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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Richard Bennett & George Ou filings on network management
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I wanted to make sure that everyone saw the filings that Richard Bennett and George Ou made this week to the FCC in the proceedings regarding broadband network management policies. They are excellent. I thought I'd clip a few of the highlights here, but make sure to read them all the way through.

Here's some of what Richard had to say:

The four prongs of the Policy Statement do not include a “right to be free of delay” or a “right to infinite bandwidth”, and in the real world someones ox must be gored when the load offered to a network segment exceeds its capacity. Hence, the petition for declaratory ruling must be rejected. [...] So this is the choice that Comcast has on its network of today: should it allow a handful of BitTorrent users to degrade the performance of VoIP and web users to the point of distraction, or should it limit the bandwidth that BitTorrent users can consume? This is not a hard choice to make, and the only interesting implications it has concern methods employed and obligations for disclosure owing to the customer. [...] If ISPs have the freedom to experiment with different methods and business models, and consumers have reasonably broad choices, the market will sort this matter out. Hence the policy priority should be the promotion of market-based competition between Fiber, DOCSIS, DSL, and wireless. [...] It's worthwhile to point out that Internet2 schools practice traffic shaping and policing on their campus networks, for the same reasons that public carriers such as Comcast do: it's not economically feasible to build networks around the excessive bandwidth appetites of a few users. [...] There are alternative methods and policies that may be employed by ISPs to address problems of network congestion and overload; the market should decide among these, not the government.

Here's some of what George had to say:

Given the fact that the petitioners don’t actually dispute the right of Comcast or any other network provider to reasonably manage their network and throttle down excessive uploaders, the only thing in dispute is the methodology used to achieve these goals. I’ve highlighted all the proposed alternatives along with the pros and cons of each solution and I’m confident that the one already in use by Comcast is the least intrusive, least expensive, and most practical way of dealing with the realities of a DOCSIS 1.1 broadband network.

Market forces in the form of competition are forcing Comcast to upgrade to a much higher performance and more symmetrical DOCSIS 3.0 network and that is a win for the consumer. But regardless of how fast the network is, there will always be a need for practical network management solutions that ensure per-user fairness and not per-session fairness. The last thing we should do is force Comcast to implement more expensive and/or less fair traffic management schemes that at best wastes money and at worst degrade performance for consumers who are using far less than their fair share of bandwidth.

Again, make sure to read both filings. Also, over on his blog, Richard highlights some of other filings in the matter.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:54 AM | Broadband , Net Neutrality

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We disagree on NN, although I respect those who fear getting the government involved will just make worse problems. But there's a lot of misinformation being spread, and some of it seems to have influenced your colleagues.

Comcast filed that the traffic shaping is "needed" and George writes "there will always be a need for practical network management solutions that ensure per-user fairness and not per-session fairness." That turns out not to be true. The best evidence is that neither the largest U.S. provider (AT&T) or third largest (Verizon) do anything like the Comcast traffic shaping. Their top officials have said that won't change.

The first question here is empirical: can Comcast add enough bandwidth to virtually eliminate this problem at a reasonable cost? Since AT&T and Verizon have done it and report strong profits on their broadband service, the cost cannot be too high. In fact, I've calculated that the added cost to virtually eliminate congestion on a network like Comcast's is likely close to 10 cents/month/subscriber. That won't guarantee getting through during massive peaks like 9/11 or multiple cable breaks, but means 99+% of the time I can watch digital quality TV from ABC or NBC.

That doesn't mean NN is necessarily right. While the cost in this instance is small, it's not zero. Regulation always has a downside. But other networks without caps have proven the realworld traffic can be handled, so the argument "you must shape for any network" should be pulled off the table.

Ironically, Comcast provides the information that working without shaping is very practical. Their filing pointed out that they have no need for it on their downstream, because the bandwidth they have is more than sufficient. Similar is true in DSL and fiber networks, and will be true on the cable upstream as DOCSIS 3.0 deploys. Ordinary node splitting, etc. can pretty much solve the problem meantime at a "reasonable" cost.

As you know, I'm always happy to share information if I have it. Let's all work towards "evidence-based policy" and "falsifiable claims," empirically informed. I think it's particularly important in D.C., where nine out of ten voices support the lobbyist's line and rarely have the depth to check further. There's much less money for those simply looking for the facts and public interest, so the voices are much weaker. I call it "publication bias" - the typical "nonpartisan" event in D.C. has a majority of the speakers taking significant money fromthe providers.

I think we all want to do better, whether right or left.


Posted by: Dave Burstein at February 16, 2008 3:06 AM

I doubt that a dime a month is going to make Comcast safe for BitTorrent.

Posted by: Richard Bennett at February 22, 2008 7:05 PM

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