Taking Stevens Seriously

Prominent network engineers Jon Stewart and Alyssa Milano have bashed Sen. Ted Stevens for his description of the Internet, but it was actually pretty accurate. See Prof. Ed Felton’s explanation:

I’ll grant that Stevens sounds pretty confused on the recording. But’s let’s give the guy a break. He was speaking off the cuff in a meeting, and he sounds a bit agitated. Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself speaking in an unscripted setting? For most people, it’s pretty depressing. We misspeak, drop words, repeat phrases, and mangle sentences all the time. Normally, listeners’ brains edit out the errors.

In this light, some of the ridicule of Stevens seems a bit unfair. He said the Internet is made up of “tubes”. Taken literally, that’s crazy. But experts talk about “pipes” all the time. Is the gap between “tubes” and “pipes” really so large? And when Stevens says that his staff sent him “an Internet” and it took several days to arrive, it sounds to me like he meant to say “an email” and just misspoke.

So let’s take Stevens seriously, and consider the possibility that somewhere in his head, or in the head of a staffer telling him what to say, there was a coherent argument that was supposed to come out of Stevens’ mouth but was garbled into what we heard. Let’s try to reconstruct that argument and see if it makes any sense.

Not that we want to interfere with anybodys good time, mind you, but Stevens understands computers and the Internet better than say, Jon Stewart. And Stewart’s slam pretty well hits the Neuts in the face: if you believe Stevens is a clueless moron, why do you insist that he impose new and unprecedented regulations on the Internet for you?

6 thoughts on “Taking Stevens Seriously”

  1. Bob Frankston is the guy who brought accounting to the Apple II, Tim Berners-Lee is in favor of for-fee QoS, Johnny Cochrane is dead, and Lessig is a lawyer with a slim grasp on networking. I haven’t seen Kahn take a stand, and we all know who pays Cerf.

    The thousands of engineers who buillt the Internet and keep it running are best represented in this debate by Cisco, who opposes your regulations.

    So you really don’t have much of a point here, directorblue.

  2. Berners-Lee is in favor of for-fee quality of service. No one seriously debates that better QoS shouldn’t cost more money. Net Neutrality doesn’t mean there is a flat rate or that prices must be fixed.

    Also, having a grasp of networking doesn’t automatically lead to a more valid opinion. The debate is over the application of technology. It is a personal value issue, not a technological one. It is an issue where well meaning, intelligent people can disagree. There is not some magic “true answer” that one can arrive at after enough study.

  3. Well, actually, there is an aspect to the debate in which technical knowledge is vital. Suppose we all agree that Google shouldn’t have to pay extortion to AT&T for carrying its search results and movies. We then have to know enough about the technology to write regulations that protect Google without breaking the Internet for innovation and for use by anyone else. This is where the net neutrality movement has failed us. They propose regulatiions banning fees for QoS. While this does indeed solve Google’s problem, it’s a severe restriction on the utility of the Internet, and apparently one that only technical people can see.

  4. This is where you’re misinformed Richard.

    “Suppose we all agree that Google shouldn’t have to pay extortion to AT&T for carrying its search results and movies”

    Richard, the House bill that passed and the Stevens bill in the Senate ALL state that it is illegal to do this. No websites or legal Internet services can be blocked, and you DO NOT need QoS for good quality websites. Google, Yahoo, and every other major website get better performance with massive server farms and multiple server farms throughout the world and you go to the nearest one. QoS is ONLY for low latency real-time communications such as VoIP or Video over IP conferencing. Video broadcast/unicast DOES NOT qualify as real-time apps because you can cache them and buffer them. Akamai and BitTorrent is your best friend for large file distributions.

    The Net Neutrality campaign is a lie. Blocking is against the law and anyone who does it is going to get fined $500K mandated by Congress. This is why it’s so obnoxious that the NN crowd sell this as a blocking issue when it’s really a power grab by Google to tie the hands of the carriers so that they can be more predictable.

  5. I was making a different point, and that’s why I said “suppose we all agree…”. Even if we accept the neuts’ version of the facts, their bills still make no sense.

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