Cool Rules for the FCC: In the Lion’s Den

Check The Register for my write-up of the FCC hearing.

Testifying as an expert witness on bandwidth management at the FCC’s field hearing in snowy Cambridge this Monday was a heady experience. The hearing took place in a cramped corner of the Harvard Law School, a building that was already decorated with pickets, banners, and reporters when I arrived. Gingerly stepping through the snow in my California sailing shoes enabled me to avoid the protesters and find my way into the hallowed Ames courtroom. The room itself was full of buzz, and packed with a heavily Comcast-friendly crowd thanks to the cable giant’s exploitation of the first-come, first-seated rule. Comcast had gamed the hearing’s seating rules, hiring place-holders.

The composition of the crowd wasn’t apparent until Comcast VP David Cohen got an overly enthusiastic round of applause at the end of his prepared remarks, but pretty much only then. They didn’t hiss and boo – unlike the free-speech-loving neutralitarians who replaced them. I was invited to present an afternoon session.

It gets better, as I propose a decision-making framework.

Larry Lessig for Congress?

The Larry Lessig for Congress movement is gathering steam, and the Professor himself is showing all the signs of running:

Former colleague John Palfrey, of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, launched a “Draft Lessig for Congress” Facebook group, attracting more than 2,000 social networking Larry lovers, and others soon sprung for their own” domain.

When we contacted Lessig yesterday morning to ask what he thought of all this, we didn’t get answer. But today, he told the world he is “seriously” considering a Congressional campaign. Lessig says he won’t make his final decision until “about” March 1. That would give him a month to prepare for the fight. But he’s launched a new website and a very Lessig online video to show just how serious he is.

The video confirms (yet again) that he’s determined to change the political landscape. “In my view the most exciting part of the debate around change is the idea of changing how Washington works, changing the influence of money in Washington,” Lessig says. “Not an influence that comes through bribes, but an influence that is produced by the economy of influence that money now has in Washington.”

Sounds like a born politician to us.

I think this is a bad idea, and I’d like to tell you why.

Lessig isn’t a politician, so he wouldn’t be effective at moving bills, the primary purpose of legislators. He would be another Ron Paul, the focal point of a distinctly out-of-the-mainstream ideology instead of a lawmaker. Novelty legislators are fun for the media, but they don’t serve their voters well.

And I doubt he’d be effective at constituent services, the second most effective task, because he doesn’t have the web of influence that career politicians have. Ideologues like Jesse Helms and Maxine Waters are re-elected term after term because they’re adept at constituent services.

And finally, I predict that Lessig would lose interest and resign within a few months once he’d found out that lawmaking isn’t as glamorous as leading a high-profile academic program and essentially being a rock star for free downloads.

And there’s a real danger that a guy like Lessig would be harmful to the process as well. He would be taken as a tech expert in Washington, because he’s considered one in his present niche. But Lessig doesn’t understand technology per se, he’s more an expert on certain cultural implications of technology. So I wouldn’t want someone with such a thin grasp of tech issues to become “Mr. High Tech” on the Hill.

I happen to know Jackie Speier, the real politician who was endorsed by Tom Lantos to take this place in the House. I certainly don’t agree with her on every issue, but I’ve worked with her and found her to be a competent, intelligent person. So based on my experience with Sen. Speier and her demonstrated commitment to the people and the process of government, I’d bet that a Congresswoman Speier wouldn’t drop out at the end of the first term and go on the road with a rock band.

Lessig’s an interesting character with a lot of challenging ideas, but Congress is not the place for him.

FCC Hearing Agenda

Here’s your announcement on the FCC hearing in Boston this Monday.

11:00 a.m. Welcome/Opening Remarks

11:45 a.m. Technology Demonstration – Gilles BianRosa, Chief Executive Officer, Vuze, Inc.

12:00 p.m. Panel Discussion 1: Policy Perspectives

* Marvin Ammori, General Counsel, Free Press

* Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School

* The Honorable Daniel E. Bosley, State Representative, Massachusetts

* David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation

* The Honorable Tom Tauke, Executive Vice President – Public Affairs, Policy and Communications, Verizon Communications

* Timothy Wu, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

* Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition, University of Pennsylvania Law School

1:30 Lunch break

2:15 Panel Discussion 2: Technological Perspectives

* Daniel Weitzner, Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Decentralized Information Group

* Richard Bennett, Network Architect

* David Clark, Senior Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

* Eric Klinker, Chief Technology Officer, BitTorrent

* David P. Reed, Adjunct Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab

* Scott Smyers, Senior Vice President, Network & Systems Architecture Division, Sony Electronics Inc.

3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks

4:00 p.m. Adjournment

Get your King James Bible

Just for the fun of it, I’ve uploaded a copy of the King James Version of the Holy Bible to my Comcast web page, the one that you get for free with every Comcast Internet account. It’s for Robb Topolski and all the good people at the EFF.

PS: Actually should have been for the AP, according to Robb’s comments on the post and an e-mail from the EFF. So many details, so little time.

Castro Resigns

Now here’s an earthshaking event:

MEXICO CITY — Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday morning as the president of Cuba after a long illness, ending one of the longest tenures as one of the most all-powerful communist heads of state in the world, according to Granma, the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party.

This can’t bode well for the Republican Party in South Florida, driven as it is by the need to fight the nearby demon. Whether it really signals any change for Cuba remains to be seen, but a Cuba without Fidel could be as remarkable as an America without a Bush or Clinton in the White House.

BitTorrent/Comcast Cat-and-Mouse Game Continues

The infamous “Ernesto” announces new countermeasures to grab even more of Comcast’s residential network:

BitTorrent throttling is not a new phenomenon, ISPs have been doing it for years. When the first ISPs started to throttle BitTorrent traffic most BitTorrent clients introduced a countermeasure, namely, protocol header encryption. This was the beginning of an ongoing cat and mouse game between ISPs and BitTorrent client developers, which is about to enter new level.

Unfortunately, protocol header encryption doesn’t help against more aggressive forms of BitTorrent interference, like the Sandvine application used by Comcast. A new extension to the BitTorrent protocol is needed to stay ahead of the ISPs, and that is exactly what is happening right now.

As much fun as this sort of thing is, it’s not really going to work. Bram Cohen, the inventor of BitTorrent explains why:

…when it comes to dealing with ISPs, obfuscation is some combination of hostile, unprofessional, and harmful. Software projects which value quality over featuritis generally steer clear of such things, especially when their potential effectiveness level is the equivalent of spitting in one’s face than actual utility.

Oh, and by the way, the amount of CPU necessary to do a diffie-hellman key exchange is enough to be annoying, and if you’re making a connection via a trusted intermediary, like, say, a tracker, or already have a reasonably secret piece of shared information like, say, an infohash, there’s no need to use a diffie-hellman key exchange to establish a shared secret. Imagining that crypto will stop being done by dilettantes is clearly a pipe dream though.

This won’t stop the pirates, of course, but it should cause them to think about what they’re doing. Not that it will.

Note: A reader points out that Cohen’s remarks referred to a previous obfuscation scheme that clearly didn’t work, and suggests the current one will work for some magic reason. I doubt it, because all that Comcast has to do is look for a large number of inbound connections when none are going out. No form of obfuscation will hide that scenario because the traffic stats alone are enough to expose it. I never cease to be amazed by how naive these pirates can be.

Some interesting comments on the FCC inquiry

Here are some of the jewels among the comments submitted to the FCC on Save the Internet’s hilariously silly petition opposing sensible network management practices.

Brett Glass, the operator of a wireless ISP in Wyoming, points out that Saving the Internet would put him out of business and his customers off the net.

Rob Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation explains a bit about networking in general and DOCSIS in particular.

Comcast slams its clueless critics in a forceful and detailed response.

Competitive Enterprise Institute advocates market solutions.

Jerry Brito of the Mercatus Center reminds the Commission of the framework around new rules.

AT&T comments in support of rationality:

Some net neutrality proponents urge the Commission to preserve what they view as “the fundamental idea on the Internet since its inception . . . that every Web site, every feature, and every service should be treated exactly the same.” But this “dumb pipes” vision of the Internet is irresponsible nonsense. Some real-time Internet applications—such as video, voice, and telemedicine—have a much greater need for high service quality than other applications, such as ordinary e-mail. The Internet’s constituent networks can satisfy consumer needs only by treating such applications differently.

Verizon lays out the dollars and options:

Investing nearly $23 billion, Verizon has led the charge in fiber deployment and now makes its fiber-to-the-premises network (FiOS) available to 6.8 million homes and businesses, with plans to pass 18 million homes and businesses with FiOS by the end of 2010. Verizon’s investments are prompting competitors – such as the cable companies and other broadband providers – to respond, which has benefited consumers with lower prices and increased speed and quality. Competitive alternatives include 3G mobile wireless, fixed wireless/WiMAX, WiFi, broadband over powerline, and satellite. Verizon Wireless’s 3G technology, for example, now reaches 242 major United States cities with a total population of more than 200 million people.

George Ou gets down with the technical issues, and illustrates the key point.

Hands off the Internet joins the fray.

Progress and Freedom manages the demand glut.

Save the Internet isn’t wearing any clothes.

Demand for Video Reshaping Internet

Peter Svensson, the AP reporter last seen carrying water for the EFF, has a new piece out on the bandwidth shortage:

Internet service providers and consumer advocates agree that some form of network management, also called “traffic shaping,” can be good for everybody. Not all Internet traffic has the same level of urgency. It makes sense for the service providers to give priority to a voice call, which needs a steady stream of quickly delivered data, over a movie download.

This is unusual territory for telecommunications providers — in the old telephone network, some phone calls aren’t generally prioritized over others. Prioritization makes the Internet more like the postal system, where you pay for delivery speed and quality of service.

Indeed, one the major problems with Internet regulation is the tendency of the consumer lobby to insist it act like the old telephone network. If the only tool you have is a telecom regulation, every computer looks like a phone. But on the Internet and its access networks, every user competes with every other use for Quality of Service, and that’s why we need traffic shaping and other forms of QoS.