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Cringely doesn't need no stinking facts to push Net Neutrality

Robert X. Cringely -- the PBS pundit who was caught masquerading as a Stanford PhD and professor -- has a new blog out titled "We Don't Need No Stinking Best Effort.
Written by George Ou, Contributor

Robert X. Cringely -- the PBS pundit who was caught masquerading as a Stanford PhD and professor -- has a new blog out titled "We Don't Need No Stinking Best Effort." Cringely has come out with another bogus accusation against the Broadband companies claiming that they're now in a conspiracy to break his fax machine. But this isn't the first time bogus accusations have been employed by the Neutrality extremists. I covered the fiasco last summer when Craigslist falsely accused Cox communications of Net Neutrality violations and even got a US Senator to repeat the lie, but it turned out it was Craigslist's own doing to begin with.

In this latest smear, Cringely's complains that his 1410 kbps (upstream) service from Comcast is mysteriously unable to support the 9.6 kbps fax stream he's trying to shove over his Vonage VoIP (Voice over IP) service. Cringely concludes that it must be because of the lack of Net Neutrality and that Comcast is doing some kind of anti-competitive prioritization at his expense, which causes his fax machine to fail when using his Vonage service. But is this really what's going on? Had Cringely done the most basic research on this issue, he would realize that this has nothing to do with network prioritization.

Let's take a look at what Cringely is trying to do. He's trying to shove a 9.6 kbps digital fax stream over an analog phone line, which gets converted to a digital VoIP stream using some analog to digital voice CODEC, which uses about 8 times the bandwidth as the original fax stream. Aside from the fact that this is a grossly inefficient roundabout way to transmit a fax, since you're doing an unnecessary digital to analog and then back to digital conversion, it actually causes severe issues to the point that faxes will simply break if you try to send it over a VoIP line, even if lossless CODECs like G.711 are used. There actually is a standard called T.38 that addresses real-time fax compatibility over VoIP lines, but you have to have T.38-capable equipment configured on each end of the line. Ideally, you would send the fax over to a fax service provider on the Internet using a regular TCP/IP data stream at 8 times the speed at full efficiency and let it do the PSTN conversion on its end. There are actually $5/month services that permit unlimited inbound facsimiles in his e-mail inbox, which can be printed from any laser printer. So Cringely is essentially ramming his head against the wall trying unsuccessfully to get his second Vonage line (presumably at $35/month) to receive a single fax. If he had to have his own traditional fax machine working, T.38 would be a minimum requirement for basic medium-speed fax capability. Cringely's lack of a T.38 capability ATA (Analog Telephony Adapter) is the real reason behind his problems, but it's just too convenient an excuse for him to slam the carriers with his extremist Net Neutrality agenda.

Another fundamental problem with Cringely's accusations is that facsimiles are not latency-sensitive, and they're nothing like a voice call. If there is a half second delay in the packets for your voice call, that's extremely noticeable, and that's why network latency must be kept at a minimum for VoIP. Facsimiles are completely different because it doesn't matter when the packet arrives so long as it arrives at all intact in a reasonable amount of time. Whether the fax takes 20 seconds to transmit or 30 seconds to transmit is totally inconsequential. Even if Comcast were to hypothetically degrade his VoIP traffic (it isn't), it wouldn't make a bit of difference for his faxes.

Cringely's own forum has criticized him for this oversight, but he's not one to respond to his critics or fix any of his errors. Many people, including myself, have called him out on blatant errors on IP networking, but he never responds to any of his critics. I guess if PBS lets him get away with claiming to be a Stanford PhD and professor, falsely accusing Comcast of blocking his facsimiles doesn't even register on the scale. When it comes to technology policy and accusations, Cringely doesn't need no stinking facts.

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