Innovation ’08 Coming June 12th

Come on down to Innovation ’08 at eBay’s place in San Jose for this outstanding panel on June 12th:

What Does Net Neutrality Mean Now?

Comcast’s interruption of P2P transmissions has generated debate about the need and wisdom of deploying advanced net management technologies. Can and will the private sector address this problem without government mandates? Historically, the debate about Net Neutrality has focused on who can access information distribution channels, and under what circumstances. Comcast’s recent interruption brings up new questions, explored here by some of the leading experts in the field.

Also on my panel are George Ou and Ronald B. Yokubaitis, CEO of Data Foundry. The ever-shifting sands of public policy will be prominently on display.

Joey Crawford Gets His Revenge

Basketball fans know what I’m talking about. The Spurs didn’t play very well, just well enough to win if things had gone as they should have. It was questionable of the NBA to assign a referee to a playoff game featuring a team he has demonstrated bias against (so much so that he was suspended for it), and he sure enough showed why in failing to call the last second foul that was apparent to everybody, including Lakers coach Phil Jackson. The NBA should retire Crawford permanently.

But seriously, the Spurs aren’t upset about the non-call. They know they didn’t deserve to win.

How Sweep It Is

It was a real joy to see the A’s sweep the Boston Red Sox in the Coliseum over the weekend. None of the games was close, so we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the back end of the Sox bullpen, Okajima and River-Dancing Papelbon, but the Sox fans were out in force and ripe for heckling. They’re most sensitive about the their team’s home ballpark, which was taken from a Little League team under the doctrine of Eminent Domain, but after that commentary on Manny being Manny by dropping fly balls gets their goats.

The A’s played great all around baseball, outscoring the undergarments 17 to 6 over the three games, with a one-hit shutout by a pitcher who started his career in the Boston farm system as the highlight. We don’t see Boston at home again this year, alas. The sweep knocked them out of first place in the East, where the Billy Rays currently lead. Boston first baseman Kevin Youkilis is currently on a record errorless streak by a first baseman, but the magic was revealed. He dropped two throws in game three, but the scorer gave the errors to the fielders.

With Mike Sweeney at first base, the A’s a defintely a contender-quality team in this rebuilding year. It’s odd how that works, with three of the young players acquired in trades already starting and playing well. The A’s have an embarrassment of riches in young talent right now, and without the steroids the older players aren’t as valuable as they have been. This is a young guy season so far, and it’s still early.

Glasnost Not Actually Correct

I finally got a result from the Glasnost server after several unsuccessful attempts, but it’s unfortunately not correct:

Is BitTorrent traffic on a well-known BitTorrent port (6881) throttled?

2 out of 2 BitTorrent transfers were
interrupted while uploading (seeding) using forged TCP RST packets.

It seems like your ISP hinders you from uploading BitTorrent traffic to our test server.

The BitTorrent download worked.
Our tool was successful in downloading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

There’s no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent downloads.
In our tests a TCP download achieved minimal 2079 Kbps while a BitTorrent download achieved
maximal 2147 Kbps. You can find details here.

Is BitTorrent traffic on a non-standard BitTorrent port (4711) throttled?

2 out of 2 BitTorrent transfers were
interrupted while uploading (seeding) using forged TCP RST packets.

It seems like your ISP hinders you from uploading BitTorrent traffic to our test server.

The BitTorrent download worked.
Our tool was successful in downloading data using the BitTorrent protocol.

There’s no indication that your ISP rate limits your BitTorrent downloads.
In our tests a TCP download achieved minimal 2135 Kbps while a BitTorrent download achieved
maximal 2126 Kbps. You can find details here.

Immediately before and after this test I seeded a Torrent successfully, at a rate in the range of 30-40 K Bytes/sec. So I know seeding is possible on my connection, but Glasnost claims it isn’t. This is not a cool tool.

Still no answers to my questions, despite a promise to have some by Friday.

Future of Music Coalition Strays into Fantasyland

Here’s an example of the kind of blatant falsehoods that Free Press and their ilk have been circulating about Internet regulation, from the Future of Music Coalition Blog:

Recently, Comcast blocked access to the legal, licensed audiovisual delivery service called Vuze — which competes with the company’s own AV offerings — simply because Vuze utilizes peer-to-peer technology to distribute its licensed content.

Excuse me, but no such thing happened. Vuze works fine on the Comcast network and always has. Vuze petitioned the FCC for a rule that would define network management in some specific terms, and did not themselves allege any blocking.

Continue reading “Future of Music Coalition Strays into Fantasyland”

Burning the Internet in Order to Save It

Free Press’ network neutrality campaign reached new heights of hysteria last week with the release of a wild press release on the Glasnost study. Their press release abounded with errors, which Register editor Andrew Orlowski endeavored to correct. Here’s his analysis:

With its campaign to “Save The Internet”, Free Press may achieve two goals that I fear are the opposite of what its biggest backer, George Soros, intended when he financed the outfit.

One is that it makes the job of genuine free speech activists – who work to promote cases of real repression – much harder.

The other is that it mandates a broken network as the default technical standard for citizens.

…So in banging the drum for the virtual campaign, Free Press makes the big guys even stronger. That’s an odd result for an outfit that says its goal is “to promote diverse and independent media ownership”.

The “broken network” is the part that I’ve written about, but the free speech issue is much larger.

If you have any doubt about the extent of Free Press’ misinformation campaign, here’s a quote from Free Press employee Tim Karr on the Save the Internet blog (which Free Press controls:)

…Comcast secretly put in place a system that makes it virtually impossible for most of its users to use BitTorrent and other file-sharing applications…

This is not, of course, the experience of Comcast customers.

I’ve sent a list of questions to the Glasnost people myself, and have received only partial answers, so more on that later. The short version is that they’ve collected some interesting data and failed to interpret them correctly. We know that cable ISPs use RST packets to reduce the number of outbound connections used by P2P. The interesting questions relate to the impact these packets have on applications generally and P2P in particular.

Is Comcast (still, really) blocking BitTorrent?

The neutralists are touting a study by a German research center alleging Comcast blocking of BitTorrent at all hours of the day:

The Max Planck Institute has released a new survey of worldwide BitTorrent traffic finding that Comcast and Cox are the chief offenders for throttling traffic, and that they block at all hours of the day and night.

The study is here.

The following statement is attributed to Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge: “…These results lead us to three conclusions. First, the largest cable companies were doing more blocking than they have admitted to Congress or to the FCC. Second, other cable companies, and all telephone companies, can manage their networks without the need for blocking the traffic of customers. Finally, the fact that the blocking goes on all the time should tell the Commission that it needs to act soon to prevent the practice.”

Like a good engineer, I tried to measure my Comcast link using the German tool, and got this (click on the image to enlarge:)

All Systems Busy

This tells me that the test system has some problems, as the server has been busy for several hours. Feel free to try it yourself.

I know my BitTorrent isn’t blocked on my Comcast connection because I tested it in real-world conditions: yesterday, I successfully downloaded Fedora Linux version 9, over Comcast using BitTorrent, at full speed and with no interruptions. I then seeded it for several hours before shutting down Azureus (the Linux client for Vuze’s implementation of BitTorrent) and just restarted it an hour ago. So I’m now seeding without incident (click to enlarge:)

Seeding like craze over Comcast

Pardon me if I’m skeptical of Ms. Sohn’s charges. It may be that the Germans have found something, but I can’t confirm it; perhaps we need a better instrument.

The Germans are apparently measuring TCP-level behavior, the thing that CMU professor Jon Peha and the infamous David Reed have measured and commented upon. The problem with this analysis is that Vuze’s BitTorrent uses 50 TCP streams by default, continually testing them for the 4 best and making these 4 active at any given time for any given piece of content. So while some of the 50 are torn down by Sandvine management systems, they’re quickly replaced and you retain 4 active upstream TCP connections most of the time.

The test that should be done would simply record the seeding rate of popular BitTorrent sessions like mine. When you do that – test the overall contribution to the swarm, not the 50 TCP connections individually – you find that BitTorrent works quite well on cable networks, contrary to the claims that the neutrality regulation advocates are making.

The German tool simply doesn’t produce meaningful data, and the advocacy groups touting it (Free Press is another) it are deliberately misleading the public.

UPDATE: Peter Svensson, Free Press’ personal reporter, has written the predictable story about the evils of the BitTorrent blocking uncovered by the alleged research organization in Germany. It’s predictable because Svensson ran the gamut of interviews with ISP critics, but didn’t talk to anyone who might shed light on the study. In fact, reducing the number of active TCP connections from a given BitTorrent user often increases his throughput, just like metering lights on freeway on-ramps increase freeway traffic speeds. This is only one of the critical points that these amateur network engineers don’t get.

Free Press continues the Scare Tactics

Save the Internet, the front group for Free Press and Google’s main organ in the net neutrality campaign, never ceases to amaze me. They’ve got another bizarre piece of paranoia on their blog about the “closed” network that the Internet will soon become without some random piece of ill-formed regulation. Brett Glass questions them for some evidence, and they offer the following, which I’ve annotated with corrections.

“In October 2007, the Associated Press busted Comcast for blocking its users’ access to peer-to-peer file-sharing networks like BitTorrent and Gnutella. This fraudulent practice is a glaring violation of Net Neutrality.”

Nope. Comcast slows BitTorrent seeding, but doesn’t interfere with BitTorrent downloads. And it doesn’t interfere with Gnutella (a piracy tool) at all. No violation of any law.

“In September 2007, Verizon was caught banning pro-choice text messages. After a New York Times expose, the phone company reversed its policy, claiming it was a glitch.”

Nope. Verizon didn’t block a single text message. There was a 24-hour delay in issuing a shortcode to NARAL; shortcodes enable people to setup the equivalent of an e-mail list of SMS addresses. It had nothing to do with the Internet.

“In August 2007, AT&T censored a live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert just as lead singer Eddie Vedder criticized President Bush.”

This was a concert AT&T streamed from its own web site, not something Pearl Jam did on its own. This is no different from STI censoring comments on its blog, which it does all the time.

“In 2006, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned — an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.”

This was simply a spam filter run amok. It happens.

“In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a contentious labor dispute.”

One word: CANADA.

“In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.”

No, they blocked VoIP, not a “web-based” anything. The FCC fined them for it, and they stopped, proving that existing law is sufficient.

“Shaw, a major Canadian cable, internet, and telephone service company, intentionally downgrades the “quality and reliability” of competing Internet-phone services that their customers might choose — driving customers to their own phone services not through better services, but by rigging the marketplace.”

Nope, Shaw sells (in CANADA) a service that prevents P2P degradation of VoIP. It’s a good service.

So the bottom line is: STI offers only exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies. Everyone should oppose any campaign built on such a foundation.

Worst Net Neutrality Bill Re-introduced

John Conyers, husband of the hysterical Detroit councilwoman who was publicly smacked-down by an elementary school student recently for failing to think before speaking, has re-introduced the worst net neutrality bill ever:

The bill’s introduction comes on the heels of a hearing earlier this week about a Net neutrality proposal in a competing House panel, the Energy and Commerce Committee, which traditionally engaged in turf battles with the Judiciary Committee over certain matters.

The trouble with these anti-prioritization bills is their failure to align with the way the Internet actually works, as well as with the way it needs to work in the future. Prioritization makes it possible for one network to support many different uses, and that’s an increasingly important feature as we try to consolidate all of our communications networks onto one infrastructure. And prioritization is also how to get per-user fairness on a network that doesn’t have any by design.

In the realm of networks, then, prioritization is necessary to preserve American values. Now why doesn’t Conyers get that?

Here’s the text of the bill from the last session. This is the worst part:

(b) If a broadband network provider prioritizes or offers enhanced quality of service to data of a particular type, it must prioritize or offer enhanced quality of service to all data of that type (regardless of the origin or ownership of such data) without imposing a surcharge or other consideration for such prioritization or enhanced quality of service.

This sort of nonsense makes the Internet inhospitable for voice and video-conferencing services.

Does Conyers want to strangle the Internet because it has embarrassed his wife by making her theatrics viewable around the world? It wouldn’t be utterly paranoid to think so.

UPDATE: See George Ou’s blog for a nice summary of the arguments that net neutrality critics such as yours truly have made over the last couple of years on the subject of prioritization, including all of my favorite quotes.