Net Neutrality and the SAFE Network

Here’s the next release on The Crossroads of Project SAFE site.

I finished writing this almost a week ago, then noticed a number of discussions popping up on the forum that it relates to. I guess it’s time to put it out.


Net Neutrality and the SAFE Network


Per Wikipedia, “Network Neutrality” is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Essentially, the concept calls for a level playing field for all users, whether they be individuals or providers of high-bandwidth services like Netflix, HBO, etc., or whoever.

From an egalitarian perspective, the answer as to whether net neutrality is a good idea or not is easy: of course, it is good.

From the perspectives of companies which wish to provide high-bandwidth services, as well as the customers who are willing to pay extra to receive those services in the best possible quality, the answer is not so clear. Why, for instance, can’t such services as Netflix, and thus the customers who use them, pay more so that high-access-streaming channels can be built up, taking traffic off of the other lines, thus being better for everyone? Whether this is a legitimate characterization of the argument or whether that’s how it would work out in the real world, one can see that the subject is a little more complicated than the simple idea of equal treatment. And it’s a lot more complex than that, even on a technical level.

Throw in the power (and corruptibility) of government agents, the obligation of service providers to make a profit for their shareholders and thus purchase government agents to gain advantage, the carelessness of the general population to pay attention and judge a complex issue, and all the other factors in the mix, and we’re left with a frustrating mess that seems to have no solution. I, myself, can and have argued the matter from both sides with equal passion.

But what if we take a few steps back and look at the assumptions which might be making all this truly unresolvable based on the current debate? Let’s try.

Let’s start by going all the way back, to consider what the nature of a truly neutral medium would have to be.

Put in somewhat simpler terms, let’s look at net neutrality as the effort to arrive at a truly neutral medium, in which no one is discriminated against BY THE MEDIUM ITSELF based on the quality or quantity of the communication they wish to engage in.

To get an idea of what I mean by this, let’s draw a comparison to another vital medium through which much communication travels, with which we all have vast experience, and which is a truly neutral medium: air.

You and I can stand across from each other and say whatever we like, be it loving or vile, and the air does not care. The air dutifully does it’s job of passing the sounds along from place to place. I can shout to a vast audience, or equally from a lonely mountaintop in a vain (or not) attempt to be heard by the gods: it’s all the same to the air. I can throw flowers or paper airplanes or bullets and the air can have no moral judgement as to which should pass and which should be stopped. There are only the physical dynamics of the different objects, velocities, temperatures, etc., which determine the flight of each. The air does not have the ability to say, “The flowers are good, so they should have easy passage, but the bullets will only be passed on slowly and reluctantly, if at all.”

Now, if you insult me deeply using the air as a medium, I may decide to retaliate with a blow to discourage you from doing so again. The air will discriminate towards my response only based upon whether my hand is open or closed, the slap coming slightly more slowly because of the difference in air resistance. If you insult me from cover, disguising your voice, I’ll have a harder time discouraging you, but the air doesn’t know or care.

The air does not discriminate as to who breaths it. Saints and sinners, people of peace and war, good intentions and bad, all breath it with equal ease, depending upon their capacity.

Perhaps you get my point by now. In our current society what we commonly refer to as “the Media” is not such a neutral scene. It is common knowledge that news organizations have had a stranglehold on the dissemination of “news” and have used it for decades, in conjunction with government and corporate interests, to color the view of the world for populations at large—i.e., propaganda. This is basically because the means of communication have been very centralized and subject to control. Radio waves are neutral media, but access to them by the general population has been limited by both technology and (more profoundly) centralized political and economic force.

The Internet, as it has come into use, has served as a much more neutral medium. Currently, legacy news and propaganda channels are dying the slow death, as upstart bloggers and videographers apply “death of a million cuts,” exposing their biases and agendas, and delivering information that users find more relevant to themselves and more truthful. Politicians and others in positions of power are losing ground as the power has shifted toward individuals, who can more easily determine when they are being lied to.

But the current structure of the Internet, while better in many ways than anything which has existed before, does not make for a truly neutral medium. Actually, while it makes the shift toward individual freedom of expression much more accessible, it also exposes the individual to liabilities which have never been faced before in all of human history. Exercise of the apparent freedoms comes at the expense of privacy and security of the individual, which ultimately undermines the very freedoms which are apparently being gained. Predictive technologies based upon all the data gathered on individuals and groups make the possibilities of social manipulation and control ever more possible by fewer and fewer individuals.

One doesn’t have to look further than the vast revelations which have been made in the last two years by way of Edward Snowden’s disclosures (whether you gauge them heroic or sinister) to appreciate the velvet glove and iron fist with which the surveillance corporation/state is enclosing the broad population.

There is an apparency of great freedom. But at what cost and how true is that freedom?

(I’m reminded of the great cultural revolution in China, in which Mao said “Let a thousand flowers bloom.” Dissidence and counter-revolution were, for a time, encouraged. Then, once the the trouble spots were identified, millions lost their lives. I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily the course of western civilization, but there is a very large history lesson here to be considered.)

So, let’s look back now on the concept of net neutrality. Is net neutrality even remotely possible with the current structure of the Internet? Are we dealing with any sort of neutral medium? I’d have to say no. Therefore, all the social uproar and political action to get agencies and companies to play nice is of little if any use.

Bitcoin and a number of other decentralizing technologies show some hope, but I’d have to say that they are well behind the curve and are likely to be of only marginal utility in securing greater actual freedom for individuals.

Enter the SAFE Network.

Now, I could easily, and justly, be accused of being fanciful on this score, since the SAFE Network is yet to go live and prove itself. But I can’t help myself. The promise is too great and the vision too clear to let these things sit. The more people who see the vision and help bring it to fruition, the better. Even if we fail.

So, before we examine the SAFE Network, let’s look back at the concept of a neutral medium and examine what the elements of a neutral data storage and communication network would have to be.

  1. Secure by default. Anyone who accessed it would be able to do so without compromising their financial or data security. This means that individuals would also have complete personal responsibility for their personal and financial data. Sharing it would be an explicit choice.

  2. Privacy by default. Anyone accessing the network would be able to have confidence that whatever they did on the network would be completely private, by default. Any choice to share any private data, even their identity, would be an explicit choice. The exposure of private data shared with another person or group would be limited to the worthiness of the trust placed in those receiving that data. Ideally, there would be capabilities of proving valid identifiers cryptographically without having to share actual identity details, unless necessary or desired.

  3. Broad access. It could be freely accessed by individuals with very little technical barrier, and no one could deny use of the network if the individual could pass those technical barriers (i.e., a computing device and internet access).

  4. Morally neutral. The network could not be subject to central control as to who uses it or the content of the communications, or data stored or retrieved. (Parallel to the air analogy.) The network would handle all of its standard functions of passing and storing data particles with no means of distinguishing amongst them, except to know what to do with them. This would require that the network be composed of nodes provided by users on the assumption that to have the sort of network desired, it is necessary to supply resources to the network to accomplish its purpose, rather than trying to control it.

  5. Resistant to compromise. If compromised, no node in the network would be able to adversely affect the operation of the network at large. If it were compromised, it could reveal no useful information about the network itself or its users.

  6. Scalable. Heavy demand for particular services or items would not require the building of separate centralized infrastructure, or use of methods which could discriminate for or against certain traffic. In other words, for a website or video or service which is in high demand, the network would simply deliver it up faster, the more demand there was, and then return to more usual handling when demand slacked.

I’m sure there are other attributes which could fit in this picture of a factually neutral Internet structure, but that’s probably enough to make the point.

These characteristics, and many more, actually ARE characteristics of the SAFE Network as it has been designed and proven-out over the last nine years by the folks at Maidsafe.

Will it work as the design and tests so far promise it will?

Will it fulfill the promise perceived by supporters like me?

Will it, in fact, be a truly neutral medium, where “net neutrality” can actually exist?

We will soon see.



Nice article, more on the qualitative (content) side than I expected, but still good. I have to say I didn’t consider that aspect much.

Here’s the full quote (as one key part is here):

Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

I wrote about NN on this forum before, but I’d like to point out just how ridiculous this concept of NN is and that is visible from the definition.
To use @fergish’s analogy, ISPs don’t give a rat’s ass about the data. They do treat all data the same.
They are in the business of (data) transportation, and so doing what NN is commanding would be like asking FedEx to transport all packages, regardless of size or priority indicated on the package, at the same cost “per unit of weight”.
Obviously, that would be idiotic, and yet that’s what’s being asked.
I said earlier what will happen once this gets enforced - and in terms of example I made on this page, ISPs and telcos will do what FedEx would do - you get a standard A4 (or Letter Size) envelope with “Normal Priority” and you don’t have to pay more (or less) regardless of how much you need to send, as long as it fits in the envelope.
Large shipments will suffer, but customers won’t be able to get what they want even if they want to pay for it, while small items will be overcharged to make up for the profits lost on the premium/customized market which was killed by the gov’t.


Well written, I’ll keep an eye on your posts.

I often compare the Safe network to the road infrastructure. Imagine what would happen if we tried to check the intent of every single person using it. But what the infrastructure can do is to charge you more if you want to use the fast lane.

The internet with Safe will work the same way. ISP won’t know if you are downloading a movie, playing a game or running some scientific experiment requiring lots of data. All they will see is a lot of encrypted packets. What they can do is to charge you based on the amount of data you get and at which speed you get it. If you pay for a slow internet connection, your movies on netflix will download slower. If you want a better experience, you just need to upgrade to the faster connection.

The problem with ISPs is that they sell you a data plan and bandwidth they don’t want you to use. What I’d like to see from ISPs is to be able to pay per data chunks at a cost dependent of the download rate and be able to switch to a faster lane at any moment. I’m downloading a movie to listen later at night, I don’t mind if it takes longer, I get on the slow lane, paying a lower fees. I want to get my emails when the network is clogged up then I jump to the fast lane , paying higher fees for a moment. I don’t know if that’s technically possible.


This makes sense when you don’t know what bandwidth actually costs. Transferring a gigabyte of data on modern networks is measured in cents.
I dunno about you, but that price would have to change a great deal for me to consider downloading slower for a lower rate. I for one can pay for a good deal of 8 cent gigabytes.
So bandwidth is essentially free. Data caps are complete and utter bullcrap. Those 10 dollars per 1 gigabyte rates you see should buy you at least 100 gigabytes of transfer.

Edit: Oh dear, this was meant to be a reply to @DavidMtl but I think it didn’t link? I guess I must’ve pressed the wrong reply button. Sorry about that.

@fergish, there is no obligation to make a profit for share holders. Quite the opposite, even morally or ethically. What there is, if one wants to avoid non profit tax rules, is an obligation to show a legitimate profit or take a real loss to avoid the appearance of tax fraud. In markets that are working profit is necessarily very lean.

@Janitor those arguments aren’t logical, the public’s need for working infrastructure free of bogus artificial scarcity gamed trumps any misinterpretation of private property in favor of censorship.

And lastly given a little bit of time and censorship corrupts absolutely.

I like your idea of how the ISPs should charge. To some degree that is how they work, within broader brackets, but it could definitely get better.

I think what we’re going to see is that the SAFE Network will work to deliver faster response on lower-speed lines for a lot of content, much like bit torrent does. This is going to put interesting pressures on various parts of the whole internet structure. No telling how such things will evolve. Uncharted ground here. But the push towards freeing control of resources into the hands of more people is bound to have a general benefit over time. Though chaos may crop up in spots as things evolve, those matters will resolve fairly quickly if we don’t allow centralized authoritarian actors to muck in it too much.

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Agreed. But that just gives incentives to move toward people-owned infrastructure, like mesh and software defined networks that are tied together where individuals profit a little, rather than central organizations profiting a lot.

Last time I checked 10GigE was still expensive for my home LAN, so I would disagree.
LAN is essentially free up to 8 MB/s, but then it gets slightly more expensive, and after 120 MB/s bandwidth is far from free.
And that’s without the cost of laying cables, buying carrier level switches and cabling it all up.

If ISPs knew how important the internet would be come, they would’ve implemented NN a long time a go. What would be the consequence of that? No youtube, no netflix and certainly no github, let alone bittorrent. If these companies/individuals had to pay for the amount of traffic they’re generating and for the packets to be delivered with the same priority like a fortune 500 company, do you think we would have these services today?

They’re already getting paid by the customers for providing an access to the internet and now they want even more money. Why are they not charging their customers more for using more bandwidth?

I don’t think you can compare fedex to an ISP at all, those are completely different business models with entirely different costs. One is digital and the other is transportation of physical goods, these are entirely different things.

Without net neutrality SAFE network won’t be a success, so I don’t see why you’re against it?!

EDIT: One additional thought about the comparison between fedex and an ISP. The correct comparison would be like this:

You order a package at amazon. Amazon adds 5 € to the price for delivering the package to you via Fedex. So the customer essentially pays fedex 5 € (or less) for the delivery of the package. Now, because amazon is sending more and more packages each year, instead of increasing the price to 6 or 7 dollar, they want money from amazon to deliver the package with the same speed as they did before. If you don’t, or can’t pay that fee, because you’re new to the business, fedex still charges 5 € for the delivery, but is basically saying “We’ll deliver that package in the next couple of days. Maybe.”

They don’t do that because DHL wouldn’t increase their prices and competition is a pain if you personally have to deal with it. By charging amazon for the delivery, they’re putting the “free market pressure” onto them.

And at this point we haven’t even touched the argument that the way the internet is structured has had a huge impact on society and this model offers a great value to society and levels the playing field.

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Some have implemented caps and are doing that, but usually such ideas are attacked by content providers who pretend to act out of concern for their users.
The current trend has been to destroy choice and competition through this NN nonsense. And it’s well known why: because the likes of Google and Netflix are giving more money to the lobbyists than the telcos.

How is it different?
I can ask FedEx to mail a DVD to you or I can send you the same over FTP.
It costs money to build and operate infra to perform the service. Airplanes, cables, routers, call centers…
Transferring a handful of TCP/IP packets is almost free, but the post office doesn’t charge you “extra” for the weight of the stamp either.
If you have a slow network at home and have to transport couple of DVDs from one room to another within 1 hour, the cheapest way to do that may very well be to burn 5 DVDs, despite the “free” cost of your slow network.

I can’t tell, maybe we should ask Al Gore :smile:
But maybe we would have MaidSafe instead of YouTube, because the cost of creating a new YouTube without freeloading on the telcos’ infra would have been prohibitive and VC money would instead flow to MaidSafe-like projects.

Excessive cost of bandwith is not the issue for customers. Any business that charges too much will attract competition.
Amazon probably doesn’t make any profit from billions of dollars they invested in their cloud services, they charge their customers for bandwidth (!) and their customers despite the cost of bandwidth still manage to provide viable free and commercial services to the world. According to the NN crowd, Amazon should have 0 customers, or most of them would be barely surviving because they’re taking all their customers’ profits via the ridiculous bandwidth charges, etc. But in the reality they’re the largest cloud company in the world.

Why wouldn’t they charge maidsafe like projects if they’re charging youtube? The ISP doesn’t care whether it’s youtube or maidsafe in this scenario. Either you can pay to have your packages delivered in realtime or you don’t, doesn’t matter who you are or what your service is. You’re using bandwidth, that’s the argument, isn’t it?

I know for a fact that some of them are planning these things: Pay 5 bucks a month and you get unlimited access to youtube. Want to access dailymotion or another video plattform? Well, screw you. Want to BUILD a new plattform? Good luck with that. Until now, you could do that with relative ease, without NN that won’t be possible anymore.


That’s also the point I don’t get about the argument. I already pay for the bandwidth why do you care how I use it? If I pay for a 56k connection and want to download a movie it will take forever and that’s my problem. If I want it faster I need to pay for a faster connection. Even if the amount of data that comes from these services are clogging up the network, when the user pay for it what’s the problem?

Of course clogging up the network affect all users but that’s a problem for the ISP to figure out. If they sell a certain amount of bandwith their network can’t afford to give that’s their business decision and it’s their problem to fix. Some ISP are getting wiser about this and offer unlimited download in off hours to reduce the load on the network in busy hours, that’s a smart move and totally in the power of an ISP to make. They could also fix the problem with a more dynamic pricing strategy. I would love a service with a pay as you go plan that is not a total ripoff.

I understand that the laws around NN goes deeper than that and there might be some very smelly thing in there but in regards to the main argument, I don’t see the problem.

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In earlier posts on this forum I said I expect that will happen (e.g. here) once NN is implemented and I think that’s fine. Please understand, for me the problem is not to pay, but to not be able to pay more to get a better service than my neighbor (who may be a competing MaidSafe farmer). If NN and one size fits all is implemented, that destroys any incentive for me to tune my farming rig, or to buy a better farming rig and provide better service to MaidSafe users, because my neighbor with his crappy setup will get the same crappy network service like me.

In this topic I claimed that building a YouTube-like service would have been more competitive with MaidSafe if YouTube had to pay for their traffic. But with YouTube and NN (of sorts), where they freeloaded on the infra, we (the consumers) effectively subsidized Google. There should be no subsidies for anyone, period. It should be left to the market. And then I could get a fair price and also pay less tax because there’s less need for an army of public servants to protect me.

I believe you, but that’s not a problem of a free market, but of a rigged market. That’s exactly why the last thing you want to do in this kind of messed up environment is to give even more power to the worst kind of people who are solely responsible for this situation (the government).
Management of private companies has duty to generate as much profit as they (legally) can. There’s nothing wrong with that and as I said earlier the moment they start squeezing their customers too hard, customers go away to a new, cheaper/better provider. The problem is when the government makes this process more difficult or impossible.

That’s the point I can’t agree with. Youtube and alikes are not freeloading on anything. It’s the user who pays the ISP for the ability to get something out of these services. The data is paid for. These services aren’t pushing data unto an ISP without a customer’s consent. Without customers, they are just servers sitting idly. Not to mention that these services also pay to upload their data.

IPSs charge to get the data from the servers unto the network and from the network unto the customer’s computer, what is it they don’t like about their position?


I think we’re getting somewhere. I think the internet is a fantastic invention because it levels the playing field, because it doesn’t differentiate between poor and rich people and for ONCE gives people without money the same access. For me, this is great and I’m very thankful that the inventors of the internet decided to make it public domain instead of cashing in on it. In this environment everything evolves around the best ideas and dedication, not the most ressources and I love that.

First of all, youtube started out as a three men operation before it was bought by google. And again, if youtube had to pay for traffic, so would everybody else, including maidsafe and early facebook, etc. So what would’ve likely been the case? Only those with huge amount of money would’ve been able to afford for that kind of traffic, not necessarily the ones with the best ideas.

What do you mean with giving power to the government and why are they responsible for the situation we’re in? They’re not involved at all. Nobody forced ISPs to the unwritten laws of NN that we have since the beginning of the internet, so why are they responsible for this situation? ISPs have nobody to blame but themselves for this situation. They didn’t estimate the rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth, otherwise consumers would pay more for their internet access.

One last question, did you read my EDIT about your fedex example with amazon? I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. :slight_smile:

Correct me if I’m wrong but Youtube did pay to upload its data. You can’t upload gigabytes of data without paying for it, the data doesn’t teleport itself unto the cloud. And every user of Youtube did pay to get that data out of cloud. There’s no free rider. Am I missing something?

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Sure, I meant it in the context of paying for faster and more timely delivery of their traffic, the premium access. Should’ve made that clearer. The cost for the traffic is part of the renting cost for a/the server that you(tube) have, So no, there are no free riders.

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There seems to be a lot amount of back and forth here about whether the political push for “net neutrality” is a good thing or not.

Step out of the political squirrel cage thinking for a minute. Net neutrality is impossible with current technology and infrastructure following the current mode. The fact that it can even be influenced directly by political action should tell you as much.

SAFE technology offers an opportunity to get superior performance, even on a biased infrastructure, at least in terms of privacy, security and freedom. Technical performance as well, hopefully.

Eventually, with mesh, cubesats, software defined radio, etc., we can develop an infrastructure that is beyond political influence, open source and owned by all who contribute. But for now, we can have something that is rather neutral and helps move the scene in the right direction.

I’m not sure I follow. Why do you think net neutrality is impossible with current technology? It’s basically just QoS on a local/global scale. Add deep packet inspection to the mix and you’re more than capable of identifying the individual packets and prioritize them.

Did you read the article that started this thread?

What you seem to be referring to as making “net neutrality” possible is completely the opposite of what I refer to as a “neutral medium” in the article. What you say seems to make my point rather than refute it. But maybe I’m missing something technically.

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