A serious look at Sen. Stevens Internet argument

Ed Felton has taken the time to reconsider Sen. Stevens argument that the Internet is a series of tubes.  He has re-written Sen. Stevens comments as what was likely intended instead of what came out of the Senator’s mouth.  Then, Felton takes the time to explain why the argument is still wrong and the errors in Sen. Stevens’ examples.

From the lowliest blogger to Jon Stewart, everybody is laughing at Sen. Ted Stevens and his remarks (1.2MB mp3) on net neutrality. The sound bite about the Internet being “a series of tubes” has come in for for the most ridicule.

I’ll grant that Stevens sounds pretty confused on the recording. But’s let’s give the guy a break. He was speaking off the cuff in a meeting, and he sounds a bit agitated. Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself speaking in an unscripted setting? For most people, it’s pretty depressing. We misspeak, drop words, repeat phrases, and mangle sentences all the time. Normally, listeners’ brains edit out the errors.

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In particular, let’s look at the much-quoted core of Stevens’ argument, as transcribed by Ryan Singel. Here is my cleaned-up restatement of that part of Stevens’ remarks:

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His examples, on the other hand, seem pretty weak. First, it’s hard to imagine that NetFlix would really use up so much bandwidth that they or their customers weren’t already paying for. If I buy an expensive broadband connection, and I want to use it to download a few gigabytes a month of movies, that seems fine. The traffic I slow down will mostly be my own.

Second, the slow email wouldn’t have been caused by general congestion on the Net. The cause must be either an inattentive person or downtime of a Senate server. My guess is that Stevens was searching his memory for examples of network delays, and this one popped up.

Third, the DoD has plenty of reasons other than congestion to have its own network. Secrecy, for example. And a need for redundancy in case of a denial-of-service attack on the Internet’s infrastructure. Congestion probably ranks pretty far down the list.

The bottom line? Stevens may have been trying to make a coherent argument. It’s not a great argument, and his examples were poorly chosen, but it’s far from the worst argument ever heard in the Senate.

I snipped out big parts of the write-up, but the main thrust of the article is here.  In the end, it looks like Sen. Stevens was trying to make a good argument but lacked sufficient understanding to do so.  But in doing so, he let us in the geek community know how the fight for and against ‘net neutrality will be argued.

[tags]Network neutrality, Sen. Stevens, Internet, Series of tubes[/tags]