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Almost everyone read the Verizon v FCC net neutrality verdict WRONG

The end of the internet, my foot

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OK, so what does all this mean?

Net neutrality is more than about traffic management, there's clearly much more behind the campaign than that. There are agendas here: some supporters want Google's servers that are placed inside ISPs, close to their networks, subsidized. Which is nice for Google. Others want to micro-regulate the lot. So part of the reaction can be understood as a tussle for power in which neutrality is code for a very macho kind of interventionism: if the state doesn't plant its boot on some territory, then the bad people ("neoliberals", probably) have won.

Others simply misunderstand the law. Many more fundamentally misunderstand the technical nature of the internet, rejecting the idea of a network as a congested shared resource, and prefer a fantasy in which all packets of flowing data were created equal.

This fantasy internet has actually never existed: packets have never been equal. Some need to get through quickly, some less so. And surprisingly few people know that the internet is a network of networks, and most video goes over private networks (like Google's), not the public internet. With public peering and public backbones degraded, the FCC wants to regulate private agreements.

I explained much of this context seven years ago in a presentation at the UK's first debate on net neutrality - see my "Monkey Hangers Guide to Net Neutrality." And it's depressing how little has changed in the arguments.

The debate remains completely alien to most Europeans. Here in the UK, we've seen Netflix and similar over-the-top (OTT) services mount a challenge to satellite and cable. BSkyB responded not by blocking Netflix but by unbundling their services – and offering them as OTT services to anyone. We've also seen BT spend a fortune on buying football rights and are giving it away with their broadband. That must fill neutrality activists with horror – why can't just anyone see that BT game? – but both moves have shaken up the market and made it healthier. At least while BT's shareholders are willing to support the experiment.

Reading the Verizon vs FCC ruling, though, what lingers is the image of the American consumer who doesn't even realize his or her Netflix stream has been blocked, and simply (presumably) stares at the screen. Can that be real? Even allowing for toilet breaks, how long does this catatonic, trance-like state continue? Days? Perhaps weeks? The mind boggles.

All Americans deserve a healthy marketplace. The argument is really how to get one - or not harm one. Any argument that relies on the idea of trance-like stupidity has to be rejected, though, as an insult to our intelligence. ®

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