Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Net Things I Hate About You

If there’s one thing I love, it’s when life imitates the Dukes of Hazzard. Whether you’re jumping cars over ravines, attempting to navigate poorly salted roads, or just raising some sort of general mischief, I appreciate some harmless jackassery. Comcast is kind of like the Dukes of Hazzard, except less “careening around rural Boondocksville, USA” and more “driving through a farmer’s market in an orphanage parking lot.”

That’s a little unfair, actually. Comcast doesn’t actively try to murder parentless children to my knowledge; I think there’s very little money to be made in that most odious of industries, after all. (Ever since the market fell out in the great Orphan Shortage of ‘02.) But they do some really peculiar things in the name of making a buck here and there.

The latest gripe for those of us who’re on the side of this whole “Net Neutrality” thing? Comcast wants to charge Netflix for the privilege of streaming movies from Netflix’s servers to Comcast’s customers.

Peering and Transit

Ars Technica has a comprehensive and excellent introduction to how data gets from Point A to Point Z on the internet. I suggest you read it if you’re at all interested in Net Neutrality as a whole.

Briefly: the internet isn’t really the internet. Rather, a whole bunch of companies own a whole bunch of computers on a whole bunch of networks, and everybody’s computers plug into everyone else’s computers. People like you and I want to download stuff (movies, MP3s, web pages) with their ISPs (Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon), and companies like Netflix, Hulu, BarelyLegally Holdings LLC have stuff they want people to download.

Now, there’s a problem here. Sure, these separate networks all connect to become the internet, but it’s more complicated than that. The computer I plug into (at Time Warner or Comcast) might not be on the same network as the computer with those awesome Hulu videos, or those hilarious BarelyLegally articles; or Netflix might not be directly connected to Comcast’s network. If that’s the case, Comcast’s movies need to find a route to get to Verizon’s network: the relationship is called peering. One network passes data along to another network for a nominal (or no) fee, with the expectation that the favor will be returned.

Network providers don’t necessarily play nice; they can purchase transit to do functionally the same thing as peering. Transit is expensive, though, so everyone wants to stick with free. But it’s one of the universal laws of being a grownup: if you can’t be reasonable, you pay for the privilege of people pretending to find your terms reasonable.

Transit is usually done when you agree to share your peering connection with someone else. By way of example: A peers with B, and B peers with C. C will pay B for transit to A, and A will pay B for transit to C. The key to transit agreements is that they’re primarily for data that’s passing through on its way to someone else. B gets paid for data coming its way, but only insofar as it’s going somewhere else.

Comcast and Level 3

Again, Ars has a great roundup of the situation so far. (Seriously, read Ars. Like, every day.) Level 3 is one of the big networks that have a peering agreement with Comcast. Level 3 just agreed to put the entire Netflix library on Level 3’s servers, which means that the data going from Level 3 to Comcast is about to get skewed. It’s about to get so one-sided that Comcast wants to start charging Level 3 for transit, instead of sticking with the peering agreement they had.

This is pretty lousy. Comcast’s customers are the ones that are causing the spike in data flowing from Netflix (via Level 3) over Comcast’s precious network. It’s not as if Level 3 is taking advantage of Comcast’s trust and using their current peering agreement to cut costs and cut into Comcast’s bottom line. Comcast sells access to the internet. The only time Netflix data is going to flow across Comcast’s network is if Comcast’s customers use the internet access Comcast sells.

The Wall Street Journal frames this as a question of “who should pay for the internet?” I do. And you do. And my web site hosting company does. And Netflix does. Everyone already pays to get onto the internet. Comcast already gets paid to send data back and forth to customers. Why should Comcast get paid twice for serving the same web site? If that $50 per month that Subscriber John Q. Bittorrent tosses Comcast isn’t enough to cover the oppressive cost of Netflix subscriptions, Comcast can raise their rates. Then that whole competition thing will kick right in, right?

Really, this comes across as a shallow cash grab from Comcast. They may be seriously concerned about the rising bandwidth requirements of Netflix (it’s now up to 20% of the entire country’s bandwidth usage), but the solution isn’t to start shaking down companies that have stuff your customers want. That’s just silly.

Or is it?

The Upshot

It’s not a stupid move. It’s a cunning move. Let’s just pretend Comcast gets to play hardball with Level 3 (and by proxy, Netflix); Comcast subscribers can’t stream Netflix movies on their computers in this scenario, because Level 3 refuses to pay Comcast.

Comcast is looking to merge with NBC Universal, which is a major stakeholder of Hulu, another one of those internet streaming video things. Hulu has movies and TV shows like Netflix; Comcast’s subscribers are going to be a pretty captive audience if they can’t stream Netflix stuff. Hell, Comcast can even start charging an equal price for a smaller library, because they’ve boxed out actual competition.

It’s silly to think that suddenly, Comcast’s costs are going to go up because Netflix downloads are showing up from Point B on the internet instead of Point A. Further, why only Netflix videos? YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world; it’s the third most visited site on the internet. Why doesn’t Comcast want to charge Google for the cost to get Google’s content to Comcast’s subscribers? As Rob Frieden, a telecommunications professor at Penn State put it:

Why would it be okay to download hundreds of gigabytes per month, provided the upstream peer is not Level 3? This does not fully pass the smell test in light of Comcast’s ulterior motive to raise the cost of a competitor, Netflix, and its preferred carrier.”

I’m with Professor Frieden. This is sketchy. Comcast seems an awful lot like it’s trying to set up one of those Carnegie Steel vertical monopoly things. You can’t monopolize the entire telecommunications infrastructure (damn activist judges), so instead of owning all the cables, you just own every bit of data that people watch on them.

Dick move, guys.

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Are You Smarter than a 120-year old 8th grader?

via Morehead State:

  • Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.

  • A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?

  • If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?

  • District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

  • Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.

  • Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.

  • What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per m?

  • Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.

  • What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per are, the distance around which is 640 rods?

  • Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

This is just one of five subjects.  I think I could keep up with the curve on most of these things. Theoretically.

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An Update

Last February, I wrote about one Mr. and Mrs. Boring, who were suing Google for including a photo of their house on Google Maps. From Ye Archives:

Google did this as part of its Google Street View service, which takes pictures of streets and puts them on the internet in a huge searchable database. For instance, here’s a picture of my law school.

The Borings do have a valid point in asking that the pictures of their property be removed from Google Street View. Their house sits on its own road, which is also apparently their driveway, and is marked “private.” Yet the Google Street View images let you see their driveway/private road, and now people can see the pool and houses that were already visible from the satellite maps.

The $25,000 question remains, though: who cares? I’d never heard of the Borings, and neither had you, Dear Reader. I suppose it’s possible that someday they could have upset someone who could use Google Street View to examine the Boring property. But that same person could just drive over to the Boring property and snoop about anyway: there’s no fence, no gate, and nothing but a sign marked “private.” Google hasn’t invaded the Borings’ privacy, just shown how superficial any expectation was.

The judge in this case has thrown out the lawsuit, although I think the Borings had a valid claim for trespassing if Google’s employees had set foot on the Borings’ property. It’s not necessary to cause any damage to someone’s property to be liable for trespassing…

The lawsuit was by and large without merit for the same reason that other prior lawsuits relating to Google Street View were unsuccessful: you haven’t lost any privacy simply because your house is visible from the sidewalk.  No one has invaded your home because you left your curtains open and people can see your cat

Well, the Borings won. $1. (In a recession, no less. That’s not even enough to buy a £1 cup of coffee.)

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4G in the Woods

via Mac Rumors.

Verizon Wireless today announced that it will be launching the first large-scale LTE (4G) cellular network on Sunday, December 5th, bringing service to 38 metropolitan areas and 60 airports in the United States. The network is launching with only broadband data plans for USB modems, as handsets utilizing the technology are not expected until mid-2011.

Now, when you guys say “launching” …

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Precedent and President

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin on Bush v. Gore as we approach the tenth anniversary of the decision:

Momentous Supreme Court cases tend to move quickly into the slipstream of the Court’s history. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark.

This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero.

The New Yorker, via Clusterflock.

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Let the Wiki Win

Wikileaks posted more documents yesterday, this time, over 250,000 messages sent to and from American embassies. Last time, the big story was that the American government knew it had killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. This time, Daniel Drezner says that the big story is that there’s no big story:

There are no Big Lies. Indeed, Blake Hounshell’s original tweet holds: “the U.S. is remarkably consistent in what it says publicly and privately.” Assange – and his source for all of this, Bradley Manning – seem to think that these documents will expose American perfidy. Based on the initial round of reactions, they’re in for a world of disappointment.

Oh, sure, there are small lies and lies of omission – Bob Gates probably didn’t mention to Dmitri Medvedev or Vladimir Putin that “Russian democracy has disappeared.” Still, I’m not entirely sure how either world politics or American interests would be improved if Gates had been that blunt in Moscow.

If this kind of official hypocrisy is really the good stuff, then there is no really good stuff. U.S. officials don’t always perfectly advocate for human rights? Not even the most naive human rights activist would believe otherwise. American diplomats are advancing U.S. commercial interests? American officials have been doing that since the beginning of the Republic. American diplomats help out their friends? Yeah, that’s called being human. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me that these leaks show other governments engaged in far more hypocritical behavior.

via Daniel W. Drezner at Foreign Policy.

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