A geek's trip to Capitol Hill on Network Management

Summary:I appeared before congressional and government staffers on Capitol Hill for a panel on Network Management sponsored by iGrowthGlobal.  This was my first time in Washington DC and while it was a little cold for my Californian bones, it was a beautiful city and seeing the capitol of the nation was certainly a worthwhile experience.

I appeared before congressional and government staffers on Capitol Hill for a panel on Network Management sponsored by iGrowthGlobal.  This was my first time in Washington DC and while it was a little cold for my Californian bones, it was a beautiful city and seeing the capitol of the nation was certainly a worthwhile experience.  One thing that struck me was how large and spread-out the Capitol was with so many Government buildings several miles apart.

The panel was moderated by Scott Wallsten, VP for Research and Senior Fellow of iGrowthGlobal.  I met Mr. Wallsten at the Net Neutrality summit held at University of San Francisco last month where the two of us presented on separate panels.  The rest of the panelists for this event were:

  • Melvin Ammori, General Counsel, Free Press
  • David Burstein, Editor, DSLPrime
  • George Ou, Editor at Large, ZDNet
  • Haruka Saito, Counselor for Telecom, Embassy of Japan
  • Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Communications, University of Pennsylvania

Christopher Yoo - After a brief introduction by Scott Wallsten who explained that the order of the presentations will be reverse alphabetical order, Christopher S. Yoo kicked off his presentation.  Professor Yoo explained that networks, like roads, aren't built for everyone to use them at the same time.  Yoo gave the example that if a person wants to know how fast he can travel on a freeway, he wouldn't know until he got there because we can't predict exactly how many other people will be on the road at the same time.  Yoo explained the difficulty in projecting network capacity and that we can't always be right when determining whether more capacity or network management was the answer.  Sometimes more capacity is the answer, sometimes network management is the answer and we shouldn't lock ourselves in to one solution or the other.

Haruka Saito - Next up was Mr. Haruka Saito from the Embassy of Japan.  Mr. Saito explained that Japan had been studying and debating the issue of Network Neutrality in Japan for about a year and a half and he offered a lot of hard data gathered in Japan.  Japan is one of if not the most connected nation in the world when it comes to broadband deployment with 100 Mbps fiber deployments and despite this abundance of capacity, even I was shocked that they were running in to congestion problems.

When the traffic chart was broken down in to color-coded regions showing application usage, P2P easily ate the lion's share of resources and dwarfed everything else on the chart.  Mr. Saito went on to explain that 1% of the users primarily through P2P consumed around 50% of the total capacity and this pretty much mirrors every other study I've seen elsewhere in the world regardless of capacity.  The debate in Japan was who was going to pay for this excessive usage and whether the heaviest users should start paying more money.

George Ou - Next up was me and I gave a presentation based on my Comcast versus Vuze and Comcast before the FCC article.  After Mr. Saito's presentation, it certainly made my job a lot easier showing my charts on how BitTorrent and P2P were effectively the primary bandwidth hogs.  I explained that the vast majority of all web applications like Web surfing, YouTube, Apple iTunes video downloads, Xbox Live Marketplace video downloads, and other applications like email almost never use any upstream capacity.  Even though there are applications like Skype High Quality Video Conferencing which can fully saturate the upstream pipe, its duration is relatively short which significantly lowers its average load on the network.

I then explained that Vuze using the P2P model shifts nearly all of its server, storage, and bandwidth costs to its customer's computer and the broadband providers while all other video distribution services pay for their own distribution costs.  Then I explained that Cable networks and Wireless networks are shared-medium networks that are constrained in capacity and that they weren't built nor sold to be content servers for the rest of the Internet.  Wireless networks are even more scarce in terms of capacity because of the scarcity of spectrum and many of the smaller ISPs would be put out of business if the Government made rules banning P2P throttling or P2P blocking.  Without those smaller wireless ISPs that cover the rural areas that the larger companies don't want to cover, those Americans living in rural America would be cut off from the Internet and possibly even their phone service.  We have plenty of choices on getting content but few choices on broadband carriers and the Government must keep this in mind when making network management policies.

David Burstein - David Burstein went up next to give his presentation though he didn't actually have a presentation ready so he improvised the presentation.  After indirectly but clearly referring to Professor Yoo as an "idiot", Burstein told the audience that if only Comcast would upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0, then there wouldn't be any need to manage the network.  That seemed to fly in the face of the hard network traffic data that Mr. Saito presented indicating that even a 100 Mbps per home dedicated fiber network would have congestion problems due primarily to P2P traffic.  Burstein continued to insist that a measly DOCSIS 3.0 network (which is 120 Mbps shared between a few hundred users) would somehow be immune to congestion problems.

Even stranger was Burstein's testimony that it would only cost Comcast 10 cents per user per month to upgrade everyone to DOCSIS 3.0.  When pressed where he got such a number, Burstein Then he admitted it was only a guess but insisted that until someone proves him wrong, then everyone should laugh in the faces of his doubters.  I didn't bother challenging Burstein on the spot since there were so many other things I wanted to say, but I will respond to him here.

If we take Burstein's estimate at face value, then we would have to believe that a DOCSIS 3.0 CMTS (Cable Modem Termination System) along with a ~250 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems could be had for a cheap total of $50 for the entire neighborhood per month.  Now bear in mind that the typical DOCSIS 2.0 modem costs about $60 and a CMTS is about the size of a 40U rack and falls under the category of very specialized networking gear.  A more common Cisco switch half the size would easily cost a quarter million dollars so it wouldn't be surprising if a CMTS costs upwards of half a million dollars.  With 500 users on a CMTS loop (Cable TV with typically half of them subscribing to cable broadband), the costs will at least be $1000 per user for just the CMTS and we haven't even begun to look at the costs of upgrading the surrounding infrastructure to support the higher capacities and the cable modems.

[Update 3/4/2008 - Dave Burstein has asked me to issue a correction that he stated it was 10 cents per user PER MONTH.  I do apologize for my error, but it doesn't really change the fact that the correct number from Burstein has little to do with reality.  At 10 cents per user per month, it would take 10,000 months or 833 years to break even on a minimal $1000/user investment.]

Marvin Ammori - Marvin Ammori from the Free Press went up and also improvised a presentation.  He kicked it off with a cheap shot saying how he was glad that Professor Yoo and I didn’t bring a busload of chair warmers and attempted to paint the two of us as industry shills.  Ammori then went on to build a straw man argument that he thought my position was that YouTube didn't pay their fair share of the Internet.  Ammori obviously never saw my article from last year where I ripped Ed Whitacre's statements that Google didn't pay their fair share on Internet connectivity.  After Ammori finished his presentation, I let my displeasure be known that I spoke as a proud American citizen who was in Washington DC for the first time with no one paying me to speak.

One other interesting tidbit was the fact that Mr. Ammori who admittedly never heard of the word "BitTorrent" up until a few months ago claimed that BitTorrent will only do 4 upstream sessions.  Since Ammori told us that he heard it from Professor Edward Felton [waiting for Ammori's clarification on who he heard it from], somehow that overturns my testimony that BitTorrent was a bandwidth hog that opened 10s of upstream sessions.  The reality was that certain BitTorrent clients will default to 4 upstream sessions for each torrent, but multiple torrents meant multiples of 4.  The other interesting claim that Ammori made was that BitTorrent was intelligent and kind enough to back off when your neighbor was trying to use something like a web or email application.  Where exactly Ammori got this information wasn't clear, but I'd like the Free Press to show me some documentation for a protocol that no one has ever heard before.

[UPDATE 3/4/2008 - Ammori emailed me that he didn't say it was from Ed Felton despite the fact that he mentioned Ed Felton's name in the closest proximity to as far as my memory is concerned.  Ammori writes in his email that he had named David Reed, David Clark, and Ed Felton as the three expert witnesses he cited, but has so far refused to clarify which one told him that BitTorrent maxes out at 4 upstream sessions.  Strangely, Ammori seemed a lot more confident of his source when testifying before the government to bolster his claims and discredit mine but now he refuses to clarify his source when he is shown to be wrong.  At this point I don't know if Ammori was given the wrong information or didn't understand what he was told, but either way he gave bad testimony.

Instead of offering clarification, he took a few more shots at me the same way that he attacked Richard Bennett implying that we're somehow not qualified and that we're "brought in" by Comcast which has no truth.  Then just as he did at the panel last Friday, he insists that his sources are better even though none of his sources have disputed anything I or Richard Bennett has said.  Richard Bennett is one of the pioneers of the Internet and he's written some very informative and articulate articles on this matter and he's also faced off with Ed Felton in podcasts.  You can hear the podcast for yourself but I think you'll find that Richard Bennett held his own against Ed Felton and Richard has far more expertise on this particular subject matter.

During his presentation, Ammori also tried to discredit the data I showed where P2P seeding was pretty much the only application that hogged the upstream.  In the context of the hard data presented by Mr. Saito from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showing that P2P was undoubtedly the upstream and downstream bandwidth hog, it was shocking that Ammori would try to continue disputing that fact.  Ammori basically argued that we can't really know if the charts I used (copy here) are legitimate or not and he made a habit of trying to discredit me with no factual data to counter.  It will be interesting to see if he's willing to explain exactly which expert he was citing.] 

During the informal panel debate after everyone had spoke, I brought up the fact that Comcast gives you web space to post content which operates 10 times faster than any BitTorrent seed.  This apparently wasn't good enough for Mr. Ammori and he felt that this was somehow impinging on his right to free speech since he couldn't serve out high-definition video content from his own home.  Never mind the fact that we're in a unique time in history where for the first time user generated content on YouTube can have a huge impact on the election.  Anyone can put up a political ad on YouTube and get millions of people to watch it if the video was clever enough, but the fact that Ammori couldn't serve it in High Definition from his own home was somehow a violation of his first amendment.  But the fact of the matter is that you can serve HD video from your own home if you pay for a commercial-grade Internet connection that allows you to host servers.  What you don't have the right to do is buy a cheaper residential-grade Internet connection, hog the scarce resources by serving content to the whole world and violate the terms of service.

So to sum it up, it was knee deep in politics experience but it was all worthwhile.  I felt honored that I had contributed something to my Government and my Nation.

[Update 3/4/2008 - Since this post is obviously being told from my viewpoint, I will be happy to link to any of the other speaker's blogs rehashing their experience if they write anything regardless of whether I agree with them or not.]

Topics: Broadband, Hardware, Mobility, Networking, Telcos


George Ou, a former ZDNet blogger, is an IT consultant specializing in Servers, Microsoft, Cisco, Switches, Routers, Firewalls, IDS, VPN, Wireless LAN, Security, and IT infrastructure and architecture.

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