Comcast sets the record straight

In the course of pursuing its grievance with the FCC over broadband traffic management, Free Press and its allies have developed annoying tendencies to overstate the qualifications of its “experts” and to make wild technical assertions unsupported by empirical data. They pass Robb Topolski off as a “network engineer” when he was, while employed, a low-level tester of PC software. David Reed, who was in the design loop for TCP/IP in the 1970s but has gone in other directions since then, is represented as having worked continuously for 35 years on the advancement of Internet protocols. Free Press now employs Topolski and increasingly relies on him for analysis.

Comcast has finally said “enough is enough” and filed a document with the FCC addressing the inaccuracy of Free Press and Topoloski’s claims about their management systems:

• First, Comcast’s High-Speed Internet customers can and do access any content, run any application, and use any service that they wish.

• Second, our network management practices are similar to those deployed by other Internet service providers in the United States and around the world, and are reasonably designed to enable, not hinder, the high-quality user experience that the Internet Policy Statement contemplates and that competitive marketplace considerations require.

• Third, although Free Press and its consultants believe they know and understand Comcast’s network and how it manages that network, they do not, and they have made no legitimate effort to gain such an understanding (as others have recently done).

• Fourth, Comcast’s network management practices are not discriminatory and are entirely agnostic as to the content being transmitted, where it is being sent from or to, or the identity of the sender or receiver.

• Finally, Comcast’s customer service agreements and policies have long disclosed that broadband capacity is not unlimited, and that the network is managed for the benefit of all customers. Comcast’s disclosures have always been comparable to — and are now far more detailed than — almost any other Internet service provider’s disclosures.

The bottom line is this: the Internet is a web of shared communication links provisioned by statistical predictions about traffic. Any application or user which uses more bandwidth than the typical profile takes it away from others. The owner/manager of every link has a responsibility to assure fair access, and allowing applications with enormous bandwidth appetites to gobble up an unfair share of communication opportunities is a failure to own up to this responsibility.

Comcast has been charged with degrading an innovative new application, but the facts don’t support the charge. Actually, the innovative new application – P2P as presently implemented – has the effect of degrading traditional applications. Hence, P2P has to be managed.

So the only interesting questions are how. There are several members in the set of reasonable means of managing P2P traffic. The burden is on the FCC and the petitioners to show that the Sandvine system isn’t one of them, and they haven’t seriously attempted to do so.

Hiding behind wild claims and overblown rhetoric doesn’t help consumers, doesn’t protect free speech, and doesn’t improve the nature of broadband networking.

Sober analysis does, and that’s what we try to do here. Kudos to Comcast for standing up to these bullies.

Does the FCC have the authority after all?

MAP attorney Harold Feld has put together an interesting argument on the FCC’s authority to sanction Comcast over the BitTorrent management question:

If the FCC had said directly to Comcast: “If in the future evidence arises that any company is willfully blocking or degrading Internet content, affected parties may file a complaint with the Commission.” I would think we could all agree that this constituted “notice,” yes? Perhaps not notice of whether or not the behavior at issue constituted blocking or degrading — that is, after all — what the Commission determines in a complaint. But certainly if the FCC had told Comcast directly, to its face, no ifs and or buts, the above quoted line, I would hope we could all agree that Comcast had received reasonable notice that parties could bring complaints to the Commission, asking the Commission to determine whether the parties had behaved in an inappropriate manner.

Comcast rebuts this argument in a recent FCC filing.

IANAL so I don’t have an opinion on the soundness of Harold’s legal argument or Comcast’s rebuttal, but if Harold were correct, the argument would simply shift from authority to reasonable network management. The system Comcast was using made an a priori judgment that P2P was less worthy of all the bandwidth it wanted under load and unattended than interactive applications. This is not an unreasonable judgment, as a) it’s a bandwidth hog by design; and b) it was asking for more than the typical user was getting. But there are cases, to be sure, when a particular instance of P2P is not hogging, and they lead us to the empirical question about the link state at the time of the throttling. And that’s what I told the FCC in both my filing and my oral testimony.

I’m glad we have all these clever lawyers to resolve all these devious questions of authority, but wouldn’t it be simpler to know the rules in advance? That’s important because the terms like “degrade” are completely vague when we’re talking about a shared wire. Not managing P2P means that web browsers get degraded, and it makes no difference whether they’re degraded by ISP action or ISP inaction, so Comcast is screwed either way. That’s un-American.

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Liveblogging the FCC, Panel 2

See First Panel here, and the live video here.

David Farber, former FCC chief tech, and CMU:
What would you need 300 baud for? It motivated faster TTYs. We’re moving to faster networks, and that will stimulate new applications. If this going to lead to a better world, or to 1984? Don’t cut off the future with bad regulations. Big rush to restrict P2P traffic. It’s not all illegal, but it’s hard to tell. Peak loads are hard to restrict with monthly caps. Three dollar surcharge on video downloads.
Continue reading “Liveblogging the FCC, Panel 2”

Liveblogging FCC hearing in Pittsburgh

Here’s the video link.

(Didn’t hear Congressman Doyle, Martin, or Copps.)
Adelstein: (Misstates findings of Pew study on broadband adoption. Price is not really the issue, lack of interest is.) Complains about smackdown by the Third Circuit.
Tate: Don’t forget about piracy and the children.
McDowell: Don’t dry up the capital. Engineers solve engineering problems, not politicians and bureaucrats. Applause.

Panel 1:
Mark Cuban, Blog Maverick: Special-purpose networks better at what they do than the generic Internet. Multicast is the game-changer for IPTV, but it departs from the generic Internet model. Right.
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Court calls FCC “arbitrary and capricious”

The Third Circuit delivered the big smackdown to the FCC over the wardrobe malfunction incident:

The court said the FCC is free to change its policy without “judicial second-guessing,” but only with sufficient notice. “Because the FCC failed to satisfy this requirement,” the court added, “we find its new policy arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act as applied to CBS.”

It also found that CBS could not be held strcitly liable for the actions of independent contractors — another argument the FCC made for its finding. “The FCC cannot impose liability on CBS for the acts of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, independent contractors hired for the limited purposes of the halftime show,” the court said.

This ruling has implications for the proposed sanctions against Comcast: both involve post-hoc rules and both involve sticking it to someone other than the bad actor. The court doesn’t approve of the FCC making rules after an incident has occurred, which is exactly what the FCC proposes to do in the cast of Comcast’s management of P2P. Notice and rule-making have to precede sanctions, not follow them.

And the bad actor notion also applies. The Court found that Jackson and Timberlake were the bad actors, not CBS. In the P2P case, the users who congested the network are the bad actors, not the operator who sought to rein them in.

Chairman Martin, note this well.

Also of interest: the Court noted that most of the complaints against CBS were junk:

The Opinion notes CBS’s research indicating that over 85 percent of those complaints came from forms produced by activist groups. Many of the protests were filed in duplicate, “with some individual complaints appearing in the record up to 37 times,” CBS asserted.

The same can be said of the junk comments manufactured by Free Press against Comcast, of course. Free Press employed the electronic equivalent of seat-warmers to flood the FCC with junk comments, to the tune of 30,000 duplicate complaints.

Recommended reading

Brett Glass has filed a very good letter with the FCC regarding the current controversy. Of particular interest is one of the “Four Freedoms”, the freedom to run any application you want:

It’s important to step back and think about the implications of this clause – the one which Comcast has been accused in the current proceeding of having “violated.”

An application (a technical term for any computer program which is not an operating system) encodes and embodies behavior — any behavior at all that the author wants. And anyone can write one. So, insisting that an ISP allow a user to run any application means that anyone can program his or her computer to behave any way at all — no matter how destructively — on the Internet, and the ISP is not allowed to intervene. In short, such a requirement means that no network provider can have an enforceable Acceptable Use Policy or Terms of Service.

This is a recipe for disaster. Anyone who engages in destructive behavior, hogs bandwidth, or even takes down the network could and say, “I was just running an application… and I have the right to run any application I want, so you can’t stop me.”

The application freedom, like the others, is limited by “reasonable network management,” which is undefined. So the real exercise is defining this term, where the operative essence of the four freedoms is “you can do any damn thing you want, except for what you can’t do, and here’s what you can’t do.” Rather than enumerate freedoms, Michael Powell should have enumerated restrictions, on users, carriers, and services.

That’s hard work, but it’s the kind of thing that serious policy-makers do. Restrictions should start with the following list:

1. You can’t lie to your customers or the public, nor can you be economical with the truth:
– You have to fully disclose terms of service in language as plain is it can be, using standard metrics and terminology.

2. The Internet is a shared facility, and no one is entitled to overload any portion of it.

3. You can’t manipulate dominant market share in to fix prices or eliminate competition.

4. You can’t act arbitrarily or without notice to terminate services.

5. You can’t operate equipment on the pubic Internet with doors and windows open to malware, viruses, and bots. If your equipment is hijacked, you will summarily be cut off.

6. No stealing.


Some of these apply to carriers, some to users, and some to services. In a mature Internet, we all have responsibilities, not just freedoms. With great power, etc.

What’s good for Google is good for the Internet

Anna Eshoo used to be my Congressional representative, so I paid particular attention to her remarks in the recent Markey Committee hearing on Internet privacy. Frankly, she’s an embarrassment. She started her remarks by jumping all over Scott Cleland for being a shill of the broadband industry, which would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Scott started his remarks by disclosing who pays him, and I didn’t hear any disclosure from Rep. Eshoo about who’s paying her (see: Open Secrets for details of Google employee contributions to Eshoo and for Google PAC bucks. This Congresswoman has raised $3 million from PACs.)

She carried Google’s water, essentially saying: “Google is entitled to rape and pillage personal information for their own purposes, but nobody else better mess with it in the slightest way.” You can see the video of the hearing here, warts and all. Eshoo, like her colleague Zoe Lofgren (D, Google) has a place in these hearings, but it’s at the table with all the other lobbyists, not on the dias.

Aside from Eshoo, it wasn’t a totally bad hearing. Markey likes to simplify issues to the point that they’re all so black-and-white that you can’t see why they warrant discussion, but the witnesses were (with one exception) pretty clear on the fact that DPI is simply a technology, and as such has no moral significance. What matters, obviously, is how it’s used.

After all the hand-wringing, it should be clear that DPI isn’t a privacy issue in its own right because it’s simply a tool for harvesting information out of network packets. The privacy issues are solely in the realm of the information itself: who provides it and under what terms, who processes it, and who retains it. And these same issues have to be addressed for all personal information, on the Internet or off it, in the packets or on the web site.

But the pattern here is something that’s all too common in Congress: this technology has a scary name, so it must be bad. The focus on the technology with the scary name then takes up the time that should be spent on the important issue, privacy.

But privacy isn’t black-and-white, so we better not talk about it; it might be bad for Google.

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Attention Conan O’Brien

Linux inventor Linus Torvalds has a new skit for you:

“I think the OpenBSD crowd is a bunch of masturbating monkeys, in that they make such a big deal about concentrating on security to the point where they pretty much admit that nothing else matters to them. To me, security is important. But it’s no less important than everything else that is also important!” Torvalds concluded.

Torvalds’ comments drew various reactions from the OpenBSD developer community. In an e-mail exchange with, developer Ken Westerback wrote that an interest in security should lead to fixing all bugs.

“As far as I am concerned OpenBSD is the project with the most demonstrated interest in fixing all bugs found, no matter how trivial, and to systematically examine all source code for instances of bugs encountered,” wrote Westerback. “I believe that this is the bedrock principle of pursuing security–software that ‘just works’ rather than software with Rube Goldberg constructs of knobs and security theater scenery.”

Granted, some will say that Linus’ monkey is derivative of Conan’s bear, but it’s GPL’ed and that makes all the difference in the world.

The future of P2P

Nate Anderson writes an interesting blurb on the P2P Next research project in the Netherlands. The researchers hope to build a platform suitable for live TV delivery over the Internet:

Dutch academic Dr. Johan Pouwelse knows BitTorrent well, having spent a year of his life examining its inner workings. Now, as the scientific director of the EU-funded P2P-Next team, Pouwelse and his researchers have been entrusted with €19 million from the EU and various partners, and what they want in return is nothing less than a “4th-generation” peer-to-peer system that will one day be tasked with replacing over-the-air television broadcasts.

P2P-Next is the largest publicly-funded team in the world working on such technology (though plenty of researchers at Microsoft, IBM, and countless tiny startups are also racing to deliver a better P2P experience), and today the team launched a trial program designed to test its progress to date.

What sets the project apart from the traditional BitTorrent architecture is its focus not on downloadable video, but on live streaming. Current BitTorrent implementations, focused as they are on offering easy access to downloadable content, aren’t well suited to delivering live streaming TV across the Internet, but Pouwelse is convinced that this is the future. There’s “no doubt that TV will come through the Internet in a few years,” he told Ars earlier this week. Obviously, deployment of such a system depends on consumer electronics firms and broadcasters, but Pouwelse’s job is to make sure that the technology is ready when they are.

P2P has a lot of issues and problems as a delivery vehicle for live TV, so I don’t think this is a good approach, but a system that caches popular content in numerous places has the potential to distribute large and popular files with little redundant delivery. The important feature of such a system is its caching capability, however, not its “peer-to-peerness.”

See Torrent Freak for many more details.

TiVo rolling out YouTube support

Another sign of the ongoing convergence is TiVo new software enabling Series 3 and HD customers to play YouTube directly from TiVo in the latest software:

As I’d suspected, TiVo support for YouTube is indeed hidden within the 9.4 software update. Series 3 and TiVo HD subscribers should start seeing the application show up as early as tomorrow (Thursday), though the rollout will be completed over the next few weeks. And in some form of meta-irony, I’ve shot a brief video of YouTube on TiVo… on YouTube.

Switched digital video and TCP remote control are also parts of this release. TiVo is evolving into a bit of a nano data center, albeit very limited one.