Save the Internet: Net Neutrality Townhall at nextMEDIA

Save the Internet
Save the Internet (from THIS guy!) by kk+

Along with fellow Internet Superheros (Webby Award winning Matt “SaveTheInternet” Thompson, Amber “GeekMedia Girl” MacArthur, Jason “The Digital Sage” Roks and Kris “Open Source Rockstar” Krüg), I facilitated a community townhall conversation at nextMEDIA’s final session on Sunday to raise awareness of the net neutrality issue among independent new media content producers. I’m really happy with how it went and proud of our band of heroes. (Tip: nextMEDIA Banff: great conference in a beautiful location!)

With the support of nextMEDIA organizer Mark Greenspan, we wanted to open a conversation that has been under the radar in Canada – mainly in geek circles and in backrooms until now. Megan Cole thanked us and told us it was the best session at nextMEDIA and should have opened the conference – we were flattered. More importantly, we have gathered together a new community of content creators who want to continue the conversation and we committed to doing that. Mission Accomplished. Great work, Superfriends!

Excitable funding-seekers missed out on the fun to listen to Heritage Minister Bev Oda’s announcement of renewed funding for the Canada New Media Fund, but will no doubt hear the buzz. Video will be published of the session, which I’ll share/link to when it’s available. (more after the jump)

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Impressions from the Townhall

It was a vigorous, engaged and at moments tense discussion. We had a really engaged and diverse audience who wanted to understand more about what was going on, what the carriers were up to, what the real issues were and what it meant to them as indie new media content producers, as citizens and as people passionate about the future of culture. Special thanks to Michael Hennessy of Telus for being the only representative of a major carrier brave enough to attend the open session, and he became a de-facto panel member as a result. We all appreciated his participation.

In our panel intro remarks, I framed the issue as being driven by the rising tide of Internet video/television: Joost and its brethren. If 2006 was the year of user-generated content, then 2007 appears to be the year of Internet video. The growth and opportunity are phenomenal, particularly for independent creators. But that growth also introduces many difficult issues: Is there sufficient broadband infrastructure to meet demand? Do carriers with broadcast and online portal assets have the right to throttle, degrade or otherwise discriminate against competing video content providers distributing over the Internet or to give preferential service levels to certain paying partners?

During the townhall conversation, Hennessy made a good point that a lot of the net neutrality dialogue isn’t really helpful from the carrier point of view because much of it is speculative and not sufficiently “fact-based”.

He has a point. Most reports of bandwidth throttling of P2P, encrypted traffic and VOIP are anecdotal. We need facts. That information is held inside the carriers themselves and I know many in the community would love to know those facts. What traffic is currently being shaped and how exactly? What bandwidth caps are in place, are consumers aware of them, what are the overage fees and how will they impede growth of internet video distribution? What are the current infrastructure’s limitations? What are the plans for building out the infrastructure to meet rising consumer demand without discriminating between different classes of content?

Hennessy kindly pointed out that the Telecommunications Act 27 (2) has provisions against “unjust discrimination”, which provides a legal recourse for actions that unreasonably (what is unreasonable?) break the common carrier principle. At the same time, Hennessy argued that carriers should be able to offer Quality of Service to content providers willing to pay for priority access to the carriers’ customers on that limited bandwidth. Matt Thompson pointed out the contradiction of this statement from the idea that carriers cannot discriminate.

Matt and Jason also made a point of emphasizing the innovation argument – that allowing preferential treatment for incumbents may result in killing off the next Google before it has a chance to fly. I look forward to seeing the video of the townhall soon for the many other excellent comments from the community.

An Offer and an Opportunity:

The large carriers in Canada have a unique opportunity to take a new and proactive approach to public engagement on this issue. It starts with conversation, transparency and trust-building. A new approach could be the path to a “New Deal” for broadband – a path to a better Internet for everyone, for free speech AND free enterprise.

I invite the carriers to join an open creative community of independent Internet content creators, enablers and consumers to co-create a future that works for all of us.

Tell us your challenges. What will happen if 10% of television consumption shifts to the Internet with the advent of Joost and other Internet television platforms? What are the implications to the broadband infrastructure? How are we building the network of the future? What is the opportunity for carriers, under a Corporate Social Responsibility banner, to proactively support and advocate for both free-speech and free enterprise on the Internet on behalf of their independent creator-customers?

I wonder if the Toronto Transit Camp model could be useful? (i.e. “not a complaints department, but a solutions playground”) Thoughts?

UPDATE: Dogged by costs, Internet providers seek price hikes, in today’s Globe and Mail.

14 thoughts on “Save the Internet: Net Neutrality Townhall at nextMEDIA”

  1. Mark, really great entry today. I cant wait to watch the video (gimme, gimme). One thing I’d like to point out is that ‘unjust discrimination’ means practically nothing when thinking about Net Neutrality.

    Is it unjust to prevent your competitors from selling a QoS service? no.

    Is it unjust to levy a ‘VoIP Tax’ [Geist] against a competing telecom provider? no.

    Is it unjust to preference content favoring one company for a fee? Again not under unjust discrimination.

    S.36 provides many more NN like protections, stating that carriers will not influence the meaning or purpose of communications on their networks; however, again, the CRTC refuses to enforce S.36 so its basically useless.

    The carriers can claim that we ‘already have Net Neutrality’ but its just simply not true. We simply need an enforced clause that says the carriers will not interfere with packets, either to prioritize or throttle based on their source, destination or content except where the CRTC approves otherwise and the interference is in the consumers interest (ie to fight spam/ddos attacks, or guarantee certain application classes [eg remote surgery] a globally higher priority with crtc approval)

    Anything less is not simply not Net Neutrality and our carrier friends know this well.

    Wish I could have been there.

    K

  2. I share a similar sentiment, that it would have been nice to have it earlier in the conference, or at least not at the same time as a major funding announcement and the pitch sessions.

    I talked to Michael H briefly afterwards, and I think we suggested we need to boil it down to a clear code of conduct, rather than a general neutrality discussion.

    I’m going to try and draft something up, but I think these principles are just.

    1) That all ISPs must post a clear range of download speeds and maximum capacities, and that no content or data type may be altered within that range. They may not block or limit protocols.

    2) ISP must make a clear and continuous investment in networking technology, and must scale the preset limits up on a continuous basis on par with international rates.

    3) ISPs can offer additional services and higher data rates of limits for VOIP, IPTV, etc, provided that subscribers have the ability to purchase equivalent data rates at similar pricing for competitive services.

    4) Additional services may be subject to CRTC requirements for Canadian content or may be subject to a levy for reinvestment in Canadian producers.

  3. 5) That ISPs may not arbitrarily block sites or services, except whereas ordered to by a Canadian court of law and subject to due process. This applies to domestic and foreign sites provided that ample protection against child exploitation exists within those countries, recognizing that exceptions can be made to protect human rights in countries who may not enjoy the same protections as here.

  4. “I talked to Michael H briefly afterwards, and I think we suggested we need to boil it down to a clear code of conduct, rather than a general neutrality discussion.”

    I can see why Telus would want to do this =P But the points you have iterated are not Net Neutrality.

    1. Maximums are irrelevant, it’s minimum’s that are important. A border-to-border SLA from Telus would be awsome, but very unlikely to actually happen.

    2. Without Net Neutrality, the carrier actually has interest in keeping bandwidth supplies artificially low. With Net Neutrality, the exact opposite is the case. I can’t see how this proposal would change this fundamental conflict of interest.

    3. Differentiation based on application type is core to the very definition of Net Neutrality. Charging more for VoIP while your VPN or Remote Desktop [that use equivilent resources] work without additional charges is a critical problem for consumer choice and the freedom to innovate.

    Shaw has already shown us how they will use this technology with their QoS VoIP ‘enhancement’. I somehow don’t think Vonage would agree that this is an ‘enhancement’ service.

    Content discrimination based on source, destination or type is a key requirement of any Net Neutrality proposal. Some exceptions are permissable, but only with explicit CRTC approval and where the deviation from neutrality is clearly in benefit of the consumer. Remote Surgery guaranteed QoS, SPAM blocking or DDOS control would be clearly be permitted. VoIP taxing, or IPTV QoS ‘fees’ [YouTube tax?] are simply not consistent with Net Neutrality.

    4. CanCon is not a NN issue.

    5. Censorship is a dangerous game to play. Telus is one of the organizations participating in Project Cleanfeed Canada. Recently a major [the largest?] US telecom has stated they intend to ban copyright infringement on their network.

    Both of these programs require active monitoring of internet use; something we should neither support nor tolerate. There are sufficient Criminal Code provisions to deal with these problems rather than resorting to pre-emptive law-enforcement. This is a slippery slope into a surveilance society that is both disturbing and a threat to civil liberties. Instead of blocking sites, we should actively work to shut down domestic sources, and enforce the current criminal provisions for accessing illegal content abroad. The trade offs for blocking are simply too many, too secret and too prone to abuse for the limited [if any] good they actually do as circumvention of these technologies is not only possible but trivial.

    $0.03

  5. Thanks to Dan for the specific suggestions and Kevin for posting a rebuttal.

    I think a code of conduct is an important tool to consider in all of this. Regulatory action is only one route to norm-creation.

    1. Transparency is key. I like the idea of making the market more efficient through disclosure rules and transparency standards. Disclosure standards have been very effective in many consumer goods markets.

    2. Again, disclosure of the ongoing investments that ISPs need to make helps make the market more transparent for all parties. But what would incentivize ISPs to voluntarily share their capital and/or R&D plans with current and potential competitors?

    3. I think we could call this principle “open access” for communications, which potentially applies to both wired and wireless data markets. I would love to explore how the principle might be applied in building the networks of the future.

    4. I disagree with Kevin here. Net neutrality has definite Can Con implications in the long-run, and creators will make sure to bring the issue to the table. The Internet is referred to as the “unregulated space” today. A tipping point in Internet television might change that, however. Geo-fencing is technically feasible and Canadian content creators will be interested in maintaining some element of the current content funding structure that is made possible by geo-fencing. The CanCon debate cannot be avoided or written off as a result.

    5. I don’t think Dan’s 5th proposal is controversial, because he’s talking about a standard that sites cannot be blocked without judicial order and legal due process. Child pornography is illegal to even view. Opinions are not. The standard is “cannot block” and exceptions are based on a legal justification. Very reasonable.

    In general, a standard that says ISPs cannot discriminate and in turn are not responsible for content is a starting point. Any exception to this standard needs to be clearly articulated and the tradeoffs made transparent to all stakeholders. Also, any exception to the common carrier principle introduces regulatory oversight costs which should be factored into the decision to introduce exceptions.

    Keep the conversation going!

  6. > Keep the conversation going!

    Ok 🙂

    1. I’d like to see transparency in marketing too, but I think even for a well-meaning carrier this would be very hard to implement. Oversubscription is the norm (and it should be), and most of the time this works, but on occaision everyone logs on and the net just sucks that day. Committing to a minimum SLA [service-level-agreement] is nearly impossible to do on this type of oversubcription model so I’m not holding my breath on this from the carriers.

    One potential solution would be to have some sort of third party watchdog group to monitor and report on observed speeds. [Maybe the new consumer commision dealie from the crtc?] However, there are various problems with this idea too, like their ability to be influenced.

    2. The amount no matter what it is will always seem like a lot to everyone but the person looking at the carriers books. Is $50 million in infrastructure a lot, 500m, 1b? Money isn’t really a good way to guage growth, but metrics like bandwidth, transfer and latency are, however, without NN there’s little incentive for carriers to upgrade their networks as the value proposition of their QoS products trends towards zero the better the network is. Conversely the value of QoS products is high when the network’s growth is either negligently or purposefully held back.

    Telus/Bell seem to be hinting at a Transfer based economy for internet service, and so long as its neutral – a bit a bit a byte a byte – then this is a really good idea. It would mean that he who can deliver the most bandwidth can sell the most transfer, it would also mean the person with the lower cost for transfer would win subscribers. This model’s competitiveness would further be enhanced by a CRTC set wholesale rate that 1) compensates the carriers for infrastructure investment and 2) guarantees that the big megacarriers are not given monopolies over public infrastructure like roads and property easements and 3) applies to telecom and cable companies equally.

    3. Open Access or Net Neutrality, I’m not sure I see the difference.

    There are three core principles carriers have to grasp here:

    a) Don’t charge businesses you don’t have a direct relationship with for usage of your network … the ‘my pipes’ problem. Consumers already pay for Net access, don’t try to double dip.

    b) Don’t charge your customers more to use a competitors service. Don’t call this a QoS service, don’t throttle your competitors, don’t give your own service preference. Shaw’s VoIP QoS ‘enhancement’ being the prime example of what not to do.

    c) Don’t block sites be it the TWU or ThePirateBay. The censorship/monitoring concerns outweigh any possible good that can come from this. It also leads to the slippery slope of, if you can, then its your _responsibility_ to.

    4. I’ve had this debate with many people, and it’s generally agreed that its best to keep CanCon out of the debate. I have my opinions on CanCon [I’m actually a cautious supporter, while many of my podcasting friends are very much against it], but I see this as a regulatory issue for a class of applications, and one that can be solved through existing trade relationships and other parts of the regulatory system without actual network involvement.

    From a technical perspective GeoFencing does not work. Just google ssh tunneling and voila, any fence is gone. (And so is any protection afforded by censorship firewalls). Pandora’s box is open, and CanCon will have to adopt.

    5. I find blocking of any kind controversial because I don’t trust those in charge of it. Whether thats the government, isps or the courts — blocking is the machinery for censorship, and it is far too often used to this end. With the aforementioned ineffectiveness of it, the good (blocking illegal content) is outweighted by the bad (it doesnt work, and can lead to censorship). It also starts a technological arms race that leads to things like the throttling of encrypted traffic.

    Further, there is already sufficient tools available through the Criminal Code to deal with geting a warrent for lawful access of a subscribers connection and prosecuting those violating our access laws. However, there are problems with proposed legislation in this area too like the overly draconian MITA Act the liberals introduced this year, which will undermine free organization and operate on a more than one-to-one warrant-to-intercept relationship.

    Hopefully dan comes back and we can get his input!

  7. Hi Kevin,

    We’re on the same page, I believe. My treatise was that ISPs can offer and charge differ service levels, as long as consumers can buy the same bandwidth for the same price for other usages.

    The CanCon is not a network neutrality issue, but nor is it a distinct issue as IPTV and internet based broadcasting will be single biggest factor in increased bandwidth. While there has been interference with VOIP services in the past, its video, not voip, that will be crashing their servers.

    This is where the real test of it comes in, if 10% of TV viewers switched to IPTV or Joost, they would make the torrent monkeys look like flies on the wall.

  8. Also, I think there should absolutely be no discrimination of services. My comment on services was strictly differentiating between the bandwidth required for one over another.

    The Canadian Content will need to be discussed, unless we are going to abolish all Canadian Content legislation. It is going to be the biggest issue as internet TV surpasses traditional broadcasters, and I actually (after a few beers at a cocktail party) ended up getting into a discussion on this with the head of the CRTC. I know CanCon on the internet cannot be regulated except under subscription based services, and that the key for us should be ensuring availability rather than enforcing percentages. As I mentioned to Fickenstein, the key is to ensure that adequate support is given to Canadian producers to create canadian content, rather than trying to mandate a fixed percentage of network time that is available for it in an unlimited channel world.

    Lastly, I’m aware of project Cleanfeed. I don’t think there is the political appetite even among strong libertarians to stop this, but my comment was to limit this to incoming signals from countries that may not have the means to crack down on their own content providers. I’d rather have this exist as an external system than an internal one, and the collation to this is that there is to be no content monitoring within Canada except where a judicial order is issued. (Monitoring is happening anyways, I would rather have it limited to court ordered sanctions than sweeping patriot style legislation.

  9. “We’re on the same page, I believe. My treatise was that ISPs can offer and charge differ service levels, as long as consumers can buy the same bandwidth for the same price for other usages”

    This is a common misunderstanding [that NN limits pipe size] that I see a lot. We should come up with a better way to explain the difference between buying a bigger pipe (consistent with NN) and paying different prices to use the same size pipe in different ways (inconsistent)

    I think the transfer model works well for everybody… but its hard to explain. Even when Paul Crete stood up in the HoC and spoke on NN, he said it like it guaranteed the same speed for everyone… which isn’t quite correct, but he means well.

    Anyone have an ideas on how to communicate this more clearly, both for the carriers and for us NN advocates?

    As for the rest, my problem with cleanfeed is how it works. By design it must monitor 100% of the web usage of every Canadian. It checks an IP blacklist first, and then checks more things like the exact url if the IP matched [to reduce overblocking].

    But this presumes that it is ok to systemically search all Canadians to see if they are committing a crime. To me this is a violation of our rights, even the constitution and that even online we have the right to be free from unreasonable search, and surveilance.

    I really hate the fact it’s being allowed to proceed just because it’s been tied to an unsavory subject to talk about. How many more invasive technologies will we tie to the ‘wont someone please think of the children’ doctrine.

    When do we say no, we have rights, back off?

  10. I agree that there may be issues with how cleanfeed works. However, follow the principle of triage, and pick your battles wisely.

    We have a stronger stance if we say there is already protections in place against child porn. I think that there is a clear line, if its not child porn from a foreign nation, then there should be absolutely no censorship or content filtering.

    In a way that is similar to legislation on child sex crime, our government has the ability to charge Canadians for actions that occur outside of Canada. The precedent is already there.

    I guess the only question is whether we should nationalize Cleanfeed or we should leave it as is.

  11. I do agree that cleanfeed’s not my top priority, other than that it sets an extremely dangerous precident.

    I have no problem with what they’re trying to do in reducing victimization, but I do have a problem with how they’re doing it, and how ineffectively.

    In trade for our right to be free from blanket search, we have a program that is widely debunked as actually being able to have any impact on the child porn trade. In fact, I’d go as far as to argue that it just drives it more underground into encrypted tunnels and onion routers and that will actually make it harder to fight when there is reasonable suspicion for a wiretap.

    As far as it relates to NN, the carriers must already comply with any lawful order of the court — eg, it doesn’t have to be spelled out in the act.. so this should be a sufficient tool left as is.

    In any event, before the CRTC authorizes the program (an option under S.36) there should be proper hearings into both its effectiveness, invasiveness and it’s consistency with Canadian jurrisprudence. I think, given the facts, that the CRTC would correctly rule against authorizing Cleanfeed.

    Did you have an opinion on the pipe size vs pipe segmentation argument before or an idea for better terminology?

  12. i hear a lot about neutrality in Canada, but I think a more relevant topic would be freedom of speech/expression. law is not very clear about this subject in Canada, while there is the 1st amendment in the US and the new law who assimilates bloggers with journalists.

    there have been numerous cases in Canada where bloggers or webmasters were sued and lost in court to companies. i have a friend, a well-known blogger here in montreal, who had a cease and desist letter recently because he linked to an article to radiocanada (!!!). if you go to his blog, zekesgallery.blogspot.com, its closed now.

    net neutrality is a big issue to fight for, and yes you are doing a great job, but please google a bit about freedom of speech and canada. i don’t know if you researched a bit what rights you have as a blogger. you would be surprised.

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