Thursday, November 23, 2006
New Network Neutrality Notions
Item 1: UPDATE: As of December 12, the video below is no longer available. But there's a new, delightfully detailed, much improved version here! [Thanks to Mark Smith for this!]
Have you seen this YouTube video from Andrew Babington?
It's a brilliant remix of stuff we've seen before, proof that remix adds value! If you know somebody who doesn't quite get it yet, send them this video's URL the link to the new, improved video. Thanks to Scott Bradner for pointing this out!
Item 2: Outgoing email filtering. Seems that every ISP blocks Port 25 these days! Back when Optimum Online (Cablevision) started blocking my Port 25 (used for outgoing email) some years ago, I switched carriers. I was lucky enough to have a second broadband carrier! Finally other folks are starting to agree that port blocking is a form of Net Discrimination, a violation of Net Neutrality!
Now, Gene Hirschel, writing for Internet News, says that Microsoft is using another form of email blocking -- it won't let anybody send mail from its sites unless it's from email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. He writes,
. . . why [does Microsoft] bother with the additional filtering? Revenue. For each e-mail that goes out, MSN and Hotmail both add a tagline to the bottom of all e-mail. So even after paying a premium for MSN, you still have to advertise their products to all of your e-mail recipients.Exactly. Net Discrimination is all about the revenue stream. If you have a problem understanding this, or if you disagree, read Andrew Odlyzko's Privacy, Economics and Price Discrimination on the Internet (.pdf).
Email is one of those "applications and services of [our] choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement," that we're supposed to be able to run according to the Martin FCC's Four Principles.
Thanks to Robert Cannon at cybertelecom for the pointer to the Hirschel item!
Item 3: Tom Evslin asks, "how do we know if ISPs are violating the principals of network neutrality?" and proposes that an extension to the SIP standard that allows loopback to test connections (and other monitoring software) might help. In the same vein, Bill St. Arnaud (acking Gordon Cook) passes along a pointer to NETI@home, a distributed software package that monitors Internet performance from the home computers of numerous volunteers. (I think I'll join!).
Internet performance is a slippery beast at best and deserves much more research. So such efforts are very worthwhile. But they are NOT antidotes to the violation of Net Neutrality! If we're not upset about Port 25 blocking, which is impossible to hide, which everybody knows about, why would we get upset by a little more NETI-detected packet jitter?
Net Discrimination, in its most pernicious form, will not be stealthy! Net Neutrality will be openly violated. It will be done explicitly, "to fight spam," or "to make network performance better for the rest of us," or "to fight terrorism," or "to protect the children." It will be done explicitly, to exact application-specific "quality of service fees." It will be done explicitly because, e.g., Google, "is using our pipes for free."
When Net Discrimination happens, it will not be a secret. We Internet users will be willing dupes or complacent, slightly disgruntled customers. For the most part, we won't know what we're missing, just as your average CNN watcher thinks she's "getting the news."
I've pointed out to Tom that, e.g., Verizon, whenever it requires you to take its telephone service to get its DSL service (or whenever it gives a price break for the bundle) is already guilty of application discrimination! That is, when you have Verizon voice, you're less likely to use Skype or Vonage than you'd be without it. It's monopolistic tying, pure and simple.
Network monitoring software is great, but it is not an effective antidote for Net Discrimination!
Item 4: Gordon Cook writes that the entire Net Neutrality debate is a "dangerous side show," designed to distract us from the Real Action, which, Cook says, is a state-by-state campaign by the ILECs to drive up the costs of interconnection, thereby driving the few remaining CLECs, i.e., mostly the cablecos, out of business.
Gordon Cook has it partly right. For sure, the telcos are pushing up the prices of interconnection using a wide variety of tricks. But he is not thinking far enough ahead -- the telcos actually want to buy the cablecos. Why? (a) They're bad at starting new businesses. (b) They want the cable revenue stream. (c) They want to eliminate their last big competitor. And if the telcos make the cablecos financially weaker, they'll be able to buy them cheaper.
We need to be aware of all of these things. And others, like the fact that telcos are using CALEA and E911 and Universal Service to raise barriers to entry for financially weaker upstarts. And that they got $200 Billion in rate and tax relief in return for an unfulfilled promise to provide high speed Internet services to America. And that they're trying to deny our cities the right to build their own networks.
That said, Gordon, the Network Neutrality debate is no sideshow! We dasn't stop our advocacy. Net Discrimination is yet another trick of a dying industry struggling to establish in law, and by financial might, what it can no longer do in a competitive, meritocratic marketplace.
To my mind, the big problem with Network Neutrality is that it is a compromise. In reality, we should be talking about Structural Separation. Because as long as it is legal for an entity that sells Internet connections to also have a financial interest in the apps and services that travel on that connection, there will be an insurmountable urge to discriminate. An easier way to fight this is Structural Separation. The harder way is Network Neutrality with the deterrence of Draconian enforcement.
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