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Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate

Some of the loudest voices in the network neutrality debate squared off at a Senate hearing Tuesday morning as Congress considers overhauling sections of the Telecom Act of 1996. (See Net Neutrality Goes to Washington.)

Both the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Energy and Commerce are now drafting legislation that would rewrite large sections of the 1996 Act.

The net neutrality issue centers on the common carriage responsibilities of broadband providers in an age when more and fatter IP services are being pushed down the broadband pipe to the consumer. (See LR Poll: Net 'Squatters' Should Pay.)

Some in Congress believe new laws are needed requiring broadband services providers (the telcos and the cable MSOs) to reserve equal bandwidth for competing services provided by the likes of Vonage and Google. (See Google Says No to QOS Fees.)

“Even as we welcome the deregulation of our telecommunications system, we must preserve some limited elements of openness and non-discrimination,” Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s “Chief Internet Evangelist,” Vinton Cerf, told the committee. “In this regard, Google supports tailored, minimally intrusive safeguards to promote net neutrality.” (See Google Goes to Wonkytown.)

Sitting side by side facing the committee members were Cerf, United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) CEO Walter McCormick, Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG) CEO Jeffrey Citron, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) CEO Kyle McSlarrow, and Incompas CEO Earl Comstock.

“We need to preserve net neutrality for the interests of the next Google waiting to be born in some dorm room or garage,” Cerf added. Vonage’s Citron looked pleased.

The RBOCs were represented by their trade group, the USTA, and their message was simple. “We will not block, impair, or degrade content, applications in any way,” said USTA’s McCormick. He would repeat the remark nearly verbatim several times during the hearing.

Both McCormick and the NCTA’s McSlarrow said their member companies have spent billions aggressively building out their networks, and will continue doing so as long as the financial incentive isn't stripped away by new regulation.

“The issue here is whether or not Congress will enact new legislation that will leave little or no incentive to invest in new networks,” McSlarrow said. “[If you do] you will force networks to compete only on size and price.”

Comptel’s Comstock scoffed at the assertion, remarking that the network operators write off more in depreciation on their networks every year than they invest in them. (See QOS Fees Could Change Everything .)

At several points during the hearing, the cable and telephone companies -- which together control 98 percent of the broadband access lines in the U.S. -- were accused of creating a scarcity of Internet bandwidth so that competing IP services like Vonage get only what's left over.

McCormick repeated that this has not happened, insisting that many of the network neutrality horror stories being proposed were really just hypothetical problems -- “what-ifs” -- that haven’t really happened yet. (See New Telecom Bill Draws Raves.)

Citron, though, pointed out that his company was blocked by the carrier Madison River Communications , and has since been blocked by several smaller carriers. He said Vonage was forced to organize “workarounds” to remedy the problems, and in some cases wasn't able to offer service.

McCormick told the panel the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already has the authority under current law to prevent network operators from discriminating against certain services running over their networks. “The Commission has made it clear that it has both the authority and the appetite to move swiftly to intervene.”

McCormick was probably referring to the Madison River incident, the only documented network neutrality foul committed by a network operator thus far. When Madison River blocked Vonage traffic on its broadband network, it was summarily slapped down by the FCC for its actions. (See Vonage Victorious in Blocking Case.)

Had the Madison River incident occurred after the Brand X decision, the FCC wouldn't have had the authority to slap Madison River's hand. (See Brand X Decision Stokes VOIP Worries.)

The Supreme Court's Brand X decision last year declared that cable networks are not “telecommunication networks” but rather “information services,” and thus their owners aren’t subject to many common carriage responsibilities. The FCC soon after released an order extending the courtesy to telco networks.

Meanwhile, some members of Congress appeared a bit confused over the nuances of the debate. The committee chair, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) compared broadband pipes to oil pipelines in his home state of Alaska. [Ed. note: Sen. Stevens, it should be noted, compares everything to oil pipelines.] Stevens at one point told Google’s Vinton Cerf, “You certainly have a wonderful search engine there.”

But the Senator has been around and has seen these debates before. He fretted during the hearing that if the Congress erred on net neutrality legislation, it would be a very slow process to “put the genie back in the bottle.”

The network neutrality issue is just one of many aspects of the Telecom Act that lawmakers are considering changing. Others include VOIP e911, CALEA, and the Universal Service Fund.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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secretsquirrel 12/5/2012 | 4:06:58 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate IP is non deterministic = bad for latency sensitive apps such as streaming voice/video.

RBOC/MSO View: invest and deploy technology to offer a better connection for those who wish to pay for it. Take it or leave it.

ISP View: This is IP - nothing we can do - only thing we control is how the packets cross our network. Besides you are really only paying for best efforts service and a flat fee to boot - why are you complaining.

App Providers: HEY for 10 years we have using ISP's and RBOC/MSO networks esentially for FREE - you mean to tell me that if I want something IP does not offer I now have to voluntarily PAY. What a rip. I know - lets make this into an 'Equal Access' 'Competitive' thing and hinge it all on PATRIOTISM effectivly obsuring the issues - get Congress and the FCC who know nothing about IP and BETTER YET the State PSCs who know less than nothing because they think they know something to make a set of LAWS and hose the whole thing up AGAIN.

The Squirrel.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 4:06:57 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate
krbabu,

Google, Vonage and other Internet sites do not pay for carriers for their Internet usage except for the Bit Pipe that connects their sites to the Internet.

There are 3 choices:

1 - Bill per QoS as you say and then on a per packet basis charge for this QoS. This way they can send vanilla packets and premium packets using the same connection. This seems highly unlikely.

2 - Build services that never require anything other than Best Effort. This allows the current paradigm to stay in place.

3 - Bypass the Internet either with their own networks (like Google's WiFi network) or by creating special arrangements with Broadband Access Network Providers.

I do not see a fourth choice but would be really happy to hear about it. Requiring QoS support without billing will lead to all packets requesting the highest QoS. And that will lead us back to Best Effort.

seven
krbabu 12/5/2012 | 4:06:57 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate It is somewhat enigmatic to see that Google is in opposition to paying for a better QoS over the Internet. Net Neutrality to me implies that all users of the Internet who want a better QoS will be on a neutral, level, field. Thus, Google, Vonage, et al., would all have a level playing field because carriers would insist that they all pay the same fee for the same QoS. (The regulations would make it illegal on the part of the carriers to be preferential to some but not the others for the same QoS). Otherwise, what incentive do the carriers have to upgrade their network to provide better QoS?
The home broadband user, of course, will most likely choose to keep a vanilla Internet connection, i.e., the all-you-can-eat, no-guarantee, fixed monthly fee connection.
Thus, it seems wrong to insist that carriers treat all users equally.
krbabu 12/5/2012 | 4:06:56 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate Seven:
> Requiring QoS support without billing will lead to
> all packets requesting the highest QoS. And that
> will lead us back to Best Effort.

You are right on the money. This is why I felt baffled by Google's stance. Also, note that IP/VPN and Ethernet VPLS over an IP/MPLS backbone already produce a better IP network, and businesses are willingly paying for it.

So what is Google's issue? Why can't they offer their services over such a VPN or VPLS? It all comes back to the business model. As it is, they are able monetize only a fraction of the eyeballs that visit Google and related sites through the ad mechanism and still create astronomical profits. When Google (or Vonage or any other similar service provider) pays for a VPN or VPLS, they will correspondingly reduce their gross margins, but they wil probably also attract more eyeballs: because they can provide better service. Thus, Googles and their ilk must be constantly honing their business models and not complain about having to pay for better QoS.
-
krbabu
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 4:06:55 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate We could all just relax if service providers were treated like an electric utility. They would be "fairly" (easier said than done) compensated for their bandwidth efforts. Period.

Let services be generated on the ends by people who know what they are doing. Who thinks telecom execs are any good at innovation? I for one have zero interest in paying up for lousy "services" that are tied to a subsidized, monopoly, pipe. GOOG has the potential to alter our economy by driving high efficiencies in the sales process. The liklihood that a telco would come up with anything half so innovative and useful is about the same as those monkeys banging on keyboards coming up with Shakespeare.

The unimaginative telco execs who in reality are scared as they see bandwidth prices fall below their (high) costs are running to Mama. Adding services is their unimaginative way to recreate the past by tying their "service" (once voice and now video or something) back to their wires. Face it, the slash in TCP/IP has changed their lives. Services on the end and a big dumb (and paid for) pipe in the middle. This fuels innovation, which is the only competitive advantage left in the U.S.
stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 4:06:54 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate Hi,

Has anyone realized yet the implications for hackers and virus-writers in the world if QoS is implemented...?

1. The courts will be stifled by lawsuits of ordinary people whose computer(s) were used by a hacker to send high QoS data somewhere ('where' is actually irrelevant to the amount charged under most QoS models).

2. People will use the Internet less due to such charges or the fear that such things might happen to them.

3. People will require ISPs to limit their QoS traffic and hence their bill.

4. And many others...

Consider as well the impact of employees at any company who use any bandwidth whatsoever...

A follow on to this are the accounting rules that will need to be used to track this kind of usage and the audit procedures, etc. (think levels of authorization to use xGB of priority A traffic in a month, yGB of B traffic, etc. per employee) I think you can see that employee use of the Internet may be cut off completely unless it can be justified, etc. Consider the case of an employee who uses a little bandwidth for personal reasons...

I think you can see where this can potentially lead. QoS is an issue not to be taken lightly and it extends far beyond carrier profits and service offerings.

Steve.
stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 4:06:54 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate Seven,

"1 - Bill per QoS as you say and then on a per packet basis charge for this QoS. This way they can send vanilla packets and premium packets using the same connection. This seems highly unlikely.

2 - Build services that never require anything other than Best Effort. This allows the current paradigm to stay in place.

3 - Bypass the Internet either with their own networks (like Google's WiFi network) or by creating special arrangements with Broadband Access Network Providers."

The only one that actually makes sense is your #1. #2 is being used for voice and video in real time but their performance isn't what it could be.

#3 would require Google, et. al. to build their own worldwide networks (not going to happen) and, where they connect to other carriers, have QoS enabled on those segments (including the last mile) to provide those service levels. The point being that they will still need QoS implemented according to your #1 to guarantee service.

Here is the real issue: If even one network segment along the path is QoS-enabled, the traffic will be affected. If even one network segment is not QoS-enabled along the path the overall quality cannot be guaranteed end-to-end.

The obvious scenario here is that RBOCs will provide premium traffic end-to-end on their networks, including the last mile, and will not guarantee anything that does not begin and end on their network. Sounds like Skype-to-Skype-type service offerings are on the way once again.

Steve.
mr zippy 12/5/2012 | 4:06:53 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate IP is non deterministic = bad for latency sensitive apps such as streaming voice/video.

I think the large number of VoIP and Video calls that have been going on over the Internet over the the last few years contradict that. QoS is pretty easy to achieve - all you need to do is ensure that applications have a level of buffering to smooth out jitter, have the application codecs adjust to the varying levels congestion, and ensure that IP packets are delivered just before they're needed.

I suggest Christian Huitema's chapter on QoS in his book "Routing In the Internet", which discusses why reserved bandwidth and virtual circuits aren't needed.

stephencooke 12/5/2012 | 4:06:52 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate dh44,

Perhaps I didn't explain myself well...

This has virtually nothing to do with technology or network provisioning. This has to do with applications (including viruses & worms, etc.) communicating on the Internet via high priority traffic levels (ie: they cost extra money on a per packet basis).

When things cost money (ie: not a single monthly fee like all-you-can-eat DSL but extra charges like long distance on your phone) people will find ways to write viruses to use high-priced bandwidth that will leave unsuspecting consumers with nasty bills. Similarly, employers will choose to limit the extra charges that they have to pay for anything that does not go parcel post (ie: best effort). If employees use an application that sets the traffic priority to high then the company will have extra charges depending on their contracts. If this is a personal exploit there may be firings involved.

If it is the applications that set their relative traffic priority level, in corporations at least, there will have to be accounting justification for these extra charges, if any. etc.

There is an enormous can of worms that will be opened with implementation of QoS. It is similar to a recent quote in the Times that someone said the P2P movement was entirely founded on a premise that turned out to be illegal. The similarity is that everyone's attitudes towards the Internet were founded on essentially free traffic bandwidth. QoS will change that in a big way.

Steve.
rjs 12/5/2012 | 4:06:52 AM
re: Cerf's Up for Neutrality Debate This thing about QoS and billing is like
reinventing the wheel. It is a RED HERRING being thrown by ILECs.

The ILECs and RBOCs are making an issue out of
something that is currently handled in a third world country like India.

Simple ... bill the way the Electric (and gas) utilities have done for the past 120 years. On peak power and total energy (KW-Hr). For broadband it translates into Mb/S and GBytes. This will naturarlly make internet paid for.
And monitoring these two metrics and billing for it is something mundane. As an example, currently, I have a maximum upload speed of 385 Kbps capped by the provider and unlimited Bytes.

If I know that I will pay a hefty penalty for
going over my limit, whether it is Mb/s download/upload or the max bytes transfered,
I - the end user will self-monitor. Case in point, cellphones! Everybody knows how dearly it will cost them if they go over their time limit. I don't see cell phone companies complaining and whining like the RBOCs and ILECs. Ironic since most cellphone companies are majority owned by the RBOCs. The cellphone companies in GSM world are doing quite well providing the basic transport services.

There is no need to get rid of net neutrality just because a few badly run companies feel they are entitled to more profits to hide their inefficiencies.

-RJS


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