Posts Tagged ‘net neutrality’

ISPs: beware of paranoid bloggers with a persecution complex, warns Ofcom

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Exclusive Ofcom will encourage ISPs to be transparent about traffic management, but won’t ask them to detail the information in a standard format, according to meeting notes seen by The Register.

The regulator is sounding out opinion from ISPs and consumer groups on traffic management, which it sees as the only aspect of the US "Net Neutrality" debates applicable to the UK.

In the US, the debate was politicized and emotive; pressure from left-wing activists attempted to push both Congress and the FTC into passing pre-emptive technical regulations. At the loonier end of the debate, some called for compulsory nationalisation of the private assets, without compensation.

Here the debate is more rational; Ofcom doesn’t agree that pre-emptive rules must be made, and favours a hands-off approach.

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How neutrality locks in the web’s ‘Hyper Giants’

Monday, August 9th, 2010

By the mid 1990s it had become pointless to compete with Microsoft in operating systems and office software – and investment in potential competitors dried up. The best you could hope for as a software company was to carve out a niche as part of the Windows Office system; this was a very small niche indeed.

The same thing is happening today with web services. But what Google and other web giants are doing goes largely unnoticed, even by analysts, pundits and Presidential advisors. What they are able to do is use their scale, and clever and cynical politics to obscure how they’re solidifying their competitive advantage. In particular, they’re swearing allegiance to (and lobbying for) an idea which doesn’t apply to their operations, but which will keep smaller competitors out of the market. A Zoho, for example – or the next new YouTube.

To understand this, you have to keep in mind that there isn’t really such a thing as ‘The Internet’, which may sound strange. It might be even stranger to consider that the internet was never designed as a masterplan to be ‘The Internet’, thankfully, as it turned out.

Instead of one network, picture lots of private networks. The internetworking protocols (the clue’s in the name) provide guidelines for some lowest common denominators by which these private networks can cooperate.

The good thing is that the architects’ more modest ambition of "internetworking" succeeded where many grand plans had failed. It explains why the internet is so resilient, and why it’s so hard to regulate, or control. The downside is that it’s hard to improve upon today’s internet, either, since innovation chugs along at the pace of the slowest significant network.

But one way around the bottlenecks is permissible. Deliverers of content and services can climb off the public internet, and do deals directly with the customer-facing networks to which you or I subscribe. Instead of making a journey of two dozen hops around the world, the material need only take two or three.

This is what Google, Amazon and others do. They operate private internets of their own, and peer with the largest ISPs.

Read more at The Register

Net Neutrality: the Good Guys always were white

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Delicious news from the United States, where ‘Net Neutrality’ is again being recast for a new political purpose.

The term long since ceased to mean anything – it now means anything you want it to mean. But as a rule of thumb, advocating Neutrality means giving your support to general Goodness on the internets, and opposing general Badness. Therefore, supporting Neutrality means you yourself are a Good Person, by reflection, and people who oppose Neutrality are Bad People.

This is a wonderful thing, and the beauty is, it’s all so simple. It’s like the Good Guys Wearing White – the Bad Guys oppose Neutrality. And because Neutrality is anything you want it to be, you have an all-purpose morality firehose at your disposal. Just point it and shoot at Baddies.

But best of all is that you get to define the Baddies, raise a lynch mob, catch them and hang them – before somebody has had a chance to ask "Where’s the harm, exactly?".

This time the accusation of Neutrality Violations is being turned on copyright holders, minority groups – and anyone who wants a network to run the way they want it to.

 

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Google's doing to Twitterbook what it's doing to copyright

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Google has two prongs to its long-term strategy, but Wave, the “digital dashboard” it unveiled last week, casts light on a third.

One strategy is to drive down the value of copyright material on the internet to zero. Google has a ruthless and calculating view of the real value of stuff. It reasons that if all we do on the net is talk to each other, then it’s merely fulfilling the role of a switchboard operator at a Soviet-era state monopoly telco – connecting us, while listening in. That’s a pretty unglamorous business, it doesn’t save the world… and hey, where’s the money?

The YouTube experience has taught Google that the value of “user generated content”, of the “new era of creativity” is as close to zero as a rounding error – while quite irrationally we continue to throw money at DVDs, CD box sets of stuff we already have, Susan Boyle, and even ringtones. That’s all copyright stuff. They are clever people, and this hasn’t escaped their notice.

The other strategy is to drive down the value of the “access networks” to zero. Unable to offer innovative value-add services of their own, the ISPs and mobile networks become interchangeble suppliers, merely undifferentiated suppliers of bits. Hence the “Net Neutrality” scare. Google didn’t invent “net neutrality”, but it lost little time in taking advantage of it, to its own ends. No company in the 25-year history of the net had ever dared propose a technical rulebook for what the net’s operators could and couldn’t do – until Google started to write legislation.

In both cases the entertainment and network “industries” have been the timid architects of their own demise. The networks well may be becoming commoditised bit pipes without Google’s assistance, and the content businesses – by refusing to take elementary steps such as synchronising releases across markets, and monetising P2P file sharing – may too see the value of their assets disappear. But it doesn’t harm Google to speed things along a bit.

Take the two together and you’ll start to see why Google is building those vast power-guzzling data centers. With copyright holders and last-mile service providers unable to realise value, those data centres aggregate all that’s left. Google becomes the internet company by default.

…Read more at The Register

Google writes the internet's first rule book

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

The regulator’s rule book for deciding what is permissible on today’s roads is very thick indeed. The content, behaviour and performance of “stuff on roads” is massive, and grows by the day. Try hot-rodding your lawnmower – or deciding that on Thursdays, you will only make left turns, and see how far you get.

By contrast, the regulator’s rule book for deciding what is permissible on the internet – its content, behaviour and performance – couldn’t be simpler. There isn’t one.
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FCC: making a rulebook out of metaphors

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Regulators and network operators across the world will be watching events unfold in Washington DC with some astonishment today, as the US telecoms industry becomes embroiled in a bureaucratic farce.

Late last week, the US regulator the Federal Communications Commission issued a landmark assertion of authority over how American operators should manage their networks – and announced a new policy framework. We won’t know what this policy framework will be for days or perhaps weeks – and the statements issued so far don’t help.

What we got on Friday was a self-contradictory press release which simultaneously both encourages and prohibits prioritizing internet traffic by application type.

Er, say what?

Well, it gets even stranger. Accompanying the commission’s release, all five commissioners issued their own individual personal statements – the FCC is split down the middle on the issue – with the two dissenting Commissioners, McDowell and Tate, complaining they weren’t given the text of the release until the last moment.

“Commissioner Tate and I received the current version of the order at 7pm last night, with about half of its content added or modified. As a result, even after my office reviewed this new draft into the wee hours of the morning, I can only render a partial analysis,” wrote Commissioner Robert McDowell.

Well-placed sources also suggested that having voted, they then realised it was immediately unworkable – so the statement was redrafted after the vote. Maybe that’s in keeping with an exercise in “Policy-based Evidence-making”: Take a vote and then try and figure out what you’ve voted on.

Before getting into specifics, let’s look at the problem – and the main problem with making laws out of net neutrality has been painfully obvious from the start. As a descriptive generalisation about what “the internet” looks like, or should look like, it’s impossible to disagree with. You won’t get any dissent about the evils of content discrimination from The Register, because unlike most of the neutrality activists, our livelihoods depend on networks delivering pages like this without favour. But a description is not the same thing as a working principle. Any law or regulation needs to be understood by the engineers working at the business end of keeping the networks running.

Take, for example, a statement such as “driving fast is bad”. This can be implemented and then enforced (as a speeding law). However an observation or generalisation such as “highways are better when people are nice” can lend itself to a metaphor, for example “Friendly Roads”, and made into a policy principle – “drivers should be considerate to each other”. But it’s one that is much harder to turn into a workable, prescriptive regulation.

The problem is that when it comes to implementation, “neutrality” only works as a metaphor. Not only has the internet never been “neutral”, it’s misleading to think of one internet, rather than many interconnecting networks. (The clue’s in the name).

The FCC has now taken upon itself on the task of turning a metaphor into law, and the difficulties are evident from the press release, and chief commissioner Martin’s statement.
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How Free Press breaks the citizens' network

Monday, May 19th, 2008

In 2003 the journalist Ron Suskind captured one of the quotes of the decade when he cited an unnamed Bush administration official as saying:

“When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities.”

On the web today, “political activism” has become a virtual reality game that anyone can play, whoever you are. To succeed, a campaign need not be reality-based at all: it can generate its own fictional cause, complete with symbolic heroes and villains. Eventually the “campaigners” bump into physics, or economics, or real electors – who may have different, more urgent priorities – and the “campaign” vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

But what’s interesting is the real world consequences of the virtual campaign can be the complete opposite of the campaigner’s stated goals.

For example, have a look at this exchange with Ben Scott. Ben is a policy director at Free Press. The outfit describes itself as a “national, nonpartisan organisation working to reform the media”. A goal is a media more responsive to citizens, and more accurate too.
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Man discovers his net wasn't neutered

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Hanging the monkey

We have very little idea of how a hysteria can grip sensible, rational people – until it strikes. After Orson Welles’s War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, the public reported sightings of Martians. According to urban legend, a farmer’s water tower was peppered with small arms fire, in the belief that it was a Martian spaceship. During the McCarthyite Red Scare, the FBI’s snitch lines rang red hot with reports of suspected un-American activity. And in Hartlepool 200 years ago, the locals tried and hanged a monkey, suspecting it to be a Frenchman.

Here’s more evidence that the Net Neutrality scare is gripping otherwise rational people, presenting with two classic symptoms of mob-itis.

Professor Steven Bellovin of Columbia reported something strange with his Comcast router recently. Bellovin is a veteran crypto researcher with internet RFCs to his name – and not normally someone who needs attention. Last month he announceD:

“My cable modem service was out for eight hours yesterday. Tests I did – ICMP could get through to various destinations; TCP could not – make me believe that the problem is due to Comcast trying to treat p2p traffic differently.”

Of course. What else could it be?

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Obama mounts 'Neutrality' bandwaggon

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Politicians long ago gave up on politics. Instead of articulating great ideas, the choice that faces voters today is between identikit managerial bureaucrats who’ve never had a job outside politics. Most of their adult lives have been spent in the hermetic world of wonkdom. So it’s little wonder, then, that they have trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality.

And it’s no surprise at all to hear that a virtual Presidential candidate is throwing his electrons behind a virtual cause, to repeal a virtual law that never existed.

What else would a cypher do?

Asked whether he’d “re-instate Net Neutrality” as “the Law of the Land”, trailing Presidential Candidate Barack Obama told an audience in Cedar Rapids, Iowa pledged that yes, he would.

He also said he’d protect Ewok villages everywhere, and hoped that Tony Soprano had survived the non-existent bloodbath at the conclusion of The Sopranos.

(So we made the last two up – but they wouldn’t have been any more silly than what the Presidential Candidate really said.)

There are several problems with Obama’s pledge.
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A monkey hangers guide to Net Neutrality

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

A neutral net

My presentation to the Westminster eForum on Net Neutrality. I’ll turn this into an embeddable slide show eventually, honest.

For now, see The Register for transcript and slides.