John Kneuer on Spectrum Policy and Network Neutrality

Doc Searls asked an interesting question to John Kneuer at SuperNova:

What were the rate terms and conditions for WiFi, and what would have happened if those channels were auctioned?

and then David Isenberg chimed in:

Wi-Fi isn’t, wasn’t auctioned. It isn’t owned by any company any carrier, yet I think that everybody in this room, most people in this room, and perhaps yourself, would agree that Wi-Fi is the most innovative section of the spectrum. So there’s no market. Why isn’t that the model instead of auctions?

This was on account of Kneuer talking up the auction of spectrum in the 700 MHz range. People in the audience cheered Doc for asking the question. What does that say about the audience?

On its face, it’s not a sensible question. The apparent belief among the SuperNova crowd is that WiFi is more or less equivalent to high-power 700 MHz, so it can be handled by the regulators the same way. What they’re missing, of course, is that unlicensed WiFi doesn’t need to be auctioned because its low power and large channel count (in the 11a range) permit multiple parties to use it without interfering with each other. And these characteristics limit propagation to 300-1000 feet for most applications.

Would anybody build a region-wide network with towers on every block? Clearly not, so WiFi is a non-starter when it comes to providing competition to wireline broadband providers. If 700 MHz were regulated like WiFi, with low power and no license to operate, it would also be a non-starter in the last mile broadband business.

Humorously, the folks who argue for unlicensed wireless also complain about the lack of competition in broadband.

If they had their way, they wouldn’t have their way.

In related news, the FTC says net neutrality is not necessary:

The Federal Trade Commission today dealt a serious blow to “Net Neutrality” proponents as it issued a report dismissive of claims that the government needs to get involved in preserving the fairness of networks in the United States.

The half-life of political Kool-Aid is apparently about twelve months.

Great Myths of Networking, Part 1

The FCC has closed its comments period on the bogus net neutrality issue. I’d like to see them throw the comments in the trash because it’s an idiotic issue manufactured for nefarious reasons. I’ve been enraged by the network neutrality movement because it thrives on extreme misstatements of network engineering principles. I create network architectures and protocols for a living, so this is a subject matter that I’ve got cold. You’re probably using some technologies that I had a hand in designing, standardizing, and implementing when nobody else knew what they were: Ethernet over twisted-pair wiring, the WiFi MAC protocol, and elements of the TCP/IP stack.

So this post will be the first in a series to list some of the egregious errors of fact that have emerged around the net neutrality debate, in the interest of correcting some major misunderstandings.

Myth: Network bandwidth is abundant and free, or nearly free.

One argument that I’ve heard from several quarters goes like this:

Once the cables and routers are in place, the operational cost of the network is virtually nil, just the electricity and maybe a little labor to replace stuff that breaks. So it makes no difference if a user sends or receives a little bit of stuff or a lot of stuff, it’s all the same.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The assumption here is that our requirement for network bandwidth is constant, so it simply takes one build-out to satisfy us. You have to do nothing more than remember how you’ve personally used the Internet over the past several years to see how silly this is. Bandwidth is an elastic resource, but user demand for it always goes up. While it may have been sufficient some years ago for your network connection to handle a few e-mails, it soon because necessary for it to handle basic web pages, then graphics-intensive web pages, and then Skype, BitTorrent, and whatever’s to follow, such as Joost.

Fact: Demand for bandwidth always increases, so bandwidth is neither abundant nor cheap for long.

More to follow.