George Ou, I respectfully disagree with you on net neutrality

George Ou, I respectfully disagree with you on net neutrality

Summary:  I have buckets of respect for my ZDNet colleague George Ou. He is that rare technologist with a gift for peering through the haze, and offering concrete explanations of the conceptual and the opaque in the tech world.

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TOPICS: Government US
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I have buckets of respect for my ZDNet colleague George Ou. He is that rare technologist with a gift for peering through the haze, and offering concrete explanations of the conceptual and the opaque in the tech world.

Yet George Ou's views skew more toward market-based solutions and remedies than proactive governmental and statutory remedies for infractions that may not have happened just yet.

Applying his perspective to the net neutrality debate, George likens the right of a phone company to boost connection speeds for favored content customers to that of an overnight delivery service to promise faster delivery to premium accounts that pay extra for it.

Update: George Ou says: I absolutely do NOT believe in an honor system of “take the Telco’s word”. Before there was ever any talk of Net neutrality, Madison River Communications tried to block Vonage and the FCC under Chairman Michael Powell slapped down Madison with a STOP this crap and a $15,000 fine. Under the new bill in congress without the extremist Markey amendment, the FCC must vet all complaints and fine up to $500,000 per incident. I wrote this on Wednesday’s blog here http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=242&page=3 and I repeated it here http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=243 in the very first paragraph. FCC mandatory reviews and a $500,000 fine per incident sure don’t sound like “take the Telco’s word” to me.

Update: George then makes the point that he believes these potential abuses can be best addressed by mandating that all ISPs disclose all network traffic metrics to the public.  As a matter of fact, one of the most frustrating things about Internet Service providers is getting honest metrics and downtime statistics out of them.  Forcing them to disclose their performance metrics, backhaul to last mile throughput ratios, QoS policies, and other pertinent data would shed light on any suspicious behavior or incompetence.

I for one, would support such disclosures. They would, at the least, provide substantive documentation that would be useful in discussing any untoward favoritism. 

George then adds that if everyone is contending for the same bandwidth on an Internet backbone at the same moment in time, then the priority-service packets should never exceed half the total available bandwidth.  He feels no network provider that uses their senses would violate such a policy, because that would cause service to degrade to the point that many customers would be alienated.

Here's where I differ. I don't think the designation of priority packets should be permitted. That opens up at least the possibility of favored Internet access to content partners. Plus, because of hubris, as well as the law of unintended consequences, I think that network providers may overestimate their ability to maintain system-wide quality for those packets that have not been blessed with what I could colloquially call "most favored packets" standards. 

George then adds: "Furthermore, if a Telco builds additional infrastructure on top of what they already have for the purpose of transporting Internet traffic, they should not be permitted to designate that entire new infrastructure for priority service and must reserve at least half of that new resource for general purpose 'best effort' service."

Once again, I disagree. I find the notion of quotas objectionable. If all packets were treated equally, true, that might be a form of socialism, but I don't trust carrier-content provider dealmaker cabals.  

George also finds major fault with the now-defeated Markey bill, which would have banned surcharges for premium service. I have no problem when a network provider raises monthly subscription fees in markets where speeds have been boosted, but I don't think there should be surcharges for different speeds.

So I am guessing that George and I have a reasonable disagreement driven as much by political philosophy as anything else. I believe that regulation is necessary to curb the type of impulses laid bare in the statements of AT&T  CEO Ed Whitacre and others. An impulse that left to its own devices, would nickel and dime and fee customers well past the point of irritation because institutional investors are yelling for a point or two more of return. I also believe regulation is necessary to level the playing field between those power packet creators and the small Internet content and service providers who lack the capital, dealmaker connections, or both, to play equally. 

But then, that's just an honest difference. George is, by my read, a far more enthusiastic free marketeer than I am.

There are those who would cut the broadband service providers far more slack than George would, thoughGeorge also seems They seem to think we should trust the phone and cable companies at their word that they will not block or slow down content or services that does not happen to be offered by their favorite content partners. Or, for that matter, by those broadband Internet access providers themselves.

I disagree vehemently.

The broadband access providers choose their words carefully. They say they won't "block" or "slow down" any content. Oh yea?

Just an hour ago, I attempted to access ESPN360 over my Comcast connection. I am not a soccer fan but I heard that this World Cup content was not enabled on Comcast- my Internet service provider. And as I show you at the top of this post, that's right.

And that should never happen. If a Web site offers content- even content stored on a caching server rather than entirely through the choke-hold-prone public Internet, it should be available to every Internet user with a connection that has the physical capacity to display that content. 

My guess is that ESPN360 and Comcast did not come to a licensing agreement. It was ESPN360 that refused to pony up. But apparently, they get along swimmingly with Verizon.

Right now, these cases are rare, but without protection of law, I fear they will become endemic.  

Then there's the matter of what constitutes a "slow down." Say I am a cable broadband service provider running at 4 mbps. Then I upgrade my downstream to, say, 7mbps. I promote the hell out of it, offering showcase streaming media content that can be seen at 7mbps. I make the 7mbps a new tier at say, $9.99 extra a month.

That's OK, but what if those new tier's subscribers are proscribed from viewing content that's not optimized for 7mbps? And far worse, what about those 4mbps subscribers who not only won't be able to see the faster speed but will be locked out of the slower speed as well?

There's a prospectively far larger issue. Telephone and cable companies are for-profit enterprises that, as has repeatedly been shown, feel the primal need to get their way whenever they can- and protect that right by political muscle.  When they are blocked from every cent of any subscription increase they want to impose on their customers, they have a record of going through the backdoor by imposing fine-print fees on you and I.

Just like the banks, I should point out. 

An argument could be made that if these broadband access providers try something that runs afoul of the FCC, then the FCC can smite 'em. But one thing is for sure: without the specitivity of a strong, "thou shalt not" net neutrality law, the fee-meisters and the regulators may differ on interpretation of what is being charged, for what purpose the fee exists, and who must pay.

And as to the argument of some that well, we need no more laws on this issue until egregious violations occur, how about the concept of net neutrality laws as deterence. These companies have it in their DNA to push fees and charges to the max. They need to fear doing this without damn good reasons to do so. Not just because the institutional investors and analysts would love for them to.

Liken it to what will probably happen on the road any day of the week. The speed limit is 45 mph. Maybe there is a bit of slack to go 52, but if you are going 58, you think about how you would much rather use the $241 at Home Depot rather than to pay a ticket- and you back off.

Because there is a law. 

Predators- whether four-legged or corporate- must be introduced to deterrence. Without that, the predatory instincts take over.  

Maybe without the fear of being charged with a net neutrality violation, that extra $5.63 the DSL provider's board is debating will go through, wind up in 3-micron small print on your next bill stuffer, and get added to your next invoice. 

Because there isn't a law. Yet. 

Topic: Government US

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28 comments
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  • You're not representing me accurately at all

    "George also seems to think we should trust the phone and cable companies at their word that they will not block or slow down content or services that does not happen to be offered by their favorite content partners. Or, for that matter, by those broadband Internet access providers themselves. I disagree vehemently."

    I would vehemently disagree with "George" too if "George" had said or believed in such a crazy thing. But I really don't know which "George" you're referring to, and I?m not sure where you would ever get such an idea.

    I absolutely do NOT believe in an honor system of ?take the Telco?s word?. Before there was ever any talk of Net neutrality, Madison River Communications tried to block Vonage and the FCC under Chairman Michael Powell slapped down Madison with a STOP this crap and a $15,000 fine. Under the new bill in congress without the extremist Markey amendment, the FCC must vet all complaints and fine up to $500,000 per incident. I wrote this on Wednesday?s blog here http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=242&page=3 and I repeated it here http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=243 in the very first paragraph. FCC mandatory reviews and a $500,000 fine per incident sure don?t sound like ?take the Telco?s word? to me.

    Now if we?re going to have an honest debate, you?re going to have to present my views which are on record accurately.
    georgeou
    • Apology

      For a while, you were sounding like a clone of John Carroll and I accused you of having very similar political views (ie. the free market will punish any ISP abuse so effectively that no government supervsion is required). It appears that you do believe in some degree of government policing (but not the proposal at hand), however, so I apologize for misrepresenting you.
      John L. Ries
      • Quotes please, not paraphrases

        &, include URLs. Too much potential for straw-manning, otherwise.
        Absolutely
  • ESPN is a really bad example

    ?The broadband access providers choose their words carefully. They say they won't "block" or "slow down" any content. Oh yea? Just an hour ago, I attempted to access ESPN360 over my Comcast connection. I am not a soccer fan but I heard that this World Cup content was not enabled on Comcast- my Internet service provider. And as I show you at the top of this post, that's right. My guess is that ESPN360 and Comcast did not come to a licensing agreement. It was ESPN360 that refused to pony up. But apparently, they get along swimmingly with Verizon.?
    First of all, you?re speculating and you really have no idea what?s going on here. You?re using anecdotal evidence to scare the public. Anecdotal evidence has no place in an important debate on public policy, so please stop using it. There are lots of situations where Internet sites just don?t work from time to time but that doesn?t mean there is foul play.

    Second, do you even know what you?re fighting for? The Markey amendment which is what all the Net neutrality proponents are rallying behind bans Telcos from charging for priority which assures they will never offer priority since they can?t ever justify doing it for free. This means everything will be ?best effort? by definition. Best effort means there is no guarantee you?re going to have fast enough bandwidth to view video on ESPN360.

    Third, you have no idea what you?re talking about when you insinuate that there is some ?licensing agreement? with Verizon but not Comcast. If you honestly believe this is how video works, then you simply don?t understand how multimedia sites like ESPN360 works. ESPN is one of the world?s largest multimedia rich sites. ESPN heavily relies on Akamai which is a distributed caching service that allows you to bypass the Internet backbone and bottle neck most of the time because the content is cached as close to you as possible. Like I said here http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=242&page=2, AT&T?s proposal to build extra lanes just for Google is utterly stupid on a technical level. More bandwidth is not the solution for multimedia or any large file you need to distribute since it weakens with every user you add. More caching, more multicasting, more BitTorrent like technology is the way because strengthens the more users you add which mean they scale indefinitely. So your example of ESPN360 is completely speculative and your understanding of how multimedia distribution works is completely wrong.

    Fourth, my proposal would mandate full disclosure of all priority policies and configurations to the public. It would also mandate full disclosure of all other performance metrics and downtime. This is the best way for the public to see what really happened in your little outage.
    georgeou
  • Your understanding of Broadband is completely wrong

    Then there's the matter of what constitutes a "slow down." Say I am a cable broadband service provider running at 4 mbps. Then I upgrade my downstream to, say, 7mbps. I promote the hell out of it, offering showcase streaming media content that can be seen at 7mbps. I make the 7mbps a new tier at say, $9.99 extra a month.
    That's OK, but what if those new tier's subscribers are proscribed from viewing content that's not optimized for 7mbps? And far worse, what about those 4mbps subscribers who not only won't be able to see the faster speed but will be locked out of the slower speed as well??
    First of all, you?re not making any sense here at all and I don?t think you understand what?s going on here at all. NO ONE offers 7 mbps upstream and no one offers 7 mbps CIR ?Committed Information Rate? on a DSL or Cable connection. That 4 or 7 mbps connection is the burst rate for the last mile. The truth of the matter is, the biggest slow down you?ll ever face is not the prioritization of a small percentage of premium customers and a small percentage of their data. No ISP sells prioritization on all of your data, that would be insane! Prioritization only makes sense for things like VoIP which is a measly 40 to 80 kbps. This is like your neighbor drinking two cups of water when everyone else only drinks one cup from the lake, and you somehow think that the extra cup of water your neighbor drank means you have to go without your cup of water. Silly ain?t it? The truth of the matter is, 100 priority customers getting a small bump in their VoIP packets doesn?t put as much load on the backbone as the guy down the street downloading videos of naked women without priority service.
    Heck, the biggest culprit in lousy DSL service is oversubscriptions. This is where you might have 1000 customers with 6 mbps service but there is only a single 45 mbps uplink to the Internet. Oh and then there is a sale on DSL service and then the ISP adds another 500 6 mbps customers on that same uplink and then what do you have? You?re so busy worrying about a neighbor that might take an extra sip of water from the lake that you didn?t even notice the other 500 people moving in to share that same lake. What I?m proposing is that all ISPs provide full accurate details of their subscription ratios and all other performance metrics.
    ?An argument could be made that if these broadband access providers try something that runs afoul of the FCC, then the FCC can smite 'em. But one thing is for sure: without the specificity of a strong, "thou shalt not" net neutrality law, the fee-meisters and the regulators may differ on interpretation of what is being charged, for what purpose the fee exists, and who must pay.?

    Did you read page 3 of my last blog? http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=243&page=3. I?m about as specific as it gets. Here is a sample: ?The Internet has become such a crucial public resource like the public highways that we need to be more proactive by clearly defining the limits of what constitutes ISP abuse.? You?ll have to click on the link to read the rest of the page.

    Russell, you did not address any of my questions about the Markey bill and the fact that it would ban anyone from charging for premium service and if you support this idea. You completely got my position wrong, and you missed the most important part of my proposal where I go in to extremely detailed specifics on the definition of reasonable ISP behavior. Until you can at least understand and represent my position accurately, I don?t see how we?re going to get anything meaningful out of this debate.
    georgeou
  • Chilling Internet Startups?

    Should we be worried about the following posture if the Telco/Cable providers win?

    "As providers of first round funding to internet start ups, without the guarantee of net neutrality (NN) we have no idea what risks our USD5MM to USD15MM investment could suffer. Now that the HR has passed the HR5252 bill without language guaranteeing NN the risk weighting on our present investments has gone through the roof. Given the time frame on the Senate decision we will make no further internet start up investments until after the decision. If the decision is against NN, then no longer will we fund internet start ups. What the lack of neutrality does is shift the build out cost of (previously incentivised) high speed networks to investors such as we. However, unlike the reasonably calculable costs of network build out, the costs our internet start up investments may face can't be calculated for the forseeable future. We do not require "FREE" broadband access, rather we require "NEUTRAL" access. Otherwise we just can't calculate the risks of investing in the internet start up class."
    steve_case
  • Are you completely nuts?

    Russell Shaw says: "I don't think the designation of priority packets should be permitted."

    That's so completely insane it takes my breath away.

    Go read George's response and pay special attention to the diagram of packet re-ordering.

    Russell, I can never take anything you say about VoIP at all seriously ever again. You're completely clueless about the most basic networking issue affecting VoIP.

    And no, adding bandwidth doesn't make the problem go away. There are a billion people using the Internet now, and there's not enough bandwidth, lit or unlit, in the whole universe to guarantee that none of them ever gets delayed anywhere at any time.
    richardbennett
    • Heee - we got an alias here!

      Richard, you're like George's shadow in these blogospheres... Also, when looking at the tone and grammar usage it's almost a George-clone.
      George - you're using an alias?
      nizuse
      • Moron

        Go look at my web site, moron: http://bennett.com
        richardbennett
        • Moron? Ahh that is so - George-like!

          Insults won't help you. Did I hurt you?
          Must have hit a nerve somewhere!
          nizuse
        • p.s. I also looked at your website, and

          quite frankly, it is uninteresting.
          nizuse
          • How would you know?

            The point, dear one, is that George must have had incredible foresight to create a sock-puppet web site ten years ago. Now run along and play - in traffic.
            richardbennett
          • Dear one?

            That still doesn't make your website interesting.
            nizuse
      • You better check who you're talking to

        Mr. Bennett is an industry veteran who's responsible for some of the infrastructure you're using to post to this blog. I would suggest you Google him before you talk to him in this manner.
        georgeou
        • Interesting!

          The man belittling people, and labelling people 'extremists' is defending the person who calls someone 'moron', and is also giving a lecture about 'manners'! Wow George, you just made my point again! A little less arrogance please. I know I know, it's hard for you. But just give it a try.
          nizuse
        • No professionalism

          I find the man to be MOST unprofessional on these forums.

          I have a hint for Mr. Bennett. Don't call people "moron" just because you don't agree with them.

          I also find it insulting Mr. Ou that you would stick up for his poor behavior as well.
          dragosani
        • Re: You better check who you're talking to

          [i]Mr. Bennett is an industry veteran who's responsible for some of the infrastructure you're using to post to this blog. I would suggest you Google him before you talk to him in this manner.[/i]

          A) Even Mr. Bennett may be spoken to in any manner consistent with the way he speaks to others, moron. (That's OK to say, right?)

          B) You of all people are least qualified to wag your finger at bad manners.



          :)
          none none
  • Deregulation

    What did it do? It wasn't enough? MCI worldcom? If you rip off your customers two things can happen. 1, you brake the law and go to jail! 2, your customers think your service sucks and they "can go elsewhere" for service.

    Telco's and cable/DSL providers have to profit from the masses. Not John Doe Enterprise. Because it isn't enough.

    We don't need to try and force something that proforms better all the time with new inovative technology and design.

    How about fixing SS? How about not selling wepons for profit? How about the roads that need repair?Tell me what program really works? How about an end to a never ending War?

    Trust who? My internet and cable phone work just fine. Keep your hands off!
    xstep
  • Free market?

    The reason providers are so keen on charging extra for priority service is precisely because internet service is *not* a free market, and never can be. If these companies and their supporters truly believed in a free market, they'd be backing off this congressionally mandated authority to surcharge and letting the market sort things out.

    Since internet services are not and never will be a free market, government regulation is necessary to prevent the handful of companies that control the pipes from gouging customers at both ends of the service.
    JDThompson
    • That's free beer

      So your concept of a "free" market is to give stuff away for free. That's not what the term means.

      Business users like Google have the choice of several levels of service, both in terms of bandwidth and in terms of QoS. Consumers should have the same range of choices business users have.

      The regulations put forward by the Google/Moveon.org/Christian Coalition coalition would deprive consumers of a choice in QoS plans.

      That's evil.
      richardbennett