The problem with the Burger King video about Net Neutrality

Feature, General

This is a great example of a video trying to claim something but actually proving the opposite. The video starts by claiming that “burger neutrality” has been eliminated and now a Whopper will cost $20 if you want it right away or you have to wait 20min to have it at it’s usual price. Then it shows people being upset by this and then makes the connection that this is why we should care about Net Neutrality.

There is no legislation preventing Burger King from actually doing what they are joking about in this video. Yet they don’t do it. And that is because there’s fair competition in the fast food industry and consumers get to vote with their feet and their dollars.

So, if anything, this video shows that creating a free market, with fair competition and consumer choice is an effective strategy for ensuring Whopper neutrality. And that it would be quite ineffective to try and guarantee this by passing a Whopper neutrality law instead.

The video is trying to prove that we need net neutrality to protect consumers from unfair pricing, but instead, it’s proof that fixing the free market is a much better strategy to achieve that goal.

First of all, as you probably know, what we are actually talking about is a Title II classification for ISPs, making them utilities rather than Information Service Providers. This classification was achieved by passing an Open Internet Order in 2015 and the marketing name of that Order was “Net Neutrality”. It’s not really a net neutrality law – if we had to actually pass a law for actual net neutrality, it would have to involve many more provisions and the consequences would be quite more drastic and pretty far reaching.

There are two main problems with ISPs and it’s worth teasing them apart.

1) The monopoly problem: There isn’t enough competition between ISPs in the US which results in a lack of choice for consumers, less affordability, and slower innovation.

2) The anti-competitive practice problem: An ISP can use their unchallenged competitive advantage to distort and suppress the internet, biasing access and services towards their special interests.

Problem no 1 is fairly validated in practice. We can do a lot better here.

Problem 2 is mainly hypothetical. Prior to 2015, for the *entire* history of the internet, there was *no* real net neutrality law in place. If an ISP tried to engage in any anti-competitive practices – like blocking services or traffic shaping – then the FTC stepped in and set things right. What we are mainly arguing on both sides of the Title II classification now is whether we should empower the FCC instead to police the internet, or whether the FTC is still capable of doing this job. There’s no real “repeal of net neutrality”, it’s the switch between the two gatekeepers. Each gatekeeper comes with its own pros and cons, for sure.

Coming back to the Burger King video. It claims that without neutrality, we will have to wait longer for a burger unless we are willing to pay more for faster service. And yet the way it stands, for as long as we can all remember, whenever we get an internet plan, we can choose our download speeds (and/or sometimes bandwidth) and pay different prices depending on our needs. If we pay more, we can download files faster, our voice calls are clearer, and we can stream music and videos at higher quality. But if we just want to occasionally browse the internet – then we can choose to pay less. We are all very familiar with this differential pricing, it’s literally the first decision we have to make when we get a new internet connection. This has absolutely nothing to do with net neutrality – definitely not the Open Internet Order 2015 that Burger King is claiming to be talking about. Passing that order doesn’t have any direct effect on this type of pricing at all.

If we wanted to use an actual Burger King analogy for what the world could be if we had real Net Neutrality, here’s what it could entail:

“BK is now a utility that can’t discriminate between the services it provides”

[Price list at your local Burger King]

– Whopper $3.49

– Whopper Combo $3.49

– Just a side of fries $3.49

– Want to use the bathroom $3.49

– A soda $3.49

And if we wanted to use an actual Burger King analogy for what the Open Internet Order 2015 achieves, here’s what it would entail:

“BK is now a utility that can’t limit access to any other food services”

[Price list at your local Burger King]

– BK Whopper $3.49

– McDonald Big Mac $3.49

– Wendy’s Hot ‘n Juicy $3.49

– Soylent $3.49

The pros and cons of each are a separate, almost philosophical, discussion but the BK video doesn’t get there.

Here are a couple of related things to consider:

When I’m on a flight, there’s an ‘N’ MBPS connection being split between 200 passengers. My airline blocks all streaming and media-heavy applications so that everyone can have unlimited access to their webmail, documents etc without any risk of running out of bandwidth. They don’t do this for anti-competitive reasons, they do this to help me, the consumer.

I used to have a radio when I was younger. As long as my radio had power, I could hear music 24×7. Now I use Spotify for all my music. And instead of FM radio signals from the terrestrial towers in my city, I use data streaming over cellular networks that are hooked up to the internet. I want the same 24×7 music that I was used to with FM. But I keep running out of data. I don’t want to have to think about my bandwidth limits. I just want a guarantee that when I turn it on, I hear a sound, just like my FM radio. My ISP tells me, if I pay $X/mo, I will get unlimited music streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and many other similar services and I never have to run out of data for those services. My regular internet, however, like browsing, hot-spotting etc is still subject to bandwidth limits. This is called “zero-rating”. They are not offering me this plan for anti-competitive reasons. They are doing this to help me, the customer.

Does the Open Internet Order 2015 keep zero-rating or does it prohibit it? Can you guess how many people with strong views on Net Neutrality seem to know the correct answer to this question? Most people can’t even agree on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Net Neutrality and the Open Internet Order of 2015 are not as simple as I first thought they were. Until recently I donated a lot to fight *for* net neutrality. I have signed countless petitions and called my representatives several times to help ensure net neutrality. Then 3 months ago I started to actually look beyond the marketing name and all the hypothetical arguments that I had used to convince myself. And that led me to change my mind. I realized that bias is actually in the very fabric of the internet. TCP packets are treated differently from UDP. QoS is a thing. We all laughed when someone revealed their ignorance and called the internet a “bunch of connected tubes” and yet the Title II classification we all seem to be now arguing for is literally starting with that assumption. Not all bias in the internet is anti-competitive. Some bias is pro-consumer. The only way to distinguish between them is to review them on a case-by-case basis.

I think neutrality should definitely be our intent, but the true way to enforce it right now seems to be on such a case-by-case basis – with our rules and principles guiding us to make sure no anti-competitive practices are allowed and innovation is protected. This is for Problem 2.

The Open Internet Order of 2015 does nothing to address problem 1. We should do whatever is necessary to increase the competitiveness of the ISP marketplace. The same system and market forces that actually keep Whopper pricing neutral are what we need for our ISPs. This would further our goals more efficiently and more effectively than a misinformed order that achieves little and creates new risks.

Advertisements

A remote surgery use case for “fast lanes” over Internet

General

Let’s say a skilled surgeon is physically based in Boston. She needs to perform a surgery in Dallas.

The technology already exists today for some surgeries to be performed over the Internet. But for this to be reliable, she needs to guarantee that her internet connection has very low latency. She already pays for a very fast connection but that simply guarantees bandwidth, not latency. She is willing to pay extra to make sure she gets the latency she needs. In fact, it’s a legal and compliance requirement for her to make sure she has a high bandwidth and low latency internet connection when she performs surgeries.

Her neighbor doesn’t care about latency as much, and doesn’t want to pay for low latency when all he wants to do is stream large amounts of video that mainly requires high bandwidth.

Their ISP uses the same connection between them. But depending on their Internet plan, and/or the services being used, the surgeon’s Internet packets are prioritized over the tv watchers’ internet packets to guarantee she can do her work.

Should this be allowed?

How to get a SIM card with data in Amsterdam

General

If you are visiting Amsterdam, it’s convenient to have data on your phone so you can use Google Maps and find your way around. Yes, there’s wifi in many places, but there’s also a lack of wifi in many places. I have split a lot of hair and lost a lot of Euros experimenting with the different services available to visitors and I’ve finally figured out the best way to do this right. This post assumes you have an unlocked phone and you already know why you need to get data on your phone.

The most common card that people go for is Lebara. They are the easiest to get started with. You can find Lebara folks at the airport, at the railway stations, on the street etc. They do a good job marketing, have the best prices, are easy to recharge and have the best customer service. Yet, Lebara didn’t work for me. Why? The internet speeds are very slow. And Skype/Facetime calls are blocked on them. Lebara resells bandwidth from KPN, but it caps it at a speed that’s just barely enough to use Google Maps and to load pages very slowly. It was always between 0.2MBPS – 0.9MBPS. Everything is very slow, things time out. If your internet needs aren’t heavy, then sure, go wit Lebara. If you need more, read on.

The only real alternative is to go with KPN directly. Now, KPN has a larger set of resident customers and they haven’t yet figured out how to make things really work well with transient/visitors. Amsterdam, outside of the very touristy central area, is like the rest of Europe when it comes to customer service. To an American, “appalling” or “severely lacking” are the nicest words to use for the customer service in Europe. I think it’s a cultural thing, the expectations are just very different. And yet, KPN does have the best speeds and the best network in Amsterdam. So here’s how to go about it:

  1. Find a KPN store – they are a few in the centre and also in most neighborhoods
  2. Get a new SIM and ask them you also want to get a dataplan with it. They will inform you that the max package is for 1GB for a month. That’s the one I usually get. But now, pay special attention to the next part.
  3. Most KPN staffers are actually clueless about what actually happens when you activate a new SIM and try to get data on it.
  4. $10 is the cost of a new SIM. $16 is the cost of the 1GB data plan. So you basically pay $30 to get a new card and data.
  5. Before you put the SIM card in, make sure you go into Settings>Cellular and turn off Cellular Data. This is super super important.
  6. Now put the SIM in and see that it works, finds the KPN network and you may get a few welcome text messages. You can now use the phone to make phone calls etc. But keep your cellular data turned off until you activate the internet bundle
  7. You have to dial *147# to enable the data bundle.
  8. You will get a message back in Dutch confirming that your request was received. This is a very misleading looking message. If you have ever done this before, you might think it’s already active at this point. But it is not.
  9. No one will tell you this, but it actually takes more than 24hrs for the data bundle to be active. You have to keep cellular data turned off until that happens.
  10. Wait until you get one more message from KPN about the 1GB data plan.
  11. If you don’t get a message, try again after 24hrs with the *147# call.
  12. While you wait, install the MyKPN app from the app store. Create an account, sign-in, and associate your new SIM card and phone number with that account.
  13. I have found this to be the only reliable way to know what’s going on with your account. Here, you will see your balance, and if the data plan is truly active or not.
  14. Only once you have verified that the data plan here is active, you can now go ahead and turn on cellular data. If the settings are missing, use these below
    1. APN: portalmmm.nl
    2. Username: <blank>
    3. Password: <blank>
  15. Now you are set

It takes longer to get a new KPN connection, but if you are planning to be in Amsterdam for more than 3-4 days, and do need a faster connection, I recommend this approach.

Fix for Wifi issues on a Mac (Yosemite)

Uncategorized

Since the Yosemite upgrade to OS X, I have been facing lots of WiFi issues on my Mac. As I go from home, to cafe, to airport, to train, to cafe etc I notice that my connection just stops working. I kept blaming the public wifi routers until I realized that many times the issue is with OS X. This is not a comprehensive guide on how to fix WiFi issues on a Mac. But this one thing does work, so try it and good luck!

Launch “Terminal”

Now this may appear a little scary. But it’s quite easy. On every Mac, there’s a “command line interface” which lets you type instructions to your computer. This lets you do more advanced things that are not always possible by clicking with a mouse on buttons.

To do this,

  1. Press the “COMMAND” and ”SPACE” keys at the same time.
  2. This will open “Spotlight Search” in the middle of the screen.
  3. In that search box, type “Terminal” and hit “Enter/Return” to launch it

It will look something like this:


Find “discoveryd

Discoveryd is a tool introduced by Apple in Yosemite which is quite buggy and has been the main reason behind the issues. We won’t go into details but you first need to find it on your laptop. You do this by typing the following command in the terminal window:

ps -ax | grep discoveryd

Note that the vertical line is a “pipe”, the key above the return key.

This will show you all the processes running on your laptop with the name discoveryd. In the above example, on my laptop, it is the first result with an ID of 1169. Find the corresponding number on your laptop and note it.

Kill discoveryd

Now, all you have to do is “kill” discoveryd which will force it to start again and magically fix everything. You do this by typing:

sudo kill <process id number>

Sudo tells the terminal to run this command as an administrator. This may prompt you to type the password for your account. It’s safe to enter it here.

Replace 1169 with whatever was the number that you found in the previous step.

Conclusion

That’s it. This should fix the issue. If it doesn’t then you may have o resort to a more comprehensive troubleshooting guide.

America’s Most Wired City – Seattle

Uncategorized

 

Forbes reveals that Seattle has overtaken every other city in the country and emerged as the most wired city in the United States. What’s surprising is that Los Angeles (ranked 13), San Diego (ranked 12) and San Francisco (ranked 11) do not make it even to the top 10!

Here’s the top 10 list:

Overall Rank City Broadband adoption Access Options WiFi Hotspts Last Year’s Rank
1 Seattle, WA 10 2 1 2
2 Atlanta, GA 3 3 10 1
3 Washington, DC 9 17 2 11
4 Orlando, FL 8 10 13 5
5 Boston, MA 4 22 7 13
6 Miami, FL 5 11 17 14
7 Minneapolis, MN 25 1 9 11
8 Denver, CO 17 5 14 17
9 New York, NY 6 4 28 9
10 Baltimore, M.D.

13

6 19 5

[America’s Most Wired Cities – Forbes.com]