The governmental-communications complex: net neutrality now!

The governmental-communications complex: net neutrality now!

Summary: This isn't about technologyGeorge Ou ought to be in marketing: his impassioned apology for Comcast's intrusive "network management" (see A rational debate on Comcast traffic management) almost makes sense.By dragging the discussion down into the details of cable's technical inadequacies he glosses over the important issues.

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This isn't about technology George Ou ought to be in marketing: his impassioned apology for Comcast's intrusive "network management" (see A rational debate on Comcast traffic management) almost makes sense.

By dragging the discussion down into the details of cable's technical inadequacies he glosses over the important issues. The #1 issue is that if private telecommunications carriers are allowed to pick and choose what packets they carry then we have handed the government a blank check to censor and monitor private communications.

Common carriage is settled law In 1845 - over 160 years ago - New York telegraph companies were legally required to provide impartial service on a first-come, first serve basis.

It shall be the duty of the owner or the association owning any telegraph line, doing business within this state, to receive dispatches from and for other telegraph lines and associations, and from and for any individual, and on payment of their usual charges for individuals for transmitting dispatches, as established by the rules and regulations of such telegraph line, to transmit the same with impartiality and good faith, under penalty of one hundred dollars for every neglect or refusal to do so...

[emphasis added].

The data rates are much higher today and the technology more complex, but the issues are the same as they were 160 years ago. If we let our common carriers pick and choose whose packets they carry we cede control of our national communications to unelected and unaccountable corporations. Corporations regulated by the executive branch of the federal government.

The governmental-communications complex 50 years ago the US was a manufacturing economy. Today, we are an information and services economy. Control our information and you control us. Which is exactly what is at stake today.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican and WWII's Allied commander in the European theater, warned the country about the dangers of the military industrial complex in his thoughtful farewell address. No stranger to the use of power, Eisenhower recognized its potential for abuse, especially in new circumstances.

His words are worth pondering today.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

[emphasis added] I recommend watching the video.

These words are just as applicable to the entanglement of government and telecommunications companies in the information economy. Regulated by the executive branch, telco markets and profits are hostage to decisions made by political appointees.

Case in point In the wake of 9/11 the government requested massive communications monitoring without legal authorization, which would have been easy to get. Only one telco, Qwest, refused after requesting, and not receiving, legal justification. That telco's then-CEO, Joe Nacchio, is fighting to stay our of prison after conviction on insider-trading charges, claiming on appeal that government retaliation led to less-than-expected results.

Whether you buy Nacchio's story or not it points up the danger to American liberty. A powerful executive branch, dependent telcos and a Congress - Ebay on the Potomac - running on "campaign contributions" from cosseted industries, and American liberty is on the trash heap of history.

What to do Only an "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" can turn this mess around. Specifically:

  • End the FCC's bogus distinction between "basic" and "enhanced" services that enable excessive government influence over telco business models and create the gusher of "campaign contributions"
  • Re-assert the 160 year old principle - itself based on much older common law and broad experience - of telecommunications common carriage
  • Don't buy techie excuses for poor business practices (under provisioning bandwidth) or anti-competitive behavior. This fight isn't about technology. It is about power and profit.

Keep your hands out of our packets! The telcos have every right to charge different rates for different bandwidth. If they sell it, they should provide it. Stop whining about the investment. Figure it out! Network service over cable systems is really hard? Cry me a river!

Once a packet is on the network it should be treated the same as every other packet. The current concerns about streaming video requiring special treatment are purely temporary. Asking the network to solve that problem is wrong anyway.

The Storage Bits take There is nothing new in the net-neutrality debate. You've got the same greedy, underperforming telcos, the same greedy, power-grubbing politicians, the same, ill-informed apologists and the same over-arching public policy principle: our communications infrastructure should carry our information impartially.

That's all there is. The rest is bluff and bluster.

Comments welcome, of course!

Topics: Telcos, Government, Government US

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19 comments
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  • Finally!!

    Somebody makes a decent case that makes sense in the way the bulk of the population thinks of net neutrality. No wallowing in discussions of QOS or network architecture.
    slopoke
  • They don't "pick and choose", they shut down abusive traffic

    "By dragging the discussion down into the details of cable???s technical inadequacies he glosses over the important issues. The #1 issue is that if private telecommunications carriers are allowed to pick and choose what packets they carry then we have handed the government a blank check to censor and monitor private communications."

    They don't "pick and choose", they shut down abusive traffic that harms the entire network. There's nothing illegal about that and I would actually be angree if Comcast didn't manage their network.
    georgeou
    • Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2

      Horses sweat, men perspire, and women glow.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Shut down abusive traffic=forged resets

      Interesting interpretation George.

      Perhaps there were '[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality_in_the_US#Technical_complications]technical difficulties[/url]' but Comcast has admitted to delaying traffic by 'content or service type' in this case BitTorrent, which is not network-neutral. How ultimately telecommunication companies deal with addressing contention issues is separate and apart from maintaining a 'hands off' pass-through of all TCP/IP traffic.

      [url=http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gxRiQSVfgK4sLbVRE_X4MOlM9q0A]AP confirmed that Comcast intentially inserted forged reset packets (forged because the packets don't originate from the BitTorrent seeders, but rather from Comcast)!

      I don't understand why you aren't grasping this, given your steep ed technical background.

      Thanks George and Thanks Robin for the great GREAT blog!
      D T Schmitz
    • Shut down abusive traffic=forged resets

      Interesting interpretation George.

      Perhaps there were '[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_neutrality_in_the_US#Technical_complications]technical difficulties[/url]' but Comcast has admitted to delaying traffic by 'content or service type' in this case BitTorrent, which is not network-neutral. How ultimately telecommunication companies deal with addressing contention issues is separate and apart from maintaining a 'hands off' pass-through of all TCP/IP traffic.

      [url=http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gxRiQSVfgK4sLbVRE_X4MOlM9q0A]AP confirmed[/url] that Comcast intentially inserted forged reset packets (forged because the packets don't originate from the BitTorrent seeders, but rather from Comcast)!

      I don't understand why you aren't grasping this, given your steep ed technical background.

      Thanks George and Thanks Robin for the great GREAT blog!
      D T Schmitz
      • P.S. Backing up the AP assertion: The Bible

        [url=http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jxcpw_vAD9eQOlb8EJcrue_8EZEQD8SCATKO0]FYI[/url]
        D T Schmitz
    • Once again you don't see it

      The problem is who decides what "abusive traffic" is. Any traffic that harms their bottom line can be regarded as abusive. I really don't believe corporations and business hell bent on making money should be arbiters of what is "abusive traffic".

      Who's next - the gamers? I play WoW and TF2 for around 15-20 hours a week with a constant communication. I know it's not huge bandwidth but it might be abusing someone. How about the porn users or the millions using Youtube?

      To demonise Torrent users and suggest they are "abusing" the network when its really the ISP not providing enough bandwidth or not having enough foresight is just wrong.

      But then we don't need regulation and government do we? As you suggest that's anarchy.
      tonymcs@...
      • For once I totally agree with you...

        I had Comcast, but last month we switched because of their BT blocking. I tend to use BT for downloading Linux CD images, and out of courtesy I keep the client open for 10 minutes to help other torrent downloaders. With Comcast, the second my download is done, they send a forged reset packet and uploading stopped. Nice of Comcast to make me look like a leecher.

        I won't even consider going back to Comcast until after they've stopped illegally blocking BT [i]and[/i] get properly sued for it.
        Tony Agudo
    • By 'Picking' BitTorrent and 'Choosing' to classify it as abusive.

      Given the AP couldn't even move the Bible between two clients.
      Letophoro
      • Exactly

        They assumed that the torrent users were a "certain type". Maybe next they will remove all data containing text of known curse words. Or all traffic that come to and from "questionable sites" whatever they may be designated.
        Protector
    • Keep apologizing for their bad behavior

      Instead of actually fixing the real problem or *gasp* actually innovating they can just keep using the excuse that "label x" users are using to much bandwidth. Thus getting a free pass to become stagnant.

      Seriously, will streaming videos, web applications, games, VoIP, or FTP become the next abusive offender?

      You don't allow these types of businesses to make a decision on what is good or bad. Bad will always be whatever at that moment is getting in the way of them making more profits.
      dragosani
  • Giuliani, is that you?

    [i]In the wake of 9/11 the government requested massive communications monitoring without legal authorization, which would have been easy to get.[/i]

    Way to bring 9/11 into the argument!!

    Censoring is about removing data based on its [b]content[/b]. Unless you can show that Comcast was targeting torrents based on their [b]CONTENT[/b], you have nothing.

    Maybe someone can also tell me what are in the terms of service for Comcast subscribers but our local cable company makes it very clear that you are not allowed to run any servers when you pay for a consumer level connection. In practice, this is rarely enforced but Torrent software acts as a server and my local ISP would be well within their rights to block [b]all[/b] torrent traffic that is being served from my computer.

    I have to agree with George on this one though. Unless someone can actually show evidence that certain types of torrents were being blocked based on the content, I don't see anything immoral about what is going on.

    [i]By dragging the discussion down into the details of cable???s technical inadequacies he glosses over the important issues.[/i]

    Wait, so technical realities aren't important when discussing Internet services? There is no doubt that cable technologies are technically "inferior" to DSL when it comes to shuffling data between your computer and your ISP (although in my personal experience, cable service is almost always significantly faster than the equivalent DSL service). Comcast has an obligation to provide the best service to [b]everyone[/b], not just to those who use torrent. If Comcast can make the case their technically inadequate network can't handle it when too many torrents are flying around, they have an [b]obligation[/b] to their non-torrent using customers to provide good service. If I was a torrent user and this annoyed me enough, guess what I would do... hmm... [b]GET A DSL ACCOUNT[/b]. Instead, we have Robin who throws common sense out the window and invokes the 9/11 card. Nice.
    NonZealot
    • You don't get it either

      So Torrent users are demonised first, who's next - the gamers, porn users, Youtube addicts?

      Comcast has an obligation to provide a better service, not suggest that one group of users are at fault. This is about money. not good service. The only obligation Comcast has is to make money for its shareholders - not a great basis to make ethical and moral decisions is it?
      tonymcs@...
    • You seem very confused

      about what "provide the best service to everyone" actually implies. It doesn't mean picking winners and losers based on what they are doing, it means being impartial.

      If Comcast can't provide the bandwidth to customers that they contracted to provide, then one very reasonable solution to bandwidth limitations is to vary rates with the bandwidth provided (perhaps with the option for lower-bandwidth subscribers to take advantage of more bandwidth when it's not in short supply). Another is to vary rates with total bytes received (with either hard limits or surcharges if you exceed what you've paid for) - until demand ceases to exceed supply.

      Lots of software besides torrents results in temporary high bandwidth loads, which makes singling out torrents particularly offensive. But the even larger issue is that of permitting any entities other than the subscribers themselves to choose what subscribers can get (or how easily they can get it).

      - bill
      - bill
    • Video is high bandwidth, why didn't they target that?

      Because they figured the torrent uses would be less likely to come out and say something....but now they see torrents are used for LEGAL purposes also....they miscalculated.
      Protector
    • 9/11 was this decade's excuse

      Every 10 years or so the twits in power get their knickers in a twist over some huge
      threat to the country - and use that threat to justify trashing American liberty.

      Islamofascists! Communists! Drug cartels! Pedophiles! Hackers! Hippies! Freedom
      riders! Rum runners! Union organizers! Socialists! Suffragettes! It is always
      something.

      The Internet will be regulated. The question is, do we want it regulated by
      corporations in hock to the government, or do we want it regulated directly with
      common carrier and other rules, through a transparent public process.

      I'll take the latter.

      Robin
      R Harris
  • G-dang right!

    ...and water-boarding is already illegal too!
    wmlundine
  • The governmental-communications complex, The Military-Industrial complex..

    [i]The Secret Government is an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and superpatriots, who, for a variety of motives, operate outside the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can?t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our Constitution.

    The men who wrote our Constitution, our basic book of rules, were concerned that power be held accountable. No party of government and no person in government, not even the President, was to pick or choose among the laws to be obeyed. But how does one branch of government blow the whistle on another? Or how do the people cry foul when their liberties are imperiled, if public officials can break the rules, lie to us about it, and then wave the wand of national security to silence us??

    ?Can it happen again? You bet it can. The apparatus of secret power remains intact in a huge White House staff operating in the sanctuary of presidential privilege. George Bush has already told the National Security Council to take more responsibility for foreign policy which can of course be exercised beyond public scrutiny. And a lot of people in Washington are calling for more secrecy, not less, including more covert actions. This is a system easily corrupted as the public grows indifferent again, and the press is seduced or distracted. So one day, sadly, we are likely to discover once again that while freedom does have enemies in the world it can also be undermined here at home, in the dark, by those posing as its friends.[/i]

    -Bill Moyers, [i]The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis,[/i] PBS 1987
    Mr. Roboto
    • Just our luck...

      The two books that Gee DumberThanYou Bosh read in the year before daddy engineered his presidency were "The Little Engine that Could" and "1984". I guess he thought the latter was a sequel.
      MGP2