Is Internet capacity a “non-issue”, and equal bandwidth a “right” ?

Interviewed by Max Kellerman, on Rick's List, CNN, August 20

Here is the link on CNN to the 5-minute segment: Cali Lewis / Max Kellerman discuss Net Neutrality

A transcript of the interview follows.  After watching the discussion with some interest, I tweeted Cali with a brief comment that she had made a statement about technology and capacity which was misleading and very much in error.  I later received a reply from her producer, Dave Curlee:

remember that CNN has a VERY broad audience. Network TV doesn’t like technical detail… keep it simple…..

…. Net Neutrality is a HUGE subject. a 5min segment can’t do more than ‘maybe’ give a 50k foot view.

Dave is quite correct, of course.  However, the fact that network TV “doesn’t like technical detail” is not a sufficient reason to gloss over certain aspects of technical realities in a manner that is fundamentally incorrect.

Now, I quite like Cali’s engaging style and friendly charm, and I can see why she is understandably popular as a source of information about technology, in particular to an audience who may not be all that technically literate.  But the “Net Neutrality” issue is quite pivotal, and the role of “translator” of the issue quite important as well.

The Net Neutrality issue has economic, technical and social dimensions. Cali does a good job in addressing the social aspect of the issue, but, unfortunately, the technical dimension was not as well served.

Reading the transcript will no doubt reveal where some of the oversimplified (and misleading) technical statements are made.  I am posting the transcript now without comment or analysis, choosing to follow up with that after presenting the interesting and revealing interview first.

I trust that Cali will understand that my desire to engage her on some of her statements is a constructive effort to improve and advance the dialog and understanding of this important issue, and I salute her for being willing to step up and discuss the topic live on air.

Transcript of the interview

MK: Explain what we are talking about here … “net neutrality”

CL:  It is a heated topic, as you saw from the clip, everybody gets really up in arms about it, so … “net neutrality” says that carriers treat all Internet traffic the same, um, when data is requested, it’s just sent out, it’s not sped up, it’s not slowed down, it’s just “sent”.  Now, there are certain companies that have, let’s say, special needs, but they have private networks, so it’s not being affected, or worked into the open Internet. Now…

MK:  OK, so why would changing the rules be so bad, you know, what would that change ?

CL:  Well, so what we’re talking about here is that the companies that own the fiber that we use to connect to the Internet, they’re wanting to be able to prioritize traffic, so essentially they’re wanting to take money from people who can afford it, which leaves the little guys out in the cold, and I’m sitting here thinking, this sounds a little bit like extortion to me.

MK:  Cali, I mean, in terms of the speed with which you get stuff and the payment for it, when you went from dialup service to high speed you had to pay more for high speed, and it got you the information faster — what’s the difference ?

CL:  Well, we’re not talking about an increase in , in technology here, we’re talking about prioritization of the Internet, and so it’s a totally different beast.  So the other side, the people who are against “net neutrality”, what they say is that the traffic is increasing exponentially, and we have a finite amount of capacity and something has to give somewhere somehow, and so that they have to be able to prioritize traffic.  Well, it’s just a flawed, um, fundamentally flawed argument — let’s take an example here, and I know it’s silly, but I brought a prop (laughing, holding up a 10base-T ethernet cable).  You know the ethernet cable, right ?

MK:  right

CL:  so, the ethernet cable, it went from, you know, 10 megabits to about a gigabits in about ten years, so …

MK:  so how many “megas” in a “giga” again ?

CL:  (laughing) a thousand ?

MK:  ok, so it’s a thousand times faster in ten years

CL:  ok, so …

MK:  a giga is a million … or a billion …

CL: (laughing)  right, right …  and so it went … (laughing) we don’t have to get into the math, right ?  And so it’s a huge amount of, um, of capacity that’s changed, and the actual cable has not changed …

MK:  so in other words it’s not about the hardware, it’s about the technology, and your argument is that the technology will catch up to demand in terms of the packets of information that are sent back and forth.  OK, here’s —

CL:  Exactly.  It’s about what happens on the ends, and there are companies that are working to make all of that work, and we don’t need to worry …

MK:  Let me ask you something — I understand as a consumer that I like the idea of “net neutrality”, right, because I want everything to be treated equally, I love this system that we have of the Internet where you can get information from anywhere, and it’s not prioritized, it’s wherever you want to go … on the other hand … it seems to me analogous in a way to software companies, when Bill Gates was a young man, and the culture which had come out of these software geeks was such that, you know, you just shared it and everything, and Bill Gates was saying “no no, wait a minute, I invested all this money in my software, you gotta pay for it, I’m not just sharing it with everybody” and [he] made a ton of money and reinvested that money and maybe sped up the development of software, one could argue.  So is your argument that the public utility should trump private interest, simply, in this case ?

CL:  Well you know the Internet is … this is really a philosophical question more than a technical question, or whether it’s ok for … we’re talking philosophically here, in what your question is proposing.  Is the Internet a right to everyone ? Is it important that equality is on the Internet ?  Is it important for people to be able to, you know, poor people to be able to drink the same clean water that rich people …

MK: Except that it’s like printing books, and the telephone, and the television — none of those things were “rights”, right ? Why is the Internet … In other words, this culture has grown up around us, so we’re used to it.  Who is to say that that necessarily means that it should stay that way ?  I’m trying to come up with the strongest devil’s advocate position that I can.

CL:  (grinning)  I know … and it’s going to be SO hard for you, because … (laughing) … the Internet is a “right” now, you know, it wasn’t … before the Internet existed it wasn’t a right, but it became available, and it is essentially a right at this point in time it is part of all of our lives.  It is world-wide communication that opens up so many possibilities. For example, my show [ geekbeat.tv ] was not possible before the Internet existed because everything was controlled by TV networks, radio, newspapers, but now I have the ability to communicate world-wide, and have a very large audience, um, but now we’re talking about the fact that CNN.com could pay more than me, and you know be able to kind of push me down, and, uh, it IS a “right” now …

MK:  Cali Lewis thank you, we’re running out of time, but thank you very much for your explanation here, I thank you for your time, thanks for coming on

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