What we Need to Talk about when we talk about Net Neutrality and Title 2: Backbone.


By: Paul Meekin

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” – Confucius

On July 12th during a national day of action I saw a chatroom of peers light up with support, providing numbers for congressmen and senators to call and demand they support the regulation. It was a forgone conclusion that Title 2 was good, and ISPs were evil. I was about to chime in with my own views, but my co-workers reminded me rocking the boat in such a way is bad workplace politics.

So, thanks to my passive aggressive nature, I decided to explain the situation here.

Title 2, in a nutshell, treats internet traffic (Bandwidth usage) like a utility; Preventing Internet Service Providers from speeding up or slowing down connection speeds from businesses to consumers – just like the water company won’t charge you extra for good shower pressure.

Additionally it prevents ISPs from prioritizing their own content by creating a ‘fast lane’ on their servers for their own ‘stuff’.

Put in place by The Obama administration and the FCC in 2014, Title 2 designed to ensure ‘fairness’ on the world wide web and the Trump administration and current FCC chair Ajit Pai oppose it.

You’ve probably read that that Title 2 guarantees a ‘free’ and ‘open’ Internet. For example Comcast is legally prohibited from blocking the ports that allow you to download illegal movies and porno from BitTorrent, and prior to Title 2, they tried to do just that. And Verizon was recently caught throttling Netflix data as a ‘test’ too.

It’s also argued Title 2 exists because most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have a monopoly in a given area; In Podunk Iowa or Minnetonka Minnesota, Comcast may be your only option, thus allowing them to do whatever they want regarding data speed and content blockage without a free-market solution to keep them in check.

ISPs like Comcast and AT&T argue revoking Title 2 doesn’t eliminate the ‘open’ internet. They argue Title 2 is unfair – limits the market, hurts jobs, and in a decidedly Bernie Sanders-ian move, prevents companies that use the most Bandwidth from paying their fair share.

Additionally, it prevents them from offering cheaper, lower-speed options to the disadvantaged.

The issue is more complicated then various “Support net neutrality!” campaigns would lead you to believe. Most people barely understand what Title 2 even is, but are happy to pick a side and throw full-throated support behind it – and that includes libertarians and conservatives who are against Title 2 primary because democrats are for it.

Billion dollar companies like Facebook and Netflix and Google are using their immense influence to encourage their users to fight against other billion dollar companies….without quite explaining the complexities of the issue.

This creates confusion and a team sports mentality. In sports, I don’t care if you root for the Patriots and don’t know what a weak-side zone blitz is. But Title 2 isn’t sports, and the last time everyone so blindly chose a side and demonized the other, Donald J. Trump was elected President.

We need to be knowledgeable about the issues. Especially ones as complex as this. And being knowledgable requires leg work beyond copy and pasting a post you saw on Reddit.

Being knowledgable also requires diving into the logistics of Internet infrastructure, which is messy and complex. John Oliver will tell you it’s boring. I’d tell you John Oliver doesn’t have a computer networking degree and I do, and that HBO GO probably uses quite a bit of Bandwidth they don’t want to pay extra for.

Title 2 is ultimately a question of infrastructure.

“Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly. ” – Roger Ebert

It’s also question of backbone. The Internet’s backbone is an amalgamation of wires inter-connected to form a ‘trunk’ line. It’s not a trunk in that it’s a single, thick, line of cable, but rather a trunk in that most all Internet data flows these specific lines.

For example, to access this story, you clicked this link, that click went out, connected to a line, connected to a series of routers, which connected to the server(s) The Libertarian Republic rents, which pulled this specific story, and then the servers did the whole thing in reverse to get it to you. Likely in less than five seconds.

The ‘backbone’ is the space between TLR’s servers and whatever server you use (Comcast, AT&T, Cellular).

Who owns the backbone? Not who you’d think. Companies known as ‘Tier 1’ providers ‘own’ the backbone. There’s only a few of them: Level 3 communications, Telia Carrier, NTT, Tata Communications, and GTT are the Tier 1 providers – they have the wires and chords and power sources that ‘run’ The World Wide Web.

So if you think about it like a highway, ‘Tier 1’ providers are responsible for every freeway in the country because they own all the cement.

Major companies like Google, Netflix, Facebook, and others negotiate with ‘Tier 1’ providers directly – paying a toll based on Bandwidth usage (not speed), among other technical factors – to be let on the highway.

Tier 1 providers traditionally support Net Neutrality because it doesn’t affect them. Just like a construction company doesn’t *care* about what the speed limit on the highway they’re building is. As long as you pay the toll to use the road they build and maintain, they’re happy.

That’s backbone. The crux of Title 2 – and Net Neutrality – is the rib-cage – or to use the highway metaphor – the off ramps.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, rib-cages and off ramps are far more complex, delicate, and specific than backbones and highways.

And this is where ISPs come in. Companies like DirectTV and Comcast are the guys connecting us to the backbone. They negotiate with Tier 1 providers for access, then build out their own infrastructure in cities, suburbs, and rural communities. This is known as ‘last mile’ infrastructure.

‘Last mile’ infrastructure, is a logistical and financial nightmare. In much the same way an off-ramp must include stop lights, merging lanes, and other more complicated infrastructure, as does ‘Last Mile’ infrastructure as it spiders out from the backbone into homes and businesses in rural and urban communities.

Think about how expensive – and inefficient – it would be to build a paved road out to Middle of Nowhere, Montana to serve six houses in four different locations. Now imagine that the longer that road is, the less pavement you have to work with, and the road becomes thinner as you go.

This is known as denigration of signal – the further out from the backbone you go – the weaker the Internet will be – there’s less space on the road. Now imagine that road needs to serve Mac Trucks, 18 wheelers, clown cars, Greyhound buses, sedans, and pickup trucks. Coming and going, 24 hours a day – and the cars on the road are increasing every.single.day.

Now imagine rush hour on that road.

Now imagine it’s illegal to ban 18 wheelers from that road, or charge them a toll in exchange for widening it because they already paid the highway guys , and your own company trucks aren’t allowed to use the side ramp to get where they need to go faster.

Oh, and no speed limits allowed.

…You can almost see where the ISPs are coming from.

“I don’t believe in the no-win scenario,” – Captain Kirk

So you can see why ISPs have a dog in this fight, but what’s the fight actually over?

In a nutshell, because ISPs control so much of the most difficult infrastructure, they want more control over the services they provide: They want the right to charge for faster speeds, prioritize content as they see fit, and throttle and charge companies who use most of the bandwidth for the privilege.

Especially as it pertains to streaming services like Netflix Instant – which caused a massive spike in worldwide bandwidth usage – and cut into TV and Cable subscriptions – which, ironically, most ISPs bundle with their Internet packages.

So cable TV subscriptions dwindle as streaming gets more popular, putting more stress on Comcast’s servers due to the increased network load, while at the same time slashing ISPs’ cable profits – and by the very nature of Title 2, ISPs can’t do anything about it.

If Comcast wants to charge a service fee for Netflix bandwidth to the consumer (or to Netflix) they can’t. If they want to launch their own video streaming service and offer faster speeds if you sign up in conjunction with Internet service – like they could with cable or telephone service – they can’t.

ISPs would also enjoy the ability to block certain kinds of packets – including those from P2P services like BitTorrent or even UseNet, where a majority of online piracy sharing of illegal movies, games, and pornography takes place. Comcast got in trouble for doing this pre-Title 2.

Meanwhile, those companies using the bandwidth think it’s unfair they’d need to negotiate twice. They already paid the Tier 1 provider. Already paid for services. Why should they be charged extra for having a successful business?

Netflix is changing the world – why should it be punished for innovating while Comcast was busying twiddling its thumbs with Cable TV and land-line telephone service?

Title 2 makes sure all services are treated fairly on the Information Super Highway. If ISPs can block BitTorrent data, why can’t they block Netflix or Hulu, the entirety of the ‘Dark Web’  or websites they deem to be ‘fake’. Heck, Comcast could block any news coming in that’s negative about them.

See what I mean about this being confusing?

Thus, it’s a custody battle between the Intolerable force of the Government vs. the Unconscionable desires of big-business ISPs. The American people are the kids in the middle who know, deep down they’re going to get fucked in the ass either way.

Who do you want to fuck you in the ass, America?

“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” – Ronald Reagan

Right now, it seems the American populous would prefer the long, bloated, semi flaccid phallus of the federal government do the fucking, as pro-freedom rhetoric from companies like Google is parroted by the social media masses.

It’s shocking how eager people are to echo sentiments from these companies without even a little bit of research – not that the people trying to convince you care much about educating you. To Google, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and Netflix it’s not about you or your freedom or your open internet.

It’s about their wallets.

You think Google and Twitter, who routinely play left-wing favorites when it comes to advertising on YouTube and ‘verified’ statues on Twitter, care about free speech and an open internet?

Of course they don’t. If they did, Milo Yinnapolis would be verified. Philip DeFranco and Dave Rubin and Prager University wouldn’t be in a constant battle for Monetization on Youtube. YouTube wouldn’t have asked their creative community to endorse Hillary Clinton en-masse.

(It’s also a government regulation puts more power in a Federal government that previously shut down the multi-million dollar online Poker industry and happily uses the Internet spy on American citizens.)

But ISPs are no prize, either. They’re making billions of dollars as it is now, and after their ISP Privacy data win, look to gain much more based on the sale of private browsing data.

They also provide your telephone, your television, your home security, and Internet, often semi-forcing you into paying for services you don’t want or need because they’d be cheaper that way (can you say ‘Triple Play’?). They have said they want to throttle and block certain kinds of data. Comcast tried it and got caught.

If Title 2 is repealed they will limit your access to certain kinds of data and charge companies that use the most.

Allowing ISPs do to whatever they want regarding Data Speed when they’re the only providers in many areas is a very scary proposition. And to be honest, I thought Libertarians hated speed limits?

It’s a slippery slope, as they say.

The reason I’m writing this – even after Net Neutrality had its 72 hours of press coverage and we’re onto different and other things now, is because there is so much confusion and frustration when it comes to explaining it. To understand it – and the positives and negatives of Title 2, you need to understand how this all works first – at least a little bit. And most people aren’t interested in educating you. They’re interested in your blind support. So when it comes up again – and it will – you, and I, can point to this article so we at least have a somewhat informed jumping off point.

To reduce this issue to memes and catch phrases and tweets is a joke. To say what it could do without explaining how it works is negligent. To make it a left vs right issue is asinine.

I am dreadfully weary of what ISPs could do to my data, what they could charge me for, and what they could block me from. The fundamental point of the internet is that you can get on from anywhere in the world, and it’s the same for everyone. If the Internet changes based on your ISPs policies, that’s a problem.

So, yeah, I support Net Neutrality and Title 2…For now. But unlike most everyone else, I had to think about it first.


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