Net Neutrality (Again and Again and Again)

Net neutrality is one of those topics that should never have existed, but of course it inevitably erupts every so often, so here we go…

Not so long ago Robert Graham published his anti-net-neutrality arguments which are (no surprise) not much different from what I wrote when I still cared about this argument (here, here, here and here). While I agree with his overall perspective, I completely disagree with his view of Comcast’s initial response to network congestion.

A brief recap of the facts (as I remember them):

  • Bittorent users totally congested Comcast’s cable network(s);
  • Comcast responded by inspecting user traffic (bad) and sending spoofed TCP RST messages (really bad) to make Bittorent unusable;
  • Not surprisingly, they didn’t want to admit they were doing it till they were caught red-handed.

After all the brouhaha that fueled the whole Net Neutrality argument (thank you, Comcast) and FCC getting involved, Comcast finally implemented what they should have done in the first place: throttling all traffic of high-volume users during network congestion periods and making their behavior public and well document (it’s described in RFC 6057).

As for the other grudge Robert has with Comcast (data caps): as I wrote in 2010, there are two ways to deal with users generating significantly more traffic than the average.

  • You can identify and throttle/police them (what a user-friendly ISP would do);
  • You can try to squeeze more money out of them (what most other ISPs are doing).


  1. I am not sure I understand the problem you and Robert Graham describe. What you and him explain is actually ok in accordance to net neutrality rules. Let's use examples as it will be easier:

    1. An SP throttles down or caps users that consume a lot of bandwidth, regardless of the services the user consume. That's fine. You are not discriminating services or promoting your own services in detriments of other's.
    2. An SP throttles down ALL video services, including their own, because they have terrible network and can't cope with that. That's fine as well. You are just a terrible SP, you are not trying to harm netflix in favor of your own service.
    3. The example Robert gives about in-flight wifi. Completely fine again, you are limiting ALL high bandwidth services due to bandwidth limitations, you are not targetting netflix while allowing hulu, for instance.

    All those examples are fine according to net neutrality rules. What net neutrality is against is targeting specific services for commercial purposes. For example, comcast throttling down netflix so they can sell their own video service. Or comcast having a data cap and having a service that doesn't count against that data cap while other similar services do. Basically, what net neutrality is trying to prevent is two things:

    1. Having an SP taking advantage of the situation where they are both internet and content provider.
    2. Having smaller companies unable to compete with bigger ones because bigger companies have agreements with telcos and their data doesn't count for the data cap while the smaller companies' data does.
  2. "I am not sure I understand the problem you and Robert Graham describe." << It looks like so many other things in networking "net neutrality" means different things to different people :((

    Your definition of what it is makes perfect sense. I'm also positive it's not what hard-core "net neutrality advocates" want to see.
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