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12 Sep 2013
I've been having arguments about Network Neutrality with a lawyer. My position is that you can't adequately regulate ISPs to be neutral, because there's no agreement what "neutral" means in practice. He points out that the courts aren't interested in technical details like what packets are dropped, it's that all traffic has to be treated the same, and ISPs should just figure out how to do that.
So I contemplated a city with Plumbing Neutrality with the simple rule that all people must be treated the same
Well, OK, I'm in the commercial real estate business. I build my building on strictly neutral principles with rest rooms with the same number of fixtures on each of the ten floors for men and women. All set.
Then someone complains that after lunch, she has to wait in line while guys don't. A court interprets the Plumbing Neutrality law and decides from first principles that neutral has always meant equal waits, not equal numbers of fixtures, it's no big deal, just move some walls. Huh? How am I suppose to pay for that?
I talk to a plumbing engineer who tells me that the rule of thumb, based on the last 300 years or so of plumbing engineering, is that you need a 3:2 ratio of fixtures to equalize the lines. Since there are five fixtures in each rest room, you need to move the wall to make six in the women's room and four in the men's room. Easy.
But I can't do that, plumbing is heavy so we put the rest rooms on the opposite sides of the building so they'd be next to the structural walls. Hmmn.
"I've got it," says the engineer. "You have 20 rest rooms, two on each floor, so you need 12 women's and 8 men's for that 3:2 ratio. So just change the men's rooms on the 3rd and 7th floors to women's rooms. You'll have to swap the urinals for something women can use but I can do that." So I spent more money to replumb and change the signs, all neutral again.
Except there's a guy on the 7th floor with limited mobility, who complains that the women can just go down the hall, while he has to wait for the elevator, which takes a while, and that's a problem. OK, now what? Swap 6th and 7th? What if he gets a promotion and moves upstairs?
My point here is that legal principles are fine, but their implementation in technology is rarely simple, and the financial risk of guessing wrong is substantial. Net Neutrality is even worse, since if you treat all packets the same, your network will collapse, and ISPs will face endless legal battles about stuff like how much spam filtering is consistent with being neutral.
So you either need a regulator with the technical skill to write workable rules, which nobody has, or you need to get the desired result a different way, such as separating the transport part of the connection (the DSL or the cable) from the ISP transporting the packets, as they've done in Europe.
(By the way, the urge to use the phrase "bladder bloat" was nearly irresistible.)
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