Fat Pipe, Always On, Get Out of the Way

2 Feb ’06

The last couple of days have seen a lot activity on net neutrality, so herewith a collection of links:

1. From O’Reilly Radar, the news that David Isenberg is organizing a conference – Freedom-to-Connect (“F2C is for all who care about — and are affected by — network connectivity, economics, applications and policy; F2C is where communications policy meets networking technology, network economics, networked applications, and network construction and operation. F2C is dedicated to the proposition that strong networks build strong democracies, and vice versa.”) – in Washington on April 3 and 4, and that he’s written a Dr. Seuss-y poem (what Glenn Fleishman calls Dr. Seusstrality) to promote it:

Freedom to connect,
it’s like every other right.
We’ve got to fight,
Or they’ll come and take it from us
in the middle of the night.

So let’s finish with the words of Tim Bray,
Fat Pipe, Always On, Get Out of the Way.


2. Om parses v2.0 of Ed Whiteacre’s pitch and notices an almost Borg-like adaptability to his arguments. SBC / AT&T’s communications people are obviously watching the MSM (and the blogosphere??) carefully and have picked upon the criticism of the “pay me twice” aspect of the telecom industry’s pitch. The latest iteration runs like this:

I think the content providers should be paying for the use of the network – obviously not the piece from the customer to the network, which has already been paid for by the customer in Internet access fees – but for accessing the so-called Internet cloud.

Om notes “The interesting part of the equation is that even businesses are feeling a little threatened by the RBOC posturing. James Blaszak, whose law firm, Levine, Blaszak, Block & Boothby, who works for large companies on telecom issues recently told eWeek:”

If I pay for the loop that gets me access to the network, why is it that someone who wants to send me something should also pay? What if they say, to get to your customers for you to sell your wares, we want a share of your revenues? Once you buy into the notion that the telephone companies should be able to charge entities other than those that are buying access to the Internet, I don’t know where you stop.

Maybe you don’t stop.

Techdirt looks at it from another angle:

He’s actually suggesting that when we buy bandwidth, we’re just buying the bandwidth from the end-point to the backbone… and everything else is just free. He’s conveniently forgetting (again) that without the content and services provided at all the other endpoints, the value of connecting from the end to the middle is pretty much gone. No one is paying to connect from the end to the middle. They’re paying to connect all the ends to each other. … It’s a very telco way of looking at things. … To them, the only important thing is from the ends to the middle — where traditionally the telco then provided all the services you needed. They’ll conveniently ignore that the only value of connecting to the middle is if you have unencumbered connections to all the other ends as well.


3. So how is it that the fat pipe has suddenly become so choked with traffic that neutrality is an issue? Earlier this week one would have thought that it was historical under-development of the pipe by the telecoms. But perhaps it’s also because their business model – being both the pipe’s manager and a supplier of content to the pipe – is hopelessly conflicted. And so, hot on the heels of the release of Bruce Kushnick’s The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, comes a report from Business Week that Verizon wants to dedicate a chunk of “its” capacity to itself and not to its competitors in the application provider market:

Documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show that Verizon Communications (VZ) is setting aside a wide lane on its fiber-optic network for delivering its own television service. According to Marvin Sirbu, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who examined the documents, more than 80% of Verizon’s current capacity is earmarked for carrying its service, while all other traffic jostles in the remainder.

Where this seems to leave us is that Verizon has been insisting that because bandwidth is scarce and therefore costly it should be able to charge other application providers for access to the cloud. Yet now it appears that Verizon is creating the scarcity itself in order to gain a competitive advantage against those same application providers. Amazon’s POV:

The Bells have designed a broadband system that squeezes out the public Internet in favor of services or content they want to provide,” says Paul Misener, vice-president for global policy at Amazon.com.

Or as Techdirt puts it:

So, basically what’s happening here is the telcos didn’t think far enough ahead to build new networks that can actually accommodate both the internet and their television pipe dreams… so they’re just shoving the internet part aside. That’s not a problem with all those popular web services, it’s a problem for the telcos and their poor network planning and design.

Yes – this is the same Verizon that charges almost 10 times the going rate in France for bandwidth. In early January Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg remarked that “[t]here’s no such thing as a free lunch on the Internet.” Well, it appears that there is.

Update: Cynthia Brumfield of IP Democracy doubts the technical claims underlying the Business Week piece. See also Andrew Schmitt of Nyquist Capital.


4. Verizon has at the same time been speaking out forcefully against Government involvement in the internet:

Referring to efforts by the European Union and China to fragment the technical root structure of the unified Internet, and to efforts by China to filter Web content, Tauke said there is a “danger of having governments getting involved in the Internet space.”

This is no surprise – the telecoms have enormous market power and want the keep the right to (mis)use it with as little regulatory oversight as possible. But invoking China as a spectre to demonize the notion of regulating the pipe strikes me as more than a little vulgar. What’s next – “if we regulate the pipe, the terrorists win?”. And it’s worth noting that a lesson (this is neither news nor surprising, really) of Kushnick’s book is that the telecoms love having the government “involved in the internet”, as long as that ‘involvement’ comes in the form of massive corporate welfare.


5. Update: Via Jeff Pulver, Ted Shelton writes at IP Inferno about whether there is actually a plan on the part of the telecoms to assure scarcity – the phrase taken from a post of the same name by Bob Frankston, “in which he explores the question of whether there is a conspiracy within the mobile industry to create market conditions in which they can insure pricing control”. Ted surveys the current landscape in landline and wireless and concludes:

So has Bob joined me in the club of the paranoid? Since writing my column back in October, both BellSouth and SBC (AT&T) have clearly stated their intentions to charge Internet application providers like Google for access to customers of their Internet access products. I am feeling a lot less paranoid today, and a lot more worried about the future of a free and open Internet that creates an environment which promotes innovation and equal access to information.

If the telecommunications industry is self-documenting attempts at price-control and market manipulation, perhaps the FCC need not weigh in at all — how about going straight to a Justice department and EU inquiry? Do the telecommunications companies have a motivation to “Assure Scarcity?” Do they have the ability to re-construct the Internet into a multi-tiered “…marketplace so that only the privileged few can create new products… (and) charge as much as they want?” And where there is motivation and ability, shouldn’t the rest of us be very concerned? Read Bob’s article.


6. Update: The Nation is running an article by Jeff Chester titled “The End of the Internet?” that covers the policy issues behind net neutrality. IP Democracy suggests it’s useful but contains some hyperventilation. Gist:

The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online.

Verizon, Comcast, Bell South and other communications giants are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency.

According to white papers now being circulated in the cable, telephone and telecommunications industries, those with the deepest pockets–corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers–would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out.

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