Need argument help re: net neutrality

I’m getting into it with an old friend who seems to have taken his conservatism that I thought was grounded in actually respectable Christianity, and now seems to have swallowed almost everything the current Republicans are selling.

So, before I set myself up for a fall, I think this is one of the arguments I’m going to get back:

“Yes, the ISPs are regulated monopolies, like the phone company of old, and like then, should be able to charge depending on the use. People got charged for length of calls and distance for decades, and everyone thought it was fair. Net neutrality actually means that prices have to rise to pay for Netflix’s use, even if you don’t use Netflix.”

What’s a reasonable response? I know that this version means that smaller companies will probably be denied an equal playing field, but I think he’ll say that was always the case with any other commodity, or communication method, like the mail, or phones, or faxes.

One thing my brother likes to point out is that the whole technology is based on work done by the US government, and it seems wrong that they get to piggyback on this and then charge whatever they want, in essentially a monopoly.


Net neutrality does not prevent an ISP from having different bandwidth tiers with different prices, or for charging based on usage. What it prevents is ISPs extorting money out of companies that aren’t even their customers. Customers of Verizon’s phone service shouldn’t have to pay AT&T to call an AT&T customer.

Sounds good. Could someone explain more fully?

That’s not the issue. The issue is that they might choose to charge you to call your friend next door because he uses AT&T and you have Ameritech, while you’re other friend, on the same carrier, is free even though she lives 2000 miles away.

That’s kinda what it all comes down to. Most other examples, that I can think of, aren’t really going to work, since phone is voice only, while internet is just about every medium of communication (voice, video, text, games, TV, phone etc).

Analogies are drawn to things like UPS, but it’s still not perfect because they can, and do charge more for certain things and in many cases it makes at least some amount of sense.

But if I just want to send some data from one place to another, the argument for NN, is that my data should be treated the same as any other data, regardless of what that data is once assembled. Should Time Warner be able to slow down my Netflix speed while my HBO GO races along just fine? Should AT&T be able to throttle your VOIP service to the point that it’s unusable? Should Verizon be allowed to disable Facetime between to IPhones because people are using it to get around going over their minutes?

And these are things that have happened and/or have been discussed. What about all the other things that can and will happen that we can even think of yet.
Many of these ISPs argue that they have no intention of changing a single thing and that we’re all worrying for nothing. If that’s the case, why are they spending so much money to fight it? They plan to make that money back and it’ll be coming out of your pocket.

He’s absolutely right and you should admit that. And you should use it in your riposte. As I understand it in America the ISPs are local monopolies. And therein lies the problem. Unlike the UK, you don’t have much - if any - choice as to which ISP you use. Here in the UK, if we have our internet from (for example) Sky and Sky start blocking Netflix then we can switch to Zen or BT or Entanet or any of a dozen others. So because they are monopolies, they must be absolutely even-handed.

Frankly, I think the postal service (or phone service) is the best comparison. For instance the cost of stamps you must put on a letter depends on who you’re writing to and receiving a letter can take one day or two months depending on who sent it to you. You want to call your doctor? Unfortunately he isn’t part of medical network approved by your phone provider, so it might take you the whole day before you manage to reach him, or alternatively you have to pay extra for a special plan that allows you to call any doctor you want.

And what when none of the main ISP is particularly interested in giving the same priority to such or such service you’re interested in but isn’t otherwise particularly in demand, for instance? Unless of course, they pony up to have the same priority as Netflix.

You switch to one that is.

First of all, it’s not a violation of net neutrality to charge the customer based on usage. So, an ISP can charge you less for 1 Mbps with a 10 GB cap (unusable for Netflix, basically), and more for 10 Mbps with a 100 GB cap, more still for a 1 Gbps with no cap. All of that is perfectly fine under net neutrality, so I think that undercuts his argument completely.

What net neutrality requires, though, is once you pay for the service, the ISP can’t let HBO through unencumbered while throttling Netflix (even though they use the same bandwidth). They can’t ignore your data limits when using their video services and not ignore them when you’re using competing services. They can’t throttle your VOIP service (like Vonage) while letting their own phone service through unencumbered.

Netflix has their own ISP that gets their data onto the internet. I guarantee they are paying more to get their data onto the internet than I am, and that’s fine – they use many thousands of times more bandwidth than I do. So, your friend should be happy there.

Once their data is on the internet, if I have paid for the appropriate plan (high bandwidth, high or no data caps), then I should be able to enjoy watching Netflix (or Youtube or Vimeo or Bob’s New Movie Service) without either me or Bob having to pay still more because Bob’s Service competes with Comcast On-Demand. So, I’m also paying more for my high bandwidth/high cap service, and again your friend should be happy.

So, ISPs do charge for use, on both ends – the data provider and the data user. What net neutrality says is that they can’t discriminate based on the source of the data. So, they can’t favor their own content over Bob’s New Movie Service, they can’t speed up their voice content over Vonage’s, even though Vonage competes with them. They can’t arbitrarily block competing websites and new sources.

67% of Americans (where Net Neutrality is an issue) have 2 or fewer high speed options, 28% only have one option. (cite:

If we had multiple choices then I agree we might not need net neutrality protections.

When you wrote, “he’s absolutely right”, what did you mean? ISPs can and did charge for higher data usage when the NN rules were in place. I don’t see how his friend was right about that, in the context of whether we need NN protections. His friend’s position seems like a non-sequitur.

And that’s exactly the argument I point out. Here in the UK we have choice; you in the US do not.

And this has happened already, pretty much days after the end of NN.

I argue it this way, with this theoretical.

My neighbor and I both have Comcast internet at the same speed and price.

My neighbor subscribes to HBO via a Comcast TV bundle for $15. This allows them to use HBO GO for free.

I have cut the cord and stream via Amazon Prime, where I have added HBO NOW for an additional $15.

My HBO NOW streaming is slower (and lower resolution) than my neighbor’s HBO GO.

Is this fair?

“You don’t watch Netflix, you don’t watch HBO and you don’t watch John Oliver. That’s fine… for now. You get all your regular internet traffic ultrafast.
Five years from now, imagine Double Obama is elected and for some reason every network wants to suck up to them. Now every Fox News channel along with your pastor’s sermon only transmits a packet once in a blue moon when they feel like it ; whereas PornHub users get a golden ticket to fap furiously at the expense of everyone else. That’s what you get when you give ISPs the power to pick and choose. Sometimes they won’t choose YOU.”

Here’s a quick 3½-minute video summary about why ending net neutrality is bad that you can show your friend: Defend Net Neutrality by CGP Grey It’s from 2014 so that might make it seem out of date but all that’s really changed is a lot of ground has been lost since then.

Not really. The Internet is just data - ones and zeros. Those ones and zeros can be converted into text or audio or video at the other end, but without some kind of processing at the receiving end it’s still just numbers.

By the same token, with the proper equipment at each end, data can be converted to audible sounds, carried across phone lines, and converted back to data at the other end using modems, but that still doesn’t change the fact that phone lines only carry audio.

I mentioned that at one point but must have edited it out. That’s what I was getting at. It’s just ones and zeros, but removing NN, gives ISPs the opportunity to process it on their own, then send it to if and when they feel like it, depending on the content or the source.

When I said it’s all mediums, what I was attempting to say is that they could pick and choose what to do with each medium. They can block Vonage and allow Netflix or block all video unless those services pay them to let it through. Whereas with phone, it’s all voice so it can’t be discriminated against based on that alone.

Hmmm, isn’t that pretty much exactly what Verizon does, with its mobile to mobile calling?

I haven’t had Verizon in several years, so I don’t know if it has changed, but if I called someone else who was a Verizon user, I didn’t get charged minutes, but any out of network calls were.

I suppose it’s similar. But WRT making calls, VZW isn’t an ISP. Perhaps it was a bad example.

It was a poorly executed attempt to explain that if all you’re doing is moving ones and zeros, the ISPs shouldn’t be reading them in an attempt to decide who’s data goes first, fastest or gets throttled or blocked entirely.