Tom Evslin’s talk yesterday at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center (download MP3 here) on net neutrality was interesting for a couple of reasons. I’m apparently Public Enemy Number 1 among the champions of freedom. No sooner did Tom mention my name (the first part of his talk was an attempt to rebut my concerns about the Snowe-Dorgan regulations) than some yahoo jumped up and started screaming that I’m nothing but a troll, not even an engineer, and just a puppet of the phone company. I believe said yahoo was David Isenberg, the creator of the “Stupid Network” meme and a genius at self-promotion. He interrupted Tom several more times with some fairly crazy ideas, and Tom finally had to shut him up.
I’ve been critical of Isenberg and this “stupid network” idea for at least three years, so this whole “tool of the Telcos” thing is actually quite hilarious. Am I an engineer? Well, I have a philosophy degree and some graduate work in network engineering, have my name on several networking standards and patents, have started, contributed to, and lead several networking vendor groups, and my job title has the word “engineer” in it, so I’d have to say actually, yes, I am an engineer. (I wonder how many engineers were in that audience.) As to the “troll” charge, that’s in the eye of the beholder. I don’t tend to follow the herd, if that’s what it means, but I believe I offer substantial arguments most of the time. I’d certainly compare the corpus of my engineering work to Isenberg’s any old time.
In the course of the talk, Tom maintained that his success with ITXC, the first VoIP wholesaler, proved that the Internet doesn’t need any special mechanisms to provide high-quality voice delivery. And indeed, this is sometimes true.
While the Internet is not a neutral network, having been designed to transfer files, at the margins it can do some real-time carriage, sometimes reliably, especially if only one or two companies are exploiting it. But according to ITXC’s own claims, the general user can’t do what they do, you need their patented BestValue Routing:
ITXC achieves high quality of service through the use of its patented BestValue Routing applications. These applications were specifically designed and developed by ITXC to deliver consistent, high quality call completion over the Internet. Without BestValue Routing applications, carrier class quality of service over the Internet would not be possible.
Using proprietary routing and re-routing algorithms, equipment placed throughout the Internet, and sophisticated network overview software, ITXC is able to maintain high quality on the public Internet.
The use of BestValue Routing applications differentiates ITXC from clearinghouses and telecom commodity brokers that are merely financial intermediaries between network providers. Committed to quality, ITXC does not treat its customers’ minutes as commodities, but instead as a precious resource.
And what happens to you if you try and use these special methods that put intelligence into the network? I’m very glad you asked:
PRINCETON, N.J. –(Business Wire)– May 7, 2004 — ITXC Corp. (NASDAQ:ITXC) today announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Acceris Communications Technologies, Inc. and Acceris Communications, Inc. for infringement of a number of ITXC’s patents relating to voice over internet protocol (“VoIP”) technology. The suit was commenced in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, and alleges infringement of five of ITXC’s United States Patents, numbers 5,889,774, 6,026,087, 6,404,864, 6,628,760 and 6,661,878, directed generally to the transmission of telephone calls over the Internet and the completion of telephone calls by switching them off the Internet and onto a public switched telephone network (PSTN).
That’s right, you’re busted. So don’t try this at home.
The Internet is not a neutral network, it was designed to do one thing well. We now know how to build networks capable of supporting more than one type of application well. So if you think the Internet generated great innovation, just imagine what you could get from four Internets in one. But we can’t deploy multi-services technology if the Snowe-Dorgan bill passes, and that’s why I fight it.
And yes, I also think David Isenberg is an asshole and a moron, so beating him is part of the fun, but only a small part.