Demagogues Counterattack, Freedom Hangs in the Balance

While I was having fun demanding my own cables to everywhere, journalist Stephen Wellman of Information Week was making the same demand, for real:

I hate arguments that we as consumers are supposed to feel sorry for carriers when users start absorbing more bandwidth. Sorry, Comcast (and other service providers), get more bandwidth. Cable MSOs like Comcast tend to charge more than landline telecoms for their broadband, so why not spend some of that money on, you know, growing network capacity rather than on regulating a select group of users.

Jesus Christ. How are we ever going to have a dialog about the proper way to regulate the Internet while the tech press is full of idiots who think network bandwidth comes from Santa Claus? The simple fact is that no amount of additional bandwidth will satisfy the hogs: the more there is, the more they’ll use. Comcast understands this:

On another issue, [Comcast spokeswoman] Banse defended Comcast’s use of management technology, reported Friday by the Associated Press, to reduce the impact users of file-sharing networks, such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella, have on overall traffic on the cable company’s pipe. While these users make up a small percentage of Comcast’s subscriber base, they account for a large majority of the traffic, Banse said.

“There is the hyperbole and the reality of what we call excessive use,” Banse said. While 99.9% of Comcast customers get access to the Internet without interference, the 0.1% that fit into the category of excessive use have to be managed. “In the (course) of our management of that excessive use, we call the customers and offer them the commercial service,” she said.

Predictably, Dave Isenberg is shamelessly demagoguing this issue:

Furthermore, once unencumbered by the need to use their network to advantage their own applications, network operators would be free to discover what Odlyzko found and what Internet 2 discovered [.pdf] — that the best way to manage congestion is simply to build more capacity!

Isenberg is full of shit wrong on at least two levels: The Internet2 experiment was conducted with routers two generations older than the ones we have now, and it was confined to a well-behaved population of users, all subject to Terms of Use imposed by their universities.

Universities today routinely apply bandwidth limits on their internal networks, especially the wireless ones. I know this because I designed and implemented such a system. People want them because bandwidth is neither free nor infinite, and the Internet lacks a mechanism to ensure that it’s shared equitably.

Isenberg knows this as well, but he deliberately ignores it because he makes his living stirring up brainless conflict. The network neutrality issue has been on life support for the past year, and only by confusing network management with the suppression of free speech can people like Isenberg hope to collect any additional speaker’s fees from it.

FURTHERMORE, it’s not clear to me that Comcast is doing what the critics allege they’re doing. I’m a Comcast customer, and at this very moment I’m running the Linux version of BitTorrent (Azureus) successfully for both uploads and downloads, legal and illegal. Here’s a screen grab to prove it (click the little image for the full-size copy.)

Azureus Screen Grab

Unfortunate Internet regulation advocate Susan Crawford jumps aboard the Demagogue Train as well. That’s certainly no surprise, as Crawford wants to revive net neutrality and sees this as an opportunity. Here’s why she’s wrong:

Let’s posit that there’s a reasonable form of network management, which operates like this:

1) When demand for network bandwidth on shared facilities is low, every user gets as much as he wants.

2) When demand for network bandwidth exceeds supply, every user is allocated bandwidth equitably.

3) “Equitable” allocation means something like this: every user requesting less than the average per-user available bandwidth gets what he requests, and those who request more get additional bandwidth when it’s available.

That’s a reasonable algorithm implemented in a number of commercial systems today, and please note that’s it’s content- and viewpoint-neutral.

And also note that as a practical matter it’s only necessary to examine BitTorrent traffic on the typical ISP network to implement it, because (as a practical matter) all the excess demand for bandwidth comes from BitTorrent.

And also note that the slickest way to throttle BitTorrent is to limit the number of uploads a given user can offer, which is exactly what TCP Reset (RST flag) spoofing does.

Given all of that, is there anything to see here other than an ISP applying reasonable principles of network management by reasonable means?

Moral of the story: don’t believe everything Susan Crawford, Dave Isenberg, and their ilk tell you about the Internet. Much of it is made-up, and the rest is sensationalized.

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