Saving Internet freedom - for users - from telcos

Saving Internet freedom - for users - from telcos

Summary: Mighty Google is worried about getting the shaft from telcos. Shouldn't you be too?

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Mighty Google is worried about getting the shaft from telcos. Shouldn't you be too?

Larry Downes imagines the worst Larry Downes' arguments against net neutrality are button-pushing propaganda designed to inflame, not illuminate. I expect better from a University of Chicago trained lawyer.

In response I'm going to look at the text of a net neutrality proposal and then at Mr. Downes' mostly irrelevant points.

What is being proposed? Let's start with Congressman Markey's proposed Network Neutrality Act and decide for yourself. The PDF is only 11 pages, while the dread regulations are barely 4 pages.

Here are the core "regulations" Mr. Downs is so afraid of. From the bill, Internet providers may

not block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to utilize their broadband service

for lawful content, applications and services. I expect no less.

Furthermore, service providers are required to

clearly and conspicuously disclose to users, in plain language, accurate information about the speed, nature, and limitations of their broadband service

Truth-in-advertising? Telco marketing will never adapt!

How about this requirement?

offer, upon reasonable request to any person, a broadband service for use by such person to offer or access unaffiliated content, applications, and services

Requiring telcos to take new customers? Tricksy Mr. Markey.

Here's what gets the telcos mad The bill requires that a telco

not discriminate in favor of itself in the allocation, use, or quality of broadband services or interconnection with other broadband networks

Isn't that a Communist common-carrier requirement? Gee, why own a big network if you can't screw your competitors? No wonder the telcos are miffed.

This gets them madder Broadband service providers will be required to:

offer a service such that content, applications, or service providers can offer unaffiliated content, applications, or services in a manner that is at least equal to the speed and quality of service that the operator's content, applications, or service is accessed and offered, and without interference or surcharges on the basis of such content, applications, or services

Hm-m? Requiring equal treatment of unaffiliated content? Just like telegraph companies had to 160 years ago? Medieval.

Now telcos see red Here's the heart of the matter. The law would require that

if the broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or quality of service

[emphasis added]

The heart of the matter The telco can charge for more, time, speed or bandwidth, but they can't charge more for preferential treatment of packets. This is what being a common carrier means.

The Downes critique, fearlessly knocking down straw men Larry's article is mostly smoke, irrelevant to the question of net neutrality:

  • Railroad asset accounting has nothing to do with treating packets equally
  • Airlines wanted the CAB's regulation and fought to preserve it to avoid competition
  • SOX addresses another financial accounting problem

There are many examples of regulation that works: the drugs we take; the airlines we fly; the building codes that make our homes, offices, schools and factories safer.

Network designers demand non-neutrality? Mr. Downes then concludes that net neutrality would stymie web engineers efforts to optimize Web traffic.

He might be referring to Bob Briscoe's IETF problem statement We Don't Have To Do Fairness Ourselves which discusses the unfair use of TCP, a protocol designed to be fair. Briscoe says the IETF needs to:

. . . focus on giving principled and enforceable control to users and operators, so they can agree between themselves which fair use policy they want locally.

This is very different than giving the telcos a blank check to impose anything on a captive audience of Internet users. All our history with monopolies and duopolies tells us that without basic ground rules the telcos will ream the users.

The deep end Then Mr. Downes goes off the deep end, positing that a complaint would force the FCC to open every affected packet on the network to determine if a telco were violating the law. This is silly.

It would be far easier to monitor a sample of disputed traffic as it is injected and measure its performance across the network. But how likely is a complaint if the telcos are prohibited from discriminatory treatment? Why would they develop the ability?

What is much more likely is that a telco whose unpopular policies have alienated the public would want government protection. Politicians would provide protection - for a price - such as ready access to the databases that store your surfing habits.

The Storage Bits take Ultimately, net neutrality is a choice between private exploitation of network users by opaque, profit-driven companies or publicly debated ground rules that set minimum standards. The telcos and their claques whine about how hard all this is, but I'm confident the engineers can solve the problems.

Mr. Downes - like George Ou - doesn't address the issue of fairness between users and providers. If Google is worried about getting reamed by telcos, why aren't you?

Update: For the latest bit of anti-competitive telco behavior - really, how many do we need? - check out this BusinessWeek article on how the Verizon and ATT are giving their services preferential treatment that the Markey bill would outlaw for the Internet.

Update 2: George Ou commented that

So basically this is a ban on charges for QoS which means QoS must now be a bundled service. It's ironic an hypocritical that the same people who are against bundling is now forcing us to bundle QoS.

Markey's bill doesn't ban QoS - just charging for QoS - which means that if it makes the network more efficient the telcos will have an economic incentive to do it, rather than an anti-competitive reason. That is good for all of us.

Update 3: Added a link to George Ou's article on net neutrality.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Browser, Broadband, Networking, Telcos

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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16 comments
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  • Your characterization is just plain wrong, you left out the QoS ban

    "Here are the core ?regulations? Mr. Downs (you're lumping me here too) is so afraid of. From the bill, Internet providers may

    not block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to utilize their broadband service"

    This is a ludicrous characterization. These provisions were aready in the Telecom bill WITHOUT the Markey amendment and the FCC is clear that this is the standard they aready go by based on what previous chairman Powell has stated. In fact the Telecom bill already had $500K fines for any infractions against these principles.

    The parts of the Markey and Snowe-Dorgan amendments that are offensive which you so conveniently leave out is this:

    SECTION 201. NETWORK NEUTRALITY.
    (b) IN GENERAL.?Each broadband network provider has the duty?

    (3) if the provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, to prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service;

    So basically this is a ban on charges for QoS which means QoS must now be a bundled service. It's ironic an hypocritical that the same people who are against bundling is now forcing us to bundle QoS.

    Furthermore, the language that bans the examination of source IP makes it impossible to enforce any kind of QoS quotas which makes it an honor system and that effectively bans QoS technology. If anyone can just label 100% of their packets top priority and you're not allowed to see who sent the priority packets, you might as well not have any kind of priority.
    georgeou
    • typo fix

      This is a ludicrous characterization. These provisions were already in the Telecom bill WITHOUT the Markey amendment and the FCC is clear that this is the standard they already go by based on what previous chairman Powell has stated. In fact the Telecom bill already had $500K fines for any infractions against these principles.
      georgeou
    • "must be a bundled service"? I don't think so.

      Application engineers can figure out how to provide a high quality service in spite
      of congestion, dropped frames and such. That was the original idea behind packet
      switching.

      Furthermore George, your argument against network neutrality is that it is too hard
      for the network guys and that it will lead to metered service pricing, neither of
      which is a given. Tell me why you trust the telcos to take good care of us users
      when they NEVER have before?

      Robin
      Robin Harris
      • A little thing called competition

        Telcos have to compete with cable broadband providers. Competition is the best regulator. Government regulation never works. We pay way to much for our phones due to government regulation, taxes and fees all meant to protect us from those big bad telcos. You quote the drug and airline industries as examples of where regulation works. Anyone that has a prescription or flies knows that is a lot of bull! One final point, what does this have to do with storage anyway?
        ShadeTree
        • One big flaw in your argument

          Cable broadband providers are just as guilty as telcos. And the level of competition isn't as good as how your paint it to be. In many places there is still only one provider available in that region. Where's the competition there?

          Also, competition doesn't guarantee any sort of regulation. You need only look towards Verizon Wireless and Comcast's shenanigans as proof(Both are available in my area, and I've experienced Comcast's illegal behavior firsthand). In the absence of punishment(regulation) for misbehavior, there's permission. This is a situation where regulation is needed.
          Tony Agudo
      • How about a response to why you're using a strawman argument?

        How about a response to why you're using a straw man argument? If you're going to mention my name and take a potshot at my position, you should at least link (http://blogs.zdnet.com/Ou/?p=512) to the position if you're not going to characterize it correctly.

        FYI, the Internet is NOT a packet switched network. A packet switched network guarantees quality of service by limiting the number of people that can connect at the same time. If all circuits are busy and you need to call 911, you're SOL. It?s just plain silly that you would bring up a packet switched network in a discussion about the Internet.

        The Internet doesn't work that way; it allows anyone (including spammers and DoS attackers) to connect anytime and as often as they like. Anyone can saturate close to 100% of the resources using BitTorrent or peer-to-peer. The only way to deal with this is "enhanced QoS" which the Markey and Snowe/Dorgan proponents pretend to say they don't want to ban outright, but the law makes it impossible to implement because you can't charge for it or enforce quotas since you can't look at the source of the traffic.
        georgeou
        • Correction, I read circuit switched network when you wrote packet switched

          "Application engineers can figure out how to provide a high quality service in spite of congestion, dropped frames and such. That was the original idea behind packet switching."

          Correction, I thought I read you writing circuit switched network and I flipped the meaning (getting dyslectic). Anyways, a packet switched network by itself doesn't provide "high quality service", it provides a flexible network that lets data sessions burst while other sessions are idle or if it's aggressive enough, at the expense of other sessions. That's precisely what something like BitTorrent does, it has the ability to hog the entire pipe. It's also possible for an FTP or HTTP session (or sessions) to hog the entire connection. This is why very smart network engineers developed QoS mechanisms so that latency sensitive applications that aren't necessarily bandwidth intensive can get a fair shake. Any packet switched network that wants to guarantee quality of service for VoIP must implement QoS. Markey and Snowe/Dorgan don't explicitly ban QoS, but they ban the enforcement mechanism (can't look at source of traffic) and it bans the ability to charge money for QoS which effectively bans QoS.

          A circuit switched network guarantees quality of service by limiting the number of people that can connect at the same time so it doesn't need prioritization mechanisms. Each session has very limited throughput but it monopolizes that circuit so that it doesn't need to worry about contention. If all circuits are busy and you need to call 911, you're SOL.
          georgeou
        • Some sort of discrimination is needed because

          different traffic has different value. Once voice and data is converged, you then have to have a way to prioritize traffic such that the 911 VoIP call gets resources at the expense of the guy downloading porn.

          The cellco's have this problem with special events (Super Bowl,etc). Since there is a fixed price (most of unlimited nights/weekends), the network gets overwhelmed with people calling to say "look I'm on Tv". Since the cost is low, nobody thinks twice before making a call. If there were variable pricing, then the demand for network resources could be tapered.
          otaddy
          • Vut

            Does the 911 call get priority over the teenage girl chatting with her friend. A 911 call won't ever be routed over a $9.99 a month cable line unless the person doing it is just to cheap to pay for a $9.99 a month phone service. In that case they deserve to have a droped call for paying for a luxury offered for free at most librarys and some airports but not a utility.

            The existing phone lines will converge with the internet in a manner where this will not be an issue. The choke point in internet usage is the line going from the telcos server to your home. Not the internet itself.

            If you pay the same price for the internet, you get the same service for the internet. As much as you may dislike it, the telcos shouldn't be able to say my email is more important than your porn or any such thing. And the ability to do so, would only lead to more aggressive attempts at curtailing competition.

            Netflix is a legal bisness that I'm sure comcast would love to see disappear. Streaming a video also consumes some bandwidth. If they put a limit on it or charged more for it, they could reduce prices increase income and remove the competition in one foul swoop.

            The possibilities are endless...

            The answer needs to stay no to it all
            usmcdvldg@...
        • I have a Question

          I think is obvious the law was written in such a manner as to negate loopholes. You do bring up a point though. My only question is, why do they need to treat packets differently to Enhance my service. The line running to my house is by no means as fast as the rest of the network. A cable internet connection shares its bandwidth with a large amount of people. Commercial bottom rung DSl attempts to Promise you a speed but rarely does. People should be able to pay for better service. Thats the American way.

          But shouldn't that service come from a fast, more dedicated line. Not by packet prioritizing. Your faster service shouldn't degrade mine.


          Why is there this belief that the Telcos shitty networks are being slowed down due to unfair usage. There slow because there shitty. If your willing to shell out 200-500 dollars a month on your dsl you can get awesome internet.

          It obvious that the net neutrality proponents are using language designed to reduce the chance of loopholes and technicalities. With good reason. And I think this is an excellent example of a job well done.
          usmcdvldg@...
  • Agreed Robin

    Robin you have valid points here that others seem to be clouding over.

    Technical limitations... Maybe so - but here is the incentive to do it think outside the box - or get shut down.

    Government regulation never works... sure it does, otherwise the telcos would not be so miffed about it and spends billions in lobbying to "fix" the statutes.

    Competition saves all... HA I had a phone on the wall for $12 a month and calling CA and France was an extravagence so I did not call. Now I have a phone on the wall that costs $40 a month and I can call France and CA for pennies... Too bad I don't call there. And I have to protect my numbers now from telemarketers to boot.

    What does this have to do with Storage... I don't know about you - but I see lots of data riding on WANS to centralized locations - with DR or offsite recovery processes. If the telcos want to hang more cost on this load due to its flow rates and schedules (worldwide impacts this a bit) - then this is important to consider in planning. My company spends a bit in lobbying too.
    Jim888
  • Protect real freedoms, not imaginary ones

    The Markey amendment has nothing to do with reality. Every time a packet is placed in a network device queue behind some other packet the network operator violates the injunction not to "block, impair, degrade, discriminate against, or interfere with the ability of any person to utilize their broadband service for lawful content, applications and services." The mere fact that the packet has to sit in a queue is a degradation in time, and it's impossible to operate a packet network without queuing.

    People write such inane things on this subject.
    richardbennett
    • Baloney!

      You fail to note the difference between the network operator and the network. If the
      network "operator" is discriminating, that is a problem and would be illegal. You are
      misconstruing the legislative intent.

      We have ample evidence that network operators love to favor themselves and hurt
      their competitors at the expense of users.

      Techies can be so-o obtuse.
      R Harris
      • Some specific examples please?

        How are they favoring themselves?

        I havent seen any evidence of this but perhaps I am wrong. I think the core problem is that the govt created a telco monopoly in the first place.
        otaddy
        • Check out cell phone providers

          The latest is Verizon and ATT wireless restricting access to the short numbers for
          services they don't provide. Paypal complained about that one and got some relief,
          but only after the vendor supplied service had many months head start.

          Or T-mobile blocking Twitter.

          Capital intensive industries like telecom tend to have few suppliers no matter what
          the government does. Economies of scale drive consolidation. The few large players
          have significant market power + large lobbying budgets. Thus the need for ground
          rules to ensure a level playing field.

          Robin
          R Harris
    • Wait a sec

      I might not fully understand what your saying, so correct me if I'm wrong but...

      A first come first serve Queue isn't discriminatory at all. All packets CAN'T be sent at once. They SHOULD all be treated the same. First come first serve. There not intentionally blocking or impairing anything. Its allowing a network with limited bandwidth to function with an extend user base.
      usmcdvldg@...