Net Neutrality: Back to the Drawing Board

Public Knowledge has been one of the knuckle-draggers puffing the net neutrality issue out of all sane proportion, so it was surprising to read a rational article on the subject on their blog. Written by guest blogger Phil Weiser, it valiantly attempts to separate fact from fiction. See Net Neutrality: Back to the Drawing Board:

The real concern of net neutrality advocates should not be insisting on a single tiered Internet that—at least for those who have heard of Akamai already know—is a fantasy. (For those who are unfamiliar with Akamai, its caching services provide enhanced performance to the big companies who can afford to pay for them.) The real concern is that with only two broadband providers offering service, there remains a risk of anticompetitive conduct that understandably makes policymakers nervous. The question is thus, in an environment where there are real benefits from improving network performance and possible efficiencies from alternative pricing strategies, what should policymakers do. For Rob Atkinson and I, the answer is embrace a third way—i.e., a course different from the “do little” approach of the Stevens bill and the “no tiering” approach of the Wyden bill. In particular, we advocate transparency requirements (to enable consumers to be their own protectors); a competition policy based regime that would provide after-the-fact oversight of non-discriminatory conduct (evaluating whether a legitimate business reason existed for it); and a requirement that the best efforts Internet continue to evolve (in bandwidth) so those unable to pay for prioritization are still able to develop and deploy new services. For the details on our proposal, see here.

Comments are predictably bone-headed, of course, except for mine.

One Web Day

So today all of us cyber-surfing netizen internauts are supposed to proclaim our love for on-line life and tell what it the web means to us. To me it means mediocrity and tedium, with lots of room for improvement.

Here’s to making the web worthwhile and not just a place to go shopping, distort reality, and pick up chicks.

Tech companies to Senate: No Neut Regs

This letter from 100+ tech companies to the Senate on the neut regs is great.

First, the Internet has benefited greatly from the relative absence of regulatory restrictions, which has allowed content businesses to grow and prosper. Congress has wisely refrained from burdening this still-evolving medium with regulations, except in those cases where the need for policy action has been clear, and it can be narrowly tailored. This is not the time to deviate from this posture.

Second, it is too soon to enact network neutrality legislation. The problem that the proponents of network neutrality seek to address has not manifested itself in a way that enables us to understand it clearly. Legislation aimed at correcting a nebulous concern may have severe unintended consequences and hobble the rapidly developing new technologies and business models of the Internet. Third, enacting network neutrality “placeholderlaws” could have the unintended effect of dissuading companies from investing in broadband networks.

If our industry leaders are heard, the crazy regulatory regime will not be enacted. Said leaders consist of Cisco, 3M, Nortel, Motorola, and a hundred others.

AeA report: False and Misleading

The crack research team at the American Electronics Association has issued a report on net neutrality that sets a new bar for rank absurdity in public policy discourse. The report simply parrots the most outrageous, counter-factual and a-historical claims made by the professional protest groups that have assembled to promote this dubious cause, and then jumps through hoops to argue for a new and unprecedented network regulation regime. It’s amazing that the primary trade group for the electronics industry would employ a “research” staff that’s clearly out-of-touch with reality and the concerns of its membership, and I have to believe that heads are going to roll over this abomination. Here’s most of the report with my comments interspersed and some redundancies removed. It makes for a good laugh.

The AeA research team produces regular reports on the most timely and relevant issues to the high-tech industry and to U.S. competitiveness in a global economy. We combine rigorous data with careful analysis to provide industry leaders and policymakers the information they need to assess the issue.

While this is certainly a timely issue, the report actually fails to provide any “rigorous data” or “careful analysis.” It makes a number of unsourced and unsupportable claims, states them hysterically, and leaps to an unwarranted conclusion. Read on and you’ll see.

Network neutrality is a wide ranging concept with many facets and many different groups trying to define what it means. Unfortunately, much of the current debate is being driven by network operators, resulting in a one-sided view, full of misleading information.

It seems to me that the pro-regulation side has done plenty of “driving” of this issue, from its original manufacture to supplying the broad set of false and misleading claims that we’re going to see here. Certainly, network operators and equipment manufacturers should have a voice in any new attempt to regulate their industry. This is a democracy and all voices should be heard, especially those of the experts.

This paper focuses on addressing these misperceptions and on the most contentious part of the debate, the discrimination of Internet traffic on the basis of source or ownership of content.

As exciting as this subject matter may be, it’s off to the side of the network neutrality debate as it’s been framed in the bills proposed by Snowe, Dorgan, Markey, and the rest of the pro-regulation coalition. Their bills ban the sale of enhanced services, such as the low-delay Quality of Service needed by telephony and live TV broadcasts, to residential Internet access customers. These are services that business and education can freely buy today, but which aren’t generally available to consumers. So right off the bat we can see that the AeA’s crack research team means to misframe the issue and deal with a strawman.

When the Internet was first built it was designed to be content neutral; its purpose was to move data from one place to another in a nondiscriminatory fashion regardless of who provided the original content.

When the Internet was first built, it was designed to be a playground for research on network protocols, not to be the final word on public networking. We’ve learned a lot from that research, mainly that the Internet lacked adequate mechanisms for fair access, congestion control, security, authentication, and Quality of Service. But this assertion is at best a red herring; whatever the principles were that guided the Internet at its inception, now that it’s a general purpose network used by a billion people outside the network research community, it should be guided by the needs of its current users, not the relative ignorance of its first wave of designers. And in any event, the Internet’s architecture has always recognized that all packets don’t have equal needs, which is why each Internet packet carries tags reporting its desired Class of Service.

Initially, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced this principle by requiring nondiscriminatory treatment by the telecom carriers, where content was delivered on a “best effort” basis, i.e., by treating all “packets” as relatively equal.

However, this changed in August 2005 when the FCC effectively removed the legal protection of content neutrality for all broadband Internet access providers.

This is total gibberish. “Best effort” delivery simply means that the network does not attempt to re-transmit lost or corrupted packets. The term comes from the design of the now-obsolete coax-cable Ethernets that were built at Xerox PARC. And it certainly has nothing to do with any notion of treating all packets as equal regardless of their requested Class of Service. And for as long as the commercial Internet has existed, packets have been routed differentially depending on source, destination, and paid service agreements between ISPs and NSPs. All routes are not equal, and they’re chosen based on who’s communicating with whom.

The FCC has never regulated the behavior of packet-switching networks. What it has done is regulate wires owned by monopoly telephone companies with respect to the source and destination end-points, which is a very different thing. The former FCC rules on DSL, for example, provided that independent ISPs could rent lines from the phone company at discount prices and connect them to their own equipement. These regulations – called “unbundling” – did not dictate how packets should be handled. And during the time that the DSL regulations were in place, similar services provided by Cable TV were not subject to “unbundling” rules. We found that Cable Internet was faster and cheaper than DSL, so the experiment with different regulations was terminated and DSL was re-regulated under Cable rules. This has nothing to do with preferred content.

Some broadband providers want to be able to offer priority service to those content providers who agree to pay an additional fee beyond what they already pay to access the Internet. Those who can afford to pay the fee would have their content moved to the front of the line.

These carriers claim that the next generation of Internet content (such as videos, voice over IP, real-time gaming, and distance learning) requires higher levels of speed and quality than other content, and as a result, must be prioritized ahead of other Internet traffic. To pay for this increased capacity, the network operators argue that they need additional revenue.

Notice the use of the term “content” here to describe things that are clearly “communication”. This is the essence of the confusion in net neutrality regulation. The old Internet was indeed a system for moving stored “content” from one site to another, whether in the form of e-mail or computer files. But the New Internet is emerging as a system where content has to share wires with real-time communication that can’t sit on the shelf for hours or minutes or even seconds before its delivery. Real-time gaming has a completely different set of communications requirements than BitTorrent downloads, and the network neutrality debate revolves around the question of providing each with the service it requires at a price that’s fair to all. This isn’t an empty carrier claim, it’s technical reality.

Countering this, Internet content providers and consumer groups state that they already pay billions of dollars to access the Internet. They are also concerned that telecom and cable operators, which dominate broadband Internet access with over 92 percent market share, will leverage their potential monopoly power to pick winners and losers in the highly competitive Internet content market. This environment has historically been quite egalitarian.

Yes, Virginia, we all know that Google pays to connect to the Internet, and their carrier agreements probably specify a peak level of bandwidth and little else. Does this mean that they’re automatically entitled to access higher levels of service beyond what they pay for? Perhaps, but that’s certainly not an obvious conclusion. The AeA is trotting out a big strawman here.

And the claim that the Internet is egalitarian is patently false. The more you pay, the more you get and there’s nothing equal about it.

There seems to be the perception that Internet companies (also called Internet content providers) and, to a lesser extent, Internet consumers are not paying their fair share to access the Internet. This perception is just wrong.

Actually, it’s plain right. A small fraction of Internet consumers – like 5% – use most of the bandwith. As your granny pays the same monthy bill as these boys, there is in fact considerable inequity in the present billing system. Now one way to remedy this problem is to give low-volume users priority in access to network pipes and to give lower priority to heavy volume users who pay the same price. This sensible approach is forbidden by heavy-handed network neutrality regulations.

By tiering the Internet based on who pays the most to prioritize their content, the telecom industry is creating a system of haves and have-nots: those that can afford the premium for preferred treatment and those that cannot.
A tiered system for broadband services is already in place, but it is based on the bandwidth purchased by the consumer and content provider, who both are already paying for Internet access. This current system allows consumers equal access to any legal content they choose and gives even the smallest content provider the chance to compete in a robust marketplace.

This system treats all packets equally.

Broadband providers certainly do want to create service tiers, because this will allow them to pay for their investment in fiber-optic networks to the home the way that all infrastructure projects are paid for in America: by selling services. In particular, the carriers want to sell cable TV and voice services, just as Cable TV companies already do. We don’t seem to have any problem with the technical steps the Cable companies have made to sell “triple-play services” over their lines, so why do we have a problem with fiber-optic network providers doing what amounts to the same thing?

The controversial part of the plan is whether they should be allowed to give some actual web sites better service than others, thereby nullifying the capital advantage that companies such as Google, with its 450,000 servers, have over the next pair of guys in a dorm room. Depending on several factors, nullifying Google’s advantage could be a good thing or a bad thing, so I’d rather have this sort of arrangement perused by a regulatory agency than committed to statute. The FCC says they already have this authority, and they’ve used in the past. No new law is needed here.

These types of tiered services already exist in other countries, without resorting to additional fees on content providers. Internet subscribers in Japan can receive 100-megabit service for $25 a month. Sweden is planning for a 1-gigabit (1,000 megabit) service for about $120 a month — this is over 150 times faster than the fastest typical DSL service available in the United States, which currently tops out at around 6 megabits.

This is just plain false. Korea has fiber-to-the-home, and they pay for it by blocking VoIP and selling voice services exclusively. And similar arrangements exist in the UK and other countries. The analysts are either intentionally lying or they’re woefully uninformed.

OK, that’s enough for today, I’ll get to the rest of it as I have time. Suffice it to say, the study’s authors, Matthew Kazmierczak and Josh James, should be fired.

Science makes his head hurt

Once upon a time, I was very fond of the Blogs for Bush blog. I believed it was important for America that Bush was re-elected, as I had no trust in John Kerry’s ability to hold a thought long enough to act on it, any thought, any action. And if I had it to do all over again, I would still vote for Bush over Kerry. But that’s because we live in an imperfect world with a political system that gives us poor choices. If I had my way, we’d have presidential candidates like Rudy Giuliani and Bob Kerry. But we don’t, and there we are.

The chief honcho of Blogs for Bush, Mark Noonan (no relation to Peggy) has shown his colors and branded himself a fool with this idiotic attack on science:

Not too long ago the blogosphere was rocking with the great debate of Intelligent Design vs Darwinism. It was an interesting debate, though I doubt much that anyone had the mind changed. Be that as it may, the whole thing got me thinking, and today ii occured to me: science is dead. We have reached the end of the Age of Science – what will come after, I don’t know, but I don’t think that we’ll ever again have a time when Science is enshrined as some sort of god-like arbiter of right and wrong. The question now: what killed science?

It’s a nice little rip-off. Nietzsche (and others) said God died in the 19th century, a victim of the enlightenment, global exploration, rational inquiry, and yes, science. But Mark’s having none of that high-falutin’ science that gives us hoaxes like Piltdown man (and then exposes them), the old-time religion is good enough for him, so he stands Nietzsche on his head.

This nonsense is not worth refuting in detail. We’ll simply note that church attendance is in decline, especially in Western Europe. In another fifty to a hundred years, science-deniers will be an even smaller and more marginal group than they are now, and this sort of thing will be taught in the history books as the last throes of a doctrine that couldn’t adapt itself to the information age.

There doesn’t really need to be a war between religion and science, and if there is one, religion will lose every time. That’s because science can feed people, heal their diseases, extend their lives and enable them to fulfill their wishes.

Science can’t answer all of our metaphysical questions about meaning and purpose, so religion can still have a role, as long as it doesn’t get too uppity. In the hands of fanatics like Noonan, it does and is therefore firmly in the ash bin of history.

Certainly, there are wackos at the margins of science who insist on a war with religion, people who insist that descent with modification proves there is no God. And there are wackos who insist that science can instruct us in morality, but they don’t represent the spirit of rational inquiry.

Noonan wants school children to be taught that the pseudo-scientific Intelligent Design construct is on the same footing as the entire apparatus of evolutionary biology, invoking the Ann Coulter arguments. This is simply nonsense. The evidentiary basis for DWM is enormous, and you can certainly find this out in a few minutes of honest research on the web.