May 31, 2006  ·  Lessig

In a rare spin into politics, ebay’s Meg Whitman has written to eBay community members asking them to write members of Congress to get them to support Network Neutrality legislation. (eBay’s policy statement on NetNeutrality is here. )

This is a critical time. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is my favorite leader on this issue. After just barely squeezing a victory in the House Judiciary Committee last week, the press is on now for the vote on the floor. The Congress Daily (which can’t be linked to) estimates about a $1 million per week is being spent on ads by telecom and cable companies to fight neutrality legislation. has an action site. There’s another (overly fancy) site I hadn’t seen before: It’s Our Net. But whether you like fancy or plain, spread the word.

  • Josh Zeidner

    Don’t forget Ebay owns Skype and stands to lose a lot of money if Net Neutrality does not go through.jmz

  • poptones

    The problem is not “network neutrality” so much as the loss of certain antitrust regulations regarding the phone and cable companies offering end user connections. Our genius representatives changed existing legislation protecting the various competing ISPs from being priced out of business, so now the only means to protect the independant ISPs who offer DSL service is to adopt one of these half baked “network neutrality” bills.

    The answer is not stopping the phone companies from charging google and yahoo more to peer, the answer is bringing back the regulations that served for years to protect these mom and pop ISPs from being priced out of business.

  • Andrew L. Davis

    There is more to this issue than meets the eye. I like/agree with the concept of network neutrality, but there may be a dark side to network neutrality laws. I wood not mind paying a REASONABLE fee to give my VOIP traffic a higher priority than my web traffic on the network, or my video traffic. If the network neutrality laws are not written correctly, this will be illegal, and could slow down the growth of the Internet. Just add more bandwidth to make everything work well together is not cost effective.

  • Adrian Lopez

    I don’t see any problem with allowing the user to give his VOIP packets greater priority than his HTTP packets. This is a local policy that requires only the proper software running on the user’s PC or other relevant equipment such as a “home gateway”.

    If I pay for 512 Kbps service I want all protocols to be treated equally with regard to bandwidth allocation at the ISP level. Likewise, if I pay for 512 Kbps service I don’t want my ISP colluding with server administrators to regulate the use of bandwidth between myself and the servers in question.

  • Paul Kouroupas

    The solution to the net neutrality issue lies not in Washington, but in the peering arrangements that support the Internet. If peering arrangements honor quality of service markings between carriers, then each peer can compete for premium services. This competition will better serve content providers than any regulations out of Washington and will allow content providers to continue to control their own destiny.

    Instead of rallying in Washington to support legislation, content providers should rally around independent Tier 1 Internet backbone providers in support of new peering arrangements that will benefit all users of the Internet, not just the Bell Companies.

  • http://b Paul M

    Neo, are you out there?

  • three blind mice

    Lessig, you’re a fool.

    clever way to start your argument, Robert Bennett. knock it off.

    in your blog you write:

    A truly neutral network provides each application with the type of service it requires, which is low latency for voice, low jitter for video, and high throughput for the downloads/file transfers/web browsing. The Internet can only accomplish this by assigning priorities to these different traffic types. These priority assignments don’t have the effect of making some web sites faster than others, as all web traffic has the same priority.

    lol. all web traffic has the same priority by assigning different priorities to different traffic types? kewl.

    VoIP (voice over IP) is killing the local phone companies. it is a matter of time. some say they’ll be stone dead in a minute.

    no one loves the phone company. no one will be sorry to see them gone…. unless what replaces them is worse.

    the practical problem – seeminlgy lost on many activists – is that someone has to provide, maintain, service, and upgrade the physical communications equipment. there has to be a layer one and this never comes free.

    layer one has been more or less free for companies like vonage, skype, etc. they have – for the moment – unfettered access to your home via the physical communications equipment that your local telephone, cable, or cellular provider has set-up and which regulation has forced “open” to other ISPs.

    “net neutrality” means, very simply, that applications can not be tied to infrastructure. the result is that the business case for future investment in communications gear will be based on carrying bits.

    now this is all well and good, but it ignores one big question: is there a stand-alone business in investing in comunications equipment to carry bits into homes and will this business model result in low-prices and broad access and will not not discriminate based on income?

    wethinks that the answer is probably “no.” consider that the greatest investments today are being made in cellular where the applications are 100% tied to the infrastructure. paying for voice provides the income to underwrite the investment in infrastructure. if net neutrality is maintained, investment in infrastructure will decline – you know vonage won’t be paying to upgrade that twisted pair coming into your house.

    compared to the internet, cellular has been at least a revolution of similar size and importance: one would be foolish to kill the business model that created them both.

  • poptones

    VoIP (voice over IP) is killing the local phone companies. it is a matter of time. some say they’ll be stone dead in a minute.

    Some might think, but I don’t see that happening for home users any time soon. Business users may adopt voip, and a small number of home users – but for most it’s neither needed nor practical.

    I’m a geek. It’s a trivial matter for me to adopt some technology such as voip. Hell, I was making voip calls with my sound card five years ago, when it really really sucked because I was on dialup. Now I have a fast dsl connection, one would think I’d jump on board, huh?

    why? I get flat rate long distance from the phone company for about the same price I’d pay one of the voip providers. I don’t get free international calling, but I rarely have to do international calling – and when I do most of them are also geeks so we just use the free connections.

    Meanwhile, my phone company makes more money off me now than ever – between the flat rate payment every month, the fee they’re collecting from my dsl provider, and the basic phone charges, they have a flat rate guaranteed income from me every month, not some fluctating trickle that may skyrocket one month (based on the old per minute system) and then plunge the next several months as I clamp down to save money. We each – the phone company and myself – now have a batter arrangement that makes things more predictable month to month. How does that threaten them? Seems to me it provides them even greater security, especially as more and more of their customers adopt these technologies and payment plans.

    no one loves the phone company. no one will be sorry to see them gone…. unless what replaces them is worse.

    The problem still is “it’s the phone company.” We don’t need a dozen phone companies all stringing parallel wires from pole to pole, but it would be nice to see wireless infrastructure being invested in the way power and phone lines were back during the early tva days – a new, third competitor operating as a municipal digital communications infrastructure rather than a corporate publishing or telecom conglomerate.

  • three blind mice

    We don’t need a dozen phone companies all stringing parallel wires from pole to pole, but it would be nice to see wireless infrastructure being invested in the way power and phone lines were back during the early tva days – a new, third competitor operating as a municipal digital communications infrastructure rather than a corporate publishing or telecom conglomerate.

    that’s exactly what’s needed, poptones, or we get stuck in the NTSC/PAL/FM paradigm where information transport technology becomes frozen in one big immoveable standard for 50+ years. “net neutrality” has a very negative impact on this sort of innovation.

    municipal networks is an idea that speaks for itself: let the congress design it, FEMA manage it, and outsource the construction to haliburton.

  • poptones

    that’s exactly what’s needed, poptones, or we get stuck in the NTSC/PAL/FM paradigm where information transport technology becomes frozen in one big immoveable standard for 50+ years. “net neutrality” has a very negative impact on this sort of innovation.

    Since there seems to be some consensus here regarding the pitfalls of NN LEGISLATION let’s try to be more clear, because there’s still perhaps enough disagreement to make conversation interesting. So let’s refer to any legislation by the now somewhat standard “NN” and network neutrality as the thing which we have always known it as – a big dumb network whose only function is to move around agnostic packets of data – or, perhaps, QOS tagged packets of data, because even that does not mean violating the original spirit of a neutral net.

    See, in that respect the “big dumb network” is still an open platform – because it can carry pretty much anything. It’s not ideal for voice or for streamed video, but so what? If we add that QOS shaping that can be adopted by anyone anywhere and even on a “divided” network it can still be meaningful – if google’s video is on bellsouth’s net and google is not paying bellsouth for priority, google’s video with the “video priority” packet still would be treated differently than the http session pulling text files, but it wouldn’t get as much priority on bellsouth’s network as those paying bellsouth’s higher priority toll.

    In the state where I live there is already competition in the backend – google helped, about a year ago, build a high speed net across mississippi by scarfing up dark fiber and working in alliance with various municipalities. That gives them some good connectivity between various pops (the state name for the project is “megapop”) but it doesn’t address the last mile at all – what needs to happen there is for google to help the cities put up wireless infrastructure that can generate some revenue for both of them while providing competition for that last mile connection – because right now, in most of the state, it’s just cable (in the cities) and dsl everywhere else.

    That means without the pervious federal protections requiring bellsouth to offer their wholesale dsl connections at competitive rates, they can effectively price everyone else out of the market – I may not still have that choice to go with an agnostic ISP because their DSL connections would be four times the price of Bellsouth instead of “only” about twice as much. That would hamper innovation across the board – it would become impractical for me to run a router, because bellsouth requires one pc or mac connected using their special software that makes one end user pc a glorified “dumb terminal” to their network. Linux users would become locked out of the network altogether unless they happened to live near enough a city to be able to afford a T1 line or some similar high priced “professional” offering – it would just help lock in windows as the damn ‘standard desktop os” and cripple mississippi’s plans to use more open source infrastructure (which we have been doing quite well on, by the way).

    Network neutrality is not a bad thing – legislation dictating how and what packets may be moved very much is. ISPs need to be able to compete for business through services, not be locked into doing whatever they want to do only so long as the bell’s allow it. The only way to do that is to require the bells to return to the “wholesale through legislation” mandate, or to provide a meaningful competitor for that last mile. Easy to do in th cities, but a huge task in most of rural america (especially the southeast, where humidity and dense vegetation makes present wireless systems all but useless beyond a few hundred feet).

  • Adrian Lopez

    Why do some people speak as if giving priority treatment to content providers who pay special fees is all that different from downgrading all other connections? Bandwidth is not an infinite resource, which means that giving priority treatment to one content provider’s packets during peak hours necessarily degrades those connections not being given priority. Contrary to what neutrality opponents believe, giving special treatment to those who pay special fees is almost exactly like crippling connections to all other servers. The only time this isn’t true is when bandwidth isn’t being utilized fully in which case the system will behave exactly like a “dumb network” unless the ISP explicitly caps the bandwidth for unprivileged connections.

    A dumb network is a good thing. If you sell me 512 Kbps service then you damn well better be ready to deliver that service on all protocols and with equal priority to all servers. Although consistent speeds are not guaranteed (ISPs do oversell their connections), I draw the line at crippling some connections (directly or indirectly) in order to give special treatment to privileged parties.

    ISPs shouldn’t advertise connection speeds they can’t deliver.

  • three blind mice

    what needs to happen there is for google to help the cities put up wireless infrastructure that can generate some revenue for both of them while providing competition for that last mile connection

    agreed poptones, but if, by federal mandate, google is forced to provide equal access across that wireless infrastructure to a rejuvenated yahoo!, then google’s investment in wireless infrastructure helps yahoo! earn ad revenue – and not google so much.

    it is of course impossible for anyone to know what will happen – the doomsayers supporting NN least of all – but it seems clear from other models (e.g. cellular – which STILL touches the lives of more people than the internets) that “openness” isn’t always the best way to go. “openness” is a sham.

  • poptones

    Openness is not a sham, surely you were being somewhat hyperbolic? I do not want a closed government, I do not want a closed off OS on my desktop, and I certainly do not want to trust my security to a sealed off encryption system that does what it does only through obscurity and does not allow me some open and quantifiable proof it does what it does without cryptographic back doors or code weaknesses that are forever known only to a select few.

    Do I want to be forced to play by the same rules? No, I do not want my financial records made available to the entire world, I do not want my internet use tracked, my phone calls monitored, or to be forced to use weak or broken encryption – but I am not in the same position as the government: I do not have the ability to force others to do my bidding, and my financial records do not incluence billions worldwide. Openness is not a sham at all: it is the foundation of a trustwothy government and a well policed corporate structure that does not have the ability to exploit millions unfairly.

  • Stef

    Seen from “old” Europe this whole NN debate is very surprising. Why would America suddenly abandon the market driven model and want additional regulation suddenly ?

    The unescapable fact is that content is transported on networks that do not maintain themselves and upgrade themselves magically for free. Who is leading the push for strong NN legislation: a couple of major content providers, who are manipulating citizens opinions. With the diversity of protocols and content types, the Internet is not and will never be neutral, otherwise it would collapse. I hope american consumers do not believe that these Internet corporations are doing this for their sake. When Verizon said Google should pay for using its bandwidth, it should have been interpreted as an alarm signal that identified in plain words what the current trend is, which is not leading to a better world:

    Consumers carry almost all of the cost of getting content from the Internet, and even then their contribution is diminishing – thanks to purveyors of lesser quality but nearly free alternative telecom services, often provided by companies owned by big Internet content corporations. Network owners desperately need to find the money somewhere to do what they are expected to do, that is, to provide more bandwidth – and better service, while we are at it.

    In Europe, where I fear the telecom deregulation process would be negatively impacted by a NN debate possibly imported via big multinational Internet content corporations, I believe that market dynamics, perhaps with some minimal governmental steering in some cases, are the only garantee that investment in networks remains attractive. More of the old or some new telecom legislation, especially along the lines of NN à la Google, clearly is not such a garantee, on the contrary. This said, I would not dare offer advice concerning another part of the world where I don’t live.

  • Adrian Lopez

    When Verizon said Google should pay for using its bandwidth [...]

    Google pay Verizon for using its bandwidth? I don’t know which company provides connectivity to Google’s servers, but unless Google is a client of Verizon it’s not at all accurate to suggest that Google is “using” its bandwidth. In my case, for example, I am using my provider’s bandwidth, my provider is using its provider’s bandwidth and likewise for all hops along a particular route. The bandwidth is already being paid for, so the real problem is that ISPs want to get even more money, in this case from content providers. I believe it’s called extorsion.

  • three blind mice

    With the diversity of protocols and content types, the Internet is not and will never be neutral, otherwise it would collapse.

    thanks stef for your thoughtful comments. yeah, seen from old europe – london to be precise – which not so very long ago suffered under state owned PTTs – the trend among some americans away from a market-based solution does seem baffling.

    in old europe, privatisation and de-regulation resulted in a telecoms revolution. quite literally. americans complain about verizon, bellsouth, etc., but they do not have the experience of dealing with the state-owned BTs, televerkets, etc. that set standards never to be beaten for poor quality, miserable service, and antiquated infrastructure. municipal networks indeed.

    the future of america should not follow the history of europe: this is what is at stake in the debate over NN.

    poptones, we agree. openness is not always a sham, but in a competitive free market sharing everything with everyone is not only a sham, it’s neither free nor market.

  • anonymous

    Let’s all pitch in and give larry and friends a *free* island and some koolaid they can *share*. We can allow the outcome to be *open* ended.

  • Adrian Lopez

    Nah. I think we should put “Adam Smith” types in their own private island with their own private network while more enlightened citizens enjoy a neutral internet.

    As for Kool-Aid, I won’t drink it unless they release the formula under a Creative Commons license ;).

  • three blind mice northern england there are churches from the 10th century with the prayer “God save us from the Norsemen”

    God save us from the enlightened individuals.

  • Richard Bennett

    Here’s a little experiment you can run to show just how neutral the Internet is: from a Windows “command” window, type “ping” and notice the Round Trip Times (rtt). Then “ping” and compare the rtt to Yahoo’s. From where I sit, there’s an 18:1 “neutrality ratio.”

    What’s neutral about this?

  • Joseph Van Eaton

    What eBay is doing is very important, but it is missing the boat in an important respect. Pending legislation in California would have the same anti-consumer, anti-neutrality effect as the federal legislation. As is traditional for the Bells, their monopoly/duopoly strategy is being pursued at the federal level, at the state level and before administrative agencies/courts (as one poster points out, traditional regulatory safeguards that required companies to provide neutral carriage of all messages in return for access to public rights of way, are being discarded). Participating in the federal legislative debate is not enough — if there is victory at the state level the Bells will no longer need federal legislation, and can devote their efforts to blocking or delaying any federal “net neutrality” bills. The net neutrality community needs to respond at all levels as well.

    At the state level the issue is slightly different than it is at the federal level. What the telcos seek is a new vested property right (in the form of a franchise from the state government) to occupy public property to provide voice, video and data services, and free from conditions limiting their right to control all content on the system. That ought to be opposed. Net neutrality is being lost today in California.

  • David Eads

    Bennett’s point about the “net neutrality” ratio raises some points about how complicated affirming a principle of net neturality actually becomes in the real world (not that Richard necessarily wants to affirm it).

    From a technical standpoint, you should really be typing “tracert”. You’ll get lines like this: ( 25.966 ms 25.881 ms 25.881 ms

    That’s more useful because you see where the bottleneck is. Net neutrality arguments assume that if under normal conditions packets travelling through some host take n milliseconds, but when trying to contact Your Favorite Site they take n*10 milliseconds, then net neturality is being violated.

    You could, in some sense, connect this conception of net neutrality with the idea that all men are created equal. Well, obviously they aren’t, but it might be a good idea to assume for the purposes of the law, government, etc that they are. Net neutrality is the assumption that given a pipe that is the passing around packets, those packets are not treated preferentially. Of course, even that has a ton of pragmatic complications.

    In a genuinely competitive market, with low switching costs between providers and several players in the market, I believe this would be a non-issue. But regionally, the commercial carriers behave better-than, but not much, the old school PTTs.

    Mice says:

    that’s exactly what’s needed, poptones, or we get stuck in the NTSC/PAL/FM paradigm where information transport technology becomes frozen in one big immoveable standard for 50+ years. “net neutrality” has a very negative impact on this sort of innovation.

    But the innovation of the Net is that the underlying protocol is one big immoveable standard, on top of which a bunch of other rapidly changing, competing products and standards exist. Just as a free market in the physical world needs certain conditions to exist (unless you buy extreme anarchist arguments, and even then, few anarchists are going to set up shop in the Arctic), the net as a free market requires certain conditions to exist, and one of the primary factors in that is the “big dumb network”. The “smarter” the network, the less innovation on top of it.

    A final point: I think the example of what happened to proprietary networks like AOL and Compuserve are useful examples. When the Internet happened, those companies whithered, even though I promise you that GEnie’s gaming service was quite a bit more sophisticated at squeezing performance out of available bandwidth than a dumb Internet connection. But consumers didn’t think those sorts of advantages were enough to outweight the larger good of non-preferential access to millions of computers around the world. if there is innovation in the network space, that innovation is localized to the network and once the incentives to continue innovation go away, then you get truly monolithic and ugly standards and services.

  • Richard Bennett

    David Eads says: “The “smarter” the network, the less innovation on top of it.”

    This is an article of religious faith, not a provable claim. Let me show you why with an example.

    The old Ethernet was a simple, dumb network. It provided a single speed and single priority, making end-users control access through a totally distributed CSMA/CD scheme. It was the architectural model that Kahn and Cerf borrowed for TCP/IP.

    But the marketplace was offered a choice with the New Ethernet, the one that used active switches, twisted-pair and fiber optic cable, and multiple speeds. It centralized access to the network inside network switches instead of in end-user nodes. It offered VLAN overlays. The New Ethernet killed the Old Ethernet, completely and utterly.

    Along comes WiFi, offering still more intelligent network services than even the New Ethernet. It does things that make the Internet shudder, such as mobility, and uses obscure features of the IP suite to prioritize traffic.

    Does WiFi nurture innovation? Clearly it does, as it makes the entire realm of mobility-enabled applications possible and does cool things for voice and video.

    So a careful look at the historical record says, no, dumb networks don’t promote innovation, they circumscribe it to the class of applications they can support. Like anything else in engineering, we should place network controls where they can do the most good, not where they can do the least harm.

    Religion is not a good guide to engineering, David, logic and evidence work much better.

  • David Eads

    Richard Bennett says I’m arguing an article of faith rather than a provable claim, then goes on to say:

    Like anything else in engineering, we should place network controls where they can do the most good, not where they can do the least harm.

    How is this any less of an article of faith? I see no principled argument to back it up, and this is a key theme of the discussion at hand.

    Your historical and technological argument substitutes apples for oranges. You ask to look at the historical record of Ethernet and wifi.

    First, what about improvements in the physical and data layers that composes your examples makes “the Internet shudder”? The wifi standards explictly do not touch the upper level layers in the OSI model so that wifi can interchangable with most any LAN technology. You can just as easily run other network and transport protocols over wifi and Ethernet, or other networks as well.

    This leads to the second point: there are a number of ways to try to measure innovation. If we look at dollars earned that would have not otherwise been earned (the common metric here is revenue from new products). Since the “era of the Internet” began, we’ve seen companies make a ton of money online: Amazon, Ebay, Google, Yahoo… shoot, even little 37Signals and their incredibly successful Basecamp program. If you look at protocol stacks, the IP stack, for all its problems, has smoked pretty much every other protocol in terms of absolute dollars earned and dollars earned that wouldn’t have been otherwise earned. Many of the ways this has happened has involved great novelties at network layers above the transport and network layer — witness, oh, I dunno… stuff like http or ssl and tls. Those protocols are the absolute bread and butter of revenue generation online. Name some protocol stacks that have made more money for more companies and individuals.

    Sure, wifi nutures innovation, but that innovation is still mediated by IP because IP is both good enough for serious work (with growingly obvious limitations, the easiest to spot is the size of the addressable network) and open enough to allow a lot of flexibilty at the application level. The SIP protocol for voice over IP, is an increasingly cool application to run over local wireless lans and uses RTP, an application level protocol that runs mainly on top of UDP/IP. The innovation in this case happens primarily on top of the traditional Internet networking stack. Certainly, things like RTP tend to rely on quality of service mechanisms at the data layer. While building a realtime protocol into lower layers would have its advantages, it is likely, given the history of such things, to be vendor and application specific. While from an engineering perspective, the good there might be considerable, the long-term utility is more dubious and more susceptible to market pressures — which, I’d argue, isn’t where you want the market to be going apeshit.

    Before you jump on me about the OSI model — I know it is an abstraction, but it is an extremely useful one for this sorts of discussions.

  • Richard Bennett

    I see no principled argument to back it up, and this is a key theme of the discussion at hand.

    Uh, read the part where I compare Old-Timey Ethernet with Switched Ethernet. The market had a choice between a dumb network and a somewhat smarter one, and chose the latter. Switched Ethernet works better, routes faster, and expands higher than the gnarly old crap that was the model for TCP/IP.

    The TCP/IP suite has been successful because it had no competition. The ISO protocols were too late in the game to mount a challenge, and computer vendors felt more comfortable with Internet mail than with anybodys proprietary system. IP was vendor-neutral, and that was important when we built the first and only world-wide packet network.

    The Internet succeeded because there was no alternative.

    WiFi gives TCP/IP fits, because of that whole mobility thing. IP wants every computer to be nailed down and always reachable through a static route. Ha ha, funny funny. So we have to play all kinds of VLAN games to get mobile systems – laptops and phones – connected to the Internet without losing their ability to roam. The World’s Most Democratic Architecture is a severe shortcoming here.

    I like all that stuff you say about RTP, because, dude, it’s not TCP, is it? And if the Internet starts using a lot of RTP, what happens to congestion management? The poor old Internet relies on TCP backoff to keep it from getting overloaded today, but RTP doesn’t give a crap about that.

    An RTP Internet is completely unable to manage congestion. Oh oh.

    BTW, what’s so all-fired wonderful about Amazon, they’re just selling crap the same way the JC Penney catalog did, only without the phone call. This is innovation?

  • David Eads

    Uh, read the part where I compare Old-Timey Ethernet with Switched Ethernet.

    How does that have a bearing on the assertion that engineers should value doing the most good over doing the least harm? Note: I didn’t give a principled argument about that pro or contra because that’s another kettle of fish and involves a lot of philosophy.

    I like all that stuff you say about RTP, because, dude, it’s not TCP, is it?

    Like I said, it’s UDP at the transport layer and IP at the network layer. UDP is part of the traditional Internet stack. Note that a lot of the Internet is using RTP, unless I’m miscounting the millions of VOIP users.

    I know what you mean about “all kinds of VLAN games” to get WiFi devices to roam successfully. Similarly, you have to play the same games when moving a box around physically. What’s the big deal? While not necessarily ideal, a device’s connection point typically handles this, and this really becomes an issue for things like cell phones that need to be distinctly addressable at all times — and at that point, your connection point is vendor specific and they need to figure it out.

    As for Amazon — they’re not doing the same thing as the JC Penney catalog, though they’re cousins. Amazon is always up to date with products, allows for user reviews, lets you search inside of books, tries to decide other things you might like, and sells a wider variety of goods than department store catalogs. The models are similar, sure, but those are innovations. You can reduce many kinds of economic transactions back to “an exchange of money for goods via some communications mechanism” but you’ll miss the trees for the forest.

  • Richard Bennett

    I’m not making an argument about what engineers should or shouldn’t do in general, David, I’m trying to demonstrate that the religious point of view in “end-to-end” is silly, wrong, and broken.

    End-to-end says that the Internet must be as dumb as the Original Ethernet or all kind of hell will break loose: innovation will dry up, the network will collapse, and conference speaker gigs for David Isenberg will stop and he’ll have to get a real job.

    End-to-end reifies one option in network control that sorta works some of the time and doesn’t work at all most of the time. So my argument goes like this:

    1. Innovation in the application space is dependent on services in the transport space. If your network only offers one type of transport, and it’s highly variable like Best-Effort IP, your application space is limited to applications that tolerate variable delivery.

    2. The richer the transport service, the richer the application space. If we supplement Best-Effort IP with Low Jitter IP, we open up a whole new universe of applications that rely on this service.

    3. Similarly, if we had Mobile IP that actually worked, lots of other applications would be possible.

    4. You seem to be confusing “innovation” with “work-around”. If the network is retarded, applications have to do a lot of work to compensate for its quirks, such as running deeper de-jittering buffers for video streams. You may mistake these band-aids for “innovation” but in fact they’re simply kludges.

    5. If it’s easier to implement a service outside the network, then do it there; if it’s easier to implement it inside the network, do it there. Engineering is good at making tradeoffs, and we don’t need politics and religion forcing us to make them incorrectly.

  • poptones

    Man, y’all have gone so far off the deep end on this debate it’s become moot. We’re not talking about the bells erecting a newer, better network – we’re talking about the bells seeeing packets from google video and pushing them lower on the totem pole in the last mile queue (the only place it really matters) if google isn’t paying them for priority delivery.

    And if it isn’t obvious by now, I don’t have a problem with that and I think many of y’all don’t, either. Give google incentive to devise their own last mile presence, or give the bells more money to invest in giving us all better last mile connectivity. My only reservation is in the castration of the OLD laws that said the last mile providers have to offer wholesale connectivity to other ISPs at competitive rates. Ultimately that may not be the best thing either, but it’s way too early in this game to be allowing the bells to effectively overcharge any customer (the local ISPs still pay the bells for every DSL connection, after all) who doesn’t want to play by their ridiculous rules.

  • Montana


    That would be great if it was only Google. They could build their own last mile presence, but not everyone can. The Google of a decade ago couldn’t, just as the Google of a decade from now can’t. There are plenty of other problems too. For instance: Suppose that in a few years time all phone traffic is VoIP. Everyone buys data service on their “phone” from one provider and VoIP service from someone else (or possibly the same provider who charges extra for it). Once everyone is using VoIP there is no longer a need for a service provider — your IP address (or FQDN) becomes your phone number and all it takes is for someone to write some free VoIP software. However, then there is no longer any company to pay the VoIP prioritization tax, which means that the free service will never catch on because the ISPs are dropping its packets during peak hours. Suddenly everyone is paying a useless tax to various companies who do nothing productive while chopping off a portion of their fee as profit only to feed the rest to all the ISPs for prioritization. Why not just raise the price of the data service by the prioritization cost and be done with it? And this applies not only to VoIP but to any sort of P2P (or non “big business-to-you”) traffic that requires low latency or low packet loss.

    Realistically a much better solution would be to have the ISP work with the user to enable QoS. Whenever a pipe gets full, the ISP will drop some of the packets of the current heaviest user (until the point that some other user becomes the heaviest user) and will respect the priority that this user has set for the traffic. For example, if the current heaviest user is downloading something and is also talking on the phone via VoIP, the ISP would drop the packets for the download and leave the VoIP traffic alone because the user has VoIP configured as high priority. This way the user decides which traffic is more important rather than the ISP, but at the same time no user can set all their traffic to be high priority and then flood the network, because part of the heaviest user’s traffic is getting dropped no matter what — the priority the user sets only determines what part.

    Compare that to the extortion game where ISPs tax anyone who provides a time-sensitive service lest it be unusable during peak hours. Who would want that rather than just letting users (and good defaults) decide what part of their traffic is the most important?

  • Richard Bennett

    “Extortion game”, Montana?

    Is that what FedEx does by charging more for overnight delivery than for three-day mail? I never knew they were a criminal enterprise, thanks for opening my eyes. I’m going to write a book about the damage FedEx does to Free Culture and My Democracy by charging more for overnight delivery with this “priority tax” they put on overnight delivery. Doesn’t an overnight letter use the same airplane as a three-day letter? How in the world can they justify bumping three-day letters off that plane, don’t they have the same “right” to travel as the overnights? It’s damn shame that the privileged few can ship overnight and the rest of us, in our garages, have to wait three stinking days for our letters.

    They can ship all the letters overnight if they just get more airplanes and more trucks and more people to run them, so why don’t they? I’ll tell you, it’s because these greedy corporations are blood-sucking capitalists who only care about their bottom line.

    People before profits, Dude! Save the overnight letter!

    (And save the whales while you’re at it! And bring back Buffy, dammit!)

  • poptones

    They could build their own last mile presence, but not everyone can.

    So what? They can be another ISP offering a competing voice to teh bells; they can play the open game all they like and put their money and infrastructure where their very cavernous corporate mouth is…

  • poptones

    Why not just raise the price of the data service by the prioritization cost and be done with it? And this applies not only to VoIP but to any sort of P2P (or non “big business-to-you”) traffic that requires low latency or low packet loss.

    Either I’m missing something, or all the lunatics calling for higher end user prices on data services are. You all seem to have forgotten Google got where it is by offering sponsored data services; the bells got where they are by charging end users fees on a service that (was) inherently p2p, at least in the larger scheme of things (the phones were p2p at least as much as the rest of the p2p services are, as they all ely on substantial back end infrastructure to do what they do – it’s not just my computer calling your computer directly).

    If the bells (or any other backbone or last mile service) adds tariffs to Google and Yahoo and the other “fat data” services it doesn’t inherently add cost to the end users, who are already paying ridiculously high rates in the US compared to much of the rest of the wired world. The scheme you and others propose would do exactly that – put even more money in the pockets of the telcos at the expense of those least able to afford them. If I were a more pessimistic person I might ask if you perhaps work for the phone company.

    So far as VOIP, I addressed that before here: why? I now pay about $35 just to have the stinking phone line, which I need for DSL. I pay another $60 a month to my ISP, who in turn tithes a good bit of that money (most of it by their telling, but I’m pretty sure it’s really only about half) to the phone company. On top of that I pay another flat $25 fee to the phone company for flat rate nationwide calling, which provides me vastly more reliable and high quality service than VOIP, which attempts to cram realtime streaming traffic over lines not made for it. That’s a total of about $90 a month to the damn phone company, but VOIP wouldn’t make my bill much cheaper at all – even amortized over a year or five.

    Extending that, what’s to stop the phone companies, when the googles and yahoos make it worth their while, from using those same switched services that are designed to efficiently stream data in real time, to route “fat data?” The end user gets a higher quality service, the phone company gets the incentive to upgrade their backbones, and all it costs is the yahoos and googles – whose bottom lines, frankly, I couldn’t care less about protecting; if they can’t make it work, someone else will.

    This nonsense about google and yahoo and being “shut out” of the internet (along with those lesser voices providing “legal” content as mandated by big brother) is specious; no ISP is going to shut out the most popular services altogether, because they’d lose customers. And if they degrade the services too seriously, they’ll also lose customers – that is, so long as they cannot effectively shut out all the competitors by making their higher quality services so expensive only healthy businesses or upper middle class homes can afford them.

    We don’t need more legislation allowing big brother to dictate what is “neutral net” – what we need is a return, at least for a time, to the old laws that ensured competing ISPs could not be priced out of the only last mile connection available to them.

  • Montana

    poptones – The only reason I even mentioned increased prices for end users is as a response to the frequent claims in this debate that the telcos don’t have enough incentive to build increased capacity. I see no reason why QoS couldn’t be implemented without any sort of cost increase at all, if present prices are sufficient to fund infrastructure improvements.

    And I can’t say I disagree with you with regard to the old laws. Unfortunately since the smaller ISPs don’t seem to have as much lobbying clout as AT&T and the cable companies I don’t know how successful a campaign for that could be presently. Something needs to be done to get the money out of Washington; it’s gone so far past ridiculous that there aren’t even words capable of describing it.

    Richard Bennett — that’s a nice bit of rhetoric there.

    Part of the problem here is one of complexity. In the normal arrangement you buy a connection fast enough to transfer the data you want to transfer, so does the party you’re communicating with, and how the network in between gets it there — or who the other party is — doesn’t really matter. The problem with the “new” model is that if I want to provide some service, I can’t just get myself a fast connection and let the party at the other end worry about their end. Now I need to know who I’m communicating with. I need to strike a deal with each and every one of their ISPs to prioritize my traffic so that all the packets don’t get dropped in favor of my competitors’ traffic. This is quite feasible for Google or Yahoo or Microsoft (though they don’t like it), but what about small businesses? Who pays to prioritize open source P2P software that needs low packet loss?

    I’m not against the concept of QoS, I just think that the person who is actually paying for the connection should be the one who decides which traffic is more important, rather than making it a bidding war between service providers that naturally favors the party with the deepest pockets.

  • Richard Bennett

    Montana says: I need to strike a deal with each and every one of their ISPs to prioritize my traffic so that all the packets don’t get dropped in favor of my competitors’ traffic.

    That’s not likely. When QoS tiers become commonplace, they’ll be parts of the tiering agreements between NSPs. So you buy QoS tier from your ISP, and they buy it from their NSP, and they trade with the other guy’s ISP, and he pays for QoS from his ISP. That’s not going to complicate your life at all. In comparison, the local sales tax ordinances that e-retailers have to conform to are much, much more complicated. The interesting twist – and the part that potentially affects Googoo’s video-on-demand hopes – is what happens of you make a QoS-dependent purchase and you didn’t buy QoS from your ISP. In that case, Googoo can charge you extra and negotiate for-fee QoS from your ISP in real time, through a QoS-on-demand protocol. That’s hardly going to rock your world either. It’s like the choice between making a station call or a collect call when going long-distance. I assume Googoo will get the equivalent of 800 numbers for QoS.

    QoS isn’t fundamentally about dropping packets, it’s about re-ordering queues, and we’ve been doing that on the Internet – as well as selective dropping – since 1984.

    You should try approaching these issues from a sober and analytical perspective instead of being so emotional. Computers handle complexity quite well, and can make even the most complex issues appear simple to the end user. That’s why there are a billion PCs in a world that only has a million or so smart people.

  • Alexander Wehr

    I’m getting sick and tired of the fallacious “free market” rhetoric.

    I challenge anyone opposing net neutrality on the basis that “the free market will provide competition” to also oppose such regulatory structures as “limited liability” and “coporate personhood”. After all, those are regulations as well.

  • poptones

    I do… not that it does much good.

    and your point is?

  • http://b Paul M

    Network neutrality will never happen. Too many polititians who need to put some money in their proverbial freezer will make sure it doesn’t happen. Its kind of like the billion dollars of aid going to a poor country and after the parties and spending some poor children get stale rice and a flat soccer ball. Us little people have to want network neutrality but it is way way too late for that. Again, all we can do is blog and wish for the days of compuserve and marajuiana, where we could find out what was playing at the theatres in the next town. Those days of the bong hits and zork are over, people, network neutrality is dead. But write a letter to the polititan anyways, if it makes you feel better.

  • three blind mice

    the vote in the house: 269 against, 192 for.

    roll call here.

    it’s nice to see the republican controlled congress – that cabal of corrupt power – for once reject “progressive” legislation and actually do something that resembles a conservative agenda.

    at the same time, it is embarassing for us mice to be on the same side of any issue that this republican party.