The stupid network will get a hearing

The stupid network will get a hearing

Summary: In the Stupid Network essay, which he wrote while at AT&T in 1997, Isenberg argued that the most efficient network is controlled at the edge, with a design based on the idea of plenty, and transport based on the needs of the data.

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TOPICS: Networking
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Advocates of transforming network regulation from Bell services to dumb bits will get a hearing from the FCC, as David Isenberg, author of the classic Rise of the Stupid Network, has joined the agency as an expert advisor.

(Picture taken in 2004 from Isenberg's Isen.com Web site.)

Isenberg will be part of the team that will deliver the National Broadband Plan to Congress in February. He wrote on his blog that, as a result of his agency assignment his annual conference on broadband reform, Freedom2Connect, will be postponed.

A bit of disclosure. I covered the 2006 Freedom2Connect conference in Washington for ZDNet.

In the Stupid Network essay, which he wrote while at AT&T in 1997, Isenberg argued that the most efficient network is controlled at the edge, with a design based on the idea of plenty rather than scarcity, and transport based on the needs of the data.

The idea, he wrote, was that the network did not need intelligence at the center, that it should just "deliver the bits, stupid." Hence the stupid network.

The problem is that while the stupid network is fine engineering, great for users and consumer equipment suppliers, it doesn't leave much for the telephone company to do but move bits. And Isenberg wrote at a time when the bit-moving market was highly competitive, with prices falling every few months.

Thus the phone companies have argued against the stupid network. They have sought to install gear within the parts of the Internet they control to guarantee Quality of Service, to distinguish between bits based on protocol or what the customer is paying to move them, and to stop bad bits before they arrive at a user's desk.

"Those are nice bits there, a shame if something happened to them." And the phone company is Santa Claus, deciding which bits are naughty and which are nice.

The problem with this is it slows the network, and creates a barrier to entry for innovation, which must win permission from the network operator in order to reach the market. It is also redundant if customer equipment can handle tasks previously done by the intelligent network.

The Internet, as it exists today, is essentially a stupid network.

Cellular networks, you will note, are completely different from stupid networks. Such networks are all centrally controlled, with the carrier defining different bits as separate services, controlling who can sell what, and taking a cut on every transaction.

Isenberg left AT&T in 1998 as "Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff" but has been better known as mud, Voldemort and Who's He at Bell offices ever since. (This is especially true for those who work as Bell lobbyists.)

Isenberg will just be one member of the agency's National Broadband Task Force, one voice out of many. The FCC is also taking public comment online and holding hearings.

But at least his voice will be heard.

Topic: Networking

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12 comments
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  • I think its all a waste of time to discuss......

    From what we have seen the Obama Administration is on board with it and they are power hungry and will do what they can. heck the FCC head has talked glowly about Venezuela's media and how it is structured so that may tell you something. So funny how everyone just ignores the crazy talk from these people. Hugo Chavez is a freakin dictator and all these people seem to love him, to me that is kind of freakin scary if you ask me. I understand the premise of the open internet, but also understand the complexity of making sure that certain protocols can work effectivly across a network and sometimes it requires priority to be achieved unless you have billions to upgrade a network, which will all be passed down to the consumer if that occured.
    OhTheHumanity
    • Power hungry? No.

      Or at least a lot less power hungry than Bush's
      Administration was.
      As to Chavez being a dictator..... no. He has
      been ELECTED by the PEOPLE OF HIS COUNTRY....
      if that is a dictator then BUSH was a dictator.

      I agree with you that in a VERY FEW CASES,
      things and protocols have to be prioritized.
      Mainly internet phone calls, http (regular old
      web surfing), and a few other things.

      However, the businesses right now wish to
      totally BAN anything that they cannot make
      money on by charging you a cost for sending it
      over 'their pipes'.
      Lerianis10
      • Dude.....

        You're smoking crack. You go straight to the talking points and bringing up Bush again. Move on fella. This is Obama's deal now so get over it. I know Chavez was elected but for someone to change the laws and remove desent(shutting down the media he doesn't like) is not what I call freedom. I know to you its alright to shut down the opposition so your actually just like the rest of them and talk like you are for freedom but only the so called freedom you think is freedom. Sorry Chavez is even shutting down the golf courses there because he doesn't like them or those that visit them. Also he is taking the assests of foreign companies so they can be nationalized. So you actually think the elections are legit, what a fool. He will be in power until he is dead so remember that, all with the help of him changing the law for him to be able to be elected over and over all while controlling the elections. Get educated man.

        I don't know about you but I think the one thing that makes America great is the idea of being able to discuss different things and options. So I would assume that those that like Chavez and Castro are not too keen on the idea of freedom of thought and ideas. Please go ask someone that has lived under these dictators and you may understand what I am saying. And also stop thinking you know things and go look up all the advisors and their speeches, papers and books. Its quite ugly and down right scarey stuff. Just do the research if you are about freedom but if you aren't you would be buddy buddy with these fools. I would never imagine shutting down ideas no matter how much a disagreed. I believe in let the best ideas prevail and yeah we just need big government from the right to the left gone for good. Its like a disease that just keeps eating away at our country and its future.
        OhTheHumanity
  • Leave my bits alone

    If I pay for unlimited service up to a certain speed that's what I expect to get. The fee I pay is supposed to cover the level of service I order. If a company is investing in a service I didn't buy, they neeed to get their return on investment from customers that purchase that service.
    I think the internet will work best if we just keep adding bandwidth and prosecute those who use it for vandalism, fraud and pedophilia. Allowing companies to filter traffic on services that don't ask for filtering just gives them something to charge for that a consumer may mot have asked for.
    mcsystemsgb
    • Ever been in a traffic jam?

      Posted speed limit is 65 mph and you are rolling along at 5 mph during rush hour, demand your speed but who wants 50 lane highways, let alone the cost of building and maintaining them. The same is true for the Internet, there is only so much bandwidth, especially during peak hours, unless of course you wan't to invest in a 56k modem for fast speed during peak hours.
      relwolf
      • Bottlenecks

        Most bottlenecks are in the last mile, not the core. The last mile is a duopoly, because the last Administration decided the 1996 Telecommunications Act should be interpreted as meaning the opposite of what it said. Thus, no re-sale of last mile capacity, no wholesaling. You get cable or you get phone, and your wireless is probably owned by one or the other.

        That's a policy we can change if we want to.
        DanaBlankenhorn
        • Yeah, but the problem is that even Obama's government

          Does not want to change that policy as far as I
          have seen.
          Lerianis10
    • Leave your bias alone

      How are you going to control pedophilia within the core unless you have intelligence in the network, intelligence that can tell what bits are up to?

      You can't.

      Enforcement needs to be at the edge of the network. We are doing a good job of that. We can do better with more resources.

      We don't need to screw up the core just for the convenience of law enforcement. Any more than we need to do it for the convenience of carriers.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • Pedosexuality will one day be legal

      The scales are tilting more and more to that
      point as more and more people like myself have
      had sexual encounters with adults as children
      that they liked.

      The fact is that the 'evils' of pedosexuality
      have been created by the illegalization of
      pedosexuality, just as the 'evils' of
      homosexuality (i.e. Ted Bundy) were created by
      that.
      Lerianis10
  • The slow pace of progress?

    Question - is this still relevant to where we are today? I think the answer would still be "yes" since:
    1) The traditional last mile infrastructure is still supporting mostly: voice.
    2) The carriers have subsidized the Internet backbone (all that web decentralization still runs on physical infrastructure that is owned by the carriers -okay they got gov support on it but still it's not like a non-carrier entity is building any alternative physical (wln or wls) way to transmit data).

    But agreeably, it's more than about voice/data - it's about control and maximizing investments (from the carrier's frame of reference).

    In as much of an open free market as we have - isn't the end in sight? Apparently there would still need to be some intelligence in the network to just deliver the bits even in a "stupid" way. And nothing's stopping carriers from being innovators.

    The question for our government is what is the ROI on our GDP for gating competition compared to not gating it? And of course how do you get the carrier's contained?
    Wukong
    • Carriers

      Carriers promised to upgrade, took state and federal subsidies for upgrades, then didn't upgrade. It wasn't in their interest. They had no competition. They still don't.

      The way to make carriers invest is to create a competitive market. That is what we have in the core. We need one at the edge.

      We can have one if we want it. But government policy will have to change back to what it was when the 1996 Act was passed.

      Instead of "you absolutely control your lines," it can be "you have to allow wholesaling." Believe it or not the carriers will actually earn more under that scenario. They did earn more in the 1990s than they do today.

      Competition is the answer.
      DanaBlankenhorn
      • Wholesaling will never be allowed

        As long as the people in Congress are beholden
        to their corporate masters who tell them "WE
        DON'T WANT COMPETITION! WE WANT LEGALIZED
        MONOPOLIES!"

        That's the bottom line here: we will have to
        TOTALLY ban people from 'lobbying' our
        lawmakers unless they are private and public,
        non-profit organizations who state exactly
        where they get their money from.

        If they have ANY connections with big business
        (unless it's just that someone in big business
        gave them an 'endowment' or gift), they are
        banned from lobbying.
        Lerianis10