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.
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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.

Network World on Martin’s rash order

Network World’s Brad Reed has a pretty good news piece on the order FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to sell to the Comission’s Democrats. He quotes one of my favorite people, me:

Network architect and inventor Richard Bennett, who has long been critical of net neutrality advocates, says he has some concerns about the precedent the FCC sets if it votes to affirm Martin’s recommendation. In particular, he worries that the principles in the FCC’s policy statement are far too broadly defined and they will be used to encumber upon traffic management practices that are necessary for ISPs to keep their QoS high for the majority of their customers. Bennett says while ISPs should be barred from engaging in anticompetitive behavior by actively discriminating against rival online content, it should be allowed to slow or even stop transfers that are degrading the Web experience for other users.

“Even in this case where the FCC has banned the used of application-based discrimination, it’s perfectly reasonable for ISPs to discriminate against applications on behalf of a particular user,” he says. “Say you’ve got two customers, and one is using VoIP and the other is using BitTorrent. You’re going to need to give VoIP traffic preference over BitTorrent in order to ensure quality of service.”

I actually said something a little different. I want the ISP to allocate bandwidth fairly among users of a given service tier, and then prioritize within each account. So if the same user is running BitTorrent and Vonage at the same time, I want the Vonage traffic to have priority. Martin’s order would ban that practice, and that would be a Bad Thing.

The fact that Martin is proposing to do just that tells you that the FCC is not ready to impose regulations on ISPs yet. More study is needed, and some public comment on the proposed rules.

Kind of like, you know, a formal rule-making procedure. Hell of an idea, eh?

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Comcast’s and BitTorrent’s Rodney King Moment

Check my latest piece in The Register on the Comcast/BitTorrent detente.

Analysis So Comcast will stop shaping peer-to-peer seeding sessions with spoofed TCP RST commands. I caught up with the cable giant’s CTO Tony Werner on Thursday for more details.

The move should delight the company’s critics. These innocent control packets have been compared to identity theft, to collusion with dictatorial regimes, and outright hacking of customer systems. BitTorrent may not be an IETF-sanctioned RFC protocol in its own right, but Comcast has decided to bind itself to traffic management practices that don’t produce obviously non-standard packets. Instead, they’re going to install additional equipment that will do real-time traffic accounting by user, feeding back information to the cable infrastructure that will equitably distribute opportunities to offer upstream traffic. In essence, this system makes the cable standard DOCSIS much more sophisticated; now it will behave just like DSL, only faster.

In DSL systems, each customer typically has a dedicated physical cable to a DSLAM, a type of concentrator. The DSLAM aggregates customer data onto a common upstream link according to a fairness algorithm that picks frames for from buffers at the heads of these dedicated links in a manner that minimizes bandwidth hogging. In the new Comcast system, the fairness algorithm is deployed in the CMTS (the cable equivalent of a DSLAM), and acts on buffers in each customer’s cable modem. The CMTS is able to do this because DOCSIS data transfers from customer to network are preceded with brief requests for bandwidth. Armed with intelligence about each user’s recent traffic history and the state of the network generally, the newly-intelligent CMTS will schedule bandwidth by customer according to a fairness algorithm of its own, with the same range of choices that exist for DSLAMs.

This was fun to write, and the reaction has so far been very positive, which is unusual among the crowd that comments at The Reg.