Series of tubes

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Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens referred to the Internet as "a series of tubes".

"A series of tubes" is a phrase used originally as an analogy by then-United States Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to describe the Internet in the context of opposing network neutrality.[1] On June 28, 2006, he used this metaphor to criticize a proposed amendment to a committee bill. The amendment would have prohibited Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon Communications from charging fees to give some companies' data a higher priority in relation to other traffic. The metaphor was widely ridiculed, because Stevens was perceived to have displayed an extremely limited understanding of the Internet, despite his leading the Senate committee responsible for regulating it.[2][3]

Partial text of Stevens's comments[edit]

Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got... an Internet [email] was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially. [...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.[4]

Media commentary[edit]

On June 28, 2006, Public Knowledge government affairs manager Alex Curtis wrote a brief blog entry introducing the senator's speech and posted an MP3 recording.[1] The next day, the Wired magazine blog 27B Stroke 6 featured a lengthier post by Ryan Singel, which included Singel's transcriptions of some parts of Stevens's speech considered the most humorous.[4] Within days, thousands of other blogs and message boards posted the story.[4][5][6][7][8]

Most writers and commentators derisively cited several of Stevens's misunderstandings of Internet technology, arguing that the speech showed that he had formed a strong opinion on a topic which he understood poorly (e.g., referring to an e-mail message as "an Internet," and blaming bandwidth issues for an e-mail problem much more likely to be caused by mail server or routing issues). The story sparked mainstream media attention, including a mention in The New York Times.[9] The technology podcast This Week in Tech also discussed the incident.[10]

According to The Wall Street Journal, as summarized by MediaPost commentator Ross Fadner, "'The Internet is a Series of Tubes!' spawned a new slogan that became a rallying cry for Net neutrality advocates. ... Stevens's overly simplistic description of the Web's infrastructure made it easy for pro-neutrality activists to label the other side as old and out-of-touch."[11] Several parodies of Stevens's speech have been created, usually consisting of samples taken from this speech with an added melody.[12]

Edward Felten, Princeton University professor of computer science, pointed out the unfairness of some criticisms of Stevens's wording, while maintaining that the underlying arguments were rather weak.[13]

Later commentaries observed that while Stevens was ineloquent in his presentation the analogy itself was accurate.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart made multiple references to "Techno" Ted Stevens's "series of tubes" description;[15][16][17][18] as a result, Stevens has become well known as the person who once headed the committee charged with regulating the Internet. "I have a letter from a big scientist who said I was absolutely right in using the word 'tubes'," Stevens said to reporters in response to The Daily Show's coverage. When asked if he would think about going on the show to debate Jon Stewart, Stevens replied, "I'd consider it."[19]

Google has included references to this in two of its products. Gears's about box once read "the gears that power the tubes" and Google Chrome had an about: Easter egg at the address about:internets which displayed a screensaver of tubes (if Windows XP's SSPIPES.SCR is installed) with the page title "Don't Clog the Tubes!"[20][21] When "about:internets" was entered on a computer lacking that screensaver, the tab displayed a gray screen with the page title "The Tubes are Clogged!" This Easter egg was removed as of the release.[22] The documentation for developing Chrome extensions includes a near-verbatim quote of the "series of tubes" paragraph when describing its class.[23]


Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post wrote a humorous article entitled "Sen. Stevens, the tubes salute you" on August 9, 2010 after Stevens's death in an airplane crash:[24]

And as people remember him, make ill-timed jests, and muse on his legacy—all in real time, in great profusion—I worry that they are disrupting the ability of people elsewhere to receive their Internets. But for us in the Facebook generation who weren't around for the first plane crash and know the Bridge to Nowhere primarily as an SNL punchline, the senator's legacy is in that series of tubes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Curtis, Alex (June 28, 2006). "Senator Stevens Speaks on Net Neutrality". Public Knowledge. Retrieved January 11, 2023.
  2. ^ "United States Senator Ted Stevens : About Senator Stevens". U.S. Senate. Archived from the original on January 3, 2009.
  3. ^ Moore, Matthew (September 17, 2009). "Google easter eggs: 15 best hidden jokes". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved May 30, 2010. His clumsy words, in a speech to a Senate committee opposing network neutrality, were seen to illustrate the poor understanding of some politicians about how the internet worked.
  4. ^ a b c Singel, Ryan; Poulsen, Kevin (June 29, 2006). "Your Own Personal Internet". Threat Level. Wired. Retrieved August 24, 2006.
  5. ^ "Sen. Stevens' hilariously awful explanation of the Internet". BoingBoing. July 2, 2006.
  6. ^ "How The Internet Works – With Tubes". Slashdot. July 3, 2006.
  7. ^ "Sen. Stevens explains the Internet: "And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes"". July 3, 2006.
  8. ^ "Ted Stevens on the internets". Daily Kos. July 2, 2006.
  9. ^ Mitchell, Dan (July 8, 2006). "Tail is wagging the internet dog". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "This Week in Tech 60 A Series of Tubes | TWiT.TV". Retrieved October 13, 2016.
  11. ^ Fadner, Ross (August 8, 2006). "Immortalizing Ted Stevens, Net Neutrality for Posterity". MediaPost.
  12. ^ superfunky59 (December 23, 2006), Series of Tubes Music Video, archived from the original on December 21, 2021, retrieved March 28, 2018{{citation}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Felten, Ed (July 17, 2006). "Taking Stevens Seriously". Freedom to Tinker.
  14. ^ Dashevsky, Evan (June 5, 2014). "A Remembrance and Defense of Ted Stevens' 'Series of Tubes'". Retrieved April 21, 2023.
  15. ^ "Party Pooper". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. July 12, 2006.
  16. ^ "Headlines – Internet". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. July 12, 2006.
  17. ^ "Net Neutrality Act". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. July 19, 2006.
  18. ^ "Phone Call with Ted Stevens". The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Comedy Central. April 16, 2007.
  19. ^ "Senator Ted Stevens will defend his "tubes" remarks on The Daily Show". Yahoo! News. July 27, 2006.
  20. ^ "Google Chrome's Full List of Special about: Pages". Lifehacker. September 3, 2008.
  21. ^ "about:internets". Robert Accettura's Fun With Wordage. September 3, 2008.
  22. ^ Larson, Mark; Kersey, Jason (January 26, 2009). "Release Notes:". The Chromium Projects. Archived from the original on March 8, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  23. ^ "". Archived from the original on August 11, 2015. Retrieved August 11, 2015.
  24. ^ Petri, Alexandra (August 10, 2010). "Sen. Stevens, the tubes salute you". PostPartisan. The Washington Post.

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