FCC fills empty job

Kevin Martin’s FCC has hired a new chief technologist, Jon Peha:

Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin named John Peha chief technologist, the senior adviser post at the commission on technology issues, based out of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis.

I’m a bit disappointed. Peha is the guy who delivered strong testimony denouncing the Comcast management of BitTorrent without bothering to study BitTorrent’s use of TCP connections. His testimony was substantially wrong on a factual basis. Perhaps Peha can persuade me that he means well, but his performance so far has not been encouraging.

UPDATE: What am I talking about? Well take a look at the comments Peha filed in the Comcast matter, which are on-line at the FCC’s web site. He understands what’s at stake:

In the debate over network neutrality, both sides can make points that deserve serious consideration from policymakers. Such consideration requires clear and accurate statements of the facts, to say nothing of the broader issues at stake. Unfortunately, the public debate has often been filled with hyperbole and spin from advocates on both sides.1 Such rhetoric, combined with issues of technical complexity and subtlety, has made it unnecessarily difficult for policymakers to make informed decisions.

So what did he do? He misrepresented the facts and engaged in advocacy spin, to wit:

Comcast sends Device A a reset packet, with parameters set such that Device A will believe the reset is coming from Device B. Device A is therefore led to believe (incorrectly) that Device B is unwilling or unable to continue the session. The same may be occurring at Device B. Thus, the devices determine that the session must be ended, and no further packets can be sent.

It is factually incorrect to say that the process described above merely delays P2P traffic.

Bzzzttt, wrong answer. BitTorrent “sessions” consist of multiple TCP connections, so terminating one, or two, or any number less than the total number of TCP connections a given instance of BitTorrent can use at any particular time is in fact “delaying” instead of “blocking.” Peha makes the assumption that BitTorrent “sessions” are the same as TCP “sessions” and they clearly aren’t. Most of what makes BitTorrent troublesome, in fact, is the large number of TCP “sessions” it uses. It’s particularly outrageous that Peha charges Comcast with misrepresentation and then goes on to misrepresent in his own right.

He then goes on to contradict himself and admit that it’s really “delaying” after all:

After the flow of P2P from a given sender and recipient is blocked or terminated, the recipient is likely to seek some other source for the content. If the content is extremely popular, there are many options available. Consequently, this leads to a small delay, somewhat decreasing the rate at which this recipient can gather content.

So which is it, Dr. Peha, “blocking” or “delaying?” He can’t even make up his own mind. He then goes on to whack Comcast for targeting P2P:

Comcast has elected to employ mechanisms that degrade service for a particular application, i.e. P2P, instead of relying only on congestion control mechanisms that deal with traffic of all application types. Central to their justification of this approach has been the assertion that it is specifically P2P that has an adverse impact on other traffic. This assertion is untrue.

…and he goes on talk about blue cars and red cars, a lot of nonsensical fluff. The fact remains that P2P is the only application with such a great ability to consume bandwidth on a non-stop basis as to degrade the Internet experience of web browsing, and that’s what Comcast was trying to protect.

And more significantly, Peha fails to grasp the fact that applications are not created equal in terms of their tolerance for delay. P2P has no particular time constraints when running as a seeder (serving files to the rest of the Internet) but interactive applications like Web browsing and VoIP have very little tolerance for delay. And now we have a standard in place that requires ISPs to ignore these technical distinctions, thanks largely to the inept analysis of people like Peha.

In additional remarks he confesses his ignorance of network management techniques generally, and compares the Comcast method to a “man in the middle attack.” If that’s what he thinks, really and truly, he’s seriously under-informed. A “man in the middle attack” is means of breaking into a system by stealing passwords. What system did Comcast break into, and what password did they use to do so?

In Kevin Martin’s FCC this outlandish foolishness is a job interview. Peha is smarter than Sarah Palin, but he’s no Dave Farber. Surely the FCC can do better than to employ an advocate in the position that requires depth of technical knowledge and a commitment to impartiality. Kevin Martin has failed the American people again.

A more suitable candidate exists: Just a Girl in Short Shorts Talking about Whatever:

Comcast was regulating the download speeds of peer to peer networks, such as BitTorrent. I like to pirate movies as much as next cheapskate, but I do not think it is necessary that it be given equal priority with VoIP (voice over Internet).

That’s the level of insight we need in a Chief Technologist.

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