Net Neutrality: Attack of the Clones

Now, we are joined by Richard Bennett, another vehement anti-Net neutrality troll. A response.

Well, yesterday's response to George Ou has turned into a broadside from Richard Bennett. He says here that my posting is the "silliest thing ever written about Net Neutrality." Without going into why being attacked by Richard is a badge of honor for reasonable people, I'm just going to offer my response.

In the first place, Mitch, if you want people to take you seriously as someone who claims to understand the Internet, you need to purge your vocabulary of the word "circuit." The Internet is all about shared links, it's a packet-switched network, not a circuit-switched one. That's how it's able to provide high performance to applications that access the network for short bursts of traffic. 

A packet-switched network is made up of physical circuits, which are dedicated or shared, so at this point what you're going to do is tryThe forward march left the carriers behind and they want to be back in control in a way that technology obliterated. to argue that I "don't understand the Internet" from yet another angle instead of dealing with the points I made about George's previous arguments. You're also suggesting, again, I have advocated "banning QoS," which I have not.

The last-mile is where the end-user at home has purchased capacity. It is where, if the carriers can impose restrictions of any sort they defeat access to what George most recently described as "the general use Internet." So, from the law's perspective, it is "shared." A dedicated link or circuit or connection—whatever you want to call it—would not be covered by this, as the sponsors of the bills have made clear.

In the second place, your interpretation of Markey and Snowe-Dorgan is exactly 180 degrees out of phase with the intent of the the authors, who have explicitly claimed on several occasions that they're out to regulate ISP behavior on the last mile, not the inter-ISP behavior that the ignorant call "the backbone." So you need to get on the phone to Ben Scott at Free Press and get your marching orders corrected. Those of us who don't like the last-mile QoS ban in Markey and Snowe have pointed out that the language is so vague that it applies on all broadband segments, and they dispute that.

What you've done here is read the Markey and Snowe amendments in a completely quirky way because you can't afford to acknowledge they're out of sync with Berners-Lee's statements. It's an admirable attempt at sycophancy, but ultimately not persuasive.

Sycophancy: that's supposed to make me look small.

The fact that the Snowe amendment failed through a tie vote indicates that there is a lot of room for negotiation. It should also have occured to you, Richard, that the legislation is using QoS in a different sense than the QoS than you are when talking about routers and IP values 6 and 7. They are talking about billing issues, not technical ones. It maps perfectly to Tim Berners-Lee's definition of Net neutrality, which I pointed to: "If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level."

In other words, if I pay for a "slow" connection, everything will come through slow. If I pay for a "fast" connection, everything will come through fast. If a content provider needs more bandwidth at their data center, they can pay for it and their traffic will get to the backbone faster, where it will be treated equally. If the content provider wants to put a cache at a cable headend, connecting all the headends with dedicated 100 Mbps connections, they can do so and pay for it.

The main error that you folks are making is to try and make the Internet into a network. In fact, it's not a network, it's a method of interconnecting networks. That's what the prefix "inter" means, you see. When the Internet was conceived 30 years ago, the networks that it interconnected were Ethernets with one level of packet delivery service, the so-called "best effort" which consisted of 16 retries after a collision. That model went obsolete with the advent of VLANs, and MPLS was added to the Internet to preserve VLAN classification. Nowadays we have WiFi networks with 802.11e and four levels of priority, so we naturally need an Internet that can honor them and interconnect WiFi networks correctly.

This is simply the forward march of technology, and anybody who hasn't made a fetish of "end-to-end" and "best effort" can see that.

Any well-informed and rational person, that is.
Now, let's look at your suggestion about the four levels of priority closely. The way the law could and probably would treat this question after it went through conference with a clear mandate for the inclusion of Net neutrality language would be is: Every priority level expressed by the IP values 6 and 7 in a given packet would be honored by every router on the "backbone" (in quotes, as we are reduced to jargon when talking politics) the same. the question for you, the engineer, is how you enforce a standardized use of the EF, AF1, AF2, and best-effort (BE) class selectors without having to set up a filter that must refer to customer billing information that introduced significant latency into the network. The answer is you probably can't, so the backbone simply treats traffic as traffic and lets the end-point customer define the priority level. Carriers make their money offering end-point connections, just as they do today.

The important point, from my perspective, is having the Net neutrality language in the bill as a principle that defines the responsibilities of common carriers.

Finally, I haven't made a fetish of "end-to-end" and have not even used the phrase "best effort" in this series of postings, until today. David Isenberg, who wrote The Rise of the Stupid Network, made some very important points about the faults in the business model at AT&T, most of which have been proven by experience. The carriers are lobbying to get back to that failed business model. I suggest you reread it to understand better the idea of end-to-end services within an open network. I don't agree with all David's conclusions, but that's a different debate.

The forward march left the carriers behind and they want to be back in control in a way that technology obliterated. They are now trying to regain what they lost through legislation, which is why the inclusion of Net neutrality principles are critically important, as Tim Berners-Less wrote: "I hope that Congress can protect net neutrality, so I can continue to innovate in the internet space. I want to see the explosion of innovations happening out there on the Web, so diverse and so exciting, continue unabated."