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Net Neutrality for Dummies

  1. May 11, 2012 #1
    I am internet illiterate, however, I would like to understand the net neutrality issue by, perhaps, this Monday 1:00 pm (approximately 63 hours from the time of this post). This is a topic in my textbook so it could become a topic I'll have to write or speak about later this semester. I'm sure this is a complex topic and so my realisitic goal is to gain, at most, a rudamentary understanding of the issue in the short term.

    I have not looked deep into the issue yet - and further, haven't wikipedia'd the topic for an general overveiw just yet. I just saw a 2 minute youtube video of someone defending net neutrality, but it's difficult to form an opinion without an understanding of what "net neutrality" actually is.

    First off I think the primary difficulty is that I don't understand how the system works as is. So my first questions toward clarification would be this:

    How do websites currently get charged to be on the internet?

    And to specify the question with some subquestions (effectively pinpointing the true degree of my ignorance on this topic :)... :

    Do they pay an ISP the same way I pay Comcast for DSL? Does a site like google have to pay its ISP more than I pay my ISP? Suppose the fastest internet access an internet ISP provides to customers is called SFC (Super Fast Connection). Suppose I use SFC and I'm charged 200 bucks per month for this connection speed; if Google also ran on SFC, would they pay their ISP the same rate as I do (even though I am one household and google is an entire corporation)? In other words, as it currently stands, does google pay more money for internet access due to the fact they send and recieve lots more information the average casual user (who checks email a couple times a day, watches some youtube, and browses science blogs before going to work)?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 11, 2012 #2


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    Hoo boy, net neutrality is a very misunderstood topic. It means different things to different people. And most have no idea what they're talking about.

    Pick a side and talk about it, most likely it will be wrong, but some people will support it.

    Net neutrality is a misunderstanding of how the internet works. It's people with pie in the sky beliefs that the internet is a magic thing that exists free for all to use without limits that some evil companies want to control. :rolleyes:

    There are almost as many ways that people pay for websites as there are grains of sand on a beach.

    yes and no. Yes they have to pay for the amount of bandwith and/or use, but they contract for this access and it's quite complicated.

    No, they pay much less because of the amount they buy.

  4. May 11, 2012 #3

    Okay, if I break this down and examine this response in steps.

    "..amount they buy."

    Amount of what, bandwith? I am under the assumption that the various internet access rates everyone in my neighborhood pays to their respective ISPs is for various access speeds (not for various quantities of internet usage).

    Now for the quote in full:
    Okay, I read this in two ways:

    A) I use 10 units of internet usage per month, thus I pay a total of 100 bucks per month to Comcast. Google uses 10,000,000,000 units of internet usage per month, thus they pay a total of 5 pennies to Comcast.

    B) I use 10 units of internet usage per month, thus I pay a rate of 5 bucks per unit, totalling 50 bucks per month to Comcast. Google uses 10,000,000,000 units of internet usage per month, thus they pay a rate of .0000005 dollars per month, totalling 5000 bucks per month to Comcast.

    In the first scenario, the more google uses, the less they pay in total. Which doesn't add up from an economic standpoint in my opinion.

    The second scenario, the more google uses, the more they pay in total, but the less they pay per unit. So Google gets sort of get a wholesale/bulk deal from the ISP?

    So my final deduction is that all of us in my neighborhood (who use DSL) pay the same ISP fee to Comcast even though John down the street may use 15 units of internet usage per month while Sally next door may use only 5 units of internet usage per month. From the ISP viewpoint, a difference of 10 units of internet usage per month isn't enough to get into the accounting mess of sending each individual customer a different bill. So the only difference in fees at the residential consumer level is internet access speed.

    But at the level of Google's internet usage, it becomes relevant for Google to consider the quantity of internet usage. Thus, Comcast charges Google based on different criteria than residential consumers. And just like buying a ton of apples makes each apple less expensive than buying one, Google uses so much of Comcast's service, that it's in Comcasts best interest to charge Google less per internet usage unit.

    P.S. Sorry for the delay in response, my page refreshed and had to rewrite the post.
    Last edited: May 11, 2012
  5. May 12, 2012 #4


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    Why the deadline? (Not homework, I hope)

    Net neutrality is quite a complex issue, since it means so many things to so many people. I hope to always have the ability to open a browser and get to PF, to news sources, to my email, etc when I want. Is this access guaranteed? Nope. In fact, for most of my 60 years, this kind of magic was unavailable, even in a basic form.

    I have a friend whose father was working to get a network up and running for his employer's business back before the internet existed. Smart old fellow... Got to crawl before you can walk.
  6. May 12, 2012 #5
    Evo, just to clarify my response question in regard to your statement:

    "No, they pay much less because of the amount they buy."

    Do they pay less overall, as in I pay 50 bucks a month for a 10 units of internet usage, while Google pays a bill of 2 bucks a month even though they use 10 billion mega units?

    That just doesn't make any sense to me. If I were in the business of selling apples (the fruit, not the computer) on the side of the road, and I sold one apple to one customer for 1 dollar. Then WalMart pulled up and said they wanted to purchase 5,000,000 apples from me, I would not sell 5,000,000 apples for a grand total of 50 cents. But that is what your statement sounds like the ISP is doing.

    The only other alternative is that your statement is saying that Google is paying a lower rate, thus paying much less in terms of the price for each individual unit, however, there are so many units that the grand total at the end is a much higher price than what I'm paying my ISP as a residential customer.

    So could you provide some feedback about the meaning of this statement that seems to have me completely purplexed.

    Turbo, I'm taking this class called Society and Technology. The book for this class is constructed in such a way that each chapter is dedicated to one topic about technology that affects society. Each chapter is set up like a debate between two opposing views on on a particular subject. The first half of a chapter is in favor of the arguement and the second half of a chapter is in opposition to the topic. The content of the book doesn't seem to build upon itself from one chapter to the next (as a math book, novel, or science book might), since every chapter is of a very different topic. It's only the first week of class so we have no assignments due as of yet, but it could turn out that the professor assigns chapter reports/presentations in no particular order (as in hopping around to topics of his particular interest), which is possible since the book reads like a collection of seperate essays rather than a hierarchy of information. So the only reason I have set up the concrete deadline is so I can give myself a point at which I can move on from the subject without letting it consume my entire week to the point I'm neglecting other chapters and subjects, such as the actual work that may be assigned in this class come Monday (and math which I'm focusing on this summer as well.) So far it seems it will be a very interesting and fun class. Assingments will include research reports (APA format), group presentations, and in class debates (I assume students will be pitted against one another in front of the class to argue a their side of a topic). So I look forward to this this class and only hope that if I have to debate a topic, I'm allowed to choose my side. I wouldn't find it fun having to formulate a thorough and complex argument defending a side of a topic for which I actually disagree.
  7. May 12, 2012 #6


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    I'm sick this morning, so here is a link from wikipedia, it doesn't explain the benefits to end users (consumers) of allowing companies to purchase teired services or services that cache files at the edge router closest to the end user so that the end user can download faster or have better live streaming, etc... QoS sets guarantees on jitter and latency, etc.. very important for voice and video.

  8. May 12, 2012 #7


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    That sounds like a fun class. And yes, you should be willing (and able) to debate such issues from various viewpoints, if have a good understanding of the details. Note that there are not "two sides" to issues as complex as this one, so you'll need to be flexible and willing to adapt.

    We had no debating team in my HS. Not surprising, since my graduating class was the largest ever, at 42 kids. You can't have everything in a school that small. Glad that we had band, chorus, and other fun stuff, though.
  9. May 12, 2012 #8
    Turbo, that is neat, I wonder what the teacher to student ratio was in a high school size such as yours. I'm taking this class at a University as a college student, the University is very big, but this particular EGN class has very few students enrolled - perhaps 20 students. So as far as group presentations are concerned, there will probably only be divided into 3 or 4 students per presentation. I think that would be better than having 20 groups trying to present in a span of 1 or 2 class periods.
  10. May 12, 2012 #9

    Thanks, hope you feel better. The information you presented is still way too much for me at this time. The only part of your reply I understood was that you aren't feeling well and that there is information on the youtube link...the technical descriptions are completely foreign. At this point, I was just wondering how a company like google pays their ISP for internet access. You said they pay much less than us. I just would like to know what you mean by that. Much less as in a much less "rate?" Or much less as in a much less bill overall?
  11. May 12, 2012 #10


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    They pay a fortune each month, but they pay less per meg {lower rate per meg) than a residential customer. Their access is also very different from that of a consumer.

    It sounds like you might be better off just learning from your book since that will be what you will be graded on. Knowledge that's not contained in your book might cause you problems.
    Last edited: May 12, 2012
  12. May 12, 2012 #11

    Thanks for clarifying the statement regarding how a company like google pays for internet. My book presents the topic, two sides to each topic (such as net neutrality as mentioned) are presented in the form of works written by people of authority in their respective fields. So, with respect to how i'll be graded, the assignments will be for the student to create APA style research reports based on the topics in the book. And reports require multiple reference sources (or at least my professor will likely like to see more than one reference source). As of yet, I am not sure if the assignments will require that I pick a side or present both sides objectively, but however these research report assignments turn out to be, they will require APA style references from scholarly sources. And I consider those on physicsforums to be quite scholarly, so I find it a good use of time to ask some of these questions on what is considered to be the best math/science/technology oriented forum on the internet. Surely you agree :tongue:
    Last edited: May 12, 2012
  13. May 15, 2012 #12
    Well, that class has been cancelled due to low enrollement :( Which sucks because the professor was one of the authors of the assigned book for the course. Luckily, another professor is teaching the same course at a different campus. But it's a Summer A session (twice per week) and the original class was a Summer C session (once per week), thus I am a little behind in the new class.

    So, just wanted to say thanks Evo. The more youtube videos I watched, the clearer the topic of net neutrality has gotten, but still continues to be a very tough, ambiguous, and complex topic to think about.

    In this new class, I have a report/presentation due on Bloom Energy (a fuel cell company), due on May 21. This is a much more specific topic than net neutrality, but I'm still interested in learning more about the net neutrality topic(s).

    Thanks, and again, I hope you are feeling better.
  14. May 15, 2012 #13


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    Well, my best wishes to you! It sounds like you are a serious student and will do well. I am feeling better, thank you. Hope to see more of you in the forum.
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