Net neutrality regulation wouldn’t solve this problem

by on September 1, 2006 · 16 comments

Nearly 20 percent of Internet telephone test calls experienced unacceptable call quality over the last 18 months, according to Brix Networks. The company provides a free voice quality testing portal (TestYourVoIP.com) for measuring the quality of broadband Internet phone connections.

Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes interviewed Brix Chief Technology Officer Kaynam Hedayat about the findings:

Why the decline?

With the emergence of sites like YouTube, and music downloads and emails with large attachments, there is just more traffic on the Internet.

Why are phone calls so susceptible to Internet traffic increases?

Voice calls are very real-time-sensitive. If the other person’s voice drops off, you can’t carry on the conversation. It becomes like the old days when you called international over a satellite. The delays were so long that you had to say a sentence, pause a couple of seconds without saying anything, and then wait for a response from the other end.

If Congress enacts net neutrality regulation, network providers could prioritize VoIP services but they would have to do so on a nondiscriminatory basis. That means they’d have to act as a disinterested wholesaler, treating every retail provider of VoIP services, including their own affiliates, equally. Would they do that? Or would it be more profitable to let all VoIP services deteriorate so consumers place a higher value on traditional phone services? You be the judge.

P.S. To those who have extended a warm welcome, thank you.

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    FYI, this topic was addressed previously at TLF by James Gattuso here and by Richard Bennett here.

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    FYI, this topic was addressed previously at TLF by James Gattuso here and by Richard Bennett here.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis Villa

    Drivers: ‘There is too much highway traffic. Getting to work is slow.’
    TLF: ‘The clear answer is to let the highway authority choose when you leave for the office.’

    Or, you know, they could be encouraged to build more highway :)

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    OK, so how do you “encourage” a company to invest shareholder capital in a way that they’re all but guaranteed to get no return?

    That’s the $264 Billion question, Luis.

  • http://tieguy.org/ Luis Villa

    Drivers: ‘There is too much highway traffic. Getting to work is slow.’
    TLF: ‘The clear answer is to let the highway authority choose when you leave for the office.’

    Or, you know, they could be encouraged to build more highway :)

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    OK, so how do you “encourage” a company to invest shareholder capital in a way that they’re all but guaranteed to get no return?

    That’s the $264 Billion question, Luis.

  • Ned Ulbricht

    [W]ould it be more profitable to let all VoIP services deteriorate so consumers place a higher value on traditional phone services?

    The ability to profitably reduce output may indicate market power in an antitrust analysis.

  • Ned Ulbricht

    [W]ould it be more profitable to let all VoIP services deteriorate so consumers place a higher value on traditional phone services?

    The ability to profitably reduce output may indicate market power in an antitrust analysis.

  • http://abstractfactory.blogspot.com/ Cog

    This has been discussed before. Ars Technica also had some interesting things to say.

    If you read the previous TLF thread, you’ll notice Richard makes some points about QoS that I will reply to here, since they’re relevant to this post as well:

    (1) Once again, ISPs in other nations have been able to roll out much faster connections at much lower prices without packet shaping. This objective fact flies in the face of any theorizing about the need for packet shaping to make high-bandwidth connections economical. There are certainly situations when overprovisioning isn’t possible, but that’s not what’s holding back cheap high-bandwidth connections to homes in metropolitan areas (i.e., a large supermajority of homes in the USA).

    (2) Re: bandwidth vs. jitter, in theory these are distinct. However, in practice, as Felten points out, the distinction can be a matter of degree rather than scale. Jitter on seconds-long scales matters for VoIP; jitter on minutes-long scales matters for web browsing. We appear to have largely solved the latter problem, however accidentally, without any real QoS mechanism… by overprovisioning bandwidth.

    (3) Even if QoS solves the jitter problem in the short term, it’s unclear that building such mechanisms into the fabric of the network will be better in the long term. QoS increases the complexity of the system and gives network providers power to discriminate among applications; both of these have costs that must be borne by future innovators of both the network layers and the applications layer. In the long run it might be better to keep the network simple, keep the applications layer decoupled, and just overprovision.

    (4) Overlay networks may be able to solve many of the problems that network-layer QoS claims to solve. If the contention’s in the interior of the network, an overlay network can route around it. If the contention’s on the last hop, network-layer QoS wouldn’t help you anyway. Overlay networks can also do caching and other smart stuff that Richard would like to build into the network fabric itself.

    Now, I’m not saying that network-layer QoS is worthless. My point is only that the technical case in favor of network-layer QoS is far from a slam dunk.

    In an ideal world, we would have robust competition and let everybody try whatever they want. We don’t live in an ideal world. Truthfully, I don’t know what to do, but for the moment I’m glad that the network companies are too scared of regulation to put their packet shaping schemes into practice. I don’t want Qwest to choke down my Skype connection so they can offer me Qwest VoIP at $20 a month.

  • http://abstractfactory.blogspot.com/ Cog

    This has been discussed before. Ars Technica also had some interesting things to say.

    If you read the previous TLF thread, you’ll notice Richard makes some points about QoS that I will reply to here, since they’re relevant to this post as well:

    (1) Once again, ISPs in other nations have been able to roll out much faster connections at much lower prices without packet shaping. This objective fact flies in the face of any theorizing about the need for packet shaping to make high-bandwidth connections economical. There are certainly situations when overprovisioning isn’t possible, but that’s not what’s holding back cheap high-bandwidth connections to homes in metropolitan areas (i.e., a large supermajority of homes in the USA).

    (2) Re: bandwidth vs. jitter, in theory these are distinct. However, in practice, as Felten points out, the distinction can be a matter of degree rather than scale. Jitter on seconds-long scales matters for VoIP; jitter on minutes-long scales matters for web browsing. We appear to have largely solved the latter problem, however accidentally, without any real QoS mechanism… by overprovisioning bandwidth.

    (3) Even if QoS solves the jitter problem in the short term, it’s unclear that building such mechanisms into the fabric of the network will be better in the long term. QoS increases the complexity of the system and gives network providers power to discriminate among applications; both of these have costs that must be borne by future innovators of both the network layers and the applications layer. In the long run it might be better to keep the network simple, keep the applications layer decoupled, and just overprovision.

    (4) Overlay networks may be able to solve many of the problems that network-layer QoS claims to solve. If the contention’s in the interior of the network, an overlay network can route around it. If the contention’s on the last hop, network-layer QoS wouldn’t help you anyway. Overlay networks can also do caching and other smart stuff that Richard would like to build into the network fabric itself.

    Now, I’m not saying that network-layer QoS is worthless. My point is only that the technical case in favor of network-layer QoS is far from a slam dunk.

    In an ideal world, we would have robust competition and let everybody try whatever they want. We don’t live in an ideal world. Truthfully, I don’t know what to do, but for the moment I’m glad that the network companies are too scared of regulation to put their packet shaping schemes into practice. I don’t want Qwest to choke down my Skype connection so they can offer me Qwest VoIP at $20 a month.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Luis: Exactly! I had made the same metaphor, of the internet to the highway on several other posts here, they seem not like those, and I don’t think they like your either, though.

    Also, note that no one at TLF has ever been able to respond to my question about the already observed problems that arise without net neutrality, like these:

    - In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

    - In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute. (Welcome to the world of CORPORATE FASCISM),

    - Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.

    - In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned http://www.dearaol.com – an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

    This type of censorship and repression of individual liberties by large corporations will become the norm unless we act now. Given the chance, these gatekeepers will consistently put their own interests before the public good.

    I have repeatedly asked Tim Lee on several other posts to respond to the question: Given the above facts, how would you prevent these kinds of abuses, without regulation?

    So Hance Haney would you care to attempt a response, where Tim Lee would dare not to tread?

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Luis: Exactly! I had made the same metaphor, of the internet to the highway on several other posts here, they seem not like those, and I don’t think they like your either, though.

    Also, note that no one at TLF has ever been able to respond to my question about the already observed problems that arise without net neutrality, like these:

    - In 2004, North Carolina ISP Madison River blocked their DSL customers from using any rival Web-based phone service.

    - In 2005, Canada’s telephone giant Telus blocked customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to the Telecommunications Workers Union during a labor dispute. (Welcome to the world of CORPORATE FASCISM),

    - Shaw, a big Canadian cable TV company, is charging an extra $10 a month to subscribers in order to “enhance” competing Internet telephone services.

    - In April, Time Warner’s AOL blocked all emails that mentioned http://www.dearaol.com – an advocacy campaign opposing the company’s pay-to-send e-mail scheme.

    This type of censorship and repression of individual liberties by large corporations will become the norm unless we act now. Given the chance, these gatekeepers will consistently put their own interests before the public good.

    I have repeatedly asked Tim Lee on several other posts to respond to the question: Given the above facts, how would you prevent these kinds of abuses, without regulation?

    So Hance Haney would you care to attempt a response, where Tim Lee would dare not to tread?

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Enigma, not only have I addressed those examples before, but I’ve even pointed that link out to you before.

    The AOL incident has been acknowledged by all concerned to be an honest mistake on AOL’s part. Nothing regulation can do about that, unless you want to ban spam filters. I haven’t been able to find any details on the Shaw incident. But even if that example is more credible than the other three, I think it’s striking that the best example the pro-regulatory folks can come up with didn’t even happen in the United States.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim

    Enigma, not only have I addressed those examples before, but I’ve even pointed that link out to you before.

    The AOL incident has been acknowledged by all concerned to be an honest mistake on AOL’s part. Nothing regulation can do about that, unless you want to ban spam filters. I haven’t been able to find any details on the Shaw incident. But even if that example is more credible than the other three, I think it’s striking that the best example the pro-regulatory folks can come up with didn’t even happen in the United States.

  • http://cs-willy.com/overlooked/ Scott Willy

    “nondiscriminatory basis” does not necessarily mean free.

    Network providers could prioritize VoIP services and charge for the service, but they would have to do so on a nondiscriminatory basis.

    This could be more profitable than treating their customers like crap and let all VoIP services deteriorate .

  • http://cs-willy.com/overlooked/ Scott Willy

    “nondiscriminatory basis” does not necessarily mean free.

    Network providers could prioritize VoIP services and charge for the service, but they would have to do so on a nondiscriminatory basis.

    This could be more profitable than treating their customers like crap and let all VoIP services deteriorate .

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