Tales of the Sausage Factory

Canada Adopts Comcast/Bitorrent Standard For Network Management

On the eve of the FCC’s upcoming Network Neutrality rulemaking, Canada has now settled its definition of “reasonable network management” and set rules for traffic throttling. Amazingly, the rules the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) settled on for “reasonable network management” look a lot like the standard our own FCC settled on in the Comcast/BitTorrent Order, but even stronger on the notice and transparency side. Hopefully, the FCC is paying attention here as it considers its own rulemaking on the definition of “reasonable network management.”

You can read the CRTC press release here and the detailed order here. The CRTC also says that it will sue this new framework “to review practices that raise concerns or generate complaints.” i.e., it will treat this as the equivalent of the Internet Policy Statement and entertain complaints like the Comcast/BitTorrent complaint.

While this means I will no longer have my realtime experiment to see if unrestricted traffic shaping screws up broadband, it does make the FCC look less like whacked out nutbars who don’t understand engineering and threaten the entire internet and more like foresighted regulators who are ready now to move on to a formal rulemaking rather than merely rely on a framework.

Moe below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

Public Service Announcement for Public Knowledge

The great public interest advocacy group Public Knowledge (about which Harold might tell us more, if he feels like it), has issued an alert about efforts by lobbyists of the Hollywood and corporate-state varieties to insert nasty, scary language about “copyright filtering” into the stimulus bill.

I used the Public Knowledge website to register my objection. Here’s the version of the letter I sent to Senator Reid and Congressman Waxman:

Dear Representative/Senator,

It is my understanding that during the conference committee on the stimulus bill, your office may be asked to change the provision that deals with public grants to spur broadband deployment to allow for copyright filtering. This may be proposed as a “noncontroversial” change that would allow Internet Service Providers to inspect its subscribers’ Internet connections to filter out copyright infringement, under the guise of “network management.” Copyright filtering is outside of the capabilities of network management, would be a massive invasion of privacy and would prohibit my lawful use of copyrighted works — for purposes of education, criticism, and commentary.

Copyright filtering is very controversial and I urge you to oppose such changes to the stimulus.

As someone who depends on free downloads of my own copyrighted works for marketing and publicity, I consider copyright filtering not only unconstitutional, unAmerican, but also a threat to my livelihood. Please resist the temptation to go down this corporate-statist road. Nothing good will come of it.

Sincerely,

John Sundman

Please click on the link above and do the right thing.

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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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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Testimony From Today

Well, that was fun. I reprint my testimony as prepared, not as delivered. I also cut a very insider joke. I’d planned to start:

“Mr. Chairman, I understand that this is the open Commission meeting, so it is perhaps no surprise that we are running an hour late. Also, as I have not had time to complete this testimony, I ask for editorial privileges.”

But no one off the podium was likely to get it.

[Editorial note from John (to help search engines and any random Wetmachine readers who stumble upon this): This post concerns Harold Feld’s testimony at today’s FCC hearing at Stanford University.]

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

This Week I Get My Wonk On, Next Week I Am A Free Man.

Passover comes late this year. It doesn’t start until Saturday night, April 19. Getting ready for Passover is a phenomenal pain in the rear end, because it involves all sort of complicated cleaning things. So this time of year is really busy for us true believer types.

Which is why the Good Lord has made it such a plentiful season for critical hearings. This week on Tuesday morning, I will testify before the House Telecom Subcommittee at the incredibly crowded second panel on the 700 MHz Auction aftermath. Then it’s out to California to catch the FCC Hearing on Network Management (official witness list still not posted, but my name turned up in Comm Daily on the short list).

Mind you, I am extremely happy to have the opportunity to testify before the House and all that. Indeed, given how much I’ve lived these things (especially the spectrum stuff), I’d be really miffed if I didn’t get a chance to speak my piece. I just wish it could be a little, y’know, less hectic.

At least I will be able to say with conviction at my Passover celebration “Now I am a free man.”

Stay tuned . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Comcast /BitTorrent Update: Important Filings by Topolski, Peha, and Ou (and some analysis by yr hmbl obdnt).

Most folks do not monitor the day-to-day filings in the Broadband Practices Notice of Inquiry, Docket No. 07-52, the proceeding which has become the open docket part of the regulatory discussion on Comcast’s treatment of p2p uploads. Lucky them. But the sifting of this endless stream of regulatory filings has yielded some rather important nuggets of gold in the last few weeks that deserve much greater attention for anyone who cares about the substance of the debate. As I discuss below, three recent filings deserve particular attention:

a) Robert Topolski demonstrates that Comcast blocks p2p uploads at a remarkably consistent rate, at any time of day or night when the test takes place, and regardless of the nature of the content uploaded. This is utterly inconsistent with Comcast’s stated position that it “delays” p2p traffic only during times of peak network congestion. Topolski adds some other interesting details as well.

b) Jon Peha, a Professor of electrical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, provides his own explanation why Comcast’s characterization of its “network management practice” as merely “delaying” p2p uploads and its claim that this practice is in accord with general industry practice is nonsense.

c) In defense of Comcast (or at least, in opposition to any government action to restrict the ability of ISPs to target p2p traffic specifically), George Ou filed this this piece on how bittorrent and other p2p applications exploit certain features of TCP, a critical part of the protocol suite that makes the internet possible. Ou argues that as a result of this feature of p2p, heavy users of these applications will always be able to seize the vast majority of available bandwidth on the system to the disadvantage of all other users. Accordingly, the FCC should acknowledge that it is a “reasonable network management” practice to target p2p applications specifically as opposed to heavy users or all applications generally.

My analysis of each filing, and something of a response to Ou, below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Cleland's “Common Sense.”

“You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
–Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I suppose it’s just overkill for me to pounce on Cleland’s over-the-top (even for him) blog post purporting to make the “common sense case” against our complaint against Comcast and Petition for Declaratory Ruling. After all, Dave Isenberg and others have already taken this on. But (a) it helps to restate the facts and focus on the issues, and (b) it gives me a chance to quote Angels by Within Temptation, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THAT SONG (In fact, if y’all haven’t done so, scurry to your favorite place to buy music online and download this and their other stuff. I’ll wait . . . .)

Cleland’s claims can be divided into two: whether Comcast’s behavior was “reasonable network management” and whether the FCC Policy statement is enforceable. I shall address each (and get to the music quote) below . . . .

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