Net Neutrality

I’m an Internet nerd. I’ve been using the Internet since early days, on a dialup modem TUI to our local BBS, and later on MichNet which was made availably by our K-12 school in Adrian. I’ve grown up a bit since then, going to university studying computer programming, working on free software projects, and now working at Mintel for the past 8 years, recently moving into our IT Infrastructure team being the chief decision maker on what ISPs we use and how much of it we buy.

In short, I’m an Internet nerd. I really care about the Internet “tubes” I’m using. I have spent too many hours in the past few years at work, slaving away, comparing traceroutes and packet loss on Mintel’s mesh of network links to find the most optimal routes. The net neutrality thing matters to me as a network engineer.

As a computer enthusiast in my time, living in China, let me tell you what: in China, there is no net neutrality. Google, Facebook, Twitter, are blocked – not even just a few IPs, but all traffic to their ASNs on ports 80 and 443 are 100% blocked, and many of their DNS records rewritten. Once in 2013 I found that was blocked in China – who knows why. SourceForge was blocked for a while, too. The BBC was blocked this month. Users complain that these sites are blocked, and sure that’s annoying. But the businesses out there who compete for market share of users to sustain their business – which Facebook would sure love to do in China – are boxed out of the market without even being asked. Sina Weibo, Tencent, RenRen, and the dozen other attempts at big time social media in China would have had stiff competition if we had net neutrality in China. We do not.

This week I stumbled across The Oatmeal’s explanation of Net Neutrality, and it was simple enough that I liked it. The video eluded to an Orwellian reason why websites might end up being entirely blocked in a place where the Internet is a frequently used tool in a modern, consumer-driven civilized economy where millions of happy people use the Internet. You can’t imagine the government ever blocking websites in the USA – it would never happen, right?

A laptop with blocked, with blocked looking quite dreadful, and saying

I live this crap ever day.
This is what it’s like in China. This is what it’s like in many countries around the world.

I was happy today to see this highlight from President Obama on the subject, calling for the FCC to make a firm commitment to net neutrality. I’m not big on partisan politics and I could care less what the latest debate is on the subject. In short, Net Neutrality is good, the general public agrees, and we should have it.

Being the USA where so many of the building blocks of the Internet were dreamt and built, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to get this right and lead with example. Lets get it right, my fellow Americans.

Update May 2018

It’s been a long few years since I’ve written this article, and I’ve had a fair few emails from people over the years asking about it. Unfortunately we now stand atop a slippery slope in the US having repealed Net Neutrality rules in late 2017.

One journalist agrees where this can lead.

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