Telco abuse of Internet users is hypothetical, not real. There has only been one documented instance of arbitrary service blockage in the USA, the Madison River case which the FCC promptly stopped. In response to this case, they devised the “four freedoms”.
These principles are part of the COPE Act, which also gives the FCC the authority to levy fines up to $500,000 per infraction. The Stevens Senate bill directs the FCC to do a study of provider abuses and report back.
The sensible approach to regulation, in this sphere or in others, is to draft broad principles, set up an enforcement regime, and let case law evolve.
Once we see some actual abuse that isn’t covered by these provisions, Congress will still be in the business of drafting laws and we’ll be able to go ask for whatever approach is necessary to solve the real problems. What you people are proposing is pre-emptive legislation that will most likely do to the Internet what Bush’s pre-emptive war did to Iraq.
I appreciate your sentiments, and firmly believe that you have good intentions. But I’ve worked with legislative bodies before and have seen the unintended consequences that can flow from legislation that’s guided by too much emotion and not enough information.
There’s no immediate crisis here so the best thing course of action is to simply gather information. We all want a “neutral” network that enables innovation to flourish, and the fact that we’ve never really had one shouldn’t discourage us.
Networks are technical artifacts that improve with time, and even the Internet is not so perfect that we should freeze it.
In fact, the architects of the Internet made several design mistakes because of the model they chose to imitate, the early Ethernet. That system tried to do bandwidth management in a fully distributed manner with a clunky scheme of medium sensing, collision detection, and backoff. The Internet analogies are slow start, congestion, and backoff for TCP.
The early Ethernet model doesn’t work well under high load, and was abandoned in the late 80s after my colleagues and I on the IEEE 802.3 standards committee devised a scheme that ran Ethernet over twisted pair wiring into a hub or switch. It turns out that you can manage bandwidth better from a central point that knows who wants to do what when than you can in a totally random, distributed system. The system we devised is the Ethernet that we all use today.
When we re-designed the Ethernet, we faced the same aesthetic criticisms that the neutrality people are heaping on the phone companies today: our system wasn’t democratic, it wasn’t reliable, it couldn’t ensure fairness, and it wasn’t going to be cool with the FCC. But all those criticisms turned out to be groundless, and we now have 40 Gigabit Ethernet running on switch-based systems.
We fought the same battle when we designed the WiFi system. One faction wanted an Access Point-based system and another wanted an Aloha system that was fully distributed and all that. Once again, the network engineering work showed that an Access Point provided better performance to everyone than a distributed system that was constantly flailing for access to the network.
It’s about time that the architecture of the Internet was updated to reflect modern practices in network design where traffic is classified and moderated in points of intelligence that are distributed around the network. This sort of re-design, which was started by the MPLS and DiffServ people, will ultimately produce a network that can do more things better for more applications than the dated Vint Cerf design where the guy with the fattest pipe controls the network.
The original Interment was a fine piece of work given the limited knowledge of packet-switched networks in 1980, but we’ve learned a lot since then and consumers will benefit if some of this learning can be passed on the form of new networks with better performance and richer choices.
I think my networks are better than the old collision-based Ethernet that was the model for the TCP Internet, and a new Internet based on new LANs and WLANs would be better than the old one.
I’m biased, but so are that Cerf character and his fellow-traveler Sir Berners-Lee.
Whether you agree with me or not, I think the moral and decent thing to do is to offer consumers the opportunity to see which one they like better. That’s what we did with Ethernet, and the market responded strongly. There’s no shame in designing a system that works pretty well in its day but is ultimately replaced by a better one.
That’s the whole story of technology, so let’s not pre-judge the outcome.
The Network Bunny
PS: Go read the Heritage Foundation’s paper on this question. It’s very edifying.