Comcast and BitTorrent, or "Honestly Charlie Brown, The Market Dictates I Let You Kick The Football THIS Time.”

[First, a rather important point to Richard Bennett and anyone who may be confused. This blog is my own. It is not a “Media Access” blog, and it does not represent MAP policy. I very deliberately do not show this stuff to anyone at MAP for prior approval before I write it. This is me personally sounding off. Got it? This is in addition to my day job. (Although my wrath at this mischaracterization is tempered by his describing this blog as “popular.”)]

There must be something in the air that has turned Comcast from a fighter to a lover. Apparently, Comcast and BitTorrent have kissed and made up, Brian Roberts has stood barefoot in the snow beneath Kevin Martin’s window at Canossa, and all is now supposed to be well in the world. Nothing to see here, move along, these aren’t the droids we’re looking for, and once again the magic of the market solves everything.

I would have written earlier, but I was having a flashback to when AOL Time Warner committed to creating an interoperable instant messenger. Then I was flashing on when AT&T Broadband and Earthlink “solved” the original open access problem by negotiating a contract and thus proving that “the market” would guarantee that independent ISPs would be able to resell cable modem service just like they were reselling DSL. Then I woke up vomiting. I always have a bad reaction to whatever folks smoke to conclude “the free market solves everything” especially when (a) this was the result of a regulatory two-by-four applied directly to Comcast’s scalp, repeatedly; and (b) nothing actually happened except for a real and sincere comitment to yack about stuff — at least until the regulators go away. Still, like Lucy and Charlie Brown, there are some folks for whom this just never gets old.

So while I’m glad to see Comcast forced to play the penitent, confess wrongdoing, and appear to give a full surrender, and while I generally like the idea of industry folks and ISPs getting together to actually do positive stuff on internet architecture issues, I think wild celebrations from the anti-regulators and the expectation that we can declare “Mission Accomplished” and go home is a shade premature. Indeed, the only people who believe this announcement actually solves anything are — by and large — those who didn’t believe there was a problem in the first place. I believe the technical term for such folks is “useful idiots.”

My further thoughts below….

First, a few rather important points.

There is a huge difference between BitTorrent the application, which is a peer-2-peer application for moving large files. And BitTorrent, Inc., a company that makes money delivering legal content via BitTorrent the open source application.

We have two items before the FCC, a complaint and a Petition for Declaratory Ruling. Neither one is made moot or otherwise invalidated by the Comcast-BitTorrent business, despite the fact that Comcast’s primary motivation in this little charade/kabuki play is to put this whole business about degrading traffic and then getting caught lying about it behind them and move on without having any sort of regulatory accounting. Because — and I know this will shock and astound many — the FCC is not supposed to be about refereeing industry disputes. It IS supposed to be about protecting my rights as a citizen and subscriber to broadband services AND about protecting the public interest. Neither of which is resolved by having Comcast pick one company that does peer-2-peer, cutting a great deal for good little boys who behave and are willing to play along, and then waving that in front of credulous regulators or free market cheerleaders to declare a great big policy “Mission Accomplished!”

Let us consider the disclosed terms of the agreement, or “non-deal” as Rafat Ali put it. According to BitTorrent, Inc., President Ashwin Navin:

1. Network management will be protocol agnostic & disclosed to consumers… and there will be no more connection resets.
2. Network architecture will be optimized for media delivery
a. Comcast is increasing capacity overall and particularly for upstream traffic (good for p2p)
b. Bittorrent is developing new client features to optimize for ISP networks (eg, cache discovery protocol)
c. Comcast/Bittorrent will jointly investigate a new network architecture for the benefit of our users (servers in the comcast network which will accelerate file transfer rather than impede it)
3. Openness: We will publish our findings and optimizations in open forums for the benefit of other ISPs and application developers… including our open source Bittorrent implementation

All of which is very nice, although as Om Malik notes, BitTorrent, Inc. is a relatively minor player in the P2P scene and success of these commitments therefore hinges on bringing in more significant players like Vuze. Furthermore, according to the rather fawning puff piece of an interview Declan did with Comcast’s Joe Waz, Comcast will try to get all this stuff ready for “phase in” before the end of “calendar Year 2008.” So, even in the best of scenarios, we’re looking at another 9 months or more of “traffic management.” And, of course, there is no guarantee that Comcast and BitTorrent, Inc. (or any other company) will actually reach agreement on these goals.

Those of us who have been down this road before, on the video side as well as on the ISP side, will recognize this as simply using an old incumbent cable mind trick — going back to the days when John Malone ran TCI and used this carrot and stick hold off credulous regulators and break up opposition among independent programmers. If the pressure gets to much, start picking off a few independents and cut some deals, promise as little as possible but make a big deal about it, pressure the other independents to jump on the band wagon or risk getting cut out, then wait until the regulators wander off with the contented smiles on their faces that come from a deeply satisfying hand job.

(Heck, you can see this movie playing now in the independent cable channels, where the major incumbents are blocking independents like WealthTV while cutting deals with Hallmark and getting the credulous and the Free market faithful to shout “Amen!” It’s worse than Charlie Brown once again trying to kick the football only to land flat on his back as Lucy yanks it away. It’s Charlie Brown lying flat on his back but convincing himself he actually did to kick the football.)

But even if we take the deal at its word, it still boils down to nothing more concrete than an agreement to talk between some companies and possibly have a standards process. That’s nice and I’m all for that, but it hardly eliminates the need to keep a watchful eye on things or eliminates the need to have the FCC declare whether deliberately targeting an application is a “reasonable network practice.” For one thing, you will pardon me if I worry that a collection of dominant ISPs and a handful of developers just might be a little bit tempted to develop a standard that rewards those companies that come in and play ball with Comcast while punishing folks trying to develop applications without Comcast’s consent. And what the heck does “network architecture will be optimized for delivery of video” mean anyway? At the expense of what?

For another, and to get back to the main point, this isn’t just a question about Comcast and bittorrent uploads. That lies at the heart of the issue since the FCC insists on doing this by adjudication rather than making rules. But there are an endless number of applications, and more coming into existence every day. Is it reasonable network management for a broadband service provider to target these applications (or any applications)? Can AT&T target rival VOIP applications as a means of managing its network? Can Cox target gamers if they begin to tie up the system with rich, time sensitive applications? The issue remains live whatever Comcast does about the particular matter here, and their contrition can no more undo their past bad conduct than can CBS’ promise of future good behavior erase the indecency fine for the Jackson/Timberlake “wardrobe malfunction,” or Fox’s adoption of a five second delay eliminate Nichole Ritchie’s “fleeting utterance.”

Responses among the Commissioners were somewhat predictable based on ideology, with one or two surprises. Commissioner Copps pointed to Comcast suddenly reversing course, admitting that it had in fact degraded p2p traffic, confessing that it had architected its network to degrade BitTorrent uploads, and promising to work on doing better as proof that government needs to closely scrutinize things and be willing to intervene when necessary. Adelstein had a rather brief statement reserving judgement until the FCC got more data. By contrast, Commissioner McDowell managed to somehow take this as proof that the free market solves eveyrthing, because not only will this deal resolve any issues (to the extent any issues existed at all), of course Comcast was cutting a deal with a modest player and promising to do everything asked of it for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the pending FCC complaint and a very real possibility of legislative action. Meanwhile, Commissioner Tate, apparently having drunken the waters of the IP Mafia, continues to call for everyone to work on the “problem” of policing content.

This leaves us with Chairman Martin. Unsurprisingly, I find his key points spot on, specifically:
1) So Comcast confesses that it has, in fact, been degrading traffic and targeting bittorrent, even though there are alternative traffic management techniques it could have used.
2) Comcast says they are still doing it, and gives no certain end date for when they will do it.

As long as Comcast openly admits it is still engaging in this sort of “network management,” and will for an indefinite period of time to come, the FCC has a responsibility to resolve the pending proceedings. It’s nice to see that the Chairman of the FCC understand that.

Stay tuned . . . .

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19 Comments

  1. GGiven that you’ve disavowed any connection between your blog and Media Access Project, it’s interesting that this particular petitioner is still officially silent on the Comcast/BitTorrent deal. Was it just too stunning for MAP comment? I put the question here because I figure their Senior VP would have some insight.

    But anyhow and to what you do say, there’s one big point that jumps out from the way you use the term “degrade” when talking about Internet access and the Internet in general. You don’t seem to appreciate that the Internet is a series of shared communication channels that rely on statistical multiplexing. In a system of this type (which is very different from the telecom networks the FCC is used to regulating) every packet “degrades” every other packet.

    We don’t have dedicated end-to-end paths through the network so we all share with each other. So in the first analysis we all degrade each other, and the ISPs and NSPs are stuck with the chore of deciding whose traffic goes through immediately, whose waits at any given millisecond, and whose is discarded. And Internet switches drop lots and lots of packets as a part of routine operation. This may upset you (as it apparently upsets Kevin Martin) but it is the way the system was designed. We all hammer the switches as hard as we can and they take what they can and drop the rest. Sorry, the Internet is not a telephone.

    So there’s no such thing as an ISP that doesn’t “degrade” traffic in the ways that you and Kevin Martin allege is a unique property of Comcast’s current management system.

    And while I like the method Comcast CTO Tony Werner described to me as in development better than the one that’s currently in production, I don’t consider either to be an illegitimate approach to traffic management within the real-world constraints of businesses that have to return profit to their shareholders. The Sandvine system has the unfortunate side-effect of making original seeds slow to take root, but I don’t think that’s an intentional bug.

    I also don’t buy the fiction that Vuze is a true competitor to Comcast and Verizon, and therefore don’t see an anti-competitive motive behind Comcast’s actions intended to affect Vuze. Given that Vuze has a business that relies on other people’s software (open source BitTorrent) moving other people’s content (Hollywood movies and TV) other still other people’s bandwidth (customers of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, et. al.) their problems are much larger than one method of traffic management versus another.Given that Vuze purchases just enough bandwidth to start original seeds, they actually aren’t affected by Comcast’s treatment of robo-seeders in any significant way.

    Apparently you have a long-standing beef with the Comcast TV service specifically and mistrust of capitalism generally. That’s fine, but it’s not immediately relevant to the question of what does and doesn’t make rational traffic management on the Internet and its access network. And frankly, it’s the invocation of animus of that tangential sort that makes me question whether you actually have a framework for deciding questions of this sort.

    Comcast has correctly pointed out that the some commissioners have vowed to do rule-making on the fly, which won’t stand up to legal scrutiny because it grossly exceeds the Commission’s authority and bypasses formal rule-making. If such an action is taken, it will be struck down by the court to the embarrassment of the commissioners’ eventual private sector employers.

    And finally, Om Malik is mistaken about the relative market shares of BitTorrent, Inc. and Vuze. BT owns uTorrent, the most populat BT client, while Vuze simply distributes a client based on the open source Python-language client that BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen wrote a long time ago.

    Vuze filed their FCC complaint as a publicity stunt. And while it’s understandable that an under-funded startup would resort to this means of free publicity, only the truly credulous believe they have the standing they assert; it’s more like a case of delusions of grandeur.

    [Cross-posted on my little blog]

  2. Harold says:

    <i>Apparently you have a long-standing beef with the Comcast TV service specifically and mistrust of capitalism generally.</i>

    A common misconception from those who, like you apparently, miss the point of public policy and economic theory and treat it as a matter of religious conviction or political affiliation and reduce complex economic theorems to bumper stickers. As I have said numerous times, profit maximizing firms behave predictably — they seek to maximize profit. This leads to very predictable results. The question is not whether I “trust” or “distrust” them anymore than I “trust” or “distrust” any other tool or rational actor. Certainly the question is not whether I “trust” or “distrust” any particular political theory, especially when reduced by folks such as yourself from complex theories with multiple variations and approaches to a handful of poorly understood oversimplified bumper stickers. While I have no doubt you find “capitalism” and “communism” comforting labels (even if I saw any evidence of actual understanding of the terms beyond the simplistic “red baiting” in which you engage), they are not particularly useful when trying to engage in the deep analysis a serious exercise in public policy should demand.

    My chief divergence with folks who actually know anything about economics and public policy — as opposed to religious fanatics such as yourself — is the question of the world we wish to live in and correctly assessing the likely actions of relevant actors. My Libertarian opposite numbers who actually treat this as a rational field of study, rather than a matter of blind religious faith, will acknowledge possible negative consequences but argue that government attempts to correct them are invariably worse. It is a far cry and a more sophisticated argument (when supported) then the simplistic religious creed you preach, where one is either on the side of the market or against it and “doubters” are heretics to be shunned, excoriated, mocked — but certainly never listened to or their arguments considered. And. while I would no more seek to dissuade you from your chosen gods than I would seek to convert you to my flavor of Orthodox Judaism, I must point out that your religious conviction has a tendency to blind you to both real world verifiable realities and the consequences of those realities.

    Case in point, after vociferously defending Comcast’s actions as compelled by engineering necessity, and mocking those who disagree, Comcast now announces that it CAN restructure its network in precisely the way I and others demanded. Yet like a good little religious fanatic, you find yourself untroubled either by the sudden about face or by your own previous contradictory statements.

    Predictably, you will make the same accusation to me, no doubt peppered by some clever invective. But even a casual reader of my coverage of this and other issues will observe that I have never hesitated to acknowledge where it turned out I was wrong (the C Block banding plan for example), acknowledge alternate approaches even when they are not preferred (Time Warner’s usage caps), and even apologize if I decide on reflection that I responded in haste or in error.

    The ability to examine reality and admit error when necessary is essential to formulating effective public policy. Blind worship of “the market” that ignores rational actors such as Comcast responding to government pressure, refusal to consider how their behavior will change if the response of regulators changes, and an ability to believe unquestioningly and even support without question statements directly at odds with one another within the space of a month are the marks of the religious fanatic rather than the marks of genuine intellectual engagement.

    To conclude, I no more “trust” capitalism than I “distrust” capitalism. This isn’t an exercise in political philosophy or religion, where one accepts the catechism of some faith and swears undying allegiance to its central dogmas, unquestioning loyalty to its champions, and unremitting hostility to the unbeliever. It is supposed to be a rational examination of how public policy choices impact the real world we live in, culminating (one hopes) in policies that make a better world. You may disagree with me (as Lord knows I disagree with you), but the fact that you frame this as some test of allegiance to a political philosophy rather than engage in active inquiry is — to my mind — rather like a demand that I treat “intelligent design” with dignity as a science, that my refusal to do so emanates from religious bigotry, and that this purported bigotry makes my arguments in support of evolution unworthy of examination.

  3. JohnMc says:

    Well Harold, now that you got that off your chest I would like to offer what I think is the backstory why Comcast had the epiphany they did in regards to BitTorrent and relented. It is defensive on Comcasts part. The reason is technical, the kabuki as you call it is rightfully a corporate sideshow for PR purposes.

    1) Comcast in its schema has to apply a hardware-software matrix of tools to run their P2P management system. The Open Source team of BitTorrent developers only had to tweak code.
    2) The BitTorrent core development team has already proposed in a paper to develop a methodology of both dynamic port hopping and traffic masking of the P2P signature. Another words a tech war of ever expanding dimensions similiar to the current state of affairs we have between writers of viruses and defenders against such viruses.
    3) At the economic level the ‘aggressor’ will utilize free tools, free time, free talent and little economic resources. The ‘defender’ will be using propiertary tools, paid time, paid talent and ever expanding economic resources just to stay in the game.

    Wrap it all together and you have the perfect storm of P2P barbarians being able to storm the gates at will whenever and however they chose. So the problem for Comcast had to be that their CIO has informed management that they are in a lose always situation. Escalation will do them no good. Or as was one of the closing lines in ‘War Games’ — “…Where the only winning move is NOT TO PLAY.” The overtures to BitTorrent is an effort to prevent the escalation scenario from occurring.

    Whether it will prove successful is not known as BitTorrent is not the only P2P player in the game.

  4. Harold says:

    JohnMC:

    I am glad to hear it. I certainly hope that technological realities will force Comcast (and the rest of the cable industry, which shares this architecture) to stop trying to order back the tide and start deploying systems that will work with how people are using the network. But history warns that folks in the business offices give up their traditional business models very reluctantly.

  5. That’s some first-class misdirection, Harold, I’m impressed. You repeatedly bashed the market in your post, so all I had to do was feed your remarks back to you to provoke all that blathering about Intelligent Design and what not. I’ve written that net neutrality is “intelligent design for the left” and had the remarks quoted to the British Parliament, and now you’re putting me in with the Darwin haters. Good show!

    But seriously, you’re just plain wrong on all the technical implications of what Comcast does now and will do in the future, and you’re misunderstood what I’ve written about it. It’s not the job of public policy to micro-manage business, it’s our job to define general frameworks for business practices where they affect The People. P2P affects The People as well, so its management is part of the problem here.

    Your pal Kevin Martin asked his new best friend from Vuze at the Berkman Center hearing if he induced Comcast customers to violate their TOS. Vuze boy lied and said no, he didn’t. But you see, Harold old sport, Vuze does induce people to exceed their upload caps. In fact Vuze offers traffic in excess of the bandwidth cap as a routine matter, and it’s up to the ISP to beat it back.

    But this is the way the Internet works, so it’s unremarkable. There are several ways to beat back the excess traffic, and if you were up to speed on this stuff you’d realize many are legitimate and some aren’t. Public policy draws the line, Harold, it doesn’t decide which is best. Pass that on to Kevin, he needs help on this too.

  6. barry payne_economist says:

    SHARED BANDWIDTH IS A BOGUS EXCUSE FOR EXPLAINING AND CONTROLLING CONGESTION, INVOKED INSTEAD TO UNDERMINE NET NEUTRALITY

    Claims that cable bandwidth is shared is redundant and misses the point, which is the economic question of congestion to end users.

    All economic resources are “shared” at some level, i.e., oil and gas in pipelines share pipe capacity, vehicle traffic shares road space, etc.

    In Docket 07-52 before the FCC, recent filings were made demonstrating how telecom users share broadband capacity as well as cable users.

    If all shared capacity resulted in congestion, the economy would grind to a halt. A wide variety of price-quality variations act to price congestion and prevent gridlock.

    Comcast has grossly oversold its capacity to 9 million internet customers and now that per-customer use is rising, it faces congestion in peak periods and is attempting to confuse this phenomena with “shared” capacity.

    In its terms of service (see FCC Comcast filing on 02-13-08, Docket 07-52, Attachment B), Comcast states:

    “Excessive use means data usage that is not characteristic of a typical residential user of the service as determined by Comcast …

    … Currently, the median data usage by Comcast High-Speed Internet customers is approximately 2GB each month.”

    Considering that a 4Mbs bandwidth connection run at maximum 24/7 for a month could produce well over 1,000 Gegabytes, this implies bandwidth capacity has been oversold by a factor of 500:1 in terms of potential to actual GB, i.e., if all GB use was actually limited to 2GB and congestion would occur if the limit was lifted.

    This is like renting a car that goes 90mph but can be driven for only one mile a day, and in the fine print, Comcast makes it legal and doesn’t even tell the driver what the upper limit is – after one warning, it just disables the car.

    Comcast states that it reviews aggregate use for “excessive” GB use, then drills down to particular customers with a warning and disconnect if a response is not satisfactory.

    While Comcast does not likely disconnect customers above use of only
    2GB a month, the point is, it could without warning.

    By refusing to put hard caps on GB use coupled with only “up to” possibilities for bandwidth in Mbs, Comcast is able to trade off “heavy users” at the margin – when congestion occurs – for more small users.

    Since both pay the same price for service, bumping a heavy user could get more revenue from 5 or 10 small users. Meanwhile, absent congestion, Comcast is happy to take on more “heavy users”.

    This is where the kabuki play is in full swing, and it makes economic sense. By maximizing subscribers, Comcast maximizes revenue and profit, and Comcast gets way more subscribers by not dedicating bandwith capacity, placing sharp limits on GB use and shedding “heavy users” as needed at the margin of impending congestion.

    The question is how long Comcast can intimidate enough of its customers from breaking ranks with “excessive” use above “typical” use, in part by never telling them what “excessive” is while marketing high-speed bandwidth maximums with deceptive advertising.

    The degree to which Comcast can do this is largely a measure of its market power to produce less at a higher price in classic monopoly fashion through oversold capacity and sharply limited GB use.

    That Comcast has taken BitTorrent aside for selective negotiation fits in with an outlier that has broken through the limits on GB use which cannot simply be disconnected like the others, in part due to the publicity.

    Blaming congestion on P2P use is no different than blaming it on a surge in
    unexpected (or even expected) increase in use from any faction of customers who choose to use – or attempt to use –
    more of the capacity sold to them by Comcast instead of less.

    That Comcast doesn’t dedicate capacity nor place hard caps on GB use is not the customer’s problem, and in a competitive market, there would be a wide variety of dedicated bandwidth options from providers, all of whom provide service with “shared” bandwidth capacity.

    Comcast created the congestion through oversold capcacity and an artificial shortage. Customers and their particular content did not “cause” the congestion by merely using the bandwidth they purchased.

    This is the essential point of enforcing net neutrality, which is on its last legs given systematic dismantling since 2000 through a series of legal and regulatory rulings.

    A landline duopoly for 93% of broadband customers – a monopoly in many locations – is not competitive by any stretch of the economic imagination, but the content flowing over it is thriving with competition, and this is exactly what those against net neutrality seek to undermine.

  7. J.B. says:

    <i>Your pal Kevin Martin asked his new best friend from Vuze at the Berkman Center hearing if he induced Comcast customers to violate their TOS. Vuze boy lied and said no, he didn’t. But you see, Harold old sport, Vuze does induce people to exceed their upload caps. In fact Vuze offers traffic in excess of the bandwidth cap as a routine matter, and it’s up to the ISP to beat it back.</i>

    This would clearly be the most asinine thing I’ve read today, if not for all of the other asinine things Richard has written here. I mean, just about everything he has said is wrong, but here he’s flatly lying. Comcast’s terms of service include no bandwidth caps. Don’t believe me? <a href=”http://www.comcast.net/term…“>Read them yourself.</a> Regardless of who he’s been quoted by, it’s clear that Richard is a clueless hack.

  8. Barry Payne’s comment is too bizarre for a response, so I’ll skip it. If he’d like to offer some evidence to back up whatever claims he’s trying to make, I may change my mind. Suffice it to say that he doesn’t even seem to appreciate the difference between uploading and downloading, which is funny.

    The J. B. character is a bit obtuse. Comcast says this about their Internet access accounts: “Comcast High-Speed Internet service tiers range from 4.0 to 16.0 Mbps download speed (maximum upload speed from 384Kbps to 768Kbps respectively). The speed tier received and pricing will vary depending upon the speed tier selected and the level of Comcast video service and/or digital telephone service (if any) received.”

    That’s from the website, following http://www.comcast.com/shop… to get to the offers for your area.

    Note that “maximum upload speed” and “maximum download speed” are caps.

  9. Norm says:

    <blockquote>
    … while Vuze simply distributes a client based on the open source Python-language client that BitTorrent founder Bram Cohen wrote a long time ago.
    </blockquote>

    For God’s sake man. If you are going to hold such strong opinions try
    to get your facts right. Vuze uses Azureus which is a free software
    Bittorrent client written in Java. It is an entirely distinct
    implementation from Bram’s Python client and not based on it in any
    sense.

    And what is so filthy about distributing open source software? Is it
    somehow more virtuous or ‘capitalist’ to re-invent the wheel a hundred
    times over?

  10. My goodness, Norm, you are indeed correct, I’ve mixed up my Open Source projects. The Azureus client is written in Java, a whole different interpreted language from Python, so I gave it too much credit (Python rules.)

    While I generally prefer compiled languages like C over interpreted ones, but my main point is that Vuze hasn’t made much of an investment in advancing technology for The People. Vuze is basically a parasite while BitTorrent, Inc. is trying to drive technology forward, which is good for all of us.

  11. John says:

    Well now, it’s nice to see a little action here in the comments. Even if it’s pretty one-sided. I don’t want to get into a “Streets of Deadwood”-style donnybrook with our guest Mr. Bennet, but I will remark that the main thrust of his argument was repudiated by Messrs Clark and Reed at the FCC “bandwidth management” hearing, which I attended & reported on here: http://www.wetmachine.com/i

    I apologize for lack of decent html support in the comments & will try to improve upon it soon.

    And finally, for the record, wetmachine is a group of friends who blog together. I own the domain, but there is no overall site editor. We all post whatever we feel like posting.

  12. What specific point or points do you think David Clark refuted, John? It seemed to me that he agreed with everything I said, and only appeared to disagree when he thought I said something I didn’t.

    Reed, on the other hand, did appear to have his hair on fire, but his main objection was to people acting outside of what he thought the rules used to be in the pre-Congestion Collapse era, but that’s a pretty obscure claim.

    Clark has made signficant contributions to internetworking, but Reed is simply a sideshow.

  13. John says:

    Richard,

    As I noted in my write-up, Clark said that he didn’t have time to refute both you and Bittorrent in a seven-minute talk. So I’m not going to go into point-by-point analysis trying to put words into his mouth.

    I said he refuted the “main thrust” of your argument, and I take it that the “main thrust” of your argument is that ISPs must be left free of government interference in order to manage traffic however seems to them to be most helpful. At the hearing you specifically endorsed discrimination based on application type. Clark said that Comcast had clearly crossed some kind of line by doing deep packet inspection, that FCC oversight of broadband management practices was appropriate (although he did specifically call for Comcast and Bittorrent to work together to reduce the need for outside dictates), and that discriminating according to application type was the wrong way to go because it took choice out of the hands of users.

  14. My argument was this: the history of the Internet is littered with traffic crises that had to be alleviated by re-engineering the protocols, and this one is no different. The industry will solve the P2P glut on its own, as it always does, and he agreed with that, as you admit.

    Clark didn’t have any criticism of the kind of packet inspection Sandvine does, which isn’t particularly deep; he complained about RSTs, but IETF guys have been doing that for 10 or 15 years, as long as firewalls and load-balancers have been using it. The DPI complainer was Reed, but he complains about everything.

    When I left the building, Clark was explaining to Reed that the multiple streams and persistence of BitTorrent really do cause a problem for the TCP congestion algorithm, picking up on some of my final remarks.

    TCP, you see, doesn’t care about users and user quotas. In fact, it doesn’t even know what a user is. TCP only cares about streams, and it’s not good enough for the problems that P2P brings to networks. I’ve written about all of this quite extensively and I’m not going to rehash it here.

    The bottom line is that you heard what you wanted to hear at the Berkman Center hearing, but you didn’t hear what was said.

  15. John says:

    Wow Richard, we are touchy aren’t we?

    Did I or did I not hear Clark say at the hearing that he had explicitly stood up for having separate identification of type of application and quality of service built into the protocol from the dawn of Internet time? Or that priviledging applications based on type was the wrong way to go? Sheesh.

    As to “the industry will figure it out on its own”, I don’t recall having heard Clark say that. Certainly he gave the impression that the optimal solution might not involve too heavy a regulatory hand. But that’s not the same thing, and Harold correctly points out that Comcast and BitTorrent are now talking AFTER Comcast got beat about the head and body by the FCC.

    Speaking of hearing what I wanted to hear, I heard Chairman Martin assert that the FCC has regulatory authority to make rules on this area.

    Anyway I said I didn’t want to go point-by-point before you said you didn’t want to rehash, so I’ll see your no rehash and raise you one no point-to-point.

    I do appreciate your saying we’re a popular site!

  16. The thing is, John, that sweeping assertions like the one you made about Clark putting me down need to be supported by some facts; maybe not a whole lot, but some. And your account of the hearing was long on interpretation and short on facts.

    I think the idea that public policy should be based on emotion and general stereotypes about the nature of business people doesn’t lead to good results, and we need facts to give it a rational basis.

    There was a lot of technical depth in the discussion that Clark and I had about well-defined ports vs. TOS markings, and there wasn’t time to go into all the details; I didn’t have an opportunity to respond to him, for example.

    Clark wants the user to be able to stipulate the relative priorities of his respective flows, and so do I; in fact, I gave a talk on that very theme at the ITIF in Washington recently. But we don’t have a generally-accepted system of semantics for that right now, and Comcast and others need to manage their networks in the meantime. We all agreed that the day-to-day needs of network maintenance have a different timeline than the standards process.

    So what do we do in the meantime? One approach is application-centric priorities, and another is the recently-announced scheme that simply manages packet volumes.

    And given your preference for the system Clark advocated, of application-agnostic management, why aren’t you overjoyed with the Comcast announcement? They’ve committed to do what you say you want, and still you’re unhappy?

    Something doesn’t quite add up.

  17. Harold says:

    John (and everyone else):

    Back in my old Usenet days, I learned a very important lesson. DON’T FEED THE TROLL. We’re past the point of real conversation. Let Richard declare victory, do his victory jig before his cheering worshipers, and move on. Cause whoo boy, they sure showed us, didn’t they.

  18. Right, I’m just trolling for links, while Harold is offering serious policy suggestions based on a level-headed assessment of the facts unbiased by emotion or stereotype.

    As if.

    OK, Harold, you don’t want to argue with me, and that’s fine. This is your blog and therefore your agenda, so have a ball.

    The one observation I want to leave you with is this: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You need to learn about the networks you want to regulate before imposing your rules on them. Your heart may be as pure as Bambi, but if you don’t have your head wrapped around the issues and their side-effects, your policies have no better than a 50/50 chance of being helpful.

    Networking is hard.

  19. bj says:

    I know I’m coming late to this debate, but this story I got from TR this morning, and knowing that this must have been in the works prior to the whole bittorrent blocking thing, brings new light to the murkiness.
    http://www.technologyreview
    Market forces indeed.

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