The stupid network will get a hearing

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.

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.