The New Paranoid style in American politics

The always provocative Andrew Orlowski finds a classic theme in the blogosphere’s reaction to the “net neutrality” debate:

For a moment, let’s dispose of the telco lobby’s argument that the phantom of a “free market” means any new regulation is unnecessary. With spectacularly poor timing, AT&T launched its IPTV service this week, pricing it exactly in line with the cable operators it’s competing with. And you thought competition is supposed to lower prices? The cable companies and IP giants are a duopoly – and they don’t like competition. Verizon’s patent infringement lawsuit against Vonage reminds us of that.

For the Neutralists, any suggestion of packet prioritization was interpreted as a speech issue – as censorship. But packet prioritization is very useful to the health of a data network. Neutralists assumed that because some services may have a higher priority, and travel faster – as video packets must – their favorite services would automatically travel slower. This is in spite of the recent doubling – at no extra cost – of internet bandwidth to Verizon fiber customers, who are the only US consumers to enjoy European-style broadband speeds today.

As for business – which you’ll note conspicuously failed to join the campaign – the various attempts at drafting ‘neutrality’ legislation would have rendered today’s Service Level Guarantees, the SGAs, or SLGs which businesses demand – illegal. IP expert Richard Bennett has offered a sensible technical antidote to both the free market utopians who came out to support the big telcos, and the hysterical Neutralists. Bennett argues that the net needs new policies because VoIP and Bittorrent simply saturate it further. You may disagree, but at least it’s a rational argument.

That last line needs a little clarifying as we failed to make telephone contact today: VoIP won’t generate much traffic until a lot more people use it, but it’s the canary in the coal mine that will die as BitTorrent overload sets in.

Technology is all about change, so any movement allegedly grounded in tech that’s resistant to change on principle has some problems.

8 thoughts on “The New Paranoid style in American politics”

  1. Free market arguments are good but they’re not as SOLID as the technical arguments against Net stupidity and Net insanity.

  2. The former CTO and head of research of British Telecom has an interesting take here.

    Money quote:

    The reality is that all the necessary control can be realized from the periphery of the net. It really does not require a huge centralized control system with billing added on top for good measure. Is there an existence theorem for this alternative approach? Yes! Just take a look at Japan and Korea. They are streets ahead with populations already watching TV and listening to the radio over fiber to the home using IP.

  3. The reality is that all the necessary control can be realized from the periphery of the net. It really does not require a huge centralized control system with billing added on top for good measure.

    Well, the next time anyone proposes a “Huge Centralized Control System with billing added on top” to provide enhanced QoS, we’ll give Mr. Cochrane a call.

    The media distribution paradigm in Japan is different, eg. fewer restrictions on rebroadcasting etc. that make it easier to legally distribute movies and TV over teh internet. Same with the Arab Emirates, and a bunch of other suprising places with more advanced broadband video diployments. The point here is that having more advanced soft services often has little to do with Telecom Regulation or NN, having advanced last mile networks is only part of the equation. You’ve got Entertainment Company lawyers and franchise regulations to worry about in addition to any technology constraints.

  4. I have become very suspicious about the “other country” examples thrown around by the Neutralists. For example, I often hear the following claims made:

    1) “Other countries” have ISPs that offer speeds several times standard U.S. DSL.

    –OK…everywhere? Are those real speeds (instead of “up to” speeds)? (I suspect the answers to both of these is no.)

    In the U.S., several cable companies offer very high speed cable modems in certain markets. For example, Cablevision offers speeds up to 30 Mbps.

    2) “Other countries” are rolling out FTTP.

    –OK…have they rolled it out everywhere? Do they even plan to roll it out everywhere in the near future? (I actually know the answer to both of these…NO.)

    In the U.S., Verizon is rolling out FTTP on a rather broad scale. AT&T is doing it in limited areas. Cable companies are running fiber deeper into their networks. (Coaxial makes FTTP less necessary.)

    It seems that the Neutralists would have us base public policy on third-hand, often incorrect and misleading information.

  5. I have become very suspicious about the “other country” examples thrown around by the Neutralists

    Exactly. “Most Japanese Consumers”, for instance, live in high rises, and provisioning high speed internetconnection (which is mostly a wiring issue) to high rises is far, far
    cheaper than provisioning it to spread-out detached suburban dwellings.

    A general rule-of-thumb is that wiring speed for a given level ofcopper technology goes down as the square of the distance, and thatthe cost of providing a particular speed level goes up as the cubeof the distance. Optical fiber has the same issues, but they only
    kick in at intercontinental range, which is why new high-speed interconnects will be optical fiber. Optical fiber costs are instead dominated by end costs and splice costs (it is very difficult to make a good low-loss splice in the field), so initial deployment
    costs are high, and retrofit costs are much higher.

    The question becomes “why can’t Americans who live in high risesget better internet connection than those who don’t”, and that isprobably due to their relatively small percentages and an egalitarian PUC structure. Like any country, the mass providers focus regulatorybattles and business efforts on the center of the bell curve, and the
    percentage of middle-class-to-rich potential customers living in high
    rises in the US is miniscule.

    In England, 2Mbps DSL, at $40/month, is typical in urban areas and nonexistent in rural. In rural Sweden (and that includes suburban density rural towns) all you can get is dialup.
    In rural suburban-density Japan (at least as of my visit in 2003) all you can get is dialup as well. Just what you would expect, given the densities involved.

    In suburban US, new suburban housing areas are frequently getting connected with optical fiber to the home. When that becomes statistically significant, and justifies the regulatory effort, you can expect interconnect speeds to these new houses to soar technically, there are few barriers to speeds in the Gbps range. However, the old wire plant that feeds most of existing suburbia will be replaced very slowly.

  6. Max,

    That is very interesting information. I have family members that live in small rural towns and far out suburbs. All of them have access 1+ Mbps broadband – either cable or DSL. In fact, most have access to both. Moreover, my parents live in a rural area a few miles away from the nearest town. They have access to both DSL and cable broadband.

    I suspect that the current state of U.S. broadband is much like cell phones 5 to 10 years ago. At the time, the U.S. adoption of cell phones was far behind many other countries. Several people threw around conspiracy theories and were advocating government involvement. However, the main reason why cell phone uptake in the U.S. was largely due to the higher quality and lower cost of our landline service. Today, the U.S. enjoys some of the lowest cell phone costs in the world and has been rapidly closing the gap.

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