Net Neutrality, Tubes, Dark Fiber and the 700Mhz Spectrum

Photo Credit: Brian Gottreu

Net Neutrality, Tubes, Dark Fiber and the 700Mhz Spectrum

Let me first begin by briefly describing the debate over Net Neutrality.

Side A: The Major Telecommunication Companies and anyone else that has spent billions of dollars laying fiber and copper lines over which billions of bits of information flow every second. This group thinks that companies like Google, Netflix, Amazon and Apple should pay an Internet Toll for using their cables. From my understanding the toll would be based on the amount of data sent over the wires. For someone like Google, which owns YouTube and makes billions on Internet search, this toll would severely cut into their profits.

Side B: Companies like Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple think the wires should be open and free just like the highway infrastructure in the United States. Consumers and businesses alike are able to use the highways for personal use and commercial gain.

This story has been brewing for over a year and the remarks I will mention are from June 2006. A particular set of remarks by Senator Ted Stevens came to mind when I was attempting to explain to my mother how email worked over the network. The Internet being “a series of tubes.” I thought I’d share some of my comments about his statements and let you read and hear for yourself.

I first heard Senator Ted Steven’s remarks on Net Neutrality on This Week in Tech - Episode 60. They only played about 5 minutes of the original 11 minute recording of Senator Steven’s comments. Upon listening to his comments I agreed, and still agree with the hosts that he does not have a clear view of how technology works. As I have listened to the entire clip I have come away with a few more observations.

One, it is usually best to stop and think before speaking. From the sound of it, someone on the committee got him riled up and he proceeded to rant for 11 minutes without making any sense. Two, it’s an old proverb, “Better to be silent and to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Three, he seems to oscillate between the two viewpoints. He just does not make a strong argument either way. Four, this is pure speculation but listening to his comments, it feels like he is fighting for lobbyists and not the greater good of the people. In an unrelated case to Net Neutrality, Senator Stevens is under investigation by the FBI and the IRS.

In Senator Stevens’ defense, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. wrote an article titled, Senator Stevens is Not As Dumb as He Sounds, which discusses how Senator Stevens’ concepts are not too far off.

Oddly enough, while searching through my brother’s Flickr photos, I found this great illustration of Senator Stevens’ view of the Internet. Be sure to read the captions for a complete understanding of network connectivity.

Here are some of Senator Stevens’ comments, which originally appeared on I will interject some of my own comments. My comments will be in bold and Senator Stevens’ will be in italics.

I just the other day got, an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

Ok, we have all sent an email to friends, family, or coworkers and it never arrived. It is not however because the Internet was clogged and needed a bottle of Drano Max. Bad cables, finicky servers, spam filters and a whole list of other reasons are to blame. Not clogged tubes.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let’s talk about you and me. We use this Internet to communicate and we aren’t using it for commercial purposes. We aren’t earning anything by going on that Internet. Now I’m not saying you have to or you want to discriminate against those people…

Apparently Senator Steven’s has not perused Ebay recently. There are tens of thousands of consumers using the Internet for commercial purposes. Granted, they are not using the amount of bandwidth of YouTube but Stevens’ argument is that there are just a few people using the Internet for commercial purposes. As someone that makes his living by developing web sites, I am earning money by “going on that Internet.”

They [companies like Google, Netflix, Amazon, & Apple] want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Here lies the infamous quote. There is a Wikipedia article devoted to this quote. This is where Net Neutrality comes into play. The Telcos and some members of Congress want these Internet companies to pay a toll to use “the tubes.” What they don’t understand is this will destroy the model the Internet was founded on and it completely messes with a free market system. If Google has to start paying millions of dollars in tolls, YouTube and Gmail will no longer be free. Netflix will have to do away with their on-demand video downloads. Apple’s cash cow, Itunes, will shrivel and die. They will have to charge more for song downloads and people will just go back to piracy.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense Internet now, did you know that? Do you know why? Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can’t afford getting delayed by other people.

I am not really sure why he threw the DOD into the mix but I’ll comment. The DOD has their separate network not because of a fear of hairy bits clogging the pipes. They have a separate network because they have classified documents they don’t want the public or foreign nations seeing.

So that is Net Neutrality in a nutshell and why we should not let the government muck with the Internet. In the end, Google may rule the world anyway. They have spent the last few years buying dark fiber around the country. Dark Fiber is fiber optic cabling that has been laid but is not in use. Many have speculated about Google’s intentions. To fuel the paranoia, in just the last few weeks, Google offered 4.6 billion dollars for the 700Mhz spectrum. This is where the old UHF stations reside. Many think that this is a reaction to the continued debate about Net Neutrality. If the Telcos want to charge for their tubes, then Google will just build their own network and give away wireless Internet access across the country.

If I could get on the Internet in most any place in the country and not have to pay Starbucks or some municipal airport for access, then Viva Google.