However for now the biggest problem for many Xbox users seems to be even connecting to Xfinity on Demand through the Xbox. Many people are receiving error messages, when they try to connect. Are you a Comcast subscriber and an Xbox owner, what do you think of Xfinity on Demand on the Xbox can you even get into it. Does it bother you that its is being treated differently when it comes to your data cap.

Is CNN Calling For Curbs On Free Speech?

On July 23, 2010, CNN anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed on air the idea that bloggers should be somehow “held accountable” or perhaps regulated in some way. Here’s the video of that exchange.

It’s no secret that CNN and other so-called mainstream media outlets, both broadcast and print, have had for some time now an ongoing loss of viewers and readers. A number of traditional journalists from time to time have had and expressed an almost open hostility towards bloggers and the Internet. They perceive the Internet as a threat to their business models, and their vaunted self-appointed job as information “gatekeepers.”

If you look back over the past few years, almost every major story, particularly scandal stories, originated first on blogs. In many cases the mainstream media were dragged kicking and screaming into reporting stories. The clearly forged National Guard documents that ultimately ended up forcing CBS to fire evening news anchor Dan Rather comes to mind from a few years ago. Bloggers quickly picked up on the fact that the supposed National Guard documents had been typed up in the default template for Microsoft Word and then ran through a fax and/or copy machine a number of times to make the documents look dirty and/or old. The trouble was, Microsoft Word didn’t exist in 1973. If it weren’t for bloggers, this story would have likely never come to public light, and what is clearly a forgery and a made-up story would have passed into the public mind as the truth.

Should free speech be curbed? Should bloggers somehow be licensed or officially regulated in what is purportedly a free country? Should we be forced to get our news from “professional” or even “licensed” journalists?

“So Stop Breaking It!”

netneutralityWe’ve all heard that phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, Joel Kelsey, of the Consumer’s Union, has a different answer to ISP’s that claim we don’t need net neutrality policies because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” His statement to the big ISP’s: “So, stop breaking it!”

At issue is the FCC’s new proposed net neutrality rules. They include (but are not limited to) the following:

•No blocking. ISPs would not be allowed to block any online content, including features, apps and other Web-based innovations that develop in the future (spam, viruses and the like excluded).
•No favoritism. ISPs would not be allowed to give preferential treatment to their own content. And no price-gouging of customers who don’t want to buy their stuff.
•No discrimination. That means an ISP can’t slow down, speed up or otherwise discriminate among online traffic. They’d have to treat a start-up just as they treat Google and themselves.
•Wireless, too. Net neutrality would apply to all broadband platforms, including wireless.
•Full disclosure. To keep online traffic flowing smoothly, an ISP might be allowed to slow down some transmissions – say, e-mail – but it would have to say so publicly.

According to the Forrester Research Group, four ISP’s (Verizon, ATT, Comcast, and Time Warner) control 46% of the Internet pipe we all use; only six ISP’s (telecom and cable) control 65% of the pipe. That’s a pretty stunning number. With those big companies in control, and no rules in place to keep our Internet traffic flowing, the situation is ripe for abuse. And it is being abused. How many iPhone apps have not been approved because the app is providing something in direct competition with Apple or AT&T? How many times are users forced into going through an ISP’s portal in a very direct, advertising filled, locked-in way before they can go where they want on the ‘net? And how many of us suspect and/or can prove that their downloads of free content have been throttled while your ISP pay-for-play content streams in just fine?

Right now, the big guys (or really, any ISP), can throttle any content they want. The only repercussions they receive are customer complaints, and it’s not like most of us can go to another provider. There are only two in my area for wired broadband, Charter Communications (currently in bankruptcy and has a very poor customer service history) and ATT DSL. I use DSL and have good speeds and no problems, although I understand that this is unusual. If ATT throttles my use, my only other choice is Charter, which has fast speeds, IF it is up and running (big IF in my experience). If Charter throttles, then where am I supposed to go? The ISP’s have us over a barrel, and that is not going to end anytime soon. Wireless broadband is even worse in the way it is throttled and locked down. The big ISP’s have shown no signs of truly embracing net neutrality on their own, which may mean regulation is necessary, in the long run.

We’ll see what happens. The FCC is currently mulling its choices on the matter, and no official policy statement or regulation has yet been yet issued. However, some sort of action will be forthcoming. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument is old and worn and furthermore, does not work. Net neutrality is broken, and needs to be fixed, before further throttling and lock-downs occur.

FCC stands up for Net Neutrality

The NY Times is reporting that the FCC has found that Comcast’s aggresive blocking of BitTorrent traffic has violated the FCC’s open access rules. What the penalty will be will not be known until August once the full board has met.

This ruling sets a fantastic precedent, while every ISP shapes traffic to some extent if they are too aggresive or indiscreet with their actions the FCC will step up and penalise them. Comcast is of course not saying they will stop packet shaping altogether but rather that they will instead experiment with other packet shaping techniques.

This ruling does not ban any packet shaping of Internet traffic, in fact it acknowledges that traffic shaping is a valid action for ISPs to take. What it means is that ISPs must detail the techniques they use. ISPs must also show that the shaping is designed to improve traffic flow without targetting any specific group, sites or protocols. Good news on balance I would say.