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This article doesn't get the internet.

I think it's spurious and mendacious to suggest that consumers upload amounts of data that are in any way comparable to the amount downloaded by people who stream HD video for live consumption.

I'm not particularly pleased about putting content consumers and content producers into two separate boxes, but the classifications of internet endpoints definitely exists in the usage patterns we have today.

Unless the security and privacy problems of the cloud are fixed, people are unlikely to upload the kind of data required to make them comparable - the only thing I can think of that could make it happen is life streaming or continuous security footage across multiple cameras. But I think cloud storage's problems are increasing, not decreasing, and they'll continue to increase until we get to the bottom of the tension with government spying and commercial exploitation of user privacy.

I think net neutrality, as it's naively presented, is highly unfair and subsidizes people who consume a lot of content at the expense of people who only use the internet occasionally. Flat rates for all you can eat downloads, combined with necessarily oversold capacity (since most people don't use all their available capacity all the time), inevitably means that high usage consumers are subsidized by low usage consumers.

There's two ways to make this fairer. Charge people based on how much they download - i.e. caps and overage charges, as horrible as that sounds - or charge companies that upload data more, who can then pass on those costs to their customers. The market has generally rejected the first solution. It's now trying the second solution. But either way is better than network neutrality.

And I say that as a person for whom "network neutrality" is in their interest. But I can see that it's plainly and patently unfair.




> Flat rates for all you can eat downloads, combined with necessarily oversold capacity (since most people don't use all their available capacity all the time)

What does this have to do with net neutrality? Net neutrality is not about how much data gets transferred. It's about not privileging some data types or data sources over others. Charging higher fees for more bandwidth usage is fine, and completely consistent with net neutrality. Charging someone who streams 100 GB/month from Netflix more than someone who streams 100 GB/month from Redbox or Hulu is not.

> The market has generally rejected the first solution.

No, ISPs have generally rejected the first solution, because if people who only used small amounts of bandwidth only got charged for small amounts of bandwidth, the ISPs would get less revenue. They are able to get away with this because the market for internet access in most places in the US is not free: ISPs have sweetheart deals with local governments giving them exclusive access. (And every time a local municipality tries to build out broadband as a public utility, with equal access for any ISP, the big ISPs have kittens and take them to court.)


> ISPs have generally rejected the first solution

I think ISPs like segmented pricing models. Segmented pricing models let them extract more profits from sections of the market that can afford more. But segmentation by bandwidth cap doesn't seem to be very successful.

> Charging someone who streams 100 GB/month from Netflix more than someone who streams 100 GB/month from Redbox or Hulu is not.

Just to get some reality into these figures; on a 5Mbit line, 300G/month was typical for our house. Now that we have an 80Mbit line, I would expect our home usage is now well in excess of 1T/month. (I live in the UK.) This should tell you that I have no self-interest in bandwidth caps, especially joke 2-figure ones.

Given that, I agree that there shouldn't, in principle, be a distinction between packets from company A vs company B. But without being able to efficiently price the scarce resource via bandwidth caps and segmented pricing models on the consumer side, the ISP is reduced to negotiating with the upstream providers of packets that are consuming the scarce resource on behalf of their customers. It then becomes a business negotiation problem, with contracts, leverage and relative power. So naturally there will be variance in which company pays what.

Somebody has got to pay for the scarce resources being exhasuted. That person will be the consumer who downloads more. The only question is how the payment will be routed.


> I would expect our home usage is now well in excess of 1T/month. (I live in the UK.) This should tell you that I have no self-interest in bandwidth caps, especially joke 2-figure ones.

Ah, so you're on the receiving end of the subsidy, in a big way. Wow! That's what, five or six people streaming a full-length movie apiece, every day?

The structure that ISPs seem to like, of a cap with a fairly stiff charge for exceeding it, doesn't appeal to me either. But I don't see what would be wrong with a baseline connection fee plus a modest charge per GB, such that streaming a whole movie would cost on the order of $2.

(Message heavily edited after I realized you agree that the subsidy is unfair.)


My GF usually works from home and has video on one screen 10-16 hours a day, and concurrently streams to a tablet for about 2-6 hours a day - some of that is concurrent usage, but she also likes to fall asleep with the tablet on (and plugged in).

Netflix HD "best quality" apparently uses 2.3G/hour, as of 2012. If all the streaming was Netflix HD in best quality, she'd be using over 1.5T all by herself.

However, it's not all Netflix HD, so her actual usage is lower. And she's also a fan of various talent reality shows, which she sometimes acquires from other sources.

Increased bandwidth is similar to increased road capacity. Just like road capacity makes longer and more car trips feasible, increased bandwidth encourages accessing large files remotely and reduces the incentive to cache locally.


Good grief. That's a pretty good argument for metering. I guess people just don't get that it's not the same as TV. Why should they, when it's billed at a flat rate?


> without being able to efficiently price the scarce resource via bandwidth caps and segmented pricing models on the consumer side

First of all, the situation in the US is different than in the UK, as I understand it. I don't know the details of how ISPs are able to price in the UK, but in the US, the ISPs can price however they want to, and many of them have what is essentially monopoly access to their markets, so the pricing scheme that is in use in the US, with mostly flat rates and very little segmentation, is, I am sure, to the ISPs' advantage, whatever their publicity might say. I suspect that the flat rates are set so that, while people who use full video streaming bandwidth regularly might be subsidized to some extent, people who use much less bandwidth (like me), are paying far more than we would in a true free market, so that on net, the ISP is making much more profit than they would if they truly had to price by bandwidth actually used.

>the ISP is reduced to negotiating with the upstream providers of packets that are consuming the scarce resource on behalf of their customers.

No, they are "reduced" (at least in the US--again, I don't know what the situation is in the UK) to trying to get upstream providers to pay for bandwidth that their downstream customers, on net, have already paid for (as above). The logic of giving ISPs exclusive access to particular geographical areas (in the US) in the first place was that they would be able to count on a steady revenue stream to fund buildout of the necessary bandwidth. They have now had that benefit (in the US) for at least a couple of decades. If they are complaining that they need upstream providers to pay to fund more bandwidth, that tells me that at least one of two things is true:

(1) The ISPs have not used their monopoly revenues for the purpose intended: instead of keeping pace with bandwidth needs, they have just been pocketing the cash; or

(2) The ISPs actually have the bandwidth, but they are using their monopoly position to control access to it in order to get paid twice for the same thing.

(My personal opinion is that it's a combination of both.)


If they sell you a 100Mbit/s line with unlimited data, it should be illegal to charge you again if you use all that potential... either directly or indirectly.


> If they sell you a 100Mbit/s line with unlimited data

No ISP that I'm aware of does that. They might sell you a line with a "nominal" bandwidth of 100 Mb/s, but when you read the fine print, that really means "as long as nobody else is using the network at the same time", or something like that, plus a lot of other qualifications and hedges and disclaimers. The ISP actually is making no guarantee whatever about the actual data rate you will get.


> If they sell you a 100Mbit/s line with unlimited data, it should be illegal to charge you again if you use all that potential... either directly or indirectly.

(QFP) It's "thinking" like this that's responsible for a good 40% of the outrage over net neutrality, IMO.


The argument about whether "unlimited data" really means unlimited data is a completely different discussion. It has nothing to do with net neutrality, it's a discussion about false advertising.


Only a child could read "unlimited data" and think it meant unlimited data. Your network speed is finite; multiply it by time and you get the maximum amount of data you can possibly download. This is a hard limit that cannot be exceeded, and it is well short of "unlimited".

What grown ups understand "unlimited" to mean is that there is no bandwidth cap. There is no hard limit on number of bytes downloaded, beyond which the connection stops working until the next rebilling period.

But this doesn't get rid of the underlying problem. Thinking that it does, that it's just an advertising lie, is magical thinking unfit for adults.

Without a bandwidth cap, other mechanisms need to be used to deal with the fact that consumer internet is sold via contended lines. Some packets will need to be dropped; available bandwidth must shrink when there is more contention. What decides which packets get dropped and which ones get priority - complete randomness, or should your phone call be less important than the difference between a 1.9M/sec video stream and a 2M/sec stream? This is exactly where network neutrality comes in. It's a different way of dealing with the scarce resource, the contended lines.

So it is not a completely different discussion. It is in fact the same discussion, from a different angle.


Here's an alternative viewpoint.

Power companies have the exact same problem. That being said: how do power companies solve it? They make absolutely sure they have enough extra capacity - because if they don't people complain, loudly.

So: Here is what I read "unlimited data" as: The service provider has enough capacity that a customer has access to at least their full subscribed service normally.

In other words, I am challenging the preconditions of your response: I do not believe that consumer internet should be sold via lines that are contended to the point that "brownouts" (that is having bandwidth of < subscribed rate) are a normal occurrence.


> Power companies have the exact same problem.

Not to anywhere near the same extent. The range of power consumption of residences probably covers less than an order of magnitude. The range of bandwidth consumption of residences probably covers several orders of magnitude.

> how do power companies solve it?

By charging people for power consumed, directly. Power companies don't have flat-rate, unlimited-use plans. Everyone knows that if they use more electricity, they pay more, and if they use less, they pay less.

> if they don't people complain, loudly.

Yes, because electrical power is a necessity in a way that Netflix-level internet bandwidth is not.

> I do not believe that consumer internet should be sold via lines that are contended to the point that "brownouts" (that is having bandwidth of < subscribed rate) are a normal occurrence.

ISP's do have customers that get that kind of service. Those customers are called "businesses", and they pay significantly more than residential customers do, because they insist on actual service level guarantees.


I think it is connected since it is all the same network traffic... they do false advertising on bandwidth, which is like the first hidden charge (using small prints, maybe) & and then try to do a second hidden charge for every bit by charging clients first and servers later (Netflix for example)...


edit: missed the "unlimited" bit, i agree if you're buying an "unlimited" service, there shouldn't be an artificial cap

why not? if I only want to use a small amount of bandwidth per month, why should I pay the same as someone who uses 10 or 20 times as much? (I don't only use a small amount, but that's why i sprung the extra $10 a month to go from 500GB to unlimited)

having grown up with segmentation on both speed and quota, i struggle to understand why there's such opposition to the idea


Your argument has absolutely nothing to do with net neutrality.

Charging people for consumed volume is something that can and does already happen, and continues to happen in places where net neutrality is law.

Net neutrality is about not discriminating in what people consume or send.

BTW, high volume traffic companies like Netflix and YouTube are outliers. Many ordinary end users create way more upstream traffic than the average commercial non-video content provider.


It has everything to do with net neutrality. See my reply to eli for the reason why (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8547054).


> I think it's spurious and mendacious to suggest that consumers upload amounts of data that are in any way comparable to the amount downloaded by people who stream HD video for live consumption.

How much of that is a result of the existing infrastructure? My available upload bandwidth is just 10% of my download bandwidth, which makes it pretty much useless for all but tiny amounts of data. There are many things I would love to upload, but it is just not feasible, so you learn to deal with it.


10% of my upload bandwidth is a megabyte a second. That's enough for most of my upload usage - backup primarily, and the occasional youtube video.

Your perspective on upload vs download may change a bit when your connection gets better. I think a 9:1 ratio of download to upload is the right thing for most consumers. Ideally, the connection would rebalance based on demand, but I don't know enough about xDSL technology to know why that isn't possible.


Net neutrality does not preclude metered access. Two different things.


Let me try and explain why these things are related with some economics.

There is a scarce resource, consumer bandwidth. We normally use pricing to communicate information about scarce resources. This has the advantage of increasing the profitability of investment in increasing the supply of the scarce resource.

The explosion in growth in streaming HD video services has meant that the statistical variance of consumer bandwidth consumption from mean consumption has increased.

If most pricing models assume a mean usage, that means that heavy users are now being subsidized more than before by light users.

For fairness, heavy users should be charged more.

That can be done via metered access with higher allowances costing more, or it can be done by charging more for the streams of data that are consuming the scarce resource. That means Netflix and their ilk. But of course Netflix will pass on any extra cost on to the customer.

These are two sides of the same coin. If metered access with segmented pricing can't solve the pricing problem, then contracts with suppliers of data streams will be used instead.


Are you suggesting a system where, instead of settlement-free peering, peering between networks is on a pay-per-bit basis? I suppose that would also be consistent with neutrality, as long as there is no discrimination between networks. In no instance should Netflix have to pay anything to anyone except their access provider.


The trouble is that the cost of a packet is a function of its entire route, not simply size or quantity.

The more packets that flow through a congested hop, the more that flow should be charged (whether to the sender or recipient). Peering with a network where the packets are not due to go through heavily contended routes shouldn't be a big problem, and nor should peering with a network where the routes for packets being interchanged have similar constraints.

Probably, a totally fair system would involve so much accounting that most of the cost would be dominated by it.

Let's not also forget that Netflix et al. don't always rely on peering. They can give their customers a better experience by directly attaching hardware to the ISP's network, i.e. edge caching, which itself involves contracts and negotiation, independent of any network neutrality concerns around packets swapped at peering.


But let's look at the economics from the ISP's perspective. What incentive does the ISP have to charge Netflix less, regardless of whatever costs they have?

First of all, most big ISPs are competitors to Netflix. Directly so through online streaming services, but I think focusing on those is missing the big picture, which is cord-cutting. For cord-cutters, Netflix and other services add up to a replacement for the ISP's expensive TV service, and while not a lot of people do this today, the trend over the last few years seems pretty clear. Thus the ISPs have little reason to be particularly invested in general in making high bandwidth transfers on the Internet actually work.

Aside from that, they could be incentivized by competition from other ISPs. But 75% of American homes have only one ISP providing at least 25/3 [1], and even at 4/1 the majority only have two choices, so this is pretty limited. While I am very far from an expert in this field and I know there are many factors involved, it's hard to see this as not a large factor in the high prices Americans pay for Internet service compared to other countries, independently of the inherent scarcity of the resource (which, after all, can be expanded with enough investment).

And when it comes to charging content providers, the situation is worse, because the cost is hidden. Even in a competitive market for ISPs, fees charged to Netflix don't affect the sticker price - admittedly, at the moment it seems to be all of $1, which is a significant part of Netflix's price but not the Internet connection's [2], but that just reinforces the arbitrariness of it. And if negotiations fail and the ISPs slow down Netflix connections by neglecting to upgrade equipment, they can still advertise 100Mbps or whatever on their website, regardless of the fact that on one of the most popular destinations (bandwidth-wise) on the Internet you can't even get 5Mbps! This is such an enormous asterisk to the speed promise that even given the inherent variability of speeds on the Internet, it feels very much like false advertising.

This used to affect me personally: being in the minority that has two high-speed options, somewhat less than a year ago I switched my home's Internet connection from Optimum Online, cable service which AFAIK is not trying to charge Netflix a fee, to FiOS. For the same price it promised faster download (150 vs 100), much faster upload (now symmetrical, yay), and there were faster options potentially available in the future if we were willing to pay even more money. As it turned out, for most of the internet FiOS really was better - even if I could rarely ever download anywhere near 20 MB/s, 10 wasn't out of the question for CDNed content, significantly better than the previous service. But the result was to the significant displeasure of my family, because instead of downloading games from Steam, they watch Netflix a lot, and it started frequently degrading quality or failing altogether. As someone aware of the issue I honestly should have know that would happen... IIRC, since the connection was far from perfect under the old ISP I thought it wouldn't make that much difference, but I was wrong. My fault - I think largely resolved now that Netflix is paying up - but the vast majority of consumers are completely unaware of this! Any non-tech-enthusiasts choosing service during the time had little way of knowing about this giant caveat, giving Netflix no bargaining power even in this competitive segment of the market.

I suppose this part at least could potentially be changed without government intervention: Netflix could raise its price only for users of certain ISPs, or ISPs could start advertising their Netflix speeds. But with all these factors combined, the whole thing is a mess and in no way represents an efficient market. Thus while I hope for competition to some day make net neutrality-like regulation unnecessary, I strongly support such regulation.

[1] http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-chairman-more-competition-ne...

[2] http://arstechnica.com/business/2014/05/netflix-comes-throug...


> Unless the security and privacy problems of the cloud are fixed, people are unlikely to upload the kind of data required to make them comparable

You vastly overestimate people's concern over privacy and security. We still use email, http and insecure credit cards yet they have huge security and privacy holes.

People will use what appeals to them and worry about security and privacy generally later.




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