Saturday, July 19, 2008

Netroots and telecom

There's a telecom panel at the Netroots Nation conference today on the subject of "Big Telecom: An Emerging Threat to Our Democracy?" The implied answer is yes, and it appears that every participant on the panel will be making that case. Here's the description of the panel:
Massive telecom companies control virtually all of our voice and internet communications these days—and new evidence shows a near-total lack of commitment to our democracy. AT&T has proposed filtering all content traveling on its network. Verizon tried initially to block NARAL's pro-choice text messages. Most telecom companies are fighting net neutrality. Can democracy survive an assault by those who control the tubes?
The panel members don't include anyone with any experience managing or operating an actual telecom network, but instead includes two people who have repeatedly demonstrated not only an ignorance of telecom law, technology, and policy, but who have misrepresented facts and failed to engage with the arguments of their critics, Matt Stoller and Timothy Karr (see posts on this blog in the "net neutrality" category). The closest person to a representative of a telecom is Michael Kieschnick of Working Assets, a company that is a reseller of long distance and wireless service on Sprint's network.

I agree with many of their positions--I don't think ISPs should be allowed to block websites on the basis of disagreement with content. I think ISPs should be transparent about their network management processes and filtering. Where I disagree with them is that they advocate that the FCC step in to regulate the Internet in a way that it has never had authority to do so before, and demand that network operators not be allowed to implement classes of service with different rates of charges, or even usage caps. Art Brodsky expresses the point which has also been made by Robb Topolsky of Public Knowledge, Timothy Karr of Free Press, and Matt Stoller:
In the name of "network management," some companies want to throttle down the use of legal applications, like BitTorrent which may, coincidentally, provide competition in entertainment programming. They want to impose usage caps across the board on all customers which would stifle innovation and curb the use of video (there's that anti-competitive meme again) without actually solving the problem of the so-called "bandwidth hogs." The way caps are being discussed now, they would only lead to higher prices and less usage for an industry that already charges more for less than most broadband providers around the world. Parts of our broadband industry may be the only sector in the world that wants to cut down the amount of its product it wants customers to use.
Brodsky's last sentence is clearly false--broadband is like a fixed-price all-you-can-eat buffet. All businesses want to maximize their profits by maximizing revenue and minimizing costs. When bandwidth is sold at a fixed cost in unlimited amounts, where a small number of users are consuming the majority of the service, it's in the business's interest to restrict those users or charge them more for what they consume in order to satisfy the rest in a cost-effective manner. The options are few--you can either restrict the "bandwidth hogs" in some way, charge them more so that they pay for what they use, or raise the price for everyone. These guys seem to advocate the latter approach, while I'm in favor of allowing all the options to be used in a competitive market. Where I disagree with Comcast's approach in issuing RST packets to block BitTorrent traffic is not that they did it, but that they were not transparent about what they were doing (and apparently didn't quite get it quite right--it should not have completely broken BitTorrent, but only slowed it down).

Brodsky's suggestion that Comcast has an interest in blocking BitTorrent because it provides competition in the entertainment space is absurd--they have an interest in blocking it because it's a very popular application which itself exploits Internet protocols in a way not anticipated by the designers in order to consume more bandwidth, getting around the congestion controls in TCP/IP by using multiple TCP streams. If BitTorrent traffic wasn't filling up the majority of Comcast's bandwidth, they'd have no interest in it, except when the MPAA and RIAA issue them subpoenas about their users infringing copyrights.

If the government prohibits the use of differential classes of service (which is already heavily used by private companies to give priority to applications within their enterprise which have requirements for low latency and jitter, such as real-time streaming audio and video, including Voice over IP) and requires that congestion be dealt with by building out infrastructure sufficiently that there will never be congestion no matter how many users max out their connectivity with BitTorrent, that will reduce competition by culling smaller companies out of the picture and making market entry more difficult. In any environment where a provider's upstream capacity is less than the sum of the capacity to every customer (and that's everywhere, today, and always has been), all-you-can-eat bandwidth is like a commons. The more that is available, the more the heavy users will consume, to the detriment of each other and the light users. Without setting caps and having tiered pricing or implementing technology that prioritizes packets and drops from the heavy users and from less-realtime-sensitive applications first (like BitTorrent), there are no incentives against consuming everything that is available.

I also think it's a huge mistake to have the FCC start regulating the Internet. FCC chairman Kevin Martin would no doubt love to place indecency standards and filtering requirements on Internet content. Once you open the door to FCC regulation of the Internet, that becomes more likely. And the FCC has been completely ineffectual at dealing with existing abuses like fraudulent telemarketing, illegal prerecord calls to residences and cell phones, caller ID spoofing, etc., already covered by statute and regulation. I'd rather see clear statutes that include private rights of action than entrust control of the Internet to the FCC. The FCC is a slow-moving bureaucracy, and AT&T and Verizon have the deepest pockets, the most lawyers, and the most personnel who have shuffled back and forth between government (including the NSA) and industry. That gives AT&T and Verizon the tactical advantage, and leads to less competition rather than more.

Which brings me to the warrantless wiretapping and telecom immunity issues, which Cindy Cohn of the EFF no doubt addressed on the Netroots Nation panel. I suspect I have little if any disagreement with her. I've long been a supporter of the EFF, as are many people involved in the management of ISPs. I strongly oppose telecom immunity for warrantless wiretapping, a complete abdication of Congress' responsibility to support the U.S. Constitution. But this shows the power of AT&T and Verizon. Not only did they get what they wanted, but the very infrastructure which was built to do this massive interception of traffic for the NSA and for law enforcement interception under the CALEA laws was built for them with assistance from government funds. All telecoms have to be compliant with CALEA (now including VoIP and broadband Internet providers), but the big incumbents who were most capable of affording it on their own got it at the lowest costs, while their competition was required to build it out at their own expense even if it never gets used.

But there are legitimate uses for deep packet inspection, for understanding the nature of the traffic on a network for management purposes, including tracking down security and abuse issues. Since it is in the hands of the end user to use encryption to protect sensitive content, I think use of DPI by network providers is reasonable for the purposes of providing better service in the same way that it's reasonable for a voice provider to intercept traffic for quality measurement purposes. It's also reasonable for interception to occur for "lawful intercept," but it should always require a court order (i.e., both executive and judicial branch approval) on reasonable grounds. The difficulty of obtaining wiretaps depicted in the television program "The Wire" is how it should be.

I've written a lot on these issues, much which can be found in this blog's Network Neutrality Index.

If any reader of this blog happens to have attended the Netroots Nation telecom panel or comes across a description of its content, please point me to it, as I'd like to see what was said. I don't have high hopes for the accuracy or reasonability of statements from Stoller and Karr, but I could be surprised, and the other panelists probably had interesting and important things to say.

(See my Blogger profile for the disclosure of my employment by Global Crossing, which is currently listed by Renesys as the #3 network provider on the Internet in terms of number of customers, ahead of AT&T and Verizon, behind Sprint and Level 3.)

UPDATE: The "Big Telecom" panel was live-blogged here. Stoller's anecdote about the Bill of Rights on metal is referring to Dean Cameron's "security edition" of the Bill of Rights, which was also promoted by Penn Jillette.

14 comments:

rushmc said...

Your perspective on ISP's "right" to control individual use of the internet seems short-sighted in the extreme.

The claims of a shortage of bandwidth have never been demonstrated; indeed, there are numerous reports available that suggest that it is simply not true. Certainly, it could become true in the future, but that remains hypothetical at this point...rather like weapons of mass destruction. With the advances in technology being made almost daily, no one can claim to know whether there will ever be such an insufficiency or not.

These technological advances lead to another problem, as well. Recently announced is the ability to, using current infrastructure, increase transfer speeds by a factor of (I believe it was) 40. So, what? On a metered system, we are going to use up our daily download allotment in five minutes?

Bandwidth providers should do just that, and nothing more--provide access and bandwidth to the user. What one chooses to do online is not and should not be their concern. If they cannot provide sufficient bandwidth to support their customers, they should a) improve their infrastructure (they could start by utilizing the tons of dark fiber already laid across the U.S.) or b) decrease their customer base to a level they can support and let other companies pick up the slack. You know, like every other kind of business which provides a service.

The funniest thing of all is that the phone/cable companies' attempts to limit bandwidth (and make no mistake about it, such attempts are a veiled attempt to dictate not just "how much" we use but "what type," since newer services tend to be higher bandwidth--"why would average people need so much anyway? all we want them to do is email and a bit of surfing!") is doomed from the start. Not because they will be fighting the consumer, but because they will be fighting the media giants who want us to download/stream movies, listen to streaming radio broadcasts, play MMORPGs 24/7, store or at least backup our files online on their servers, videoconference, and use all the OTHER high-bandwidth applications which they can make a buck off of. So all the ISPs will accomplish is to inconvenience us for a couple of years before they are forced to acquiesce to the bigger boys (and the actual usage requirements of their customer base).

I currently use a satellite ISP with strictly metered bandwidth. I have upgraded my service two levels to their "professional" tier, and my limit is still such that it can be exceeded by a large MS Windows update (and if you go over your daily limit, you are cut off for 24 hours, which is devastating in a business environment). If Time-Warner goes to this system, as they are threatening to, you are going to be hearing a lot more about this sort of unreasonable restriction.

Oh, and "it's a very popular application which itself exploits Internet protocols in a way not anticipated by the designers in order to consume more bandwidth" is silly. Everything that has ever been developed on the internet "exploits Internet protocols in a way not anticipated by the designers." Otherwise, we'd all still be using Gopher. It's not the role of an ISP to regulate and restrict innovation (a top-down, autocratic model); it's to provide the raw bandwidth that innovation needs to develop (a bottom-up, democratic model) and stay out of the actual evolutionary process.

Jim Lippard said...

"The claims of a shortage of bandwidth have never been demonstrated; indeed, there are numerous reports available that suggest that it is simply not true."

My cable modem provider, Cox, has regularly had to add capacity in my area via capital expenditures in order to support additional customers and higher bandwidths. I don't know of any provider--retail, carrier, or backbone--that hasn't had to spend millions in capital in the past few years to add capacity. That includes my own employer's subsea and U.S. capacity. What reports are you referring to, and what exactly are they claiming? If the claim is that there is excess overall *fiber* capacity (which requires capital expenditures on equipment upgrades to take advantage of), then that doesn't contradict my point.

"Recently announced is the ability to, using current infrastructure, increase transfer speeds by a factor of (I believe it was) 40."

This refers to going from 10 Gbps (OC-192 backbone links) capacity to 40 Gbps on existing fiber (on the road to 100 Gbps), but it DOES require capital expenditure on new equipment to take advantage of. This doesn't come for free, with exactly the same current infrastructure, it just means you don't have to lay new fiber.

You haven't addressed the point that some applications are sensitive to latency and jitter, and some are not. There is no question in my mind that providers need to be able to give priority to the former applications, especially if they are going to be held liable for services like E911 over VoIP.

Regarding BitTorrent--TCP/IP was specifically designed to put some congestion management at the endpoints, so that applications would back off in the case of congestion. BitTorrent, however, does not back off, it attempts to use as much bandwidth as possible--it's a non-cooperative application. Without additional measures to cap individual users or give priority to, say, VoIP, BitTorrent will happily use up all excess capacity, no matter how much there is available.

"The funniest thing of all is that the phone/cable companies' attempts to limit bandwidth (and make no mistake about it, such attempts are a veiled attempt to dictate not just "how much" we use but "what type," since newer services tend to be higher bandwidth--"why would average people need so much anyway? all we want them to do is email and a bit of surfing!") is doomed from the start."

This strikes me as rubbish. The telecoms are clearly interested in providing all sorts of new high-bandwidth applications, including television over Internet (which, of course, they want to provide and control)--the "email and a bit of surfing" is a straw man, without question. Verizon's FiOS is not for "email and a bit of surfing." My own bandwidth with Cox has gone from less than 1Mbps to 4Mbps recently, and they are offering 7Mbps to consumers for less than I'm paying for 4Mbps. And the FCC's definition of "broadband" is anything over 250Kbps.

Your satellite experience is based on limitations of the particular technology you're using--you've got latency issues that have the speed of light as a barrier, as well as satellite expense and capacity issues. The bandwidth caps and metered usage for terrestrial broadband are not subject to the limitations of satellite, and I strongly suspect that the average user who isn't using BitTorrent to pull down huge amounts of content is likely to notice.

Do you dispute that it's a small number (< 10%) of broadband users consuming most (> 90%) of the bandwidth?

rushmc said...

>>I don't know of any provider--retail, carrier, or backbone--that hasn't had to spend millions in capital in the past few years to add capacity.

I would suggest that that is a result of market growth—a good thing for them. Saying they "spend millions" is meaningless unless you put that up against the amount of additional profit that those expenditures have allowed them to reap. Or do you think that they should be entitled to profit without expense (and if so, why are they different from any other type of business?)?

>>but it DOES require capital expenditure on new equipment to take advantage of.

Of course it does. My point is that this expense is trivial next to the cost of laying new fiber. And a normal upgrade cost, part of the ongoing cost of doing business (and staying ahead of your competitors).

>>Without additional measures to cap individual users or give priority to, say, VoIP, BitTorrent will happily use up all excess capacity, no matter how much there is available.

This is obviously false, as it assumes that there is an infinite amount of content to be transferred. I do agree that, without ongoing infrastructure upgrades, available bandwidth will quickly be filled—this has always been true and will be for a long time to come.

And why should VoIP be privileged over BitTorrent? You may be free to make that judgment call for yourself, but not to impose it on everyone else on the internet, which was designed to be (and some of us still believe should be) content-neutral.

>>My own bandwidth with Cox has gone from less than 1Mbps to 4Mbps recently

You are conflating two issues: bandwidth and transfer caps/limits. The FCC's ridiculous definition of "broadband" merely illustrates how outdated and clueless the government is (what else is new). Note the U.S.'s low and falling position among other nations on the available bandwidth chart. That is a better indicator of how competitive our providers are (and of the validity of their complaints of the difficulty of offering better service) than a small increase in your local, still-slow speed.

You will, I hope, concede that it is a fallacy to say that "I don't use it; therefore no one needs it"?

>>and I strongly suspect that the average user who isn't using BitTorrent to pull down huge amounts of content is likely to notice.

I'm not sure what you're saying here. Did you mean "NOT likely to notice"? If TimeWarner goes ahead with their current plans, they will be offering a service very similar to what HughesNet currently offers, and I assure you, people WILL notice when they can't stream a movie from Netflix or access the online content of their Tivo or PS3 because it pushes them over their cap.

As for satellite latency, it's overrated. I have no problem playing MMORPGs such as EverQuest and Vanguard, which many say should be impossible over satellite. As for capacity, again, that's a technological problem, not an absolute one.

>>Do you dispute that it's a small number (< 10%) of broadband users consuming most (> 90%) of the bandwidth?

I'd say that up until recently that was a fair stat. But that ratio is changing every day as average users adopt high-bandwidth applications, and it won't be long until it has leveled out a great deal (think about the number of hours the average person watches television a day, then translate that to bandwidth figures). So this demonization of early adopters is really not very relevant (nevermind that it's also not very fair). Tomorrow, we will ALL be high-bandwidth users. Unless the telcos have their way and are given the authority to tell us what we can do online, when, and for how long.

Jim Lippard said...

"I would suggest that that is a result of market growth—a good thing for them. Saying they "spend millions" is meaningless unless you put that up against the amount of additional profit that those expenditures have allowed them to reap. Or do you think that they should be entitled to profit without expense (and if so, why are they different from any other type of business?)?"

In my own employer's case, we're still struggling to reach profitability. We spent $22B to build our original network, went bankrupt, came out of bankruptcy, and have had to continually do upgrades *somewhere*.

I'm not assuming there's a right to profit without expense, but you seem to be assuming that the owner of a network has no right to recoup its expense, or at least that the government has a right to force a network provider into a particular business model.

"Of course it does. My point is that this expense is trivial next to the cost of laying new fiber. And a normal upgrade cost, part of the ongoing cost of doing business (and staying ahead of your competitors)."

If hundreds of millions in capital expense is "trivial."

"This is obviously false, as it assumes that there is an infinite amount of content to be transferred."

No, because capacity will never be infinite and there will always be cases of the same content being transferred multiple times (think of popular websites, for example).

"why should VoIP be privileged over BitTorrent?"

The requirements for VoIP function are different from the requirements for BitTorrent function. On the technological side, VoIP requires low latency and jitter, BitTorrent does not. On the legal side, VoIP imposes special liabilities on providers (e.g., the need for E911 support), while there are no special legal requirements to support BitTorrent. In fact, the legality tends to go the other way, for much of the content being transmitted with BitTorrent being copyright infringing, and providers having an obligation under the DMCA to deny service to repeat offenders.

"You may be free to make that judgment call for yourself, but not to impose it on everyone else on the internet, which was designed to be (and some of us still believe should be) content-neutral."

Was content-neutrality ever a design objective for the Internet? I don't think so--and it certainly wasn't designed to be able to support real-time applications. Those who advocate net neutrality are, in effect, arguing for the Internet to be fixed in its current form and for the providers who build and maintain their respective networks to *not* be free to experiment with new technologies and business models, despite the fact that they're the ones spending their own money to build them. Remember "the Internet" is not one thing, it's a whole bunch of interconnected networks, most of which are privately owned. Network neutrality is an argument that the government impose restrictions on those private owners.

"You are conflating two issues: bandwidth and transfer caps/limits." No, I was making the point that my available bandwidth (a measure of how much is available at any one time) has gone up in virtue of Cox's spending on building additional capacity. The aggregate bandwidth upstream of customers is oversubscribed--there isn't enough capacity for all customers to max out their bandwidth at all times, and this is a condition that has always been the case for every provider, everywhere, even back in the dialup days. You're arguing for a model that says there must be no oversubscription, but that would probably increase capital costs by a factor of 10, most which would have to be passed on to customers. You're also arguing for a model that says all customers must share that cost equally, regardless of usage. I'm asking why that should be the case.

"Note the U.S.'s low and falling position among other nations on the available bandwidth chart." I haven't looked at these lately, but in the past I think the differences have been exaggerated by the fact that the countries at the top have much denser population centers where deployment of new network capacity is much cheaper (fewer route-miles needed), as well as more heavily subsidized by the government. In the U.S., the incumbent telcos have a huge advantage in the form of free access to rights-of-ways, which we should be getting something in return for, but I don't favor policies that impose conditions on all Internet providers without accounting for the differences or are going to have bad unintended consequences.

"You will, I hope, concede that it is a fallacy to say that "I don't use it; therefore no one needs it"?"

I've not said that and don't agree with it.

"I'm not sure what you're saying here. Did you mean "NOT likely to notice"? If TimeWarner goes ahead with their current plans, they will be offering a service very similar to what HughesNet currently offers, and I assure you, people WILL notice when they can't stream a movie from Netflix or access the online content of their Tivo or PS3 because it pushes them over their cap."

I'm suggesting that the caps will be high enough that fewer than 1 in 10 users will ever see it. And I suspect exceeding the cap will be made easy to do with additional charges on your bill, so it won't prevent anything unless you don't want to spend the money.

"I'd say that up until recently that was a fair stat. But that ratio is changing every day as average users adopt high-bandwidth applications, and it won't be long until it has leveled out a great deal (think about the number of hours the average person watches television a day, then translate that to bandwidth figures)."

What's your evidence? I'm skeptical. I agree that the average is going up, but I think there will always be activities that the power users engage in that will consume far more than the average. You seem to be assuming that the caps will never go up, and that the telcos want to have most of their customers hit them. I think that's extremely unlikely, so long as there's competition for customers. And I think a bad unintended side effect of net neutrality regulation would be reduced competition, by reducing the ability to experiment with different technologies and business models, and by raising the cost of business, which would serve to eliminate smaller players and raise barriers to entry.

Jim Lippard said...

BTW, just to clarify, since I suspect we have similar views about the FCC. Are you arguing for net neutrality principles as something you'd like to see businesses follow, or for net neutrality regulations that would be the FCC's first entry into having jurisdiction over the Internet? Because the latter is the main thing I am arguing against. I think the four principles that the FCC put forth that originally were given the name "net neutrality" are more or less reasonable principles, but I disagree with every attempt I've seen to translate them into statutory requirements (as I've argued here in response to, e.g., the Snowe-Dorgan and Markey bills).

Jim Lippard said...

"but that would probably increase capital costs by a factor of 10"

Before this gets commented upon, I was no doubt guilty of hyperbole here. Even if oversubscription was 10-to-1, the cost of upgrading to not be oversubscribed would likely be less than a factor of 10, since you get economies of scale in the aggregation. (On the other hand, when you get to the point that you can't just add new hardware, but have to replace existing hardware with next generation equipment, costs make a big jump.) And I don't know what the rates of oversubscription are, I suspect they vary by region and type of customer.

Jim Lippard said...

Richard Bennett points to a letter Brett Glass of Lariat.net has filed with the FCC about the "four freedoms" and the Comcast case as "recommended reading"; I agree, it's well worth reading. I think there is a point of disanalogy between the FCC's own wireless network and service provided by an ISP, but I don't see any reason why ISPs should be forbidden from selling services like filtered Internet (as some Christian ISPs provide, for example). What's key is transparency about what they're selling; competition forced AOL to open up unrestricted Internet access, and I believe it will force the wireless walled gardens to open up as well, just as it's killing DRM.

Jim Lippard said...

Ah, and that reminds me of another response to your statement about the Internet being designed to not have any restriction on the basis of content--that's false, since commercial content used to be forbidden on the NSFNet backbone, and there have always been restrictions on content like child porn. Most Usenet providers stopped carrying groups with names that suggested their purpose was for child porn distribution years ago; many more companies are now either dropping all of the alt.* hierarchy (overkill, in my opinion) or discontinuing Usenet services completely. (I recognize that Usenet is slightly different in that it is a particular hosted application and not Internet service in general, but I'm not convinced that the rules that apply should be any different, in a competitive environment where bandwidth may be purchased from multiple providers.)

rushmc said...

>>but you seem to be assuming that the owner of a network has no right to recoup its expense

Of course no business has a "right" to recoup its expense. Capitalism is a gamble. Perhaps what you meant was that they have the right to TRY to do so, which I would agree with, so long as they don't violate certain other principles.

>>We spent $22B to build our original network, went bankrupt, came out of bankruptcy

But how much of this is due to the 10% that you stipulate use "too much" (whatever that means) of your network capacity? Because that's the only relative part to the discussion here, it seems to me. In fact, much (or all) of a company's losses may be attributed to poor management decisions, inability to anticipate technological and social developments, etc., which have nothing to do with providing bandwidth. I have no way of knowing what percentage falls to each for each different provider, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss the latter out of hand.

>>If hundreds of millions in capital expense is "trivial."

It may be, I don't know. It would have to be assessed in a ratio to profit.

>>No, because capacity will never be infinite and there will always be cases of the same content being transferred multiple times

This still doesn't prove your contention that "BitTorrent will happily use up all excess capacity, no matter how much there is available." It is quite possible to imagine a capacity X that could contain a usage Y, or even 2Y or 3Y. It's just that X would have to be a number larger than current capacity.

>>The requirements for VoIP function are different from the requirements for BitTorrent function.

That's a technological issue, not a philosophical one justifying preferential treatment for one type of data over another (and it's all just data). I'm not suggesting that BitTorrent in its current form is the best way of doing what it tries to do (although I suspect that it is easier on the network than previous protocols, such as Napster, LimeWire, Kazaa, etc.). I don't think anyone thinks so, which is why many people are currently working on improving it—some of them in conjunction with the major media companies that previously opposed it so vociferously. If something has problems, I'd rather see them fixed than the whole thing banned or made incompatible with the network.

>>much of the content being transmitted with BitTorrent being copyright infringing

This is irrelevant, as there are legal uses of BitTorrent, which are increasing in number and popularity every day. You can't penalize a technology for how some people choose to use it.

>>I was making the point that my available bandwidth (a measure of how much is available at any one time) has gone up in virtue of Cox's spending on building additional capacity.

This would seem to argue against your position that it is too costly to increase bandwidth, since they have done so.

>>Was content-neutrality ever a design objective for the Internet? I don't think so--and it certainly wasn't designed to be able to support real-time applications.

I don't think that the haphazard way that the internet came together really lent itself to that sort of "intelligent design" (heh). Nobody was thinking of streaming multicast video when Mosaic was cobbled together, for example. But if someone had argued to disallow http because we already had ftp, or because it would use more bandwidth over time, I think virtually everyone concerned would have opposed such a limitation.

>>I haven't looked at these lately, but in the past I think the differences have been exaggerated by the fact that the countries at the top have much denser population centers where deployment of new network capacity is much cheaper

Obviously, that is a factor. If you'd rather see apples to apples, compare Singapore (or wherever) to Manhattan. The comparison is still pathetic.

>>I'm suggesting that the caps will be high enough that fewer than 1 in 10 users will ever see it.

That has not been my real world experience, and the caps that TimeWarner (and others) are hinting at are not that much higher than HughesNet's (and note that HughesNet provides no "overage fee" that I can pay to keep my access from getting shut down if I go over my cap). And, as I said, I think it is useless to predict future (even near-future) usage based on past or current usage patterns, given the plethora of new high-bandwidth applications coming online that will appeal to the general population.

>>You seem to be assuming that the caps will never go up, and that the telcos want to have most of their customers hit them. I think that's extremely unlikely, so long as there's competition for customers.

I've already said that I think that they will inevitably go up, or go away, when the media companies weigh in (and/or when the ISPs continue to move toward becoming media/content providers). And since it is inevitable, I object to being screwed around in the interim.

As for the FCC, I'm no fan of excessive regulation, but I think that looking at how the FCC has screwed up broadcast and cable regulation, that we'd be better off with a clear standard of open pipes, where bandwidth providers and content providers are kept separate. Let an ISP provide as much or as little bandwidth as they like, or as they can, but let them PROVIDE what they advertise, without caps or screwing around with transmission of different protocols. My data should be of no concern to them; all I want from them is a pipe to send it down.

People attempt to prohibit the transmission (more often, the storage) of child porn online because it is illegal. Other types of data are also currently illegal, such as copyrighted media. But no one argues that to stop the proliferation of child porn, the internet should be wired in such a way as to disallow the transmission of ALL video, just in case it happens to be child porn. Unfortunately, that is often the argument made for BitTorrent vis a vis copyrighted media.

I also don't have your faith in the long-term existence of "a competitive environment where bandwidth may be purchased from multiple providers." We have gone from dozens of small dial-up providers per town to a few very large ones, and the cost-of-entry is now prohibitive to most newcomers. Look at the consolidation in the long distance, cable, and cellphone providers in recent years. Where I am, I already am subject to HughesNet's monopoly. My only alternative is to not have internet access (which is obviously unacceptable).

Jim Lippard said...

"Of course no business has a "right" to recoup its expense. Capitalism is a gamble. Perhaps what you meant was that they have the right to TRY to do so, which I would agree with, so long as they don't violate certain other principles."

Yes, that's what I meant.

"It is quite possible to imagine a capacity X that could contain a usage Y, or even 2Y or 3Y. It's just that X would have to be a number larger than current capacity."

Yes, but my point is that it changes the business model in a way that will reduce competition and favor the incumbents.

"This would seem to argue against your position that it is too costly to increase bandwidth, since they have done so."

No, that misrepresents my position. My position is not that businesses don't invest in bandwidth as overall growth occurs, it is that they don't rely on the model you suggest above with your imagined capacities. They try to stay ahead of overall growth, but there are always points where growth catches up and they still want to maximize the use of what they have, and if a small subset of users are using most of the bandwidth, the options are: (1) charge them more to cover upgrades that wouldn't otherwise have been necessary, (2) charge everybody more to cover the upgrades, or (3) place some limits on the small subset of users. Your view is that only (2) is acceptable, my view is that (1)-(3) are all acceptable, so long as the provider is transparent about what they're doing.

"That's a technological issue, not a philosophical one justifying preferential treatment for one type of data over another (and it's all just data)."

I don't understand your argument. Some uses of data have different requirements--it's all just data, but the technological requirements of use differ. You are arguing that those differing requirements don't justify a business treating them differently. But why not? I don't think "it's all just data" is an argument that it should all be treated the same and companies should be prohibited from offering services that treat them differently.

I'd prefer as a customer that Cox give me the option of filling all my available bandwidth with Internet or dedicating some of it to voice and video, but if they chose to offer a service which didn't allow me to use voice or video-allocated bandwidth for Internet, I don't see why that would be a violation of my rights. (As it happens, I don't get my voice or video services from Cox, so I'd definitely prefer to max out the cable's capacity with Internet.)

"That has not been my real world experience"

I've already said why I think satellite is different; I also don't know anything about your usage habits. Do you have any references for either Singapore v. Manhattan bandwidth availability and pricing, or TimeWarner's proposed usage caps? Real data would certainly be helpful.

"As for the FCC, I'm no fan of excessive regulation, but I think that looking at how the FCC has screwed up broadcast and cable regulation, that we'd be better off with a clear standard of open pipes, where bandwidth providers and content providers are kept separate."

I think there are more distinctions to be drawn--the area about which you and I care the most is about last-mile connectivity services, where I think the strongest case can be made (especially for the telcos, which got free rights-of-way) for some regulatory protections. But none of the bills or proposals have made a distinction between consumer last mile and connectivity at commercial facilities or backbones, where the market is extremely competitive and the incumbent local telcos weren't even the top players until they merged with them (U.S. West/Qwest, SBC/AT&T, Verizon/MCI).

The worst possible outcome would be a regulatory regime that eliminates Level 3, Sprint, Global Crossing, and other small players from the picture and leaves us with only Verizon, AT&T, and Qwest.

I don't argue that BitTorrent should be eliminated or even that ISPs should be permitted to ban its use, but I think that they should have relatively broad freedom to manage their networks in order to make them usable for all of their customers.

"I also don't have your faith in the long-term existence of "a competitive environment where bandwidth may be purchased from multiple providers.""

I think advocating FCC control of the Internet makes a competitive environment less likely rather than more likely, and also opens it up to the possibility of content-based restrictions that are unlikely today.

rushmc said...

>>Do you have any references for either Singapore v. Manhattan bandwidth availability and pricing, or TimeWarner's proposed usage caps?

I'm not the data hound that you are and this isn't a topic that I've made any effort to document, but here is what I turned up quickly:

http://gizmodo.com/5012427/time-warner-monthly-data-caps-detailed

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/17/time-warner-download-too-much-and-you-might-pay-30-a-movie/

http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/06/25/US-lags-behind-other-countries-in-broadband-speed_1.html

http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/Images/commentarynews/broadbandspeedchart.jpg

http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/133390/study_us_lags_behind_in_broadband_speeds.html

And on some of the tech advances that may render current speed and bandwidth irrelevant:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article3689881.ece

http://ip-vpn.tmcnet.com/topics/broadband-wireless-access/articles/34735-fidelity-access-networks-selects-xos-10gbps-high-speed.htm

(Neither of these are the particular development I was referring to before, but I can't find the link to that atm. The specific tech isn't really important, though; even if none of the current projects prove viable commercially, do you really doubt that something will, over the next 2-10 years?)

>>my point is that it changes the business model in a way that will reduce competition and favor the incumbents.

>>I think advocating FCC control of the Internet makes a competitive environment less likely rather than more likely,

I just don't see all this competitiveness currently, or much chance of its returning soon, so I guess it's less of an issue to me. Certainly, the incumbents already have a prohibitive advantage. (Remember, the only reason Qwest became a player in the market was because its owner bought up all the unused railway right-of-ways and laid cable when people said he was crazy to do so.)

>>and also opens it up to the possibility of content-based restrictions that are unlikely today.

This could be a danger, but I don't see why we should avoid good regulation out of fear of bad which isn't currently on the table.

Jim Lippard said...

"This could be a danger, but I don't see why we should avoid good regulation out of fear of bad which isn't currently on the table."

Today, the FCC has no jurisdiction over the Internet. Internet backbone connectivity is unregulated and competitive, and the top three players are not incumbent telcos--Sprint, Level 3, and Global Crossing. My view is that no good will come of handing the FCC control over that realm, which is also a realm distinct from the issues of consumer last-mile Internet service.

"I just don't see all this competitiveness currently, or much chance of its returning soon, so I guess it's less of an issue to me."

Broadband is not as competitive as dialup, no doubt due to cost of market entry, but the situation in Phoenix is more competitive than it was when I wrote this, now that 3G wireless data access is available at low cost. And we'll see in the near future what Sprint and Clearwire's rollout of WiMax does to the picture--that might help you out.

Your first article says that the Time Warner caps are not caps that stop service, but result in additional charges of $1/Gb after 5 Gb per month, with no extra charges assessed for the first two months the caps are in effect, so customers will know in advance if they're likely to hit them.

The first link on average broadband speeds seems out-of-date. I hope BroadbandCensus.com will successfully collect significant amounts of U.S. data, but at the moment I am still be the only person in my entire zipcode who has contributed data. I guess I should do a blog post suggesting that people contribute...

Cloud computing is certainly the direction that companies like Google and VMWare are pushing things, but there's still a need for bandwidth to the end user. Personally, while I'm exposing some personal information via social networking sites and some photos Flickr, I still run my own mail, web, and DNS servers, and prefer to keep my own data on my own servers.

rushmc said...

Well, we shall see how access is regulated and billed in five years. I predict and hope that it will be unmetered and uncapped, whether this comes about via market forces or through government fiat.

To tell the truth, I am more concerned, in this instance, about corporate abuses (which have already been documented) than about the government (though clearly the two often work in tandem). As we have seen with Big Media, the profit motive has been somewhat subverted and can no longer be relied upon as the only or even the primary motivator for large corporations, which often act for other interests, pursuing other agendas. Giving the owners of the pipes the power to inhibit development of future technology for any reason would be bad for all of us.

With luck, someday we can move to a true peer-to-peer broadband network invulnerable to such attempts at manipulation and control.

Jim Lippard said...

"To tell the truth, I am more concerned, in this instance, about corporate abuses (which have already been documented) than about the government (though clearly the two often work in tandem)."

My impression is that the corporate abuses are few and far between (like Telus blocking the TWU Local 207 website), often grossly exaggerated (like the false claim that Cox was blocking Craigslist), and publicity has been more likely to stop any real abuses than government action (e.g., Verizon's initial refusal to allow NARAL's SMS messaging), while governments have been responsible for more real abuses, like blocking entire services like YouTube or Geocities because they don't like one video or website. Or shutting down the domain wikileaks.com.

The only case I've heard of where government action stopped a case of corporate abuse was the Madison River blocking of Vonage, for which Madison River was fined $15,000 by the FCC. I wouldn't mind at all a statute prohibiting that kind of outright blocking for reasons other than protecting a network from security or abuse issues.