Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Brief Response To Richard Bennett's New Paper

I salute Richard Bennett’s new paper Designed for Change, in which he traces the engineering history of the end-to-end principle. It is a serious paper and deserving of serious response. Unfortunately, it being right before Yom Kippur and various deadlines, that more serious response will need to come from elsewhere. I can give only a brief, surface response — reality is messy.

OK, too brief. A bit more elaboration. Richard Bennett is eminently qualified to write the technical history and draw engineering conclusions. As are a large number of other folks who take very different views on the issue of net neutrality and the virtues of end-to-end (Vint Cerf, David Reed and kc claffy to name a few folk of my acquaintance). The history described by Richard is layered onto an equally rich history of political and economic events which all interweave, and continue to interweave, to create a complex and messy reality in which public policy tries (in my opinion) to set rules to create the strongest likelihood of the best possible outcome.

More below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

On the Cultural Significance of “The Cultural Significance of Free Software” : Part one: my review of the book.

In a manner remarkably similar to how my homologue John Compton Sundman was approached by the obscure editors from the Society for Analytical Engines to edit the entries of the inaugural Hofstadter Prize for Machine-Written Narrative (as chronicled in Cheap Complex Devices), I was approached, some five months ago, by the book review editor of the journal “Science as Culture” to write a review of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software by Christopher M. Kelty. I agreed to write the review for free. (Why? Because I’m a monkey/amateur –just ask Harlan Ellison).

I think the book, despite its various shortcomings, is good; important, even. It raises significant issues that bear upon (yes, I know how hyperbolic this sounds) whether democracy and the ideals of pan-human equality have any future.

My draft review appears below. At some point, presumably, a version of this review, perhaps considerably revised, will appear in Science as Culture

Funny issues arose regarding copyrights and copylefts of the review itself. I’ll write more about them in a second post.


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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Evaluation of the Comcast/BitTorrent Filing — Really Excellent, Except For The Gapping Hole Around the Capacity Cap.

After Comcast surprised me with their filing on Friday, I really wanted to believe they had turned a corner. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I had hoped that Comcast had gotten such a bad public relations disaster out of this that they were determined to work so hard to be good little puppies that even a Democratic Congress, Democratic President, and Democratic FCC would believe that the we no longer needed rules. And I would be totally down with that (their behaving that is, we still need rules). I love it when companies learn their lesson and stop misbehaving. Remember, public policy is (IMO) all about result. If swatting Comcast on the nose like a naughty puppy gets them to stop pooping on their customers, then they deserve a pat on the head and a tummy yummy treat when they behave.

But I’m having a “Columbo moment” here. For those who did not grow up in the 1970s and therefore do not recognize the reference, Columbo is a television detective who every episode goes to talk to the chief suspect about the circumstantial evidence, and the chief suspect always has a fully prepared and perfect alibi. On the way out, apparently as an afterthought, Columbo will turn around and say: “there’s just one thing that bothers me.” This question on a minor inconsistency turns out to open a gaping hole in the suspect’s alibi and — in classic television fashion — allows Columbo to solve the crime by the end of the show.

I do not pretend there is any mystery here left to solve. Comcast’s filing very neatly explains their past practices, how we reached this point, and how Comcast intends to change its practices. It includes benchmarks for performance and a plan for informing its subscribers. It looks exactly like what the Commission ordered.

There’s just one thing that bothers me. Footnote 3 of Attachment B. Comcast stresses in footnote 3 that its 250 GB per month cap is not a network management policy, is not a replacement for its current network management practices, and therefore is not actually a proper subject of this disclosure report. Now why did they go out of their way to say that?

If you will excuse me, sir, while I adjust my raincoat, a bit more analysis below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

I Am Pleasantly Surprised By Comcast Complaince, But Am Still Nasty And Suspicious By Nature.

Well, after saying that while Comcast might fully comply with the FCC’s requirement to report on September 19, but I expected them to play games instead, Comcast handed me a very pleasant surprise. Not only do they appear to have made a thorough disclosure of their current network management practices and their future network management plans, not only have they submitted the required compliance plan with benchmarks, but they actually served me with an electronic copy. As I pointed out last time, this last was not required but is generally good form.

The downside, of course, is that I must go and actually read the filings. That nasty suspicious nature they beat into me at law school rears its ugly head again. Still, it’s a “problem” I enjoy having so I can’t really complain.

But it looks like Comcast has decided that its best interest lies in complying and getting this behind them (with the exception, of course, of the Petition for Review). While I am by no means ready to lower my guard and drop my own Petition for Review (that nasty suspicious nature again), I give credit where it belongs. At first glance, Comcast appears to have complied as thoroughly as I could wish. Assuming this bears out after proper verification, I hope I am pleasantly surprised a second time when Comcast complies on schedule.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What Will Comcast Do Today? First Compliance Check On Comcast/BitTorrent Order.

Back on August 20, the FCC released its Order resolving the complaint against Comcast for blocking P2P protocols. As part of the remedy, the FCC ordered Comcast to provide a full report on its current “network management practices” within 30 days, along with a transition plan for how it intended to manage traffic after it discontinued its current practices. The FCC then invited Free Press and anyone else interested to keep a sharp eye on Comcast.

Comcast has sworn up and down that it will comply with the FCC’s Order and it is only appealing in the D.C. Circuit as a matter of principle. I, nasty cynical public interest dude that I am, so doubt this noble intention that i have filed a law suit of my own to get the FCC to clamp down on Comcast now. So, here we are at last on September 19. What does Comcast do?

Comcast has a range of options. Comcast could refuse to comply, forcing the FCC to take action and potentially giving Comcast grounds to go to the D.C. Circuit for an emergency stay. I think that pretty unlikely, given what a big deal Comcast has made about complying.

Comcast could fully comply. But, to paraphrase Arlo Gutherie, that isn’t very likely and I don’t really expect it.

What I expect is for Comcast to file something incomplete, possibly with a request for the FCC to protect its proprietary data. But more likely they will file something that will be just enough compliance to present Kevin Martin with a nasty political choice: Does he enforce the letter of Order and go in guns blazing against Comcast, knowing that Comcast will make great political hay of his supposed “vendetta” against them? Or does he let Comcast thumb their noses at him and — in addition to the humiliation factor — have public interest groups question whether he really intend to enforce that end of the year deadline and thus call his hard-won consumer protection credentials into question? The situation is further complicated by the internal politics of the Commission. Whichever choice Martin makes (and he gets to make it himself, since it is an enforcement action and not subject to a vote of the full Commission), it is almost certain that two Commissioners will call him on it publicly. McDowell and Tate are almost certain to regard whatever fig leaf Comcast files as sufficient, whereas Copps and Adelstein will likely raise a hue and cry if Martin lets Comcast get away with filing an incomplete report.

As an aside, I also expect Comcast to file after close of business and to do so by hand rather than electronically, so that the content is not immediately accessible. I also do not expect to get a service copy, despite being counsel to complainants. That’s perfectly legal of Comcast, as it can take the position that this is a report to the FCC and not a pleading that needs to be served on the complainant or complainant’s counsel. But it does mean I don’t expect to see what Comcast actually filed until sometime next week.

Happily, I put my trust in the advice of the Bible and do not put my trust in princes — or FCC Commissioners. In this case, the pending Petition for Review gives us a certain leverage, and Comcast will have to consider that it will have a tough time arguing my Petition is moot and pointless when they are not actually in compliance with the FCC’s Order.

Perhaps I misjudge Comcast. It would certainly make my life easier if they just complied and filed something open that detailed their past practices and explained how they planned to go forward (including details of he 250 GB cap). In particular, I very much want to know if Comcast intends to exempt its own content from the 250 GB cap. That would be rather anticompetitive, and without any actual rational connection to the stated need to reduce last-mile congestion. Comcast originated packets running from the head-end to the subscriber take up as much capacity as non-Comcast originated packets.

See, there goes that nasty and suspicious mind of mine again. Still, I hope I’m wrong and Comcast comes clean.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The FCC Releases the Comcast Complaint Order Part I — Why This Is A Huge Win.

The FCC just released the text of the Order adopted on August 1 finding for Free Press on the Comcast Complaint and Declaratory ruling and denying Vuze’s Petition for Rulemaking. You can get the pdf here.

Larry Lessig pretty much says it all with his letter commending the FCC on its decision. For myself, I see this as another in a series of important wins, building on previous wins. Read it, particularly the footnotes, and you will find reference to the C Block openness conditions, the Adelphia Transaction Order, and every other baby step along the road that proved absolutely critical to getting us this far.

And, just as with those victories, we did not imagine for one moment that we had finished our task or that we had solved our problems. The danger to an open internet that remains a platform “as diverse as human thought” in the face of broadband providers trying to convert it into a combination shopping mall, movieplex and theme park continues. But we prevented Comcast from creating an “industry standard” around blocking or degrading peer-2-peer applications and put every ISP on notice that they will need to make real disclosure of their “network management practices” when those practices block or degrade subscriber choices. That the market would not respond on its own — at least not in a positive way — is evidenced by the fact that Comcast, despite all the negative publicity, promises to change, etc., is still targeting bittorrent. To the contrary, had we not acted, I do not doubt that other broadband ISPs would, over time, have adopted this and similar techniques, and without notifying their subscribers in any meaningful way.

We have also created another positive precedent for the day when a future FCC or Congress will adopt rules that provide the level of protection we need to maintain an open and competitive internet. This FCC opinion establishes the jurisdictional basis for any future rulemaking and, while declining to adopt rules now, explicitly states that the FCC retains the jurisdiction to create rules in the future — noting that the Carterfone network attachment rules began as an adjudication and ultimately culminated in Part 68 of the Commission’s rules. Despite a raft of theories (conspiracy or otherwise) to the contrary, this Order does not weaken our efforts to get general rules or get legislation passed. To the contrary, by recognizing that rules protecting the openness of the Internet further the important interests of the First Amendment (Par. 43 n. 203), this Order strengthens our ability to get rules or legislation in the future.

While it leaves certain critical questions — such as whether a third party can pay a broadband access provider for “premium” treatment regardless of user preferences — unresolved, it does so in a way that leaves us free to come back without any bad precedent or presumption. Copps and Adelstein can continue to press for adoption of a fifth principle on non-discrimination without fear that voting for this Order somehow put them in a box.

More below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

The FCC holds a hearing on Net Neutrality, and YOU! ARE! THERE!

So yesterday morning over coffee I was doing what most people do over their first daily cup o’ joe, which is bring up technorati and see if anybody’s talking about me. That process took me to Joho’s page, from which I learned that the FCC was to be holding an hearing on why Comcast sucks, I mean Net Neutrality broadband network management practices only hours thence. Now although to my surprise & delight, Wetmachine, thanks to the work of my fellow wetmechanics Harold Feld and Greg Rose has become quite the FCC policy site with a side-order of net neutrality, I had never been to an FCC hearing. A quick check of the boat and bus schedules showed that I could probably make it to Hahvahd in time for most of the festivities. I decided to go. So, after securing the blessings of Dear Wife and throwing a few things in a bag, off I set to lose my FCC-hearing virginity.

Below the fold, some totally subjective impressions of the day, told in that winsome wetmachine way that you’ve come to treasure, or if you haven’t yet, which you soon will. More sober-styled reports have surely appeared by now, and I’ll dig up some links & post them at the end for those of you who like a little conventional reportage to ballast what you get from me.

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Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)
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