Net neutrality? Mail neutrality?

“Net neutrality,” you surely know, is the notion that all internet traffic ought to be treated equally. All it takes is that one little word, “equal,” to send hoards of left-wing morons to the barricades. For those who care to think through the issue, I offer the following.

If net neutrality is a good idea, so is “mail neutrality.” The Post Office should treat all mail equally. No more Priority Mail, not even First Class Mail. Just mail.  No more commuter express lanes on the freeways.  No priority for anybody, anywhere.

Data sent over the internet, or any local network for that matter, is divided into packets which have header information indicating the destination of the packet followed by a block of bytes that is the digital form of the data, whether text, audio, or video; web traffic, email, or ftp. As far as I know there is no provision in the ethernet protocol for priority information, but that isn’t necessary to prioritize packets.

Why should they be prioritized? Because different kinds of traffic have different natural degrees of urgency. email messages are not terribly urgent, but packets of video are, because if the those packets don’t keep coming at a steady pace, the result is irritating pauses and that little spinning circular thingy. If consumers of video want good service, they should pay for it. If email users who are in no hurry are willing to wait a bit and pay less, that’s good too. Markets generally tend to segment in this fashion. Starbucks doesn’t practice coffee neutrality. They offer fancy drinks to those willing to pay for them and plain coffee for those of us who just want the caffeine.

What rules should be set for internet providers? None, except common law prohibition and prosecution of theft and fraud. Let the service providers set their own policies for use of their private property.  In the interests of their bottom line, they will seek out practices that best serve their customers.  The crucial requirement is that politicians and bureaucrats be kept away.

9 thoughts on “Net neutrality? Mail neutrality?

  1. Excellent analogy! Taking it a step further, treating ISPs as utilities cuts off possible avenues of innovation in the same way reducing competition in mail service limits the availability of cheap “bandwidth” that might be provided by the Lysander Spooners of the world.

  2. Horrible analogy. The mail service already has mail neutrality. They aren’t charging the recipient of my mail to in order to receive the mail that I’ve already paid for and they aren’t treating my mail any differently based on the recipient. If the ISPs followed the mail neutrality rules in their connections we would have net neutrality.

    The ISPs charge me differently for different speeds, just as the mail service does. The ISPs, however, do not want to let me reach certain sites without those sites being double billed (once for their Internet connection, and again to my ISP). I’m already paying the ISP so why does Netflix have to pay them to deliver the content for which I’m already paying the ISP to reach?

    This situation might make more sense if there was any sort of competition in the ISP market. I would agree wholeheartedly with you if the monopoly/duopoly system that is currently in place would be broken up. Competition recently came to my town and now the duopoly from which we get to “choose” has suddenly had a change of heart when it comes to providing services. Almost overnight they increased user speeds 10x with no additional cost.

    However the ISPs are making it difficult for this competition to come in and compete on a level playing field. The ISPs claim to own the lines for which they’ve gotten special privilege from the government to not only lay but also tax money and incentives to do so. Again they get to stifle competition not by being a better company but by taking advantage of their unique government funded “ownership”/monopoly/duopoly of access to the utilities to provide service to my house.

    It’s a sad state that net neutrality seems to be required in order to provide the services that customer’s want to buy. But this is not uncommon in a monopoly situation. Breaking up AT&T did amazing things to the telecommunications market. It may be time to break up the ISPs.

    Another quick point – packets on the Internet are able to be prioritized via Quality of Service (QoS) headers in a packet. This occurs at the TCP layer however and not at the Ethernet layer. This is often done to certain types of packets, such as video, to ensure that these streams get higher priority than your email or downloads.

    Net neutrality is not just about keeping the ISPs from censoring content and choosing to slow certain kinds of packets to maximize profit. It’s also there to protect the Internet so that companies can not be blackmailed or extorted in order to reach their customer base.

    Internet service should be a utility. There hasn’t been innovation from the ISPs because there is no incentive to do so. Why should a monopoly innovate? Rather than innovate they’ve chosen the blackmail route. Let’s get some competition involved here.

  3. Two very separate issues. To make your analogy more fitting. We could say that you pay your service provider for high speed internet or DSL internet. We already have mail neutrality. All mail is treated equally you can pay your provider a bit extra to get it there depending on how fast you want it to get there. Now how would you feel if they checked what you were sending and told you since your sending a USB drive it’s going to cost extra compared to say if you were sending a post card. Even if the weight was the same and you only want standard shipping. You would be pissed off! That is what the big corporate fat cats are trying to do with internet!! Why should I be charged more to watch Netflix then Im charged to visit CNN? Why should comcast make it difficult for me to watch Netflix

  4. In the comments section of this article Jimmy’s post at 2:29 pm is full of great details and background showing a deep knowledge of the subject matter. I’ve also received a Computer Science degree after many years of study, but with the exact same understanding of the issue, come to a completely different conclusion.

    adeebhamad’s response 12/12/2014 at 6:21 pm was perfect.

  5. I love the mail comparison, it highlights the point wonderfully. I’ve been concerned with the amount of libertarians jumping on board with net neutrality and I’ve chalked it up to such a high percentage of them being “computer people” (including myself). We have to remember to not let out self-interests get in the way of morality.

  6. well, Mr Hamad, your last question pretty much answers it all. Because Comcast will do whatever they can to get gov’t to force the issue. It’s called Cronyism, or it can oxymoronicly be called at times “crony capitalism”, which of course is not free market voluntary exchange capitalism at all.

  7. “The mail service already has mail neutrality. They aren’t charging the recipient of my mail to in order to receive the mail that I’ve already paid for and they aren’t treating my mail any differently based on the recipient.”

    If you subscribe to various cyclical publications or buy products via the mail, you can be certain your payments cover the cost of sending materials to your address. Also, different classes of mail are treated differently. Media mail has a reduced rate compared to other types.

    • “If you subscribe to various cyclical publications or buy products via the mail, you can be certain your payments cover the cost of sending materials to your address. ”

      Absolutely. Same as what happens now. I pay for Netflix and part of my fee is used by Netflix for their access to the Internet. I pay for access to the Internet, and therefore access to Netflix, who has also paid for their Internet access.

      “Also, different classes of mail are treated differently. Media mail has a reduced rate compared to other types.”

      I can pay more for faster access now. Internet companies negotiate rates with their ISPs based on bulk rate options.

      Neither of those would change with net neutrality.

      Net neutrality would be like mail neutrality. Mail neutrality ensure that the USPS couldn’t suddenly stop National Geographic from sending magazines to me, or intentionally holding back National Geographic’s shipments, while allowing Conde Nast to deliver their magazines normally. If the USPS suddenly started charging National Geographic 3 or 4 times what it charged to Conde Nast for the same level of service that would be a scandal. Even more of a scandal if the USPS had their own magazine that competed with National Geographic.

      Comcast has already begun doing this to by intentionally slowing their customer’s access to Netflix until Netflix gave into their extortion and agreed to be double billed by paying for their access to Comcast twice (once to their Internet provider, and again directly to Comcast). They had to do this in order to ensure that their service stayed competitive with other companies that Comcast didn’t block. One of these competitors is Comcast itself. This is the so called “fast lane”.

      Competition in the ISP market would fix this. Given that Comcast has a government-granted monopoly in most areas competition is unlikely. Then add in the fact that Comcast has purchased plenty of politicians via lobbyist organizations and it seems impossible to resolve this.

      Net neutrality could also fix this. Seeing as competition is a pipe dream I see no choice but to support net neutrality to ensure the future of the Internet and keep providers from unethically blocking their competitors.

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