Internet Infrastructure and Regulation

From Technologies of Politics and Control
Jump to navigation Jump to search

April 17

In this class, we will cover the politics, policy, economics and technology of deploying broadband infrastructure. We will look at the year-old US National Broadband Plan and the Berkman Center review of international experiences in broadband policy. Additionally, we will look at the substance and politics of the net neutrality debate.

Slides (PDF)


Assignment 4 due


  • Executive Summary of the National Broadband Plan [1]
  • National Broadband Plan Commission Meeting: National Purposes Update, February 18th 2010 [2]
  • Next Generation Connectivity: A review of broadband Internet transitions and policy from around the world, Berkman Center [3]
  • Net Neutrality 101 [4]
  • More Confusion about Internet Freedom [5]
  • Hands Off the Internet [6]

Optional Readings

Class Discussion

April 17: Internet Infrastructure and Regulation

In order for the lines of communication remain open, the rule of net neutrality clearly states that ISPs may not discriminate between different kinds of web applications and content. This is a good thing, because if there were a preference leaning towards one or the other we could see more of a monopoly system developing. So net neutrality allows the Internet to continue to function.

“Net Neutrality is the reason the Internet has driven on-line economic innovation, democratic participation and free speech. It protects our right to use any equipment, content, application or service without interference from the network provider. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data” Even as we are working within the world of ideas, we are also dealing with a very brick and mortar world to use it in.

It's no wonder that major corporations want to get rid of net neutrality. Without it then monopolies can take over. So, since net neutrality is part of the architecture then consumers are protected from fee hikes, and so on and so forth. I don't know about you, but I think that there is a bit of a problem with norms within North America when it comes to broadband or cable prices. Although, I think that net neutrality is one thing that makes it affordable, even though it is still quite overpriced.

I think that we should keep in mind that in free and open societies we would want to keep net neutrality a part of the Internet. Without net neutrality corporations are then destabilizing the balance of democracies, and overthrowing governments. Another interesting thing about this is that giant corporations have already taken over the ISP business and set the prices.

So, what I'm wondering is this: is Internet access elated directly to the strength of a nation? Simply because Korea or Japan has a more free and open web, that is also cheaper does not mean that living in Japan or Korea is any better than in the United States or Canada. So I find that this may correlate to a general climate. And even though the Internet may be more reasonably priced there, I would really rather be somewhere else.

I find that the problem with things like petitions is that many people don't bother signing them. Many of the people who are just getting on the Internet today, who don't even know how to program a VCR, usually don't care how fast their Internet as long as they can get on and surf around. Now, when their bill suddenly increases, they may become perturbed, but still not enough to actually do anything about it. Getting many people to understand the relationship of net neutrality, or signing a petition, is a very idea oriented activity. So, many of the working class, or middle class, do not reasonably understand how it affects their lives. Unfortunately, so long as the working and middle classes continue to be sedated with distractions then monopolies shall continue to reign.

So, looking at it from one angle says that we are more liberated by the Internet. This may be true. However, how we get it is a bit contradictory to this notion. If we are working within a monopoly system, then I have to ask: are we really free? Even though everything may be all fine and dandy, there is something a bit perverse but also unsettling about this.

So, is net neutrality the first amendment of our time? Perhaps yes – perhaps no. However, when we examine the case of the United States, we do see that social norms change over time as does the architecture.

So is the Internet really free then? It does seem like a double standard. I think that most people like to think that they are free to do as they please, to make their own decisions without the encumbering voice of the government swooping in around and coercing them to do something just to continue business. Then we are inevitably getting into societal questions. Questions more about what kind of society do we want to live in? A free and open society where individuals have the right to form their own opinions, or one where their thoughts are dictated to them along with an itinerary for what they are going to do for th rest of their lives. Somehow, though, I think that this would be highly anti-American. So, we want to make sure that net neutrality is keep part of the architecture that is the Internet. Without it, it becomes no longer the Internet as we know it today.

I think what is interesting is that we are seeing competition as a good and healthy activity towards progress amongst democratic societies. For example, Europe and North America comparing benchmarks is a way for either side of the coin to make improvements. And that is a good thing for everyone.

However, what I also think is somewhat challenging about this idea of a seamless Internet, is that again, we are going back to this double edged concept that we examined above. And we must continue to ask ourselves of our freedom. This is because we are also venturing into more of a socialist type of a concept in some sense. I think that when we speak of the United States, or other democratic areas, we want to keep this notion of freedom alive. So, depending on our ISP and removing our freedom of choice would be a bad thing. One the one hand we need the service, but then we are getting into questions around public good and so on and so forth.

As is clearly stated in Next Generation Connectivity: “High capacity networks are seen as strategic infrastructure, intended to contribute to high and sustainable economic growth and to core aspects of human development.”

So, what we are getting at here is an economic question tied into the framework of a society. It is no wonder, then, that regions such as China, and Korea, have implemented cutting edge technology and invested in a future built architecture. China, for example, is in fact competing with democratic societies.

However, back again to this idea that even if there is ultra fast Internet that is reasonably priced does not mean that I would want to live there, or that the quality of life is going to be directly affected. This is because the Internet is not the be all and end all, but a means towards that something whatever it may be. It is the underlying information structure that eventually connects to the brick and mortar world.

Just Johnny 17:13, 15 February 2012 (UTC)

Interesting article in Slate that's basically a profile of "_why" (a well known programmer/sort of folk hero in that online community before he disappeared off the web one day) but also goes into the problem of of the "Little Coder's Predicament" quite a bit since that was one of the main things _why was interested in. That predicament is the lack of accessibility to the code behind the devices we use so often; it is incredibly easy and intuitive to play Angry Birds on your phone or use Excel on your laptop, but hard (and getting harder) to learn how to access and manipulate the code that creates and alters those sorts of programs.

This is an issue that has come up quite a bit in class, and I thought the author does a good job of explaining some neat tools for the layman to use to get into programming. The article is a fun read and touches on a lot of issues of public v. private online, identity online, the importance of being a creator and not just a consumer, etc. Thought you all might enjoy! -AlexLE 22:37, 16 April 2012 (UTC)

@AlexLE: Cool article. Just Johnny 00:31, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

Off topic for this week's class but I saw this article hit the Washington Post and thought it was an interesting read for those interested in Copyright and internet sales. --Hds5 18:21, 16 April 2012 (UTC)

@Hds5: This is really ridiculous. When I was a child, it was a good thing for students to go to school. Students do need to pay for their education. So, denying this individual of that education is just wrong and goes against everything that education is meant to stand for. What the student does outside of the campus really has nothing to do with the school. Although, I do understand how this relates to the socialist realm of the future of the Internet. If everyone is aware of what everyone is doing at all time, while I am sitting my living room and watching television, or eating a chocolate bar outside of my home in my driveway, then we are beginning to move away from what is fundamentally a matter of freedom. Just Johnny 00:31, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

This week's readings brings up an interesting point on national safety. Government agencies other organizations could stand to do a better job notifying the public via the internet when national disasters arise. In times of disaster, notifying the public via internet alerts seems like a very efficient way to spread information quickly. -- [[ --Szakuto 11:57, 17 April 2012 (UTC)]]

@Szakuto: Websites such as Twitter are useful in getting information out there in a somewhat more organic way than mainstream newspapers. And governments leave things mostly up to the media to "put it out there" because there's simply way too much room for lawsuits to happen. Although, I think that this is an interesting point. Thanks for bringing it up. I think that the framework in pace is generally good, and doesn't necessarily need an authoritarian voice to take over all media, because we've got a loose framework in place that is generally connected and streams through information quite quickly. But, wait, there is mostly just a few. And, then it comes back to the question of quality of life. Be happy. Watch America's Funniest Home Video's. Just Johnny 00:31, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

This week’s articles were like always very interesting and thought-stimulating. I really enjoyed reading the first article concerning broadband and the US government’s plan back in 2009 to make it accessible to all Americans. Even though many criticized the fact that at the time 100 million Americans didn’t have broadband, we must not forget the huge improvements that took place in the last two decades. I personally grew up with no broadband and with a computer which would run Windows 3.1 so from the ‘80s until now I personally see a huge improvement and I believe it is just a matter of time that the whole world will have broadband and at that point a newer technology will become available. The second article was by far the most fascinating. I had recently watched a documentary on technological advances and healthcare, and how easy it would be to do most things via internet like sending results and interacting with doctors. For what concerns education, I believe we have started making some good progress only recently and not very many institutions offer online learning. Homeland Security is definitely the most important aspect which we should invest in, in my opinion and we are far behind many of our European and Asian colleagues. The third article is exactly what I was talking about in terms of future technological advancements and it explains both plans and practices of countries other than the United States. The article on Net Neutrality was also pretty interesting and it perfectly explained its purpose in a simplistic way, which is appreciated by someone like myself who isn’t exactly a computer expert. The article on Internet Freedom has a very amusing title and I must say it is perfect for that topic. I still think it is very difficult to talk about internet freedom and government intrusion and I believe we will still be talking about this in the near future. The YouTube video about Hands Off the Internet was again in my opinion an amusing and simple way of portraying and conveying a message and I believe this to be a good way of doing so. Overall Governmental intrusion is and will be a serious and durable debate in the future. Emanuele 13:36, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Emanuele: As is stated directly in the National Broadband Plan "The U.S. ranks in the bottom half among developed countries on every metric used to measure health IT adoption" (National Broadband Plan, 9). So, I do not see this as a form of government control, more so as it is a way to improve service towards citizens. Improving access to broadband could assist in creating "the conditions for broader adoption and innovation" (National Broadband Plan, 11). What we are talking about is a general framework, a collective climate. And health care should naturally be a part of that framework. Just Johnny 00:41, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

The articles for this week certainly brings to light the relationship between the government and broadband providers, and government’s particular interests in expanding and regulating broadband. I found Thierer’s article on these regulations to be interesting, particularly when he indicates that “we shouldn’t allow the cyber-collectivists to sell us their version of “freedom” in which markets are instead constantly reshaped through incessant regulatory interventions.” It is always nice to see this age-old political argument spill over into broadband management. Certainly the government takes the internet seriously and I think that their overlying effort to make broadband accessible to everyone is noble back in 2009. As the internet has shaped our lives in many different ways, it would be hard to imagine having no access to the internet. I do agree with the point that the internet has certainly improved by leaps and bounds over the years.--Jimmyh 16:51, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Jimmyh: Yes, the Internet has improved in the last decade. Which is exactly why net neutrality is so important to maintaining what we now have. I think the cyber-collectivists are doing many interesting things. But, most of all what they are fighting for is for everyone to be able to access the web. Imagine a world in which only those who can afford high speed Internet can get on it. Then these people must work to pay for their Internet, and then we are talking about the collapse of the middle class, and a much larger working class. This is not good because ti can overthrow the balance of things to come. And all for what? Paved paradise and put up a parking lot? Sure, the Internet can improve, but in what direction should it evolve? Freedom of use or control of access? Just Johnny 00:57, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

I agree with Emanuel, the Hands Off video and the Net Neutrality website explain in a very simple way what’s going on with the Internet; I enjoyed both of them. Also I think it is true that the Corporations and “Save the Internet” campaign want the government to take control of the Internet. The main net neutrality issues then are who should control the Internet: the people, or the government? And who should pay: the big corporations, or us?

The articles were also very interesting and touched important themes. The Broadband Plan article mentions that the broadband plan will improve the healthcare system, the energy and environment, and the education system. I think we have all experienced the benefits of improvements on technology, not too far our distance class is possible due to technology enhancement. As the article states, this creates economic opportunity, and government performance and civic engagement. With regard to the former, I like the idea that it would make the government more open and transparent! And with the latter that it will increase public safety and homeland security. In this way it is very important the broadband for mobile devices. Also it will ensure patients to have control over their healthcare data; I specially like this one because one day I went to have some health tests in my country and within a few days I could access them via the Internet.

The presentation on the Broadband Plan was very specific in showing the gaps that prevent the most efficient usage of the broadband. It also provided a framework of recommendations for each area in which broadband is used, and the potential savings achieved. Also, I like the idea that better technology will allow us to help prevent traffic accidents and potentially save energy. I think we still have a lot of work to do but in the long-term I’m positive these improvements will be possible.

Finally, in the Berkam Center article, it is very interesting the approach used, in which learning from other countries like Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, Japan and South Korea was the center of the study. What I most liked from this article was the idea that the next generation broadband user experience is built upon not only the deployment of high capacity networks, but also the creation of ubiquitous seamless connectivity. This is because we are now experiencing more availability of connectivity, but quality, speed and more places with Wi-Fi are still matters of improvement.Fabiancelisj 17:10, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Fabiancelisj: The video was interesting, but didn't really say anything. What it said to me was that the big corporations are taking over, and here's a quick video just to remind all you youngsters over there. Just silly. The youth of now really have a lot more power than those in power tend to think. Who will take over their positions and allow things to continue to operate? I just have to laugh at this kind of "there there dear" hype. The Internet is safe. America’s plan Executive summary clearly states that: "Broadband networks only create value to consumers and businesses when they are used in conjunction with broadband-capable devices to deliver useful applications and content. To fulfill Congress’s mandate, the plan seeks to ensure that the entire broadband ecosystem—networks, devices, content and applications—is healthy." So, we are moving forward, not backwards. And, no, the Internet is not going away as this executive plan clearly states. Just Johnny 00:57, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

I really enjoyed reading the Net Neutrality website, simple, clean and easy to understand. Net Neutrality topic has been an interest to me, especially after Comcast declared that their new Xfinity Xbox app will not count toward your 250GB/month cap. This is one example of how ISP are about to control the internet content. While they are not exactly controlling it now, counting every app on xbox against your cap except their own xfinity app is exact definition of net neutrality, thus driving consumer demand into their own product as more and more people are not willing to reach their monthly cap or go above it. Recently, Netflix CEO spoke against Comcast on this issue:

Hands Off video was also interesting to watch with simple explanations for those who are yet to read up on these issues. Also, first article on National Broadband Plan is very interesting indeed, with some interesting plans that US wants to implement but I think the plan is a bit too optimistic. Providing every home with extremely fast broadband is not only hard to achieve but also hard to imagine that ISPs won't have to say anything against it. ISPs are always finding a way to get the most money by providing the slowest speed possible and I'm not too sure they will be very happy with a plan like that. While the article states that US is far behind many other advanced countries in terms of broadband speed, lets not forget that US is far bigger country with much bigger population than let's say South Korea so providing same kind of speed is not very easy. Also, ISPs in US also have a bigger word in terms of broadband in US, when compared to ISPs in other countries. While the plan laid out in National Broadband Plan is great, it is also hard to achieve in currect time with current ISPs and laws. Erzhik 18:20, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Erzhik: Interesting that you mention Netflix. Of course, sites such as Netflix and Hulu are taking up a lot of bandwidth, which can sort of cause a problem. So, I believe this goes back to the upgrading of the architecture. We have the government stepping things up, and then we've got the corporations busy. So, I think that this is relevant to our readings. Our devices are becoming more controlled, or locked. Look at Apple hardware. Everyone loves Apple, but Apple has actually started a very bad trend, along with now Kindle, and so on. They are trying to come up with more ways to control consumers. The monthly download limit isn't just a hardware and network limitation, but a way to accumulate profits. Just Johnny 01:20, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

Agree with comment directly above. First thing that comes to mind when reading about net neutrality were this week's quotes by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Comcast internet data throttling. I think actions like those occuring under Comcast give more control to certain companies in power and take away power from the consumer. Is this an anti-competitive practice? Will it lead to worse actions? Would like to hear other opinions on this. Brendanlong 18:17, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Brendanlong: Sure. Everything is tied together nicely, depending on these interconnected factors. Sort of like the Internet, really. Just Johnny 01:20, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

I think a big threat to net neutrality has to do with cell phone providers. With more and more people accessing the internet from their iPhones, blackberries, etc., cell phone companies can severely limit web content. Zittrain has a lot to say about smartphone censorship. I second Brendan's questions. My opinion is that it could be anti-competitive. Thoughts? Aberg 18:55, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Aberg: Yeah, I think you touched a nerve there Aberg. Cell phone companies want people to have data plans. These devices can limit what content is accessed. And these cell phone providers can block what users access. Just Johnny 01:20, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

@Aberg, I had a different experience with smart phone web access. I think it is interesting that when I attempted to post on Facebook the “Save the Internet” link by clicking the “share” button from the link provided in the class readings, I was asked to close the tab on Internet Explorer. I tried sharing the same link using Google Chrome and also failed. When I searched for the “Save the Internet” group on Facebook, I was unable to open the link to the group. Perhaps, this is due to blocking by Verizon internet service when I tried to access the links from my laptop. However, I did not encounter these problems when I tried to access the same links using my phone with T-Mobile’s wireless internet service. Qdang 19:53, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

I found that the article, "More Confusion About Internet Freedom," raised a particularly poignant question: "The question is how much faith we should place in central planners, as opposed to evolutionary market forces, to solve that problem." By "that problem," the article is referring to "freedom for the government to plan more and for policymakers to more closely monitor and control the Internet economy." Indeed it a difficult line to draw when many entrepreneurs can be hadnsomely compensated for creating Internet innovations that can capture valuable user data and demographic information. On the other hand, it is also difficult to see how large governments will practice the self-restraint not to overregulate the Internet. Technology is rapidly evolving and government and legislation must keep up, but it cannot come at the expense of expression and free markets. Cfleming27 19:58, 17 April 2012 (UTC)

@Cfleming27: Yes, I think that progress should be taken into account to make way for improvements. However, I also think that the government should not get too heavily involved. Governments need to focus on what their purpose is: to serve the citizens. I think that the executive summary is quite interesting in that general improvements are being put into place, but I also think that the government does need to step back and mind its own business from time to time. Just Johnny 01:20, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

It seems like this question has come up before, or even many times in history: Is a good to trade freedom for security? I think it was one of the founding fathers of the U.S. who said “no!” If not, it could have been the founding father of somewhere, in other words, a wise person. The problem is not that security and some control is bad, but rather that it is humans and a human system who manipulate the situation, and there are definitely ill-intentioned people who are prone to manipulate the system. In that case, the protection is to not put the system in any one central authority’s hands. People who work in positions of power are often well intentioned, but also misguided. It’s not always some stereotyped sinister fiend who is planning to do us all wrong, say like, Boris and Natasha in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Often it is the “nice guy” with the kids next door, the ones who go to the same school as yours. People can become misguided by a false sense of patriotism, and play right into being used by others who want them to think they are doing the right thing. There are obviously some people up to something, or there wouldn’t continue to be attempts to pass a law here, sneak a little unknown regulation in there, or otherwise fool the public. When anyone says anything, they are decried as cracked “conspiracy theorists” and dangerous. I think it’s a spin off of what Lessig referred to as the bovinity principle. Can there exist some form of democracy, capitalism, and socialism, all mixed together, in just the right proportions, where governmental control could be appropriately exerted in truly the best interests of all, when needed, yet, with checks and balances? It think that was the general idea, when the U.S. started.Mike 13:00, 18 April 2012 (EDT)

@Mike: Well, I honestly think that there is a lot of bad information out there. And unless we put it out there in the first place, people would never have that idea to begin with. Take crime dramas on television. Every day there is some crime drama on television. Now, is that on there to deter people from committing actions, or is it there to give them the idea that this is the world that we live in? I tend to think that it is part of this general climate that is taking shape. Now if we replaced all of those crime dramas with Barney we would start to see a radically different way of thinking. So, I think it's interesting that you mention Rock and Bullwinkle. I tend to think that everything that is part of the cultural milieu is there for a reason. And it is really very much the same whether you are in a communist society or here. The difference is merely in our perceptions that we are given. When I look at the Executive Summary, I see a document that is essentially controlling the framework in place. So, beyond mere aesthetics -- what's the difference between the sides here? Just Johnny 01:20, 21 April 2012 (EDT)

This is such an interwoven topic discussion that can't be had by looking in isolation. The infrastructure of the net essentially can be a powerful tool for communication (and if security is heightened and closed to 'speaking parties'). It could launch the economy and policy/negotiations at greater speed (and possibly accuracy). [Accuracy because the elimination of voice messaging and possible misinterpretation can be avoid -- although written text can have the same weaknesses.] To look at the situation through meeker lens, I would suggest that each policy culture first truly understand the existing and physical culture/philosophy of their people. Surely, each country would differ vastly from the other and that would effect the desirability of outcome for each nation. What would be hard to reconcile (without education) is how the infrastructure changes from culture to culture (the case of American vs Chinese net culture of today). Essentially, protests and disputes of inequality may in fact be an argument of Chinese people saying give us a choice, but don't limit (or prohibit). In that same light, the American view point of the Great Fire Wall could be seen as oppression. I do find some hilarity in reading the piece about democracy coming out as profanity on Chinese google. Not sure if that was included in this list of readings. Harvard212 15:40, 8 May 2012 EST

Links from Class