Tales of the Sausage Factory

A Brief Nod To Cox For Raising Its Bandwidth Caps

I need some sort of icon or whatever for “while I don’t necessarily like what you’re doing, I like the way you’re doing it.” Last week, that went to Speakeasy for giving excellent notice on its unfortunate decision to block certain phone numbers. This week, my “Tip of My Hat While Wagging My Finger” (yes, the reference Stephen Colbert is obvious) goes Cox Cable and their decision to increase the size of their bandwidth caps (new terms of service here).

I am not happy with bandwidth caps, but don’t have a position yet on regulating them unless they are so obviously limited that they appear designed to protect video revenues and fall into the antitrust/competition zone. I recognize there are advantages and disadvantages to metered pricing. In the short term, it can help bridge the gap where demand for capacity rapidly outpaces available capacity. In the longer term, it works to reduce use and innovation which has negative implications for our economy and overall digital future. It’s also not that clear that there is a good linkage to bandwidth caps and actual capacity limits, and whether bandwidth caps discourage investment in capacity by making it easier and cheaper to cap use rather than build capacity.

Still, if one must have bandwidth caps, then they need periodic review and should get upgraded as “average” use grows and as network operators make needed upgrades. So while I’m not thrilled that Cox has bandwidth caps in the first place, I’m pleased they have now upgraded them. Hopefully Comcast, which has had the same bandwidth capacity cap for a year now, will soon follow suite and upgrade its 250 GB cap.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

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 . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why Washington Needs To Hear From More Venture Capitalists (and pay less attention to Wall St. Analysts) on Telecom.

Reprinting below a piece I just posted over at the Public Knowledge Policy blog.

More below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Understanding What The Broadband Stimulus Does, and What It Doesn't Try To do.

Not unsurprisingly, we have considerable debate on the merits of the broadband stimulus package, even leaving aside the network neutrality provisions. They range from this NYT article suggesting that building out in rural is a waste and won’t create jobs to Yochai Benkler’s more optimistic piece to my own previous enthusiastic support (here and here). Along the way, we find plenty of folks with a “yes, but –” because it does not address urban builds or competition or network neutrality or other issues in a way they consider satisfactory, and this weakness, from their perspective, makes the whole bill a worthless boondoggle and a multi-billion gift to the incumbents to boot.

I find the claims of those pushing tax credits or opposing the network neutrality conditions that grants will not create any jobs or result in any new broadband uptake, and that conditions on grants will prevent anyone from building these systems, simply not credible. I can only conclude those pushing this line either don’t get outside Washington DC and New York City much or have their own agendas. Otherwise, they should check out my friend Wally Bowen at MAIN and how he and projects like him are creating jobs for network operators and bringing economic opportunity for their communities. But even setting aside such extremes, it should come as no surprise that we see a variety of opinions on what the broadband stimulus does or should do because:

1) We have a set of complex problems;

2) Everyone has a different perspective on the nature of the problem(s).

This makes assessing the cost/benefit difficult, and makes getting the prospect of any consensus of opinion phenomenally unlikely. What constitutes proof for me that this bill (even after the Senate changes) looks to do a lot of good and is therefore worth the cost won’t persuade others who disagree with me on the fundamental nature of what we need to fix.

In the hope of persuading folks, however, I lay out my arguments below on why I think the broadband stimulus is well designed to handle one piece of the very difficult puzzle of deploying a ubiquitous nationwide broadband system that all citizens will use so they can partake of the rich opportunity for civic engagement, economic development, educational opportunities, and new services such as telemedicine (even if they don’t realize they need this yet). Along the way, the stimulus bill gives another nudge (but hardly solves) the question of how to keep the internet open to innovation and “as diverse as human thought.”

Read More »

Posted in Life In The Sausage Factory, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 11 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

BitTorrent Employs Self-Help After CRTC Ruling. Net Neutrality Folks Called It Right So Far.

Well that certainly didn’t take long.

Richard Bennett has an article at The Register describing BitTorrent, Inc.’s new method for circumventing traffic throttling. Essentially (if I understand it), BitTorrent has altered the way in which its uTorrent P2P application will work. Instead of relying on the Transfer Control Protocol (TCP) uTorrent will now use the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) to move packets. Richard describes what this means and the potential impact of this better than I can. Critically, however, Richard describes this as a means by which BitTorrent can avoid Bell Canada’s targeted traffic management by disguising the nature of its traffic as latency-intolerant (like voice over IP (VOIP))and therefore given priority over other traffic. You can see some discussion of this as a response to the CRTC decision to allow Bell Canada to manage traffic here at DSL Reports.

As I observed only last week, the CRTC decision presents a splendid opportunity to grab some popcorn and watch some other country play games with its critical infrastructure. Mind, since the internet is a global “network of networks,” what happens in Canada is likely to impact me here in the U.S. as well. But I can’t do anything about that. So pardon me whilst I munch my popcorn and enjoy a good dose of Cassandrafruede (a term of my own invention which means “the bitter pleasure experienced when something awful you predicted that could have been avoided if people had listened to you comes to pass, even though you also get screwed through no fault of your own”).

More analysis to go with my popcorn below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | 8 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Martin Gets the Ball Rolling On “Blocking” Investigation: What Does It Mean And What Happens Next?

As always, I am impressed with the ability of so many people to hate whatever Kevin Martin does, and for so many different reasons! At CES, Martin announced that the FCC would investigate allegations of blocking content and determine whether they violated the FCC’s four broadband principles. Comcast pledged to cooperate in any investigation (although, unsurprisingly, Comcast representatives — along with supposed object of Martin’s affection AT&T and other big telcos and cablecos — said at CES they would restructure or eliminate FCC altogether).

As I said in my PK blog post, while details remain unclear, I am “cautiously optimistic” that this will be a good thing. But it did not take long for the folks in the “Martin is a bastard 24/7 crwd” to express themselves. DSL reports doubted this would go anywhere, while the “why ya gotta hate on cable” crowd at Techdirt opined that Martin would never investigate if it were a telco rather than a cable co.

So we flash forward to yesterday, when new developments began to percolate out of the FCC. Of significance:

1) The FCC issued a public notice asking for comment on our Petition for Declaratory Ruling that Comcast’s “network management practice” of messing with BitTorrent uploads violated the FCC’s “Broadband Policy Statement,” which includes a principle that network operators may not block or degrade content or applications. In a separate public notice (but as part of the same proceeding), the FCC also seeks comment on the Vuze Petition for Rulemaking on how broadband access providers handle and shape IP traffic generally. (Copy of Vuze Petition here, copy of our Petition here).

2) Separately, the FCC issued a separate public notice seeking comment on a Petition filed by Public Knowledge and the usual suspects asking the FCC to declare that wireless carriers cannot deny short codes or block text messaging. This goes after Verizon’s high profile “oopsie” of denying a request by NARAL for a short code. Although, as we pointed out in the Petition, the more likely and pernicious problem is with plain old anticompetitive blocking, such as denying a short code to VOIP provider Rebtel.com and denying applications to major banks offering competing services.

3) Comcast confirmed that the FCC has lanched a formal inquiry into whether it violated the FCC’s broadband policy statement. Comcast reiterated that it will fully cooperate with the FCC, and expects any investigation to show that Comcast did not block content and has engaged in legitimate network management practices.

Not bad for a commitment made a week ago. But what does it mean and where will it go from here? Analysis below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Verizon's “Sitefinder-lite,” Cox Traffic Shaping (Without Lying), And The Shape of Things To Come

Jim Harper at Technology Liberation Front pinged me (sort of) to comment on reports that anyone who subscribes to Verizon’s FIOS broadband service who mistypes a domain name will now land on a Verizon search page. So, for example, trying to get to i-want-sprint-cell-phones.com will land you on a a page like this (my thanks to ace domain name practitioner John Berryhill for capturing this in a screen shot and putting it up on his web page). Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that Cox cable is also interfering with BitTorrent uploads, although at least Cox has the intelligence to admit from the start that it actively manages traffic, rather than go through several rounds of idiotic denials like Comcast (which is probably why the Cox issue is getting a lot less notice).

Briefly:

1) I ain’t that excited about the Verizon DNS redirection in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it breaks end-to-end, and I’m not happy about it. But unlike traffic shaping, this development was foreseen and approved of by the FCC and the Supreme Court in the Brand X case when both pegged DNS as the thing that made broadband access an “information service” and therefore free from pesky regulation. At least Verizon’s redirection doesn’t actually hurt the average user.

2) OTOH, it does raise serious privacy issues and highlights the general problems of letting the ISPs control all of this. There was, after all, a reason we regulated telcos and cable cos to keep user information private. It also starts to raise a very troubling question — what happens when network operators and application developers learn to distrust all the basic protocols under which the ‘net operates? It works fine for the first few guys. But what holds this together is everyone agreeing on a set of basic protocols. Eliminate the trust in those protocols, and things start to break down.

3) Some folks that gave a great big yawn to Comcast’s traffic shaping have gone ballistic over messing with DNS lookup. But both are natural consequences of turning this stuff over to ISPs. Folks who hate the thought of even limited government regulation of network management but also hate the thought ISPs messing with DNS and other protocols have some tough choices ahead.

Thoughts below . . . .

Read More »

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

David Weinberger's Excellent Piece On Structural Separation

Despite the efforts to make common carriage and structural separation of wholesale and retail services a forbidden topic of discussion (go read the piece Greg Rose and I wrote last year on how industry rationalizes policy by controlling the debate), the old and highly successful idea of structural separation for carriers continues to undergo a significant revival. For starters, the Europeans have recently embraced structural separation as a policy goal, and have consequently begun kicking our rear ends in broadband speed, price and overall adoption. For another, some of us do not forget that structural separation used to be the law under the Computer Proceedings, and that this old form of open access is what gave us the internet in the first place. Finally, the argument advanced that simply because we have more providers in the market, the underlying rationale for structural separation goes away, as always struck me as poor policy driven by ideology.

I am pleased to see that David Weinberg has now written this excellent piece on structural separation. This marks the second internet “thought leader” to offer well-written and challenging pieces pleading the case of structural separation, the first being David Isenberg’s Making Network Neutrality Sustainable. Both these authors make the case for the next logical step in the Network Neutrality fight — going back to a set of rules that will prevent the network operators from interfering with the content that flows over the network by altering the economic incentives of the carriers.

Not surprisingly, we can anticipate two responses, the standard antiregulatory response (“Regulation is bad, hmmmmmmKay….Cause, if you do the regulation, then, that’d be government, and big government is bad, hmmmmmmKay….so regulation is bad, hmmmmmKay……”) and the economic response about how such a scheme destroys producer incentives so networks don’t get built. The chief problem with the producer incentive argument, however, is that the empirical evidence in Europe and Asia appears to prove the opposite case: a combination of structural separation and government subsidy facilitates deployment and maximizes incentives and revenue throughout the value chain, while focusing strictly on incentives for core network providers (e.g., the AT&T’s and Comcasts of the world) produces inferior results by every metric other than network operator profits.

My key takeaway here is that we continue to see a revitalized public policy debate that moves beyond the timid counsels of the edge-based industry players who define their “ask” in terms of what the incumbents have defined as possible, and despite every effort by the incumbents and their supporters to convince the broader public that “network neutrality” is dead and lawmakers should not worry their pretty little heads about it. Yes, we are in a legislative lull at the moment, as the public policy pendulum swings away from the incumbents and towards a more aggressive public policy more in line with the broadband success stories of Europe and Asia. But as Weinberg and Isenberg have shown, the public education and public debate remains quiet lively and continues to advance.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Series of Tubes, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Atkins & Weiser “Third Way” Paper, Isenberg Responds, and My Own Response

A few months back, Robert Atkins and Phil Weiser wrote this paper called a A “Third Way” on Network Neutrality. I recommend reaing the paper, but to summarize: The paper asserts that the NN debate has polarized between the telcos & cable cos, who want an unlimited right to control traffic, and the pro-net neutrality advocates, who want all packets treated equally by the network operator. Atkins & Weiser see this polarization as obscruing the fact that both sides of the debate raise legitimate concerns about market abuse and investment in networks on the one hand, and about government intrusiveness into network management on the other.

Atkins & Weiser therefore recommend an approach they believe addresses both sets of legitimate concerns. Congress should permit network operators to have considerable discretion with tiering — including favoring content based on origin as well as by nature of service. However, to protect consumers from abuses of market power, network operators must (A) fully disclose which packets are favored and why. In this way, consumers can ascertain readily if their lousy connection with mediastreamerA and great connection with mediastreamerB is a consequence of mediastreamerA having a bad service or their ISP cutting a deal with mediastreamerB; (B) Congress should affirm the FCC’s responsibility to monitor the broadband ISP market for anticompetitive abuses and permit the FCC to resolve any abusive practice that may emerge either by adjuidcation or by rule; and (C) the government should provide other incentives — such as tax credits or subsidies — to facilitate broadband deployment.

Recently Dave Isenberg wrote a a strong critique of the paper. Isenberg chastises Atkins and Weiser for falling into what I shall characterize as the attractive trap of the apparently “reasonable compromise.” Isenberg argues that, on the one hand, Atkins and Weiser lack vision. They fail to appreciation of the revolutionary aspects of the internet and the damage to the power of the internet as a disruptive technology if broadband network providers can exercise the kind of control over content and services that Atkins & Weiser would permit under traditional antitrust analysis. On the other hand, Isenberg maintains that Atkins & Weiser fail to appreciate the “Realpolitik” problems of relying on the FCC for enforcement instead of enacting a prophylactic, self-executing rule. Given the potential for agency capture and the length of time it will take the agency to act, a rule which does nothing but set up the FCC as a watch dog with discretion is worse than useless. Only by prohibitting tiering and requiring network neutrality can save the power of the internet as a disruptive technology capable of challenging the core businesses (such as video and voice) of the network providers themselves.

About a month ago, Phil Weiser and I debated this point over on the Public Knowledge policy blog. You can see our back and forth here: Phil’s first post, my response, Phil’s reply to me (with my reply in the comments), and Phil’s final summation.

As folks might imagine, I tend to side with Dave Isenberg on this one, although I recommend the Atkins & Weiser paper to folks interested in alternative views. Atkins and Weiser are no industry shills or ideological Neocons refusing to recognize the potential dangers. And, as I have always said, anyone who wants to formulate real policy rather than foster religious ideology needs to consider other views and recognize where someone else has a valid point. I don’t agree with Atkins & Weiser (for reasons I’ve covered at length in the links and elsewhere), but I’m glad to have considered what they had to say.

Stay tuned . . . .

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Last week in CALEA

(And you thought I’d given up on anything but Net Neutrality, didn’t you?)

So last week proved a busy one for the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). CALEA requires that anyone building a “communications network” build it in such a way that law enforcement agencies (acting pursuant to a proper warrant, of course), can monitor individual sbscribers/users. Last fall, the FCC extended CALEA to include broadband access providers and voice over IP (VOIP) providers. For various reasons, this pissed me off. Meanwhile, a group of folks including the Center for Democracy and Technology and EFF Petitioned the DC Circuit to declare that the FCC had overstepped its statutory bounds in extending CALEA in this way.

Last Wednesday, the FCC issued its Second Order on CALEA, basically affirming the First Order and giving some new details (or at least it will when the text of the Second Order is released). Friday, the FCC defended its First Order in court. Reflections of yr hmbl obdnt below.

Read More »

Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | Comments closed
  • Connect With Us

    Follow Wetmachine on Twitter!

Username
Password

If you do not have an account: Register