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I think you missed the authors real point. The selling of data isn't the policy you need to fight. The monopoly power of ISP's is the problem you must push back on. The author has rightly pointed out that regulating your way to your goal is not a solution. He is advocating for a free market solution which is much more robust then one that hinges on the right people being in power for all eternity.



There won't be a free market solution to land-based ISPs. After the government broke the telcos up, they just consolidated again. Now we have less than half-dozen large ISPs, and states are trying to ban local governments from creating co-ops! Maybe one or two entrants will come in (google Fiber, who stopped expanding), and only then, it will be from GOVERNMENT enforcing free use of easements.

Certain industries have a tendency to be monopolistic, or else have incredibly high barriers to entry. ISPs should be regulated to protect customer privacy. This is the equivalent of USPS, the public library, and the phone company selling your data to whoever wants it, and it's wrong.


While not 100% 'free market,' I think that turning things like last mile lines, etc in to a public utility (allowing many ISPs to hook into them), and abolishing local government-granted monopolies is the real solution here. While abolishing the government-grants of monopoly status is unquestionably free-market, turning the last-mile lines into a public utility is slightly less so. But this move would effectively force the playing field to level a bit.

If you wanted to make it slightly less "government-y," you could just establish rules that those running the last-mile lines, and those providing the connectivity must be separate entities (and not connected to each other like some "spin it off as a separate division of Comcast but they are still parts of / owned by the same company"-type deal) so that everyone gets a fair shake.

[ That said, I'm not in favour of letting the privacy war play out in the market, because I'm not 100% sure that the market wouldn't just settle into a state where everyone was doing something I don't like to some extent. ]


It's funny that you (and many others) say this because we had this from 1996 to roughly 2004. Unbundled last element, or linesharing, was a requirement of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Telcos loathed it and pitched many mighty fits and threw every (physical and metaphorical) wrench they could in front of their brand new competitors. But it worked, in spite of the problems[0]. The absolute best I ever had was in Southwestern Bell territory. Over a single copper circuit I could choose from TEN different ISPs. Speakeasy, Megapath, Covad Direct, August Net, and a handful more that I can't remember. In 2002, I paid Speakeasy $160/month for 10mbps symmetrical with 8 real IP addresses and no port blocking.

President Bush was elected and the telcos' complaints were given new life at the new FCC. The unbundling requirements were swiftly removed. Now, we have this.

0 - And don't get me wrong, the problems were legion. UNE-P didn't apply to cable providers nor the new-ish fiber optic last mile buildouts. Only ILECs were subject to it so competitive providers who had built physical plants got to skate by. And there were some legitimate complaints over the "profit margin" calculation (in quotes because what's a margin in the telco business, really?). But, damn, it did work for a brief time...


> It's funny that you (and many others) say this because we had this from 1996 to roughly 2004.

Oh, I know that. The US also had more "competition" in the ISP space nationally because all of the regional telephone companies and cable tv providers hadn't yet consolidated into the mega-corps we have now.

> Telcos loathed it and pitched many mighty fits and threw every (physical and metaphorical) wrench they could in front of their brand new competitors.

Separating (e.g.) AT&T from their last mile infrastructure (and placing barriers to them re-obtaining it) would go some of the way to preventing this. Someone operating the last mile infrastructure that is not also a direct competitor to their customers[1]. It's a conflict of interest that no law or regulation is going to properly resolve.

[edit: I should clarify this. No law or regulation is going to properly resolve the situation unless we remove the incentives for the last mile operator to find loopholes to screw their customers.]

[1] the ISPs connecting to people over the last mile infrastructure


The big problem with that unbundling scheme is that it made DSL less profitable than cable internet,which didn't have to be unbundled (because they aren't ILECs).

This is why in the USA the cable companies are the big ISP leaders and the telecoms are second fiddle.

Verizon only built Fios when they got clearance that they wouldn't have to share it.

The unbundling is a great way to make sure that legacy systems are fairly priced. It's a bad way build new systems.


It's worth pointing out that Verizon has abandoned Fios expansion. Most of their build-out was to low hanging fruit like new residential communities where they laid fiber instead of copper.

So there's no simple cause+effect here related to unbundling. And even with unbundling it's not like a company loses money; they just lose monopoly rents but are guaranteed some profit whether or not they have to share.

Really the issue is about opportunity cost and financing: Verizon would rather invest in endeavors with a higher return than what they'd get with copper or even fiber. That higher return is wireless.

But there's so much cash available, or at least there has been for the past 10 years, that theoretically somebody could have stepped in to invest in these projects. Google was tentatively one of those people--initially it was enough for them to break even--but it looks like the only entity capable of committing for the long haul will be a non-profit or government entity. More so as the era of freakishly low capital costs slowly comes to an end.


> The big problem with that unbundling scheme is that it made DSL less profitable than cable internet,which didn't have to be unbundled (because they aren't ILECs).

Don't forget the fact that it's 2017, and DSL sucks. 40mbit down and 10mbit up at best is what DSL providers tend to offer. DSL just isn't viable compared to cable.


I don't see why we should give up on breaking up monopolies/oligopolies just because they have a tendency to consolidate again. These solutions aren't meant to be permanent. They are meant to be regularly applied every couple of generations.


Quoting the article:

> [...] stop relying on governments for self-protection that you can handle yourself. If it’s not the current administration that will repeal our protections, it will be the next one. And what then?

The whole point of a democratic government is to protect the interest of the majority of their citizens, and the selling of personal personal data is clearly against the interest of most Americans. In a democracy the tool we have to protect our interests is the law. Unfortunately this tool sometimes is also used by small but powerful actors for their own purposes, colliding with the will of the majority. That's exactly when we have to fight back to keep the government democratic.

VPNs can be used as a temporary workaround by some people, but it's definitively not a good permanent fix for this constant invasion of privacy that many corporations in the US are so willing to attain. Even if you think you have a perfect technical solution (GNUnet? Tor? I2P?) the next administration can simply say that solution is unlawful, and what then? The fact is, sometimes we have to demand our government to do the right thing, and this now is one of those times.


This argument is the central one in the article, and it's really weird, because it could be seemingly applied to any government regulation, or, indeed, any useful service provided by the government.

Once you notice that, the whole piece is basically just ancap apologetics.


You are right indeed if we abandon the law as a tool to protect ourselves and decide to go it alone not only will this surely leave the confused majority in the dust unprotected it provides no protection against future encroachment. Whats to stop them from banning consumer vpns or requiring registration and some sort of key escrow system whereby the key to your vpn is held by the government, your isp, and eventually your competitors/hackers after they steal it.


> The whole point of a democratic government is to protect the interest of the majority of their citizens

Is this the goal we strive for? There are lots of things that we don't want that could be largely couched in the language of "being in the interest of a majority of citizens". For example: Aggressive policing against petty theft, stop and frisk, prohibiting sales of off label unpackaged cigarettes; antiterrorism laws with intrusive cavity searches at every airport; fugitive slave laws...


It's evident from previous examples that it's a significant increment from legalizing a bad practice, that is anyway going to be done by law enforcement and other government organs, and by stealth even if it was illegal, to making software or protocols contraband.


Completely agree. Monopolies are the problem. Capitalism is a delicate system and, unregulated, it leads to monopolies. That's why capitalism needs regulation -- not to pick winners, but to ensure healthy competition. This is something Republicans seem to be willfully obtuse about. Capitalism without regulation is like a football game without referees.


This is I think where the voting public gets played by both sides. On the "free market" side people are told all regulation is bad, just let the market operate. Which ignores that some regulation is needed to keep a level playing field. Then on the other side we are told we need to strictly regulate to control for safety and shared resources, but both sides just impose regulation that benefit established firms and sell out consumers.


> Which ignores that some regulation is needed to keep a level playing field.

Think about the original purpose of the FCC. Some regulation is required to make the services work at all. With a completely deregulated system, your microwave would disrupt cell-phone service for blocks. Your computer power supply might do the same thing. And Verizon phones would probably intentionally interfere with AT&T phones.

Low-frequency spectrum is a public resource, full stop.


> ... but both sides just impose regulation that benefit established firms and sell out consumers.

Can't agree more. Corporatist rent-seeking is the fundamental problem with our political economy and/or society. But both sides keep talking past each other (as they are incentivized to do).


rent-seeking

Tangent, thanks. This is the phrase I was trying to conjure to mind earlier today in a discussion about the very topic of this thread. Ended up taking a long, exhaustive and context-laden road to get to my point; after which I had already lost an audience but so it goes.

For the interested: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Rent-seeking


There are a lot of factors leading to the current lack of competition in most markets, but I'm not convinced that a monopoly is an entirely natural market condition in this instance. If it were, providers wouldn't demand franchise agreements before entering markets.

https://arstechnica.com/business/2014/04/one-big-reason-we-l...

https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/the-fcc-cant-help...

https://consumerist.com/2015/05/26/why-your-cable-company-do...

Government regulation contributes much to the cost of investing in infrastructure and starting an ISP business in most areas. I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if that cost could be brought down.


The counterpoint is, if The monopoly power of ISPs are the real problem, VPNs don't do anything to stop the monopoly power of ISPs.

VPNs are a strategy for mitigating an individual's exposure—leaving the monopoly of the ISP intact.


Yes, ISP monopolies are still a problem w.r.t. price and quality of service. But VPNs stop the ability of ISPs to snoop on and sell your data, which -- in a perfect world with ISP competition -- market forces would prevent. So VPNs can take the place of market forces for one of the bad things that arise with ISP monopolies, namely the one that the House just enabled yesterday.


VPNs do that so long as ISPs don't inhibit, block, deprioritize, or charge extra for traffic that isn't over known protocols that they can mine for salable data; which, given that the same political actors that oppose the FCCs Privacy Report and Order also oppose the Open Internet Report and Order that prohibits that action means that VPNs may not long be an effective mitigation of the policy problem, because of an intimately linked policy problem.


All corporate mobile work forces rely on VPNs, so it may be a solution to get a business account?


you can achieve anything if you're willing to pay for it; still doesn't solve the broader issue here.


That's a double-edged sword. Regulations create monopolies as well.


It is the regulation that created the monopolies. Local cable companies and telcos have legal monopolies in many areas by way of franchise agreements with municipalities.

Monopolies don't last in a free market. Someone hungrier will eventually come in and undercut the incumbent.


Regulations destroy competition. Sometimes that's a sacrifice you want to make - do you want an unregulated drug market or would you reduce the number participants with burdensome regulations? - but I don't think you can regulate your way to competition. Or to lower prices.


That depends on whether said regulation actually increases barriers to entry or decreases them.

Anti-cartel ones do the latter. Many properly made regulations are not easier to adhere to by big vs small agents.


US history is rife with examples that contradict you. (anti-trust regulation)

Regulation is a tool, and it does more or less what the tool user intends it to.


I'm going to object to the "more or less what the tool user intends it to". Our economy and political system is chockfull with examples of unintended consequences. Both majority parties are guilting of this.


And what if ISPs start banning VPNs in their TOS? What's the market based solution to that?

It seems odd to reject regulating against certain practices and reject the breakup of monopolies as well. Without a market that works properly many more specific practices are going to have to be banned. That's not an ideal situation. Monopolies are indeed the main problem here.

Also, VPNs seem to be under attack from governments, so I wouldn't rely that option being available forever either.


If ISPs ban VPNs, the people who want to use VPNs will cancel their service. If enough people want to use VPNs the ISPs will be forced to allow it.


Right, and once everyone is used to life without internet let's go all the way back to a hunter-gatherer life so we're safe from extortionist practices made possible by other entrenched oligopolies that defeat market mechanisms.

I have to wonder why government regulation is to be avoided at all cost when it comes to consumer protection whilst the very existence of corporations, their property rights and hence markets themselves is owed entirely to government regulation.

I am very much in favor of using market mechanisms to solve as many problems as we can, because if and when markets work they solve a very complex coordination problem that is extremely hard to replace with planning. But to claim that markets can solve every problem including their own dysfunction is just logically nonsensical.


I depend on many things that hinge on the right people being in power for all eternity, and so do you.

We've seen what the wrong people in power do. Mussolini, Stalin and his gulags, Pol Pot and his genocides, Kim Jong-il, Slobodan Milošević. This isn't a statement about the current US President, but we depend on having right (enough) people in power in a lot more ways than this one policy decision.


I disagree. I mean you make a good point, the monopoly power of ISPs is a problem. But even if you solve that, that doesn't mean you solve the privacy issue. You can have dozens of ISPs and even if half of them sell your data that's still a problem. And it simply won't be enough of a factor for the free market to correct.


This, and the original article, makes the assumption that your ISP continues to transfer your VPN encrypted bits with the same priority that it transfers your HTTP and HTTPS bits.

There's nothing that says this will be the case. It would be very simple to deprioritize VPN connections, and recommend an upgrade to their "business" ISP plan if you need your VPN connection prioritized.

They have no reason not to, and every reason to. Either way, they get more money out of your existing internet use. It would be a pyrrhic victory at best; they wouldn't be spying on you, but you're paying twice more for that "right".


> The author has rightly pointed out that regulating your way to your goal is not a solution. He is advocating for a free market solution which is much more robust then one that hinges on the right people being in power for all eternity.

Then the author should go all out and suggest that the federal government completely deregulate all the spectrum from, say, 500 MHz to 1 GHz. We'll have lots of wireless providers, and none of them will work well because they'll all interfere with each other.

There's a variant that might work, though: force the licensees to operate on a wholesale basis only. No Internet, no voice, no SMS, no phone number, no streaming NFL games, purely connectivity to a wholesale backend provider that can provide whatever services they like using whatever peering, transit, CDN, etc relationships they want.

As a practical matter, it would probably work better to let the spectrum licensees provide voice and SMS, just because the protocols are so absurdly complicated that it might be very hard to get it to work wholesale.

(As an aside, public utility regulators could do the same thing for wired services. Let one provider supply every property in an area with a 10Gbps point-to-point fiber link to a nearby datacenter. Anyone else can lease space in the data center and cross-connect to residents' fibers.)


> He is advocating for a free market solution which is much more robust then one that hinges on the right people being in power for all eternity.

Unfortunately, in the real world, history teaches us that free markets will absolutely go to hell in a handbasket if the wrong people are in power even for a short time.

So much for ivory tower "free market" idealism.


So, on the one hand we can have effective legislation right now over reasonably well-defined privacy concerns.

On the other hand, we can work for a decade to introduce regulation over the hard-to-define concept of an ISP monopoly, and then spend more decades going through the inevitable break-up and re-conglomeration of these entities under different forms, like we had with the telcos through the last half of the 20th century. In 50 years we may have a landscape that resembles that of the current cellular carriers: three or four large players in most metro areas, fewer rural options, and little real choice among them in terms of QoS or T&C. I suppose this would represent a slight improvement over the status quo?

This is the problem with so many free-market proposals, they would have you off tilting at windmills instead of directly addressing a fairly straightforward problem.


> regulating your way to your goal is not a solution

Why not? Author didnt say much at all about this. What else is regulation for if not to keep certain things in check better than the free market/people/whatever can do?


Right. People forget that there is no such thing as a truly "free" market. Literally everything we consider a "market" has regulations, from contract enforcement to currency standardization to abolishing violence and theft as market forces.


It's not only a free-market solution, it's also the solution that doesn't involve giving your ISP plaintext data and trusting them to do nothing wrong with it because the government said so.


Pure free market solutions are nearly always worthless by themselves there is always misaligned intensives in every transaction move complicated than selling a can of soup.

Where incentives are misaligned and/or the issue is a technical/complex and users are highly unlikely to vote with their dollars regulation is the only possible achieve success.


That was most certainly not the author's main point; he only mentioned it briefly, and he didn't mention a way to fight monopolies. To be sure, when the "Make Network Monopolies Not Exist Somehow Act of 20xx" is up for a vote, I'll probably be for it. But that's not what this article is about.


Often the easiest way to solve these kinds of problems is actually to have a well regulated monopoly.




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