Tales of the Sausage Factory

Does Comcast Fear To Win Too Much?

I grant I wasn’t there, but pretty much everyone who was seems to think the D.C. Circuit oral argument in the Comcast/BitTorrent case was an utter disaster for the FCC/pro-NN forces and a total triumph for Comcast. Given my previously voiced opinion about the judicial activists on the D.C. Circuit, I can’t say this surprises me even in light of the previous precedent. Indeed, from what I have heard, the D.C. Circuit appeared breathtakingly eager to rush past the procedural issues and declare that the FCC has absolutely no jurisdiction to regulate anything an ISP ever does, ever.

So why has Comcast, which (along with its trade association) has argued that it would violate its First Amendment rights for the FCC to regulate its conduct as an ISP, posted this blog entry to explain that of course they totally support FCC regulation of broadband ISPs, under the right circumstances, etc.?

Answer: Comcast fears to win too much. For Comcast (and other broadband providers), the ideal world consists of an FCC with jurisdiction but no authority. That is to say, they want an FCC that appears to have authority to do something, but when push comes to shove is prevented from actually doing anything Comcast doesn’t like. Which is why Comcast wanted to win on procedure and, perhaps, get the court to threaten the FCC that it had no authority. In that universe (which could still come to pass), Comcast could keep Congress from giving the FCC explicit authority by saying it has jurisdiction but keep the FCC from doing anything by claiming that it lacked authority for any specific action.

But there is every indication that the D.C. Circuit will go much further, and find that the FCC has no jurisdiction to even consider regulation of ISP behavior no matter what the circumstances, because it doesn’t believe that ancillary authority exists. While that sounds like exactly what Comcast would want, it scares them silly. Because even the fear of this sort of huge loss creates a panic that could lead Congress explicitly delegating the FCC extremely clear and unambiguous authority.

More, including a shout out to all my fellow Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, below . . . .

UPDATE: According to this blog post by Washpo Reporter Cecilia Kang, I’m not the only one thinking this way. A few more choice remarks from NCTA’s Kyle McSlarrow about how the FCC’s role is to be a big ATM for his members may get even this Congress off it’s rear end.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Boston Tea Leaf Party

Those interested in a great eye witness account of what happened at the FCC hearing in Boston on February 25 should read fellow Wetmachiner John Sundman’s piece on the part he saw (including the reception afterwards). But after listening to the FCC’s video archive, reading the statements, and reading the coverage, I’m willing to read the Boston Tea Leaves and see where we are so far and how I think this ends up.

Speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Can users shape traffic better than ISPs? Some Lessons From The Electric Industry.

A dialog between David Weinberg and Seth Finkelstein on David’s blog raises an interesting question. Dave W argues (as do I) that a network provider is the last person who should engage in such practices, because of the inherent potentials for mischief and the possible conflicts of interest. Seth Finkelstein argues that, as a practical matter in the real world, only the ISP can effectively make a determination on traffic shaping that maximizes the use of the network for everyone, protects time sensitive applications, and prevents a “tragedy of the commons” from a handful of users absorbing all the bandwidth.

David Isenberg (in the comments and in this blog entry) makes the case that we don’t need traffic shaping, just more capacity or, in the alternative, neutral means to reduce packet flow such as throttling all traffic equally or going to metered pricing. Others (including myself) have argued that the problems of “bandwidth hogs” are exaggerated, or that users dissatisfied with the “best efforts” environment of the internet should stick with the network optimized for voice (the phone network) or the network optimized for video (cable, broadcast television) rather than “break” the internet to better accommodate these applications. Neither of these answers, however, is popular in regulatory circles. Further, it is a legitimate argument that we should allow ISPs to choose what product to offer customers. If an ISP wants to offer services optimized for VOIP by retaining the power to shape traffic, why shouldn’t it bring that service to market? This inevitably leads to a debate on market power, availability of choice, switching costs, captive customers etc., etc.

So lets shake things up with something new. I will — for the sake of argument here — accept the proposition that we “need” traffic shaping (like I “need” “scare quotes” so that people will not “quote” me out of context or argue on trivialities). But accepting the need for traffic shaping does not mean ceding all power to the broadband access provider. To the contrary, I argue that we will achieve far better results by giving subscribers the ability to shape their own traffic.

Madness you say? “Tragedy Of The Commons” and all that. Maybe, but the electric industry tells a somewhat different tale. As described in this NYT story, a fair number of folks are taking advantage of pilot projects that allow people to shape their power usage in the same way I propose allowing them to shape their Internet use. Such programs may save $70 Billion in the next few years. Why not see if they can have serious impact on the supposed exaflood of internet traffic that supposedly justifies traffic shaping? Especially when contrasted with the pur privatization model, that gave us the Enron scandal and the California black outs in 2001?

More below . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Some site news

Wetmachine has been up and down somewhat lately due to hardware problems at our hosting ISP. We believe that the problems have all been fixed & we expect things to be stable.

We’ve also found out that the site is not rendering correctly in all browsers. In particular, IE doesn’t always seem to work for viewing extended sections. Apologies about that. We’ll look into it more at the weekend. In the meantime, firefox and safari seem to perform reliably.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What did Martin Really Say About a “Tiered” Internet?

Much has been made over statements made by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at this week’s TelecomNext trade show. As we at MAP have just had an experience with how often the press misunderstands Martin’s rather carefull statements, I am not as ready as many of my comrades to declare that the end is nigh. There is a huge difference between “customer tiering” (where a customer gets to chose the level of service), “provider provisioning” (where a provider pushes packets faster via Akami or bit torrent), and “Whitacre tiering” (where the ISP charges third parties for “premium” access to subscribers without regard to subscriber preferences). As explained below, figuring where Martin is proves harder than people assume.

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General Exception

Judge overturns ISP provisions of PATRIOT act

A judge has struck down a portion of the PATRIOT act which requires ISPs to hand over records on their customers and keep silent about the handover. The ruling means the FBI can no longer use National Security Letters to demand an ISP’s record on a customer without any sort of recourse.

The enforced silence is one of the more nasty aspects of the PATRIOT act… in fact, we covered one aspect of this earlier when the ACLU was prevented from discussing a lawsuit they filed against the NSL provisons of the PATRIOT act itself.



Read more over at News.com
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