AT&T buckles to Neuts – sort of

This just in from the Wall St. Journal: AT&T Offers New Concessions In BellSouth Deal

WASHINGTON — AT&T Inc. has offered a new set of concessions that are expected to satisfy the two Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission and lead to approval of the company’s $85 billion buyout of BellSouth Corp.

Approval by the full commission could happen as soon as Friday.

AT&T filed a letter of commitment with the agency Thursday night that adds a number of new conditions to the deal, including a promise to observe “network neutrality” principles, an offer of affordable stand-alone digital subscriber line service and divestment of some wireless spectrum.

The net neutrality concessions are:

1 . Effective on the Merger Closing Date, and continuing for 30 months thereafter, AT&T/BellSouth will conduct business in a manner that comports with the principles set forth in the Commission’s Policy Statement, issued September 23, 2005 (FCC 05-151).

2. AT&T/BellSouth also commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. 15 This’ commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth’s agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth’s wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination.

This commitment shall apply to AT&T/BellSouth’s wireline broadband Internet access service from the network side of the customer premise equipment up to and including the Internet Exchange Point closest to the customer’s premise, defined as the point of interconnection that is logically, temporally or physically closest to the customer’s premise where public or private Internet backbone networks freely exchange Internet packets.

This commitment does not apply to AT&T/BellSouth’s enterprise managed IP services, defined as services available only to enterprise customers 16 that are separate services from, and can be purchased without, AT&T/BellSouth’s wireline broadband Internet access service, including, but not limited to, virtual private network (VPN) services provided to enterprise customers. This commitment also does not apply to AT&T/BellSouth’s Internet Protocol television (IPTV) service. These exclusions shall not result in the privileging, degradation, or prioritization of packets transmitted or received by AT&T/BellSouth’s non-enterprise customers’ wireline broadband Internet access service from the network side of the customer premise equipment up to and including the Internet Exchange Point closest to the customer’s premise, as defined above.

This commitment shall sunset on the earlier of (1) two years from the Merger Closing Date, or (2) the effective date of any legislation enacted by Congress subsequent to the Merger Closing Date that substantially addresses “network neutrality” obligations of broadband Internet access providers, including, but not limited to, any legislation that substantially addresses the privileging, degradation, or prioritization of broadband Internet access traffic.

Thus, the neuts have extracted most of what they wanted from the FCC after Congress told them to go take a hike, which is not exactly a victory for the Democratic Process. It simply means that two ignorant commissioners – Copps and Adelstein – were able to subvert the will of the people.

But the larger question is whether this is a victory for the Internet or even a victory for Google and the other moneybags who funded the net neutrality movement and stood to make the greatest gains from it. On one hand, Google loses from this agreement because AT&T retains the right to prioritize its IPTV service, the main juicy plum that Google wanted to cannibalize. But Google wins because it’s still able to out-perform other web sites by caching content in its various massive server farms, a permanent advantage that the carriers can’t counteract with higher-quality transport services.

And there’s nothing in this about censorship of political speech, but we all knew that was bullshit form the get-go.

In the meantime, Internet service in Asia remains severely degraded by the loss of a fiber-optic tube from Taiwan to an earthquake, and Google isn’t volunteering to help restore it or to invest in the two new tubes the carriers are going to lay for a billion dollars.

Isn’t democracy wonderful?

UPDATE: The deal is done.

UPDATE 2: Predictably, neuts are whining. See Techdirt, Isenberg, Evslin, Crawford for the ongoing litany about the dearth of free candy in the world. My heart bleeds.

Ericsson buys Redback

Now here’s a “holy mother of god” moment:

Telefon AB L.M. Ericsson’s agreement to buy Redback Networks Inc. for $2.1 billion reflects how the explosion in video and other multimedia services over the Internet and a surge in broadband subscribers are driving phone and cable companies to upgrade their networks and spurring big makers of networking hardware to unite.

Ericsson, a Swedish provider of equipment and services for telecommunications infrastructure, said it will pay holders of the Silicon Valley seller of routing equipment $25 a share, or 18% more than Redback’s share price before the announcement. Ericsson characterized the price as a 60% premium above the 90-day average for Redback stock.

The companies said the deal will make them more effective suppliers for the fast-moving market. It also could help Redback contend with larger competitors such as Cisco Systems Inc. and Juniper Networks Inc.

At the end of the day, don’t the phone companies always buy the Internet companies?

The Symmetry non-issue rears its head again

The Washington Post has been mislead into making some silly remarks about Internet symmetry:

The information superhighway isn’t truly equal in both directions. Cable and phone companies typically sell asymmetrical Internet services to households, reserving the bulk of the lanes for downloading movies and other files and leaving the shoulders at most for people to share, or upload, files with others.

The imbalance makes less sense as the Internet becomes truly interactive. Users are increasingly becoming contributors and not just consumers, sharing photos, video and in Glatfelter’s case, podcasts. In a nod to the trend of user-generated content, Time magazine recently named “You” _ everyone who has contributed _ as its Person of the Year.


DSL has limited bandwidth, so one has to choose how much to dedicate to upload and how much go download. Given that the normal distribution of download to upload is around 100:1, it’s already more symmetrical than it needs to be in the typical home user case. Cable access – DOCSIS – is always going to be extremely asymmetrical because of the contention problem on a shared cable, not because of any imaginary confinement to bands below channel 2. What is that dude smoking?

The uber-neuts have been complaining about this for years, which is why I wrote a blog post on Symmetry, Control, and Progress in 2003. The bottom line is that the typical human doesn’t have the skills or the inclination to manage a web server in his home, so the upload thing for voluminous content will always be done by specialist sites like You Tube. If the upload is slow, that’s fine because you don’t have to babysit it.

So symmetry is a non-problem, always has been and always will be.

H/T Tech Lib

About that dark fiber

One of the fantasies I hear these days says there’s tons of dark fiber all over the place so bandwidth is essentially free. Never mind all the routers it takes to light it up, the fiber is there so anybody can use it for next to nothing. You’ve probably heard this too.

It turns out that “next to nothing” is really about a billion bucks (WSJ subscription required):

Verizon Communications Inc. signed an agreement today with five major Asian telecom carriers to build the first high-speed trans-Pacific undersea cable system directly linking the U.S. and China.

According to the company, the planned $500 million project will offer an alternative to the single low-capacity cable that now provides the only direct link between mainland China and the U.S. Currently most Web traffic between the two countries has to go through Hong Kong or Japan, at times causing transmission delays.

Meanwhile, AT&T Inc. is in talks with Telekom Malaysia Bhd. and Singaporean carrier Starhub Ltd. to build a cable line linking Southeast Asia and the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter. The consortium could invest $400 million to $500 million if the deal is completed, says a person familiar with the matter.

Oops. I guess all that dark fiber isn’t in the right places, is it?

The consequences of leaving a word out

Charles H. Giancarlo, senior vice president and chief development officer of Cisco Systems, has the neuts in an uproar thanks to the omission of a word from this Op-Ed:

Continued governmental support to promote an open and highly competitive telecommunications market combined with accelerated corporate and private initiatives to ensure that all Americans have equal, high-speed broadband access are crucial to the country’s economic and social well-being. We also cannot tie the hands of the Internet through additional regulation, such as “net neutrality,” which eliminates the ability of the Internet to support new applications. We should be breaking down barriers rather than building them.

Doc Searls is pretty exercised about it:

Net Neutrality is a red herring here. Lots of arguments can be made against it. Lack of clear definitions and possibility of unintended consequences are the main two. But to argue that Net neutrality “eliminates the ability of the Internet to support new applications” is so far beyond wrong that it calls Giancarlo’s motives into question. Has he joined the carriers’ lobbying teams? Sounds like it.

And Isenberg is in full foaming-at-the-mouth-mode:

Hey, Cisco needs the carriers as customers. Further, Cisco sees the complexification of Net Discrimination as a selling point that keeps the commoditization monster at bay. Charlie G saw the hot water John Chambers got into by repeating that voice would be free until Verizon’s execs lost patience, and he’s not going to make the same mistake. OK. But . . .

The battle is between those who would change the carriers so the Internet survives and those who would change the Internet so the carriers survive. Wouldn’t it be better for Cisco to have dogs on both sides?

Giancarlo should have said: net neutrality eliminates the ability of the Internet to support new types of applications. We know that the Traditional Internet is capable of supporting many kinds of web-based applications: catalog sales, hookups, auctions, blogs, and all of that tedium. But the architecture devised when the Internet was an academic plaything walled off from the world isn’t capable of supporting large-scale deployment of telephony, video-conferencing, live TV, and massively multi-user real-time gaming: whole new kinds of applications.

These new applications, when widely deployed, will put demands on the infrastructure that can’t be met economically by any carrier, privately-owned or publicly funded, if they can’t distinguish services. So even if policy goes as the neuts want it to go and the Internet becomes a public utility the performance potential of the Original Architecture isn’t sufficient to meet the needs and desires of the public for very long. Treating every Internet stream as if it were on-line gaming that needs to move massive amounts of data with a latency of less than 50 milliseconds isn’t practical. The pipes aren’t free, and there’s no reason for people who don’t need super-duper high performance connections to pay for them. Consequently, carriers need the flexibility to offer service plans that fit customer needs, and the ability to pay for infrastructure sufficiently flexible to do all the things people want it to do. One-size-fits-all is a poor policy for the Internet.

Giancarlo understands this, and the carriers understand it. Cisco and the carriers built the Internet, and they know how it works. It’s the height of arrogance for people unschooled in packet network engineering to denounce engineers for telling the truth, but that arrogance is the essence of net neutrality advocacy.

When will this madness end?

Lessons from Internet 2

David Isenberg tried to explain his dramatic turn-around on net neutrality recently:

In June of 1997, when I wrote the essay, it seemed reasonable (to a Bell Labs guy steeped in telco tradition) that a stupid network might incorporate low level behaviors analogous to taxis or tropism to automatically adapt to the needs of the data. But research results from Internet2 [.pdf] now show that network upgrades to accommodate even extremely demanding applications, such as Hi-Def video conferences, can be achieved more effectively, cheaply and reliably by simply adding more capacity.

The research results he cites were delivered to Congress by this eminent researcher:

Gary Bachula is the Vice President for External Relations for Internet2. Gary has substantial government and not-for-profit experience, with an extensive history of leadership in technology development. Most recently, Gary served as Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology at the US Department of Commerce where he led the formation of government-industry partnerships around programs such as GPS and the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles. As Vice President for the Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) from 1991 to 1993, Gary managed strategic planning and program development for the organization designated to build a distributed information network as part of NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth. From 1986 to 1990, he chaired the Michigan Governor’s Cabinet Council, and from 1974 to 1986 Gary served as Chief of Staff to U.S. Representative Bob Traxler of Michigan where he advised on appropriations for NASA, EPA, the National Science Foundation and other federal R&D agencies. Gary holds undergraduate and law (J.D.) degrees from Harvard University. A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Bachula served at the Pentagon in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war.

So now we have a new definition for net neutrality: in the past, networks were designed by engineers, but under net neutrality they’ll be designed by lawyers and lobbyists. Great.

But to be fair, there was an actual study performed by two guys using the Internet2 Abilene network from 1998-2001 which determined that QoS wasn’t practical to implement with routers of that era, primarily because they had to use software to figure out how to distinguish high-priority and low-priority packets. As these routers performed most packet forwarding operations in hardware, this was a big slow-down:

Some router vendors have elected to include complex QoS functionality in microcode running on their interface cards, rather than in custom ASICs that add to the power consumption and cost of a card. This is a non-starter. Our experience has been that this approach can result in a drop of maximum packet-per-second forwarding rates by 50% or more. Such a CPU cycle shortage hurts all traffic, including Premium, making deployment very hard to justify.

The trend among newer, higher-speed routers seems to be towards less QoS functionality, not more. As circuit costs are responsible for an ever decreasing portion of network capital expenditures, and interface costs are responsible for an ever increasing share of network capital expenditures, the market pressure for dumb, fast, and cheap router interfaces is ever greater.

Are we prepared to pay the price difference for extra QoS features? If so, is there enough of a customer base for feature-rich routers to make their development worthwhile for router vendors?

Contrary to the Internet2 predictions, modern routers do in fact have more QoS functionality in hardware. So if Internet2 were a serious research organization they’d repeat the study with up-to-date systems and abandon the rank speculation. But they won’t, of course.

To those of us who’ve been around a while, the idea that you can learn ultimate lessons about the Internet from academic experiments is laughable. Early experiments with the Internet in academic settings taught us, for example, that there was no need for spam protection, virus removal, and the control of bandwidth hogging. In the academy, social systems control this behavior, but in the real world it’s up to the network. We haven’t always known that, but we do now.

My question for Isenberg is this: what kind of engineer abandons well-known findings on the say-so of a lobbyist touting one ancient experiment conducted without control or follow-up? We know that an over-built network doesn’t need much in the way of QoS to support moderately demanding applications like VoIP.

The problem with over-provisioning the entire Internet is that applications will emerge to consume the excess bandwidth, putting the user back on square one.


UPDATE: To clarify the Internet2 “research” just a bit, bear this in mind: the fears that NN advocates have about web site slowdowns and censorship presume that routers are capable of discriminating for and against all the traffic they pass without slowing down Premium customers. The Internet2 “research” says this is impossible.

So who are you going to believe, Internet2 or Internet2?

Defining away the uncertainty

David Isenberg is jumping on the cluetrain to defend Dr. David Weinberger from charges of fuzziness. According to the Davids, there’s no uncertainty about Network Neutrality:

As a proponent of Network Neutrality, I cringe when I hear, “We do not even know what Network Neutrality means.” We DO know. Such statements are true ONLY in the sense that we don’t know the precise dividing line between a shelf and a table, or that we can’t say precisely how a tree grows, or that there’s sometimes fuzziness in whether a death is a murder.

It is in the telcos’ and cablecos’ interest to keep Network Neutrality amorphous and undefinable. If we don’t even know what it is, we can’t pass a law against it, right?

We DO know what Net Neutrality is. There are several excellent definitions of Network Neutrality, e.g., by the Annenberg Center, by savetheinternet [.pdf] [disclosure: I work as an unpaid volunteer with the savetheinternet folks], and, perhaps the clearest statement of all, since it is stated as proposed legislation, by Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) [actual 2006 Bill here .pdf].

The unifying element is the prohibition of deliberate discrimination.

Isenberg should read his own writing.

Net neutrality proponents are sharply divided about what constitutes “discrimination”, and one can find this rift in Isenberg’s book “The Rise of the Stupid Network,” where he describes something called “idiot savant behaviors” which allow the network to tailor transport services to the needs of applications:

[In] the Stupid Network, because the data is the boss, it can tell the network, in real time, what kind of service it needs. And the Stupid Network would have a small repertoire of idiot-savant behaviors to treat different data types appropriately. If the data identified itself as financial data, the Stupid Network would deliver it accurately, no matter how many milliseconds of delay the error checking would take. If the data were two-way voice or video, the Stupid Network would provide low delay, even at the price of an occasional flipped bit. If the data were entertainment audio or video, the Stupid Network would provide wider bandwidth, but would not necessarily give low delay or absolute accuracy. And if there were a need for unique transmission characteristics, the data would tell the Stupid Network in more detail how to treat it, and the Stupid Network would do what it was told.

This is a sort of “discrimination” and a violation of Strict Stupidity. But not to do this, which would be to simply treat all packets the same, is also a form of discrimination because it favors applications that care more about bulk data transfer over those that need timely service.

So either way, we can wave our hands about “discrimination” or we can address application realities, and we all have to choose. It’s not that clear at all, and Isenberg knows it.

In the US we practice a form of social discrimination called “Affirmative Action” which many advocates claim is not discrimination at all because it’s for a good reason. In the UK, they’re a lot more honest, calling it “Positive Discrimination.” Network neutrality either bans or endorses positive discrimination depending on whose definition you use.

That’s reality. On the Internet, we have a number of different behaviors that require “discrimination” on the part of the carrier: fraud, theft, and bandwidth hogging among them. To require strict passivity on the part of the carrier when we know these things go on is simply to hide ones head in the sand.

Weinberger’s Net Neutrality Gaffe

A gaffe is when a politician accidentally says what he really thinks. Net neutrality advocate David Weinberger committed one recently when he wrote:

…I recently spent a day�sponsored by an activist think tank�with a dozen people who understand Net tech deeply, going through exactly which of the 496 permutations would constitute a violation of Net neutrality. Caching packets within a particular application area but not according to source? Caching application-based non-cached application-based packets? Saying “Hi” to all passing packets, but adding, “Howya doin’?” to only the ones you like? Patting all packets on the back but refusing to buy some lunch? The whole thing makes my brain hurt

I put that quote into Wikipedia’s Net Neutrality entry, and now Weinberger’s crying foul:

FWIW, I agree that the paragraph that cites me should be edited out. It is unencyclopedic. It also is used to make a point that it in fact does not support. The fact that it’s challenging to work out the precise application of NN in some instances doesn’t mean that the meaning of the principle itself is unclear. It’s tough to figure out exactly how to apply, say, affirmative action, gay rights, or the end-to-end principle, but it’d be highly misleading to start an article on them by saying the principles are unclear. It’s the nature of principles to require thought, argument and politics in their application. So, I hope someone removes that paragraph.

The fact of the matter is that nobody knows what net neutrality is, how to detect it, and how to regulate it, so the whole matter of laws protecting it is premature. Weinberger accidentally told the truth, and now he doesn’t want it to get out. There are plenty of people who think net neutrality is a great thing, but that we don’t know enough about it to regulate it; Doc Searls and Tom Evslin, for example. But the Wikipedia crowd isn’t real keen on sharing that point of view with the public.

That’s the way it goes.