Net neutrality extremists should stop playing engineers

Net neutrality extremists should stop playing engineers

Summary: This is a lively debate over Net neutrality where Net neutrality extremists prove that they don't have a clue about QoS traffic engineering and don't even understand the very proposal they're supporting. A quick lesson on traffic engineering fundamentals is included.

TOPICS: Networking

Our own VoIP blogger Russell Shaw has decided to rebut my position on Net neutrality.  Here is my response to Russell.

Russell Shaw says:
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.

Russell, of course you don't think this is a good idea when you have no understanding of traffic engineering.  One of the comments made to me in my blog was that instead of implementing QoS, a Telco should simply add bandwidth to solve the problem.  The knee jerk reaction to this would be "this sounds great" but the problem with this line of thought is that you can add 10 times more bandwidth and you'll still need QoS.

This is because network applications don't behave in a smooth and consistent way and they tend to burst.  It's precisely those bursts that you have to worry about even on a perfectly sufficient pipe that's more than enough to carry all traffic.  So say for example you have a web applications and it bursts really quickly, that's enough to ruin a VoIP call.  Now if you prioritize that Voice packet, all it does is rearrange the Voice packets in a more predictable manner Prioritizing a tiny Voice packet makes someone's call perfectly smooth and clear, but it doesn't actually slow anyone else down at any noticeable levels.

In fact, even congressman Markey's proposal doesn't completely outlaw QoS, what he wants to do is say if you implement QoS for one person then you have to implement it for everyone which ensures that QoS is NEVER implemented because no one will ever offer a free service.  The problem Russell is that you and the cause is so utterly and hopelessly confused about the subject that you don't even understand the amendment you're supporting.  All you know is that if it sticks it to the Telcos, it must be a good thing.  Otherwise you would have not made the comment "I don't think the designation of priority packets should be permitted".  You say you're for Markey yet you don't even realize that Markey permits prioritization of packets.  If we put people like you in charge of the Internet or any net, you're going to stand there and tell a router engineer to turn off a critical aspect of traffic engineering and that REALLY scares me Russell.  With all due respect and speaking as a former network engineer, you and the other Net neutrality extremists are NOT network traffic engineers and you should stop trying to play one because it is foolish and dangerous.

I'll say this loud and clear; QoS is a reordering of packets that is an essential part of network traffic engineering.  Take the following example where A represents VoIP packets and b represents webpage packets.

No enhanced QoS policy

With enhanced QoS policy

Now note that there are only 5 A packets in the entire stream for either scenario and you still get the exact same throughput for the b packets with or without prioritization for the VoIP A packets.  The difference is that the A packets are now a lot more uniform which makes sound quality go up and the webpage b packets don't really care about uniformity since all they care is that they get there at all intact.  With this QoS example, you can improve VoIP without affecting the average throughput of web surfing.  More precisely, QoS has ZERO throughput effect on non-prioritized when there is zero congestion on the pipe.  If it had been a congested network, then QoS will have minimal effect on non-prioritized traffic.  In either case, QoS is critical and it was invented for a good reason.  QoS is not some evil conspiracy as you seem to be making it out to be.  Your clever designation of "most favored packets" doesn't make a dent on anyone else, but your assault on QoS sure made a dent on a critical aspect of traffic engineering.  I didn't mean to go in to a basic lesson on traffic engineering, but I don't think you can have a valuable discussion on the Markey amendment to Net neutrality without it.  [Update: This is just a simplified representation, there are usually way more b type packets which are 7 to 20 times larger than the A type packets to begin with so it's not like VoIP is hogging any bandwidth.]

Russell Shaw says:
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.

Again Russell, you better think about that in light of the lesson on traffic engineering.  Remember that QoS is not about lowering non-priority traffic speeds at all.  But when you make a statement such as "I don't think there should be surcharges for different speeds", can you hear yourself talking there? Are you suggesting that 6 mbps DSL should cost the same as 1.5 mbps DSL? Hey that's a "surcharge on different speeds" right? Since that's the case, what kind of idiot in the world would ask for 1.5 mbps DSL service if 6 mbps DSL service costs the same because some bonehead congressman thought that would be a good idea? Furthermore, which boneheaded ISP would actually offer 6 mbps DSL service if there can't be a "surcharge for different speeds"? What do you think the end results would be Russell? Think about that for a moment and then answer me if you still think "no surcharges for different speeds" is such a good idea.

Oh and by the way Russell, while you're worried about the nonexistent bandwidth hogging of QoS, you do know that the guy down the street downloading adult content videos even without QoS is putting about 100 times the traffic load as a priority VoIP user right? Furthermore, the number one killer of DSL or Cable performance is oversubscription.  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.  This is precisely why I would love to be able to force all ISPs to disclose their precise oversubscription metrics and other important information.  That alone would do 100 times more than the Markey amendment can ever dream of.

Russell Shaw says:
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.

Once again, you're not understanding what I'm saying or trying to do.  I'm proposing exactly what the true spirit of Net neutrality should be.  Instead of having the ISP adding infrastructure to only suit their highest paying customers, I would mandate at least half of that new infrastructure is designated to general purpose "best effort" class Internet to benefit everyone.  If you're suggesting that any new infrastructure should be completely given to the general purpose Internet, then you are naive because you're never going to get any new infrastructure without some financial incentives for the people investing in the new infrastructure.

Russell Shaw says:
So I am guessing that George and I have a reasonable disagreement driven as much by political philosophy as anything else.

No Russell, I cannot agree that this is a reasonable disagreement.  A reasonable disagreement requires that both parties understands the issues at hand but somehow come to different conclusions.  You and the other Markey-brand Net neutrality backers like don't even understand what you're supporting and you have proven this to me in your writings and you have no idea of how networking works.  Now there's nothing wrong with an ignorance of network traffic engineering, it's only wrong and dangerous when you and congress try to play the role of a network engineer.

Topic: Networking

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  • You know who invested in this?

    "If you're suggesting that any new infrastructure should be completely given to the general purpose Internet, then you are naive because you're never going to get any new infrastructure without some financial incentives for the people investing in the new infrastructure."

    Oh, you mean like... the taxpayers? Didn't we "invest" billions of dollars to upgrade 85% of the homes in the United States to fiber connections by 2006? I'm all about fairness... if the telcos had paid out of pocket for the networks they now want to impose speed tolls on, then I'd say "go for it!" However, they asked for subsidies and tax breaks, funded by the american people, to support an upgrade of those systems to allow for a larger overall data pipe. They've yet to fulfill their promise, incidentally.

    Am I against prioritizing traffic to make the network more efficient for everyone? Not at all. I can't see letting them offer preferential treatment for a fee, though, when part of the problem stems from their failure to do as promised with MY money.
    • Shy on facts

      You're giving a good emotional argument, but the problem is that it's shy on facts. No, the Internet is not funded by Tax dollars. This is ALL about Telcos and the portions of infrastructure they paid for. What I'm saying is that even if they pay a $100,000,000 for an upgrade, the general purpose Internet should have half of that new infrastructure and the Telco should be able to use the other half for premium services.
      • Oh really?

        You're missing the point. They did not pay for the networks themselves... they were PAID to expand those networks. I am, of course, referring to:

        I'd say that those are tax dollars being used, if the story is at all accurate. Stating my disgust with the situation may be emotional, but the use of taxes to fund the networks that make up the internet is factual.

        If as you say, no taxes (or government funds, if you prefer) were used to create those networks, then the telcos have every right to do as they please with them. If, however, they accepted government funds to improve upon those networks, they have an obligation to a) meet the terms of the agreement and b) comply with any restrictions they may encounter from using public funds. There is no middle ground... either they own the networks and should be able to dictate what happens to them, or they do not entirely own them and must thus bend to the will of their investors.

        It looks to me like we've invested tax money in those networks.
        • OK, let's play along

          Let's assume that you're right and the government has paid for all the networks in the world. The question still remains - sweeping aside all the emotion - how do we manage them? Do we prioritize traffic from applications that operate in real-time over those that don't, and do we charge real-time users a reasonable fee for this service?

          You see, stupid network management practices are no more justified on a public network than on a private one. I'm not permitted to drive a tractor going 5 mph down a city freeway at rush hour, and that's a good law.
          • The US postal service charges for priority delivery too

            Even if the Government owns the Internet (which they don't), it would be crazy to suggest that the Government should offer primium service and higher throughput without a surcharge.
  • Involving the general public in First Amendment issues

    Net Neutrality is not strictly a network engineer issue; it is a First Amendment free-speech issue. I'm sorry if we aren't all network engineers. Even if their dinosaur brains haven't realized it yet. physical newspapers, the US Postal Service, and analog communication networks are dead. The new way to hold public discourse is through computer networks. As long as public access to those networks is available through an open and working marketplace, I expect competition to allow for the free flow of information. Unfortunately, the 'breakup' of the Bell system doesn't appear to have produced the competitive marketplace this country expected. Realizing that your readers know you have a history of supporting monopolies, please explain to us how we protect free speech while the old media dies and the new media consolidates.

    PS: Yes, you grew up fighting your way through forums. However, you're supposed to be a 'journalist' these days and there are more civil ways to disagree with your colleagues.
    • Free speech? Who's talking about shutting down free speech.

      No one is blocking anyone's free speech here. You're free to talk all you like, but what does the rearranging of packets to make a chaotic network a little less chaotic and your website or email packets get there just the same? If I'm hearing you correctly, you view the science of traffic engineering which doesn't prevent or degrade the viewing any website as an assault on the First Amendment? I'm sorry, but words cannot describe my amazement.
      • Free speech IS the issue. I didn't say SQUAT about packets.

        Stop being so dense.
        • Tell me, who's blocking your free speech?

          Tell me, who's blocking your free speech?
          • I gave you a rationale in my first post but you jump all over cyberspace

            If mainland China purchased transportation to put an armored
            division outside of the legislature on Taiwan, would you council
            waiting until they opened fire at least once before Taiwan
            considered regulating their activities? Admittedly, the example is
            extreme. I plead high density on the part of my intended audience
            and the difficulty of transmitting information to people living in the
            State of Denial.
          • What rationale?

            From Markey amendment to China, I think you've lost just about everyone. This is the craziest post I've ever seen.
    • An editorial that treats the politics of the issue

      From the Washington Post, of course:
    • The first five words of the First Amendment are...

      ..."Congress shall make no law". It means that speech is not to be decided by government.

      Free speech, as written in the Constitution, does not require anyone else to provide you a platform. It means that government can't get in the way. It is not an entitlement to someone else's resources.

      Neutrality legislation is an affront to free speech. It attempts to control private bits on private networks.

      What you are asking for is government-mandated "fair speech". Sorry, "fair" and "free" are mutually exclusive.

      More here:
      • It's short, so we can quote the whole thing:

        [i]Amendment I - Freedom of Religion, Press, Expression. Ratified 12/15/1791. Note

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[/i]

        Now, exercise your mind a little more than partially quoting things. Looking at the consolidation happening in media and telecommunications today it is not difficult to see large areas of the country with [b]a single[/b] high speed Internet provider carrying news, commentary, and even most personal communications. Such a provider would have the motive, means, and opportunity to control the flow of information protected from the Government as free speech. It's OK to give a single private entity that power because they aren't the Government? I don't think so.

        PS: Don't confuse me with all the other people you have put on your enemies list and accused of thinking alike. I don't think technical language belongs in any Congressional bill.
        • Enemies list? Here are some facts instead

          Sounds like you may be projecting a bit. I don't approach this as enemies. Perhaps you do.

          Here is an editorial from today's Washington Post, stating that 60% of Zip codes have 4 or more broadband providers:

          Neutrality does not increase competition, I imagine you would agree with that. It can claim to prevent abuse in non-competitive situations. That is a valid point, though I don't think it's a good solution.

          An absence of communications resources is not a violation of the First Amendment. Monopolies are increasingly rare, so if that is the problem, let's address it with incentives for new buildout. The trends are generally moving in the right direction.

          We can hate the telcos all we want but that doesn't move bits across the wire. We can approach it like we do public utilities -- but then we will end up with, well, a public utility. That means a future of scarcity (rolling blackouts), bad service, and yes, monopoly.

          The best salve for a monopoly situation is to let new entrants make money. If we clamp down on the market, we may think we are protecting consumers. History shows that this primarily protects incumbents.
          • Thanks for getting back to the question I asked in my first post...

            I like the idea of increased competition but how do you really get that when the product is high speed telecommunication for 'the last mile' to the consumer. Fiber optic ain't cheep and there aren't that many people laying out to homeowners. If you look at the thread above, I quoted that Washington Post article myself. I'm just suspecious about how four high speed providers in a zip code translates into the number of homes that actually have an option.
        • And that shows how ignorant you really are

          [i]I don't think technical language belongs in any Congressional bill.[/i]
          One of the reason the legal system is so screwed up with regard to technical issues is because not enough thought was given to the technical workings that are required to make something work.

          Intellectual Property comes to mind.

          You just showed how ignorant you really are with that statement. I bet the lawyers love you, they can cost the tax payers all kinds of money arguing over what should and can be done with no clue about what makes things work.

          What an idiot.

  • Re: Net neutrality extremists should stop playing engineers

    [i]In fact, even congressman Markey's proposal doesn't completely outlaw QoS, what he wants to do is say if you implement QoS for one person then you have to implement it for everyone which ensures that QoS is NEVER implemented because no one will ever offer a free service. [/i]

    QoS as a paid service? It's a router configuration and nothing more. In a competitive market an ISP could implement QoS for VoIP, for example, [u]at no cost[/u] and differentiate itself from the others.

    none none
    • reprise

      Your illustration with the A and b packets was illuminating. Thanks for that. However, if my business was network engineering then QoS would be considered a best practice.

      As you said, the Markey amendment would sensibly allow QoS but I disagree that no one would use it unless they could charge extra for it.

      Charge extra for best practice? Less than best network engineering for a lower charge?

      If that's what you think will happen then you have a bigger bone to pick with the telco engineers than you have with ZDNet non-engineer posters and bloggers.

      none none
      • Of course you have to permit ISPs to charge for it

        "Charge extra for best practice? Less than best network engineering for a lower charge?"

        Yes it's best practice but it can only be done on a small percentage of traffic. If you said "no one can charge for it", then everyone will obviously want it. But if no one can charge, why bother offering it? It takes a lot more work and skill to implement and maintain QoS.