End-to-End vs. What can you spend?

by on January 7, 2009 · 29 comments

fireshot-capture-64-verizon-i-high-speed-internet_-plans-www22_verizon_com_residential_highspeedinternet_plans_plans_htmI’m re-reading Tim Lee’s excellent and very long paper on network neutrality, “The Durable Internet.”  It’s excellent partly because it’s such a long read—it’s exhaustive in addressing all the issues surrounding the neutrality debate.

With all the great writing—like Tim’s paper—available on the topic, I can’t understand why so many people who write about technology are still confused on the issue of neutrality.  If neutrality is to be understood as some form of the end-to-end principle with a bit of marketing-speak slathered on top, then how can people continue to conflate it with something as basic as differing levels of service from ISPs?

The latest example is Dan Costa writing in the last print edition of PC Magazine.  While Costa’s basic point is correct—he says it’s fair to charge people who use more bandwidth more money for their Internet connection—he seems to think it might be non-neutral.  Sure, it’s non-uniform pricing, but it’s not a violation of net neutrality.

I agree with Costa that it makes sense to charge consumers for what they consume.  To argue this is impermissible would be to argue against the basic principle of fairness.  As Costa says in his column, “Can’t we all agree that my mom and I shouldn’t be paying the same price for broadband?”

The neutrality debate has become a confused mishmash of legitimate concerns over network management practices and the cries of folks who think broadband should be free, or the same low low price for everyone.  I think it’d be great if everyone writing on the matter read Tim’s paper, read the other side of the issue over at places like Free Press, and started speaking sense on the topic.

For geek news gluttons, there’s more to say about Costa’s column, like the TOS of Sprint’s XOHM service, but I’ll leave that to the for those of you who don’t mind long windedness. (Like those of you who actually read Tim’s treatise on neutrality.)  I talk more about Costa’s column at OpenMarket.org.

  • http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~tblee Tim Lee

    Thanks for the plug, Cord!

  • Ryan Radia

    Some neutrality proponents are cooking up a new definition of net neutrality: treating every bit equal, Internet-related or not.

    For instance, when a company that provides both video and Internet service over an packet-switched network maintains a more favorable usage cap for its own video content compared to Internet traffic, that's a net neutrality violation in the eyes of some. Or an antitrust violation, at the very minimum.

    The reasoning behind this argument is that when Comcast caps traffic at 250GB but doesn't apply that cap to OnDemand viewing, it is discriminating against bandwidth-intensive online video services and thereby implicitly favoring its own in-house offering that it wants people to pay extra for.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    Tim discusses this in his paper. It's an absurd idea and will never, ever become law. There are too many Congressman with cable companies and cable company workers in their districts. This is one case where home district interests are good!

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

    Let's consult Tim Lee's favorite research source, Wikipedia:

    “Network neutrality (equivalently net neutrality, Internet neutrality) is a principle proposed for residential broadband networks and potentially for all networks. A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content, sites, or platforms, on the kinds of equipment that may be attached, and on the modes of communication allowed, as well as one where communication is not unreasonably degraded by other communication streams.”

    Hence, neutral broadband is clearly within scope, and broadband that's just as friendly to Google TV as to Comcast TV is a covered scenario.

    This isn't a new definition, it's been in Wikipedia in some form or another since 2006.

  • Ryan Radia

    Wikipedia's definition may not have changed, but the interpretation certainly has. How do you define a “residential broadband network”? Or a “restriction on content'? Until recently, net neutrality was generally considered applicable solely to Internet connections. Now, the totality of residential pipes are subject to neutrality in the eyes of some activists. To me, this signals an evolution of the debate from one focused on Internet access to one encompassing all home data pipes.

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

    Residential broadband is the first mile network, Ryan, at least that's what I had in mind when I wrote that part of the Wikipedia entry. The debate that raged among technical people at the time was whether Internet-based TV services would be allowed to compete with cable-based TV services. Recall Whiteacre's remark about Google and Vonage “using his pipes for free” and Bill Smith's offer of a fast lane for a fee, and it all makes a bit of sense. Google is now openly angling for a place on the cable, and Lessig, the patron saint of end-to-end misapplication says he wanted that all along.

    Washington is finally catching up with the debate.

  • http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~tblee Tim Lee

    Wait, so your evidence is a Wikipedia passage you wrote in 2006?

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

    Not exactly, Tim, but thanks for the insight.

    BTW, I was wondering where the evidence is for this: “The end-to-end principle gave the Internet important technical and economic advantages that helped it to outpace its rivals and become the world’s dominant communications network.”

    It reads like an article of faith.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    I thought Tim explained this pretty clearly in his paper. If it was that sentence by itself it would seem like an article of faith, but Tim lays out how being able to use many different devices and applications helped the Internet grow. Perhaps not as thorough an explanation as possible, but it was only a thirty page paper.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    Richard are you saying that network neutrality properly defined and made into law would immediately make traditional phone service and cable TV illegal?

    Much of the last mile of the Internet is running over legacy phone and cable networks, so it would be illegal for Comcast to choose its cable TV service over any other traffic. Same with DSL lines that also provide traditional POTS telephone service.

    That sort of implementation of network neutrality would be needlessly destructive and it wouldn't recognize the difference between Internet traffic–as in something using TCP/IP, running over routers, using DNS, etc–and completely separate technologies utilizing the same physical wire.

    Using some on the available bandwidth to push out cable TV service isn't the same as blocking sites, slowing some applications, or other non-neutral practices. It's allocating the bandwidth for an entirely different, non-Internet service, which should be perfectly legal.

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

    This is why there's a debate, Cord. One large element of the NN lobby seeks a wholesale network access mandate based on shifting broadband from title I to title II.

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

    I don't see any evidence at all that's relevant to the bald assertion. It's taken for granted in the Berkman orbit that a magic principle makes the Internet fly, but I've yet to find an actual step-by-step argument for it.

  • http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~tblee Tim Lee

    I devote two pages to this, discussing email and the web as examples of applications whose introduction can be credited to the Internet's end-to-end architecture. If those examples don't count as evidence, I'm not sure what would be.

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

    In order to make an argument for the magic architecture, you need to show examples of applications that not only don't exist on other architectures but *can't* exist outside the Magic Place. E-mail is certainly not such an application, as it's been implemented across a wide range of network architectures for over 100 years.

    The web itself is a simply a series of file transfers, which all architectures support. So no, you don't make an argument, and neither do the Berkmanites who invented the magic architecture notion.

  • Brett Glass

    No one actually knows what “network neutrality” is. Each pundit seems to have his or her own distinct bundle of issues and views that define it, and none of the most vociferous ones have any actual experience in the provision of broadband service. It's time to drop the term, OBLITERATE it from serious forums, and then address each of the issues which has been dragged into the debate individually.

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

    That's an excellent idea, Brett, but it's like trying to take back something that's been said. The idea is out there, and by now it has all this history of use by people who don't really know what they're talking about and can't afford to admit it.

  • http://www.au.org Alan

    The problem with the notion of “network neutrality” is that it is an ideological or political slogan. It has enough meaning to convince and motivate a number of people in generally the same direction, but not enough meaning to leave out anyone who might potentially help the cause. To serve its purpose, a political slogan is, and must be, ambiguous and inclusive. And this makes it useless as a more specific regulatory term of art.

    This is why, as Cord said, some compromise on the notion of “network neutrality” is going to have to eventually be made. The mere attempt to understand what it means will ensure that “it” is compromised. This is also why a regulatory body with actual authority will have to come into existence to truly resolve this issue. A regulatory body that defines specific, enforceable rules that are governed by a process of procedural justice is the proper way for these concerns to be addressed reasonably and fairly for all.

  • http://www.au.org Alan

    RE: It's time to drop the term, OBLITERATE it from serious forums, and then address each of the issues which has been dragged into the debate individually.

    Bret, what exactly is a serious forum? Who exactly has credibility as someone experienced or knowledgeable in the provision of broadband service?

    In the end, the only serious forum is one that has the authority to discriminate amongst participants based on their technical credentials, not just their ideological stance, and has the authority to actually effect regulations based on a compromise of interests. This debate should be moved to such a “serious forum”, that is, it should be subject to a governmental regulatory process.

  • Brett Glass

    Alan, I'd define a “serious forum” as one where the ideas being developed there should be taken seriously or possibly be implemented.

    As for “someone experienced or knowledgeable in the provision of broadband service:” I'd daresay, that having run an independent Internet service provider for 16 years, I'd qualify. So would any of my colleagues.

    And before we rush headlong into an ill-advised a “governmental regulatory process,” better make sure that regulation is warranted in the first place. Most of the rationales put forth by advocates of various brands of “network neutrality,” for example, consist largely of falsehoods. For example, the arguments of pretty much all of the DC lobbyists (Free Press, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, etc.) begin with the false assertion that broadband service is a duopoly. This is, quite simply, a lie.

  • http://www.au.org Alan

    Brett, I don't doubt your qualifications. As far as a serious forum goes, a very real possibility of implementation would indeed quickly sober up the conversation. Which means having the conversation in the context of an actual regulatory agency with the authority to implement policy.

    As far as your assertion that the DC lobbyists are making false assertions, that's your opinion. From my point of view, you may be right, you may be wrong. If you want to make that case in a “serious forum” you might want to take a trip to “K street”.

  • Brett Glass

    Alan, it's not my OPINION that the DC lobbyists are making false opinions; it's FACT. What they are saying is provably and demonstrably false. For example, lawyer/lobbyist testified before Congress that there was a duopoly in broadband and that no competition existed. However — as Christopher Yoo, who fortunately was on the same panel, observed — I, a competitive ISP, was right there in the room. (She wasn't just trying to deny my existence to promote a bogus agenda– she was doing it to my face.) And there are thousands like me.

    As for K Street being a “serious forum” — I hope you're joking. They only thing that the lobbyists there are serious about is collecting money and then going out to deceive those in power.

  • Brett Glass

    Alan, it's not my OPINION that the DC lobbyists are making false opinions; it's FACT. What they are saying is provably and demonstrably false. For example, lawyer/lobbyist testified before Congress that there was a duopoly in broadband and that no competition existed. However — as Christopher Yoo, who fortunately was on the same panel, observed — I, a competitive ISP, was right there in the room. (She wasn't just trying to deny my existence to promote a bogus agenda– she was doing it to my face.) And there are thousands like me.

    As for K Street being a “serious forum” — I hope you're joking. They only thing that the lobbyists there are serious about is collecting money and then going out to deceive those in power.

  • Brett Glass

    Alan, it's not my OPINION that the DC lobbyists are making false opinions; it's FACT. What they are saying is provably and demonstrably false. For example, lawyer/lobbyist testified before Congress that there was a duopoly in broadband and that no competition existed. However — as Christopher Yoo, who fortunately was on the same panel, observed — I, a competitive ISP, was right there in the room. (She wasn't just trying to deny my existence to promote a bogus agenda– she was doing it to my face.) And there are thousands like me.

    As for K Street being a “serious forum” — I hope you're joking. They only thing that the lobbyists there are serious about is collecting money and then going out to deceive those in power.

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