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The typical argument, seen here, goes like this:

Without net neutrality, cable companies could censor websites, favoring their own business partners.

Typically, proponents of legislation point to some perceived injustice, and argue that new laws are needed to address it. But the very use of the subjunctive in the quotation (could censor), suggests that this might be considered by its opponents as a solution in search of a problem. If so, why haven't they used that rhetorical tactic? Conversely, if such incidents have occurred, why don't the neutrality supporters cite them?

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    "why don't the neutrality supporters cite them?" What makes you think that they don't? – barbecue Nov 22 '17 at 17:28
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    This question seems like it would fit better on Skeptics. Asking the question may or may not be politically motivated, but the actual question is not about politics. – Caleb Mauer Nov 22 '17 at 23:34
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    @CalebMauer if it is not offtopic on "this stack", leave it be. It can be assumed that the OP want a political POV / analysis instead of a "debunk/prove this claim using SCIENCE" that skeptics.se provides. And I disagree that the question is not a political one. Just the half billion USD allegedly spent on lobbying makes it political. – Mindwin Nov 24 '17 at 18:54
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    I'm not sure if competition is even "the" problem that net neutrality purports to solve. Personally, I don't want my provider to look into the packets I send over the net, just like I don't want my mailman to open my letters and deliver only what he thinks is appropriate. It's about free speech and privacy as much as about competition. – henning -- reinstate Monica Nov 27 '17 at 15:33
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    This is not U.S. related but in Canada an ISP blocked access to all users on a website where some of their employees were discussing to go on a Strike. This was literally what triggered the government to consider net neutrality seriously. That's actually a very big violation of freedom of speech. – Fire-Dragon-DoL Nov 28 '17 at 23:25
303

Yes, there was the case of Netflix and Comcast for example.

The events were basically these:

  1. Comcast noticed that Netflix is responsible for a lot of traffic of their private internet customers.
  2. Comcast asked Netflix to pay for a better quality of service to their customers. They refused.
  3. Comcast started throttling Netflix. The bandwidth available between individual Comcast customers and Netflix got worse every month.
  4. Finally, Netflix caved in and paid the toll.

This example showed the validity of a new business model for ISPs: Have online content providers pay ISPs for better access by their customers. This would make it extremely difficult for newcomers on the market to compete against competitors who can afford to pay the ISPs. Further, ISPs could decide to flat out reject such a deal with specific content providers for any reason they want. This could be ethical concerns or business interests.

Speaking of business interests, there is another business practice which is questionable from a net neutrality point of view: The zero rating. There is currently a good example for this in Germany. Monthly data caps on mobile internet usage are usually quite low in Germany. That makes it really expensive to use music or video streaming on the go. The solution by German ISP T-Mobile? Pay just a little bit extra and streaming no longer affects your monthly data cap usage. But initially only if you used their streaming services.

Under pressure from the Bundesnetzagentur (the regulatory body for data services in Germany) they caved in and offered the same zero rating for their main competitors on the media streaming market. But these are again unique deals which apply to specific competitors. Further, other ISPs in Germany (like Vodafone) have started to offer similar products. That means if anyone wants to offer a new streaming service, they would have to negotiate with all the ISPs (worldwide!) to also get a zero rating deal. This is a problem for small and specialized streaming startups who usually do not have the resources to do that.

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    "Comcast started throttling Netflix." As I recall, it wasn't that they started throttling Netflix, it was that they stopped upgrading the connection with Netflix. Netflix has been growing pretty constantly, so just stopping replacement of obsolete equipment with bigger, more capable equipment had the effect of throttling Netflix without every having to actually reduce the overall traffic. They simply maintained one level which had the effect of making it worse for every customer who used Netflix or another service from the same ISP as Netflix used. – Brythan Nov 22 '17 at 15:48
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    @Brythan That explanation doesn't make sense. Comcast doesn't control the Internet infrastructure between itself and Netflix's servers; they buy bandwidth from Tier 1 providers like every other residential ISP. The only point where Comcast could affect the connection to Netflix is in transit between itself and its customers, and there's no "equipment" specific to Netflix in there. – ArrowCase Nov 22 '17 at 17:16
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    @ArrowCase And yet that's what experts like Michael Weinberg of Public Knowledge were saying at the time. The confusion may be that Comcast and Verizon are big enough that entry doesn't have to go through the Tier 1 providers. Both have entry points in Santa Cruz. I.e. you're describing how two ISPs in different regions would work, but Comcast and Verizon are in the same region as Netflix (as well as many others). – Brythan Nov 22 '17 at 19:31
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    Similar link for Verizon says, "It's saying that Netflix traffic has overwhelmed the points of connection between the ISP and the middlemen who deliver this data for the streaming video giant. The key difference is that Verizon says Netflix could solve this problem easily by spreading its traffic over multiple transit providers. Level 3 is arguing that the best solution would be to simply upgrade Verizon's network, a process it claims to have offered to pay for." Level 3 is Netflix's ISP. – Brythan Nov 22 '17 at 19:36
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    @ArrowCase, you should probably learn about internet exchanges, (like seattleix.net for example). Many times, large networks can and do directly connect to each other, so there isn't "internet infrastructure" between them. – Azendale Nov 25 '17 at 19:49
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Here's a comment that's been circulating on reddit discussing the answer to this question. I didn't write it, but I thought it had excellent information. It was originally posted (as far as I can tell) by u/The_Brutally_Honest in an r/OutOfTheLoop thread about Net Neutrality. Here's the link to the comment.


Also for anyone who tells you that "Net Neutrality is solving a problem that doesn't exist"... or anything along those lines: Here's a brief history on what the internet companies were doing that triggered Net Neutrality to be put in place:

MADISON RIVER: In 2005, North Carolina ISP Madison River Communications blocked the voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) service Vonage. Vonage filed a complaint with the FCC after receiving a slew of customer complaints. The FCC stepped in to sanction Madison River and prevent further blocking, but it lacks the authority to stop this kind of abuse today.

COMCAST: In 2005, the nation’s largest ISP, Comcast, began secretly blocking peer-to-peer technologies that its customers were using over its network. Users of services like BitTorrent and Gnutella were unable to connect to these services. 2007 investigations from the Associated Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others confirmed that Comcast was indeed blocking or slowing file-sharing applications without disclosing this fact to its customers.

TELUS: In 2005, Canada’s second-largest telecommunications company, Telus, began blocking access to a server that hosted a website supporting a labor strike against the company. Researchers at Harvard and the University of Toronto found that this action resulted in Telus blocking an additional 766 unrelated sites.

AT&T: From 2007–2009, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype and other competing VOIP phone services on the iPhone. The wireless provider wanted to prevent iPhone users from using any application that wo uld allow them to make calls on such “over-the-top” voice services. The Google Voice app received similar treatment from carriers like AT&T when it came on the scene in 2009.

WINDSTREAM: In 2010, Windstream Communications, a DSL provider with more than 1 million customers at the time, copped to hijacking user-search queries made using the Google toolbar within Firefox. Users who believed they had set the browser to the search engine of their choice were redirected to Windstream’s own search portal and results.

MetroPCS: In 2011, MetroPCS, at the time one of the top-five U.S. wireless carriers, announced plans to block streaming video over its 4G network from all sources except YouTube. MetroPCS then threw its weight behind Verizon’s court challenge against the FCC’s 2010 open internet ruling, hoping that rejection of the agency’s authority would allow the company to continue its anti-consumer practices.

PAXFIRE: In 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that several small ISPs were redirecting search queries via the vendor Paxfire. The ISPs identified in the initial Electronic Frontier Foundation report included Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN and Wide Open West. Paxfire would intercept a person’s search request at Bing and Yahoo and redirect it to another page. By skipping over the search service’s results, the participating ISPs would collect referral fees for delivering users to select websites.

AT&T, SPRINT and VERIZON: From 2011–2013, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon blocked Google Wallet, a mobile-payment system that competed with a similar service called Isis, which all three companies had a stake in developing.

EUROPE: A 2012 report from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications found that violations of Net Neutrality affected at least one in five users in Europe. The report found that blocked or slowed connections to services like VOIP, peer-to-peer technologies, gaming applications and email were commonplace.

VERIZON: In 2012, the FCC caught Verizon Wireless blocking people from using tethering applications on their phones. Verizon had asked Google to remove 11 free tethering applications from the Android marketplace. These applications allowed users to circumvent Verizon’s $20 tethering fee and turn their smartphones into Wi-Fi hot spots. By blocking those applications, Verizon violated a Net Neutrality pledge it made to the FCC as a condition of the 2008 airwaves auction.

AT&T: In 2012, AT&T announced that it would disable the FaceTime video-calling app on its customers’ iPhones unless they subscribed to a more expensive text-and-voice plan. AT&T had one goal in mind: separating customers from more of their money by blocking alternatives to AT&T’s own products.

VERIZON: During oral arguments in Verizon v. FCC in 2013, judges asked whether the phone giant would favor some preferred services, content or sites over others if the court overruled the agency’s existing open internet rules. Verizon counsel Helgi Walker had this to say: “I’m authorized to state from my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.” Walker’s admission might have gone unnoticed had she not repeated it on at least five separate occasions during arguments.

Source has links to each case where you can read the legal documents about it: https://www.freepress.net/blog/2017/04/25/net-neutrality-violations-brief-history

82

There have been a few examples, in part, these examples have pushed this more into the spotlight. It's often under the term 'traffic shaping' if you are interested, here is Sandvine, a company that offers those shaping services. If you are interested in the peer2peer domain (which is heavily bringing this issue to the forefront) here is a national list of ISP's and their throttling practices on bit torrent users: Curious if this documented list counts as citing.

For the US:

Verizon has run testing on it.

“YouTube is being throttled to 10Mbps as well,” one person wrote on Thursday. “In the ‘stats for nerds,’ it would load at roughly 1,250KBps which translates to 10Mbps. Put the VPN on and that number tripled easily. Didn’t have an issue playing 1080p in 60fps, though.”

(part of the problem with throttling is if you know your way around it, there isn't an issue. Tax on the non-tech savvy).

Verizon stated they were not throttling, however, articles suggest they did and still are. Here is an article stating Verizon is actively throttling video connections over their network. Over to Comcast who has been engaging in this practice but not admitting it until much more recently:

  • When Comcast throttled BitTorrent users, they had a lawsuit brought against them that won.
  • Sprint: They deny they do, though it's apparent they can. User backlash results in people monitoring if they are being throttled. Of course, there are several accusations.
  • Bell and Rogers in Canada.

Telus has also blocked union sites and have engaged in some pretty underhanded anti-union tactics. Not sure if blocking sites fall under net neutrality though.

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    part of the problem with throttling is if you know your way around it, there isn't an issue. Tax on the non-tech savvy That's the current status of it. As this question showed, that might not be the status quo for long, especially if this is made legal. Basically they don't even need to know who you're connected to or what the contents of the packets are, just the pattern is enough. – Ordous Nov 22 '17 at 19:06
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    @Ordous - Well ya, and when a new method of detecting is invented, a new method of getting around it will be invented (guess how long it'll take someone to discover how flatten a youtube usage pattern and pass that along as an app?). And a new method of detecting that will come along, and a new method of getting around that will be shortly around the next turn. It's a constant loop (part of the tech-saavy comment is knowing the current work around is temporary and a new one will be on it's way) – Twelfth Nov 22 '17 at 20:17
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    No, if it is legal there will just be a list of IP addresses/networks of "partners". Connections to the "partners" are fast, other connections are slow. No getting around that. – Josef Nov 23 '17 at 11:52
  • Just to be clear - pay attention to the capitalization in the quoted passage - they are converting Kilobytes per second to Megabits per second. – PoloHoleSet Dec 29 '17 at 17:04
68

You also can take a look at mobile internet products in Portugal:

enter image description here

Now assume you have the VIDEO pack because you watch Twitch a lot. If you now decide to get some streaming service, will it be Netflix where you already have the traffic covered in your package or will it be e.g. Amazon Prime? If this then really a "free market" where you freely decide between the streaming services based on their offerings?

As far as I understand (I don't speak Portuguese) for 4,99€ you get 10GB at this selected partner services. For "regular" 10GB you can use for everything, you pay 19,99€. So basically you pay 400% of the price if you don't want to use their partner services but something else.

It doesn't always have to be "censor" in the sense of blocking the access. Even limiting the speed for some services or making customers pay more for the traffic to some services and less/none to others is favoring their own business partners.

  • Yep, but I have to admit this is the one really bad example I know. I am happy it's not like that here (yet). All we have is the "buy Spotify from us and the traffic is free". Especially interesting in this example is they give you 10GB for partner services for 5€ and 10GB for everything for 20€. So the price you pay for using a service not partnering with your provider is a 300% surcharge... – Josef Nov 24 '17 at 8:22
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    Portugal has net neutrality through the EU, so this isn't the best example. Also, those are cell phone data plans, not residential data plans. This sort of thing already exists in the US under the current net neutrality rules, e.g. TMobile Binge On. – quw Nov 24 '17 at 22:44
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    The EU directive doesn't limit “zero rating”, but leaves this decision open to the member states. Portugal does allow it. There is no binary "net neutrality", so saying this is not an issue because the EU has "net neutrality" is wrong. – Josef Nov 27 '17 at 8:13
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Dec 1 '17 at 15:15
  • It's worth noting that this example is incredibly misleading – Machavity Dec 18 '17 at 20:54
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Comcast, in the face of cable cutting, is now applying usage caps on their data services, but continues to provide unlimited access to their video feeds. Comcast loses ~$38 in "contribution margin" per cord-cutter Since their service has been all-digital (everywhere?) for a decade or so, it's clear that they are penalizing their data-only customers in order to prop up their video-channel-feed business.

Their bundling deals offset those losses, it's often cheaper to accept a basic-cable-plus-data bundle than a data-only package, and with effective geographic monopolies on broadband delivery, they've little incentive to fairly price data services. My assumption is that they need to maintain the fiction that they own all those eyeballs at the end of the channel feeds, to maintain their advertising rates.

The fact that cable providers rate #1 and #12 for most hated companies is clear evidence that their effective monopoly and constant bad behavior needs to be throttled. As with any public utility, without true competition or aggressive regulation, the public is not well served.

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    Can confirm that I have Comcast cable+internet solely because it’s cheaper for me than just internet alone, and I have no other option for internet. – KRyan Nov 25 '17 at 2:31
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    @FrankCedeno None of those provide adequate service, or reasonable rates. I would not be able to do my job with those services, and then I wouldn’t be able to afford them. And finally, perhaps most importantly, having 5, 6, 7 options? Even if they all provide comparable service? For a necessary utility? That still isn’t a real, thriving, competitive retail market. The assumptions made in capitalist theory aren’t met by such a market. The free market will never “regulate” such a market; it cannot, even in theory. The government must do so, because no other option is available. – KRyan Nov 28 '17 at 21:22
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    @FrankCedeno That argument is like saying "don't like that there's only one option for buying a car? It's not a monopoly, because you can buy bicycles elsewhere, or walk!" – Beofett Nov 29 '17 at 17:39
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    @FrankCedeno I do not live in the mountains, and have reliable electricity, yet only have one ISP available in my area that offers anything over 5mbps, not counting satellite, which costs as much for 30GB/month (my household easily burns through about 1-3GB per DAY) at 25mbps as I'm paying Comcast for 250GB/month at 150mbps. Beofett's analogy is apt here; there is no EQUIVALENT competition: my choices are buy an overpriced car, or buy a moped for the same price as the car. – Doktor J Nov 29 '17 at 18:39
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    There is no real choice. When I lived in Miami there was an effective duopoly ATT and Comcast had split up Miami between them. there was one other major telecom provider but that was only to a segment of Miami beach. so your choices were Comcast with its traffic shaping and caps or att u verse which was not available in lets call them non affluent areas of Miami. U verse and Comcast were about what you could expect 100mbs or greater only in certain areas att locked down some areas but only had DSL service at 7mbps. So tell us how this is a great option for teleworkers? Or anyone in general? – Jetrois Dec 11 '17 at 16:23
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As an example of something Net Neutrality rules have effectively blocked, Verizon lawyers admitted in court of law that given the opportunity, they probably would throttle or even completely block content.

... the judges asked whether the company [Verizon] intended to favor certain websites over others.

“I’m authorized to state from my client today,” Verizon attorney Walker said, “that but for these rules we would be exploring those types of arrangements.”

Walker’s admission might have gone unnoticed had she not repeated it at least five times during oral arguments.

In response to Judge Laurence Silberman’s line of questioning about whether Verizon should be able to block any website or service that doesn’t pay the company’s proposed tolls, Walker said: “I think we should be able to; in the world I'm positing, you would be able to.”

-- Verizon's Plan to Break the Internet, 9/18/2013, Save the Internet

In addition to wanting to extort content providers for money, they feel they should be able to outright censor content at their own discretion. Verizon and AT&T have also tried to argue the First Amendment gives them the right to outright block (censor) or even edit the content they serve to their customers.

Right before the Fourth of July, Verizon filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that expressed this intent in no uncertain terms. The brief was part of the telecom company’s bid to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules, which prohibit carriers from blocking or discriminating against Internet users’ content.

In the brief, Verizon argues that the First Amendment gives the company the right to serve as the Internet’s editor-in-chief.

The First Amendment “protects those transmitting the speech of others, and those who ‘exercise editorial discretion’ in selecting which speech to transmit and how to transmit it,” the company’s attorneys wrote. “In performing these functions, broadband providers possess ‘editorial discretion.’ Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others.”

[...]

This is not the first time Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have suggested that they have a First Amendment right to stifle speech online. AT&T argued in 2010 that its role is similar to that of an editor who selects content and speaks — and that it is not merely a conduit for the communications of others.

Censorship = Freedom?, 7/16/2012, Save the Internet

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    They want this right up to the point where someone's doing something illegal; then there'll be "no way for us to reasonably prevent this sort of abuse. We can't possibly be held responsible for everything our customers do online". – jscs Nov 27 '17 at 23:13
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    In other words, the lawyers are admitting they want these rules removed because they explicitly want to do the kind of things everyone's accusing them of wanting to do. The irony is that they don't want to stop people doing things like pirating, they just want to ensure that they're getting paid the most money possible by people doing that. – Kaithar Nov 28 '17 at 16:05
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In 2005, Telus, a Canadian telecom, censored a union's website from its Internet subscribers when its workers went on strike. (While that wasn't an action to favour its business partners, it was certainly an action to hurt its business enemy.)

  • How is this a pro or con arguement on net neutrality. This will happen whether or not it exists. And again, there are other ISPs – Frank Cedeno Nov 28 '17 at 21:15
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    @FrankCedeno This is an example of censorship implemented by an ISP, exactly as requested in the question. The whole point of net neutrality is that ISPs should be forbidden from disfavouring any specific source of Internet traffic because it's unfair to the subscriber and the publisher. – 200_success Nov 28 '17 at 21:21
  • No, its an example of journalistic hyperboly, obviously you could see the website before, during and after the incident. The article states that there were already laws that made this illegal. Which goes to my original point, if there are already laws that will be violates, how are more laws going to remedy anything. – Frank Cedeno Nov 28 '17 at 21:26
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    IMHO, censorship is a far more deplorable reason than optimizing traffic flows ... – rackandboneman Nov 29 '17 at 4:08
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    @FrankCedeno, the proposal isn't "more laws", the proposal is removing the laws that currently exist (and allow violators to be fined in practice). Though of course the history of a Canadian telco doesn't tell us anything useful about the state of laws in the US either way. – Charles Duffy Nov 29 '17 at 14:21
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Another example would be AT&T's Sponsored Data program. Engadget talks about the fcc accusing them of Net Neutrality violations here. The list goes on and on you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure anytime a corporation wants something it can't be for the benefit of the public, unless they are a non-profit.

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    "you dont have to be a rocket scientist to figure anytime a corporation wants something it cant be for the benefit of the public" - this is a case for banning for-profit corporations, not for net neutrality. – Jonathan Cast Nov 22 '17 at 20:28
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    A lot of things are mutually beneficial - for the benefit of the public and for profit. – user253751 Nov 22 '17 at 21:46
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    Downvoting this factually correct answer simply because it includes a bit of snark about bad behavior from for-profit corporations is silly. Cable and communications providers have worked hard to earn their most-hated-by-customers status, and Jetrois is hardly alone in thinking that public utilities with effective monopolies should not be allowed to operate for profit. – Taryn Nov 22 '17 at 23:56
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    @jcast actually it's a case for regulating companies in general. It has been consistently proven that companies will, when given the choice, pick what ever works out to be the most profitable option they think they can get away with. Though it's not like companies would dump horrifically dangerous chemicals in to the environment just because no-one was looking... oh wait, that's why the superfund list is so oversubscribed and underfunded, all those people dumping uranium, arsenic, lead, mercury, etc in to the ground water and unconstrained land fill. – Kaithar Nov 28 '17 at 16:18
3

NN is also an issue on other countries. I'm from Mexico, and short story I once attended a TELCEL conference (one of the big 3 cellphone carriers here). They where promoting the start of their new *unlimited data package. I already knew back then of the "scheme" behind this cause of the caps used by USA companies.

I asked if there was going to be able to download all that I wanted at a 3G speed? The speaker answered that I should be able to download files at a 3G speed.

Then I made another question. Would I be able to go download a 10 GB file at 3G, that there was no going to be any cap or throttle to it?

The answer was that once I hit 1GB (was around 2014) I would get a throttle on my download speed and I would have to pay for the extra MBs.

I made a last remark that it would only look unlimited if we only used it to download text data.

I was not allowed to ask another question.

It was false advertisement then and it still a common practice around carriers when they advertise under unlimited data (they always put the cap/throttling on small letters) but they rarely do so now cause we all know the catch now.

In Mexico we have not reached NN protection, something that now might never happen because we always tend to copy USA laws. Want to taste what non NN looks like, just jump the border and connect to a public hot spot.

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