Are the Net neutralists making unfair hay over a CraigsList snafu?

Are the Net neutralists making unfair hay over a CraigsList snafu?

Summary: My fellow blogger George Ou dug around the blogosphere and, if a firewall manufacturer's explanation for what's going wrong is right, it looks like several Net neutrality activists should be eating crow instead of making hay.  Writes Ou:It appears that the Net neutrality proponents have been caught in a flagrant lie in their effort to scare the public (thanks to The Original Blog and The Lippard Blog for pointing this out).

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TOPICS: Browser
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My fellow blogger George Ou dug around the blogosphere and, if a firewall manufacturer's explanation for what's going wrong is right, it looks like several Net neutrality activists should be eating crow instead of making hay.  Writes Ou:

It appears that the Net neutrality proponents have been caught in a flagrant lie in their effort to scare the public (thanks to The Original Blog and The Lippard Blog for pointing this out).  MyDD.com and SaveTheInternet.com along with many other Net neutrality activist sites have accused Cox Communications of deliberately blocking the website Craigslist by quoting a report from our own Tom Foremski.  This alleged blockage of Craigslist was supposedly an example of what would happen without the passage of an extreme version of Net neutrality being pushed by Congressman Markey and Senator Snowe and big Internet companies such as Google.  The only problem with this accusation is that it is flat out wrong, yet SaveTheInternet.com and MyDD.com are flagrantly lying about it.  Even though they have been repeatedly notified of the real situation, they refuse to retract their stories and continue peddling the lie.

If this is true, it could be a blow to legitimate efforts to ensure the neutrality of the Net because of how it might stigmatize all Net neutralists as extremists willing to stop at nothing to make their point. That said, the fact that a bug (or is that a feature?) in a firewall is blocking Cox's customers from accessing CraigsList is a good demonstration of the position that ISPs like Cox are in should they really want to block or slow access to some Web destination.  It's their pipe. They can do what they want to. 

The problem is that the most high-speed Internet providers are in government sanctioned monopoly or duopoloy situations.  In essence, because the US Government has awarded the high-bandwidth carriers such an unusual amount of leverage, it also needs to dictate how and where that leverage can be applied.  Until recently, it had policies in place to strip high bandwidth carriers of that leverage.  But, then came the lobbyists.  And now, we have a mess.

Topic: Browser

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12 comments
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  • Legitimacy of the ideas isn't in jeopardy

    David, You write:

    <i>If this is true, it could be a blow to legitimate efforts to ensure the neutrality of the Net because of how it might stigmatize all Net neutralists as extremists willing to stop at nothing to make their point.</i>

    While advocates shouldn't lie about or leap to conclusions about facts, that action doesn't invalidate the principles on which the net neutrality position are founded. Certainly, the sites that George points to need to correct themselves--as no carrier-backed site has despite their own inaccuracies and hyperbole--but they aren't a sufficient sample on which to condemn "all Net neutralists as extremists."

    The problem with George's overall argument is that he treats all net neutrality advocates as espousing essentially the same doctrine rather than acknowledging that a wide range of views contribute to the policy position called "net neutrality." Trying to paint all advocates of the position with this brush is missing the important points that should be debated, such as whether the carriers have the right to decide how to price individual packets or whether customers should have to option to make their own decisions about how fast their connection is (if an alternative is even available.)

    I'll always be willing to pay more for faster reliable connections.

    Mitch
    (Writing from Ashland, Ore., via EV-DO, which is expensive but worth it, and so I pay for the service and use it without having to pay extra for packets deemed unprofitable by Sprint, my carrier.)
    Mitch Ratcliffe
    • Legitimacy of ideas not questioned..

      Hi Mitch... my point is that legitimate ideas often get squashed because a few bad apples give it a bad name. Personally, I'd never paint a legit idea with such a broad brush. But technology legislation is so nuanced that one such broad-brush story in the mainstream media could easily wipe out public support for an otherwise good idea. What I said was:

      [i]If this is true, it could be a blow to legitimate efforts to ensure the neutrality of the Net because of how it might stigmatize all Net neutralists as extremists willing to stop at nothing to make their point.[/i]

      There's a difference between "could/might" and "should/will."

      My hope is that such embellishing doesn't sully the good name of a legitmate cause. But the spinmeisters on both sides know exactly how to take full advantage of the situation, potentially yielding less than desirable results.

      db
      dberlind
  • illustration about "it's their pipe"

    Actually, this example *doesn't* show that Cox is in a good position with respect to their pipe, because it is an *end user software* issue, not an issue in the network.

    While there certainly are ways a network provider can block content, they tend not to scale very well and be relatively easy to bypass. On the Internet, services can move from port to port, can be tunnelled over other protocols, and can encrypt or obfuscate their data. This is why there are lots of people in China bypassing the "Great Firewall of China" using VPN tunnels and remote (outside of China) proxies.
    lippard
  • How convenient...

    Gee, Cox is degrading/blocking one of the busiest sites on the web, but oh my, it's not their fault, it's just some malfunctioning security software from a third party vendor... Yeah right.

    Even if that's factually correct, it utterly fails to address the point - how long do you think this "problem" (certainly [b]not[/b] a problem for Cox as a direct competitor of Craig's List) would have been allowed to persist if it were Cox's own classifieds or other revenue streams that were being affected? This has been going for at least 4 months, see http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2006/06/craigslist_is_b.php, if not much longer (they [i]acknowledged[/i] the issue in [i]February[/i]). If Cox's own sites had been affected (i.e., if this were taking money out of Cox's pocket rather than out of a Cox competitor's), they would have pulled or modified the affected code immediately. That fundamental misalignment of incentives and lack of a legal framework to constrain them is the problem here - the fact that a third party is involved is by no means a satisfactory explanation and bringing it up in this context misses the point entirely.
    CommSoft
    • No, craigslist is doing this to themselves

      It's not the firewall's fault. Craigslist is doing this to themselves by having their servers return ACK window size 0 which means "don't talk to me I'm busy".
      georgeou
      • Ignoring the point

        So do you seriously assert that if a Cox site had exhibited the same problem and did not want to or could not easily fix it, that Cox would have allowed one of its own sites to be degraded or blocked for months? Or are you just dodging the point that Cox is being [i]served[/i] by the outage and that misaligned incentives like this are the real root behind a perceived need for regulated neutrality?
        CommSoft
        • Yes, but this ain't even the issue

          First of all, the issue isn't even on the Internet. Cox offers a free personal firewall from Authentium for people to download and it's only affecting those people who downloaded the software. That firewall behaves according to the RFCs and didn't handle the Craigslist bug very well. So it?s clear this is a bug on both ends and can be fixed on either end. Authentium has taken ownership of the issue and offered a beta fix within days and an OEM fix in a month. The problem is that you users have to actually go out and download the updated software individually. Craig Newman on the other hand has taken zero ownership of the issue when his servers are clearly at fault for advertising ?don?t bother me I?m busy? in the first place. Craig chooses to pass the buck. If Craig fixed his servers, he wouldn?t have to wait for all the Cox users to update their personal firewalls.

          I'll make this very clear. If Cox had blocked traffic on the network level and refused to fix a simple text based blacklist problem, I would fine them $500,000 which the new laws passed through congress allows. That isn't enough for the net neutrality extremists though; they want a ban on all enhanced tiered services. But this is NOT what happened as Tom Foremski reported, and he should retract that statement though he is refusing to do it stating that it isn?t his problem because someone else (presumably the CEO of Craigslist) told him.
          georgeou
  • Happens pretty often to ZDNet

    Every few months we hear from some user whose client-side security software, or residential gateway filtering firmware, is blocking ZDNet.

    Right now Linksys router users with software from Netopia are getting blocked -- and I'm still waiting to hear back from Netopia on when they'll update their blacklist.

    Generally it takes days/weeks to get these mini-blockades fixed. I'm left with the impression that no one is really responsible for what goes on blacklists, so the companies that use them are pretty responsive about fixing errors.

    My point is that it's foolish to read much into the blockage of Craigslist by Authentium. One might, however, read something into their persistance in not fixing the problem. THAT seems unusual, in my experience.

    Stephen Howard-Sarin
    VP, ZDNet
    shs@cnet.com
    Stephen Howard-Sarin
  • This isn't an authentium issue

    Craigslist is returning an ACK window size of 0, which tells the whole world "don't talk to me". This has been verified.
    georgeou
  • from Craig of craigslist... here's an update

    It's on my blog at cnewmark.com, but the basic point is that the Authentium people have told us it's their bug, but it's taking an extraordinary amount of time to even start to deploy.

    thanks!

    Craig
    cnewmark
  • I'd like George Ou to come up...

    ...with an excuse that explains the blocking of SMTP (done by most ISP's!!), but for a fee, (like an extra $30/mo in the case of Bellsouth) they can open port 25 right up for you.

    Tell me if THAT doesn't foreshadow the future.
    kckn4fun
    • Zombie spam

      At one point, 25% of the world's spam came from Cox Communications from zombie machines. I don't agree with the method, but this isn't a cut and dry issue. Note that you can get around port 25 blocking by simply using a different port or using secure SMTP. That allows you to use other mail senders but you just can't be used for zombie spam and you can't host your own mail server.
      georgeou