The Senate takes a stand for freedom

The Senate took a step toward preserving the freedom to innovate yesterday with the introduction of a telecom bill that puts the wild claims of the net neuts in perspective:

Absent from the legislation are any regulations related to “Net neutrality,” also known as network neutrality, that companies such as, Google, Yahoo, Intel and Microsoft have been lobbying for during the past few months. Instead of handing the Federal Communications Commission extensive powers to police violations–an idea defeated in a House of Representatives committee vote last week–the FCC would merely be required to prepare annual reports on any problems.

That’s exactly what’s appropriate for now: show us a problem and we’ll fix it, but buzz off if all you have is hysteria.

Sen. Ted Stevens is no dummy.

11 thoughts on “The Senate takes a stand for freedom”

  1. My expertise is on astrodynamics computation, so I not extraordinarily well versed in the mechanics of moving TCP packets around, but I take a certain issue with the comment “show us a problem and we’ll fix it, but buzz off if all you have is hysteria.”

    It seems to me that Net Neutrality is an attempt to prevent the problem of preferential packet routing and the attendant de-facto censorship of data disfavored by the telcos from arising. It isn’t a serious issue now because of the very “onerous” regulation you seem to be so against. If we permit the problem to arise by permitting de-facto censorship, it will be much harder to correct after the fact, won’t it? Isn’t it better to prevent the problem from arising in the fist place?

  2. Have you ever heard the saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” That’s what a Net Neutrality amendment is: prevention.

    Imagine if the founding fathers had formed a First Amendment Commission. You know, to report on any violations. And if there was a problem, they’d try to fix it. I mean, all those people complaining about potential violations are just hysterical.

    And, all of this would be very different if the billions and billions of dollars we gave to the telecommunications companies in the late 90s actually bought us a true high speed network. One with static IPs and symmetrical rates. And if there were more than one or two choices for broadband access for most Americans.

    The best solution? Nationalize the Internet. Every inch of it. Take it out of the hands of corporations altogether. Korea, Japan, Sweden and many other countries have done this, and have a much more mature infrastructure than we have.

  3. Rheinhardt, the problem with net neut censorship is that it causes one problem – a very real one – in the interest of solving another one – a very hypothetical one. Preferential packet routing is a good thing, because it allows each of us to talk on the phone while we’re watching TV and downloading a file over the same wire without suffering a loss of quality. Preferential packet routing is the essence of QoS.

    It has nothing to do with any kind of “censorship” and whoever told you it did is a big fat lying liar.

  4. Well I think there’s a distinction between the type of “preferential” routing you’re referring to, the technical question of allocation of bandwidth in a fixed width pipe to the end user, and distinction between the source of packets of a given type. I have seen nothing in any of the discussion of net neutrality which says one couldn’t lower the amount of bandwidth dedicated to an end user’s BitTorrent download during the time that he is getting a VOIP call in order to have the call of sufficent voice quality while keeping the download rate above zero.

    The concern is what that bandwidth differential would be in the case of VOIP call from a service that the broadband provider is partnered with versus one that it isn’t. If a call from VOIP service A comes in great while service B sounds like crap and loses connection for no other reason than Comcast has decided it oughta be that way, that seems to be a problem to me.

    There have already been cases of ISPs attempting to block or degrade access to Web services from competing providers or from parties which which the ISP has a business dispute with. From the SaveTheInternet site,

    Last year, Telus — Canada’s version of AT&T — blocked their Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom the company was having a labor dispute. And Madison River, a North Carolina ISP, blocked its customers from using any competing Internet phone service.

    I apologize if I find the generalized ISP response to this concern, “This will never happen, just trust us” to be not altogether satisfactory. If you or anyone can provide a technical mechanism that would disallow the kind of behavior mentioned above that would be one thing, but I’m much more worried about this kind of abuse than about possibly having to wait another year or two to get the latest fancy Internet thing.

    I have no problem with heavy users of bandwidth being charged a premium. I have seen the telco argument that big truck companies should pay a higher tax toward road maintenance than single-car families. That makes perfect sense. But that doesn’t entitle the truck to drive a twice the speed limit on the same highways also occupied by those families.

  5. Look, Reinhardt, here’s the issue: some applications are less tolerant of delay than others, this is a delay issue not a bandwidth issue. The way we deal with this in network design is to move delay-sensitive packets to the head of the queue. Net neuts say that’s wrong, that all packets have to be queued first-come, first served.

    Let’s suppose the ISP offers you two service plans, one first come first served (or “Best Effort” only as we say in the trade), and another plan that will prioritize packets for you based on application requirements (which may be communicated in various ways). This is OK, right, because you’re paying for a queue ordering service that works the way you want it to, and you have QoS.

    Now if it’s OK for you to pay the ISP for better QoS, why isn’t it also OK to allow external services to pay the ISP to add QoS to accounts that don’t pay for it themselves, for the duration of your communication with them? You may question the wisdom of such an arrangement, but there’s no logic to making it illegal.

    But that’s what the neuts want to do. In the networking business we call this arrangement “bandwidth on demand” or “QoS on demand” and we regard it as a good thing. The critics aren’t actually network engineers and they don’t understand what it is and why it’s good.

  6. Some of the critics are network engineers who understand the economics of monopoly pricing and the ethics of bigCos like WorldCom. Bandwidth on demand has long been available in separate corporate private networking arrangements. But the Internet is different from that. I much favor the idea of a nationalized backbone, but failing that I think it most likely that profit motive will continue to drive capacity growth only so long as the infrastructure is content agnostic. If you have sufficient bandwidth you don’t need priortization. Guys like you and me Richard were raised in a culture of scarcity. Now it is cheaper to haul glass than it is to provision nancy little networks with fancy little switches that sort Amanda Congdon and IT Conversations from the Gutenberg project. QoS is so nineties. We need something better than QoS. Like the bumper sticker says: “Fat pipe, always on, get out of the way.”

    (Have you ever noticed that the telco is forever amortizing an investment in obsolete technology by refusing to deliver current technology and charging an arm and a leg today for what you wish they had delivered yesterday? Or is it just me?)

  7. Here’s the key point: If you have sufficient bandwidth you don’t need priortization. How much is sufficient, and can you always get more bandwidth if significant portions of your network are wireless?

    That’s the problem, you see. We’re operating on the supermarket model where you have a quick-check line for 10 items or less and the slow line for the big purchasers. We don’t want Skype taking 100 items at a time through the quick check, but if they want to re-engineer their protocol for the wireless age, I’m all for it. But we all got to pay for what we use, one way or another.


    But let’s build out intelligently and keep an eye on the corporate models that would maximize revenues by creating artificial conditions of scarcity. “Tariffed” service offerings based on prioritization would introduce just such a bias in the system. Service commitments (like service level agreements) could well make use of active componentry that supports prioritization, but a little chicken wire of regulation will go a long way to keeping the fox and these particulars chickens separated.

  9. Richard, you’d have a lot better case if you could only get the leadership of Internet2 on your side. You’d think _they_ would know? Or are they just a bunch of ignoramuses like Lawrence Lessig, Bob Kahn, and Vint Cerf? They just don’t _get_ it, unlike you (and the telco lobbyists)?

    CIO Magazine: “while a network owner like AT&T is busy experimenting with different architectures, device and application makers would be forced to delay releasing their innovative products until they knew how to make them compatible with the new network technology, says Gary Bachula, vice president for external affairs for Internet2, the ultra-high-speed network that connects more than 200 colleges and universities. Furthermore, letting network owners adopt different standards will inevitably lead to interoperability problems, proponents of net neutrality argue. Look no further than the wireless phone system…”

    And beyond differing corporate models — what about international handoffs?

    Tell the carriers “Hands off the Internet!”:

  10. So your new argument is that experimentation is bad and we have to nip it in the bud? That’s not going anywhere.

  11. Paul writes “The best solution? Nationalize the Internet. Every inch of it. Take it out of the hands of corporations altogether. Korea, Japan, Sweden and many other countries have done this, and have a much more mature infrastructure than we have.”

    Frank writes “I much favor the idea of a nationalized backbone, but failing that I think it most likely that profit motive will continue to drive capacity growth only so long as the infrastructure is content agnostic. If you have sufficient bandwidth you don’t need priortization.”

    The countries Paul mentions have multiple private players in both broadband Internet and backbone (IP transit) service, so I’m not sure what he’s referring to as nationalized there. South Korea built a high-speed backbone for government and public institutions, but there are at least 9 private ISPs and multiple international backbone providers in the Korean market, including my employer, Global Crossing. (We operate in all three of the countries you mentioned.)

    Paul, if your suggestion is followed, who do you propose will take possession of and operate Global Crossing’s subsea cables? Governments don’t run Internet backbones, and many of the people who do run them don’t want to work for governments–ever been to a NANOG meeting?

    I think the end result of that would be a return to the pace of innovation of the pre-divestiture Bell System. As I pointed out in a recent blog entry, Touch-Tone was invented in the late 1950s, promoted at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, announced as a product by Bell Labs in 1964, and then rolled out to consumers in the 1980s.

    Regarding Frank’s comment, there are good reasons for creating virtual circuits and segregating traffic with special delivery requirements from general Internet traffic. Global Crossing’s network uses separate MPLS VPNs for IP-VPN, IP-Video, VOIP, and Internet traffic, so that the latter can’t disrupt the other three, and none of them can disrupt each other. Customers have the ability to mark and class data that they send to us, as well, and they do so. No matter how much bandwidth you have, there are enough compromised machines out there on the public Internet to fill it all up if a miscreant in control of them wants to do so. It’s a really bad idea to have emergency services or other real-time-sensitive services subject to such disruptions. The public Internet is a very noisy and dangerous place, with attacks occurring all the time. IP-VPNs tend to be very quiet and free of attacks.

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