Sen. Wyden falls into Net neutrality misinformation trap

Summary:George Ou clearly thinks the dirt he keeps finding under the Craigslist/Net neutrality rug is amounting to a story that's stranger than fiction.  To the extent that it's disturbing, it is indeed strange.

George Ou clearly thinks the dirt he keeps finding under the Craigslist/Net neutrality rug is amounting to a story that's stranger than fiction.  To the extent that it's disturbing, it is indeed strange. But, from my point of view, it's business as usual.  In case you've been missing the action, here are some bullet points to catch you up:

  • There's a debate going on about the issue of Net Neutrality.  The debate first surfaced when ISPs started talking about how they may impose restrictions on traffic flowing to and from hi-volume sites like Google and through the last mile to their end-user customers; traffic that's supposedly saturating their pipes. The restrictions involved degradation of service and there was talk of charging (to some, extorting) those hi-volume destinations to guarantee a certain quality of service.  On first blush, it doesn't appear as though that extortion will be extended to end-users.  In other words, the idea is to make Google, Yahoo, etc. foot the bill for better service.  But, just supposing some high-volume destinations don't pay, it's not clear whether or not, by upgrading to a higher bandwidth service like Verizon's FIOS or Cablevision's 30 mbps Optimum Online (announced today), users can or may have to take matters into their own hands (thus bearing the cost).  Also not clear is whether or not the financial burdens placed on companies like Google and Yahoo (who built their business on the basis that no such restrictions would exist in the last mile to end users) would somehow be passed down to users of their services.  High volume destinations already pay big dollars for bandwidth in the last mile to themselves.
  • News surfaced that end-users whose ISP was Cox Interactive were having difficulty reaching Craigslist (a hi-volume site). Users complained of "throttling."  In seeking an explanation, Tom Foremski found that the problem was related to Cox's usage of a security solution from Authentium but drew into question the degree to which Cox was motivated to solve the problem. Foremski wrote "Craigslist has approached Authentium several times to get it to stop blocking access by Cox internet users but it has been unresponsive.....[Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craigslist] wasn't aware that Cox had its own classified ads service. 'That changes things,' [Buckmaster] said."  Craigslist is also a classifieds ads site. Foremski also incorrectlly assumed that the fix was as simple as deleting Craigslist from a blacklist -- a sort of filter that keeps certain traffic out.  Debates like the Net neutrality debate do better when there's a poster child -- an apparent victim of some policy.  Now, it seemed as though the Net Neutrality debate had its poster child.
  • As that poster child status was being amplified by the media and the blogosphere, George Ou found the real explanation (see Net neutrality proponents flagrantly lie about Craigslist blockage). Instead of it being a blacklist that was causing the problem, it was an incompatibility between the way Craiglist runs its Web site and Authentium's adherence to certain Internet standards. Cox was hardly to blame for the "throttling." Throughout the ordeal, Authentium's fix for the problem was still in a beta mode, being stress tested.  Like most businesses, Cox can't be held to the fire for not implementing beta software on a heavily used production network.  In other words, Craigslist isn't the Net neutrality poster child that many wanted it to be.

And now, here's where the story takes the twist that George thinks is strange. Despite being legimately stripped of its poster child status by George, Craigslist is still be paraded around as example of the world that awaits us if something isn't done and done soon to guarantee neutrality.  OK. Since bad news travels faster than good news, the old story -- despite having no legs --  still has a bit of momentum.  But now, that momentum has apparently reached US Senator Ron Wyden's (Oregon) office.  Wyden has been outspoken on the issue of Net Neutrality and a poster child like Craigslist is just the sort of thing that any politician likes to sink their teeth into.  And sink his teeth he did when he published an op-ed piece (paid subscription required) in the Wall Street Journal that, according to blogger Matt S said:

Cox Communications, a broadband provider that also has a large classified advertising business, is currently blocking access to craigslist.org, a large, free classified Web site that competes with Cox.

Wyden's insinuation was practically ripped right out of Foremski's dialog with Craigslist's Buckmaster despite the fact that all the wind has been taken out of that sail.  Not only was Wyden wrong to ride the dead horse, you have to wonder what the WSJ was thinking when it ran Wyden's piece unchecked.  Not only is Craiglist not the poster child Wyden is making it out to be, it doesn't want to be that poster child.  Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) made that quite clear in a blog he posted yesterday that very matter of factly absolves both Authentium and Cox of any conspiracy to throttle access to Craigslist.  Case closed. Meanwhile, it seems rather routine to me how politicians build their arguments on fictional information and the media just regurgitates those arguments as though fiction is truth.  It's business as usual, if you ask me.

Topics: Browser

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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