Senator challenges punk to debate

Jon Stewart, the hypocrite girly-man who blasted Crossfire for being too entertaining and Sen. Ted Stevens for being too accurate in his description of the Internet, has been called out:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mocked by comedian Jon Stewart for calling the Internet a bunch of tubes, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens said on Thursday he is open to going on Stewart’s popular “Daily Show” for a rebuttal.

Stewart makes his living selling the cynicism of the stupid to the clueless, so I doubt he has the balls to face Stevens face-to-face.

Here’s a nice comment on Stevens’ metaphoric description on CNet by Rod Adams:

I thought that old Ted did a pretty fair job of concisely describing a complex issue about a complicated system using words that had a chance of being understood by most of the people he was talking to. Unlike most of the people who have been commenting back and forth, the man has made his living for many years by trying to fit complex thoughts into sound bites or short speeches. He is, after all, an elected official.

The Internet is a network with as much variation in traffic capacities and flow as the road network. There are portions that are the equivalent of cow paths, dirt roads, city streets full of traffic lights, parking lots with improperly designed entrances and exits, and wide open freeways in Montana or West Virginia. There are intersections, security gateways, and “mixing bowls”. The volume of traffic on each of these portions is also variable by location, time of day and major events.

Stevens might very well have had difficult with receiving email in a timely fashion – his office is, after all, probably served by a network with tightly controlled firewalls, insufficient capacity (I am a government employee and understand how poorly designed some of our networks are and how slow they are to be upgraded) and probably multiple layers of routers and switches trying to add more drops or backbone wiring.

Stewart did a good job introducing Beavis and Butthead on MTV; the Comedy Central show has been less well-done.

This is not a duopoly

According to our Vint Cerf, broadband access to the Internet is “at best a duopoly.” Reality, however, disagrees with Google’s chief evangelist. See the latest FCC report on broadband competition summarized by Scott Cleland::

The other very powerful piece of evidence was in Table 15 “Percentage of Zip Codes with High Speed Lines in Service.”

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 3 or more competitive broadband providers increased 21%, from 67% of all zip codes to 81% of all zip codes.

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 5 or more competitive broadband providers increased 35%, from 39% of all zip codes to 53% of all zip codes.

* In 2005, the number of zip codes with 10 or more competitive broadband providers increased 62%, from 13% of all zip codes to 21% of all zip codes.

* Moreover, the number of zip codes where there were no broadband providers at all fell from 4.6% of all zip codes at the end of 2004 to 1% of all zip codes at the end of 2005.

Market forces are producing more supply: in the number of competitors serving a market and in the numbers of markets served.

This is Google’s worst nightmare, as it totally erodes any basis for the subsidy they seek in the form of net neutrality regulations.

The trouble with end-to-end

We’ve all heard that the Internet is an end-to-end network. This means that it’s different in some major way from the telephone network, and different from other types of packet networks that we might very well be dependent upon had it not been for the success of the Internet, which of course is a result of its superior, end-to-end architecture. And end-to-end network is one in which “intelligence” is concentrated at the end points, with the network itself operating as a “magic cloud” that simply delivers packets as the end-points dictate. End points control delivery destination and rate, and the network simply passes them through.

But is this really true? In many important respects the Internet actually gives up much less end-user control than the telephone network. Routing, for example, is not conducted under end-point control. It could be, if we used the technique known as “source routing” where the transmitter of a packet doesn’t just specify where a packet should go but how to get there, hop-by-hop. The IBM Token Ring used this technique, and there’s a form of it in the RFCs that describe the Internet’s operation but it’s never been more than experimental. The phone network actually allows the user much more control over the routing of calls than the Internet does. I can choose any long-distance carrier I want for each call that I make by dialing a certain prefix before the phone number. So I can use one carrier for regional long distance, another for national long-distance, and different ones for each country I dial. That’s end-user control.

If I had that kind of end-to-end control on the Internet, I could select one NSP for bulk data transfers such as BitTorrent that would be really cheap and another NSP for VoIP that had to be really regular.

The Internet puts control of network congestion at the end-points, but that doesn’t do anything for the user as it’s all a magic cloud to him. It compromises the integrity of the network, however, as the health of thousands of internal links – selected by the network and not by the user – is dependent on good behavior at all of the end points. We’ve talked about how this works before. When a queue overflows, TCP eventually notices packet loss and throttles back its send rate, which eventually alleviates the overload condition. It’s the same logic that’s supposed to operate when the electric grid is overloaded because we’re all air-conditioning like mad. The power company tells us to turn off our air-conditioners and enjoy the heat. Some do, and others don’t. TCP’s good neighbor policy is just as easily defeated as the power company’s, so the good neighbors have to throttle back twice as hard to make up for those who don’t throttle back at all.

So it’s actually quite easy to argue that the Internet has botched the location of major control functions. Routing has great significance to the user and less to the network, but it’s all under network control, while congestion is just the opposite.

This dubious assignment of functions is exactly what net neutrality is meant to protect. It has real impact on future applications. We use a lot of mobile devices today, a big departure from the way we did things in the 70s when the Internet was designed and the PC was not even a pipe dream. Mobile devices – laptops and phones – should be reachable wherever they’re attached, but the Internet doesn’t allow this as their physical location is encoded into the addresses they use. Your IP address isn’t just a device address, it’s a network attachment point address. This is not a sound way to do things today, but having the network keep track of where you are is a “smart network” feature, a heresy in the religion of end-to-end.

These tradeoffs may have appeared sensible in the 1970s, but they don’t any longer, and no religion should force us to accept them indefinitely.

Influencing the political process for advancment of technology

Ken Camp is an interesting guy. He recognizes that net neutrality is a “fabricated issue” but he still wants to advise “netheads” to make more influential contributions to the political process:

That isn’t the only place the Bellheads win. Look to political process. I’ve oveen wondered about our own ranks. Jeff Pulver. David Isenberg. Tom Evslin. Several others. Leading voices fighting the battle from without rather than stepping into the political fray of politics to redirect the system from within. If we’re going to win some measure of control away from the Bellheads, there is only one way. The political power base needs to shift. Netheads have to become the influeinfluencerslicy, something we are clearly not today.

Why help them?

Allow me to digress. I don’t like the distinction between Bellheads and Netheads. I’ve worked with people from the Bell companies who’ve made heavy contributions to the networking standards and protocols that we all use today in and around the Internet. One example is the twisted-pair Ethernet standards, which started with something called StarLAN that initially came from AT&T IS. The bellheads understand networking – how to move data through the tubes efficiently – much better than the netheads, who are mainly concerned with what to put in and what to take out.

The people he mentions – Jeff Pulver, David Isenberg, Tom Evslin – are actually quite naive about the operational dynamics of packet processing, forwarding, queue management, error recovery, routing table management, and the other crucial aspects of network operations. They’re marketing people, not engineers.

They approach politics in the same way they approach network engineering, by formulating fanciful simplifications and then trying to influence the process as they would like it to be rather than as it is.

And that’s fortunate for all of us, because the worst nightmare for users of the Internet would be to subject it to the whims of philistine, dilettante regulators.

Network engineering is a tough subject that requires a great deal of study to crack. Political lobbying isn’t nearly as hard, but it takes a lot of time to perfect, as politics is largely based on trust. Developing relationships takes a long time and a long attention span, and that’s a good thing as it weeds out most of the people who shouldn’t be involved in it. I learned that the hard way, by lobbying my state legislature a weekly basis for three years while holding a full-time job. with a major supplier of networking equipment.

VoIP going downhill

I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so:

With almost 1 million VoIP connections tested through its Web site, Brix said that about 20 percent of all calls had unacceptable quality. This is up from about 15 percent of calls made about a year ago.

Let me make this as simple as possible: there are 1 billion people on the Internet today, and they each want more bandwidth. Unless bandwidth is continually added to the Internet, it slows down. VoIP is the first casualty of bandwidth congestion.

Net neutrality only makes this trend worse.

Loose Tube Optical Fiber Cable

Just FYI, here’s a bit of optical fiber cable for telecom applications like, you know, the Internet. It’s a tube:

Loose Tube Optical Fiber Cable

WLC’s loose tube cable consists of acrylate coated fibers placed loosely in a gel-filled thermoplastic tube 12 fibers are respectively colored. Required number of loose tube and fibers are stranded around a metallic center member, followed by water blocking filling and aramid yarn for flame-retardant cable only.) Then a black polyethylene inner sheath is applied. A water blocking tape shell is applied over the polyethylene inner sheath. The outer jacket is LAP or LSP, or FR-LAP. The application is good at urban junction & long-haul communication. Please call for further details.

Now you know.

Notable Quote

T.J. Rodgers is probably the smartest CEO in Silicon Valley. So what does he think about net neutrality?

Rodgers: This is where basically the Net is not allowed to discriminate? I think it’s an obscenity. I think people that have paid for the wires and cables should able to charge whatever they want for their product. And for other people to come in and force companies to run their businesses and set their prices is absurd. If some of those companies came into being by virtue of a government monopoly–the old AT&T comes to mind–then fine. But to go and tell companies what they can and cannot charge money for–that’s un-American. It’s against freedom. It’s just bad news.

Like I said, he’s a smart guy.

Taking Stevens Seriously

Prominent network engineers Jon Stewart and Alyssa Milano have bashed Sen. Ted Stevens for his description of the Internet, but it was actually pretty accurate. See Prof. Ed Felton’s explanation:

I’ll grant that Stevens sounds pretty confused on the recording. But’s let’s give the guy a break. He was speaking off the cuff in a meeting, and he sounds a bit agitated. Have you ever listened to a recording of yourself speaking in an unscripted setting? For most people, it’s pretty depressing. We misspeak, drop words, repeat phrases, and mangle sentences all the time. Normally, listeners’ brains edit out the errors.

In this light, some of the ridicule of Stevens seems a bit unfair. He said the Internet is made up of “tubes”. Taken literally, that’s crazy. But experts talk about “pipes” all the time. Is the gap between “tubes” and “pipes” really so large? And when Stevens says that his staff sent him “an Internet” and it took several days to arrive, it sounds to me like he meant to say “an email” and just misspoke.

So let’s take Stevens seriously, and consider the possibility that somewhere in his head, or in the head of a staffer telling him what to say, there was a coherent argument that was supposed to come out of Stevens’ mouth but was garbled into what we heard. Let’s try to reconstruct that argument and see if it makes any sense.

Not that we want to interfere with anybodys good time, mind you, but Stevens understands computers and the Internet better than say, Jon Stewart. And Stewart’s slam pretty well hits the Neuts in the face: if you believe Stevens is a clueless moron, why do you insist that he impose new and unprecedented regulations on the Internet for you?

More Net Neutrality Paranoia

Here they go again. The Neutralists are claiming that Comcast censored an ABC news segment on the sleeping Comcast technician, so we need heavy regulations for the Internet.

But like the last five such claims they’ve made, this one is also nothing but hot air:

UPDATE: ABC said they confim it was an editing error on their part. If so, the gaffe should be seen at any of their ABC News Now vendors, which include which include AOL, Bellsouth, SBC/Yahoo and Verizon. We’re still working on scanning and uploading the AOL manual, so if any readers want to go and try and corroborate with snagged video clips and send them to us, that would be awesome.

UPDATE: Comcast says the feed has been repaired and can be seen on their site here (requires subscription). They also say the problem was replicated for all their outlets, not just Comcast. Without any other verification available at this time, we’ll have to take their word for it. No complaints were heard from users of the four other services.

The Consumerist had the integrity to run a correction, albeit it really lame one. How many neut blogs will go even that far? Not Save the Internet, where the original false story is still the most recent blog, and a nice lead to similarly paranoid drooling about MySpace and Craig’s Listhas finally been deleted.

Incidentally, Precursor has a nice little Flash animation that goes after the Freudian slip committed by the owners of “It’s Our Net, Dammit”. After listening to Dave Farber “debate” Vint Cerf, I can see the Royal Sense of Entitlement the content barons have. Cerf simply recited sound bites for an hour, and nothing he said lead any credence to the claim that he has a technical background. You can read the same sound bites on Save the Internet, with pictures.

UPDATE: Save the Internet deleted my trackback from their uncorreced story.

That’s what censorship looks like.

UPDATE: Kudos to Save the Internet for deleting the phony story. Maybe there’s hope for them yet.

Old net geezers play trip-you-up

Orlowski’s review of the Grand Old Geezer smackdown is spot-on:

Comment The rolling net “neutrality” debate brought two of the internet’s most distinguished elder statesmen together in mortal combat this week. The two gentlemen, Vint Cerf and Dave Farber, said they agreed on most things. But where they didn’t, they tried to pull the chair away just as their opponent tried to sit down.

Farber had the factrs on his side, but he’s not nearly as smooth as the well-trained Cerf so it wasn’t apparent.

Debating tip for Farber: Don’t make your strongest points as “asides”, develop them full on.

Comment for Cerf: You’re the intellectual equivalent of polyester, dude. Thanks.