John Oliver is wrong about Net Neutrality

People keep linking to John Oliver bits. We should stop doing this. This is comedy, but people are confused into thinking Oliver is engaging in rational political debate:
Enlightened people know that reasonable people disagree, that there’s two sides to any debate. John Oliver’s bit erodes that belief, making one side (your side) sound smart, and the other side sound unreasonable.
The #1 thing you should know about Net Neutrality is that reasonable people disagree. It doesn’t mean they are right, only that they are reasonable. They aren’t stupid. They aren’t shills for the telcom lobby, or confused by the telcom lobby. Indeed, those opposed to Net Neutrality are the tech experts who know how packets are routed, whereas the supporters tend only to be lawyers, academics, and activists. If you think that the anti-NetNeutrality crowd is unreasonable, then you are in a dangerous filter bubble.
Most everything in John Oliver’s piece is incorrect.
For example, he says that without Net Neutrality, Comcast can prefer original shows it produces, and slow down competing original shows by Netflix. This is silly: Comcast already does that, even with NetNeutrality rules.
Comcast owns NBC, which produces a lot of original shows. During prime time (8pm to 11pm), Comcast delivers those shows at 6-mbps to its customers, while Netflix is throttled to around 3-mbps. Because of this, Comcast original shows are seen at higher quality than Netflix shows.
Comcast can do this, even with NetNeutrality rules, because it separates its cables into “channels”. One channel carries public Internet traffic, like Netflix. The other channels carry private Internet traffic, for broadcast TV shows and pay-per-view.
All NetNeutrality means is that if Comcast wants to give preference to its own contents/services, it has to do so using separate channels on the wire, rather than pushing everything over the same channel. This is a detail nobody tells you because NetNeutrality proponents aren’t techies. They are lawyers and academics. They maximize moral outrage, while ignoring technical details.
Another example in Oliver’s show is whether search engines like Google or the (hypothetical) Bing can pay to get faster access to customers. They already do that. The average distance a packet travels on the web is less than 100-miles. That’s because the biggest companies (Google, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) pay to put servers in your city close to you. Smaller companies, such as search engine DuckDuckGo.com, also pay third-party companies like Akamai or Amazon Web Services to get closer to you. The smallest companies, however, get poor performance, being a thousand miles away.
You can test this out for yourself. Run a packet-sniffer on your home network for a week, then for each address, use mapping tools like ping and traceroute to figure out how far away things are.
The Oliver bit mentioned how Verizon banned Google Wallet. Again, technical details are important here. It had nothing to do with Net Neutrality issues blocking network packets, but only had to do with Verizon-branded phones blocking access to the encrypted enclave. You could use Google Wallet on unlocked phones you bought separately. Moreover, market forces won in the end, with Google Wallet (aka. Android Wallet) now the preferred wallet on their network. In other words, this incident shows that the “free market” fixes things in the long run without the heavy hand of government.
Oliver shows a piece where FCC chief Ajit Pai points out that Internet companies didn’t do evil without Net Neutrality rules, and thus NetNeutrality rules were unneeded. Oliver claimed this was a “disingenuous” argument. No, it’s not “disingenuous”, it entirely the point of why Net Neutrality is bad. It’s chasing theoretical possibility of abuse, not the real thing. Sure, Internet companies will occasionally go down misguided paths. If it’s truly bad, customers will rebel. In some cases, it’s not actually a bad thing, and will end up being a benefit to customers (e.g. throttling BitTorrent during primetime would benefit most BitTorrent users). It’s the pro-NetNeutrality side that’s being disingenuous, knowingly trumping up things as problems that really aren’t.
The point is this. The argument here is a complicated one, between reasonable sides. For humor, John Oliver has created a one-sided debate that falls apart under any serious analysis. Those like the EFF should not mistake such humor for intelligent technical debate.

This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog post authored by Robert Graham. Read the original post at: Errata Security