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Van Schewick’s View of Net Neutrality and Quality of Service

Network Quality of Service (QoS) is the technical issues that lurks behind the policy issue of net neutrality. While there are many subtle variations of net neutrality, the concept as a whole comes from the idea that the Internet should have a “soft middle” that exerts little or no influence over the behavior of users and applications, and a very robust set of services at the edge that handle all the problems of congestion, charging, and innovation. This distinction is the point of the “end-to-end arguments” that seek to encourage designers of distributed systems to build vague and general systems in which all application-specific features are added as late as possible to the design. If elections were structured according the end-to-end arguments, there would not be any primaries, voters would simply select from a list of 50 candidates in the general (perhaps using some form of multiple-choice voting.)

The earliest papers on net neutrality, most notably Tim Wu’s “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination” and Atkinson and Weiser’s “A Third Way on Net Neutrality” carefully distinguished the Internet’s behavior from the behavior of the individual networks that compose

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VoIP Provider Files Net Neutrality Complaint Against a Government Utility

Irony of ironies: The very first complaint filed with the FCC under its Open Internet rules comes from an innovative VoIP provider against a government-owned municipal utility:

A Florida VoIP carrier has filed a net neutrality complaint against a Georgia utility and broadband provider, after the utility accused the VoIP firm of theft of service for using its network to deliver voice service without paying for it.
via VoIP Provider Files Net Neutrality Complaint With FCC | PCWorld Business Center. At David Isenberg's Freedom To Connect conference in Washington this week, advocates of Internet Openness Susan Crawford, Vint Cerf, and Michael Copps have been touting a public utility model of network ownership while real public utilities are stifling real innovation in the real world. Don't look too close. This case mirrors the Madison River complaint that led the FCC to adopt its initial Internet Policy Statement in 20006, except that the rural phone company that has committed the alleged offense in this case is publicly owned.

"Data Cap" - A Man Wearing a Cap Reading "DATA"

Comcast Raises Invisible Data Cap

In what’s going to be seen as a response to strategic criticism, Comcast has raised the consumption cap on its residential broadband service plans from 250 GB per month to 300, the first increase since the cap was adopted in 2008. The increase is unlikely to be noticed by actual Comcast customers because the 250 GB cap wasn’t a problem. The increase hasn’t muted Netflix’ poorly-founded complaints of mistreatment.

Comcast has been criticized recently for its 250GB monthly limit on total downloads by residential broadband customers. Netflix complains that the limit is applied arbitrarily in order to keep it from growing. The Netflix complaints have been echoed by so-called public interest advocates Free Press and Public Knowledge, by the tech bloggers who generally take a hard line against networking companies such as GigaOm’s Stacey Higgenbotham, Ars Technica’s Timothy B. Lee and Nate Anderson, and the shy piracy advocates who post anonymously at TorrentFreak.

The Netflix argument is that 250 GB is so low that it discourages potential customers from using its service in favor of competing services such as the Comcast Video-on-Demand (VOD) service (operating through

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Swiss National Park

Greenpeace Misses the Forest for the Trees

This week, Greenpeace came out with a report that takes several IT companies – Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – to task for relying on so-called dirty energy to power their data centers. Even disregarding the fact that the report, How Clean is Your Cloud?, inexplicably puts nuclear power on par with coal power as an unclean energy source, Greenpeace’s analysis ironically misses the forest for the trees. While it is indeed unfortunate that some IT companies and businesses in general may derive their energy from undesirable sources, the underlying issue of real importance is that clean energy is too expensive.

ITIF said as much last year when commenting on the release of a similar Greenpeace study:

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botnet example

DNS Integrity in the Real World

Those who followed the SOPA and Protect IP copyright law debate in December and January will recall an argument raised by certain members of the tech sector to the effect that enlisting the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) in the fight against pirated goods would undermine Internet security. While the SOPA critics said that it’s OK to use DNS blacklists to prevent access to malware sites, sites that sell Hollywood movies without license have an entirely different character.

Critics also argued that beside all of that, DNS blacklisting would be completely ineffective because users would simply shift from legitimate DNS services provided by their ISPs to rogue services operating offshore and outside the reach of U. S. law. Some critics, such as former Bush Administration official Stewart Baker, argued that without any user intervention at all Secure DNS would magically go “casting about the Internet” looking for rogue DNS services to reach the pirate video sites of the user’s preference.

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McAfee Pirated Content Graph

Piracy and Malware: Two Parts of a Single Problem

Compartmentalization is one of the things people do best. Life is complicated, so it’s a lot easier to deal with its troubles and travails in little pieces. As Scarlett O’Hara said when she lost Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind: “I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.” Compartmentalization plays a large role in both engineering and Internet policy. Engineers and policy makers can influence the nature of the Internet in countless ways by developing new features and enacting new policies that affect its overall behavior. On the one hand, we’re all tempted to make the Internet better by addressing its various shortcomings, and on the other we’re tempted to leave it alone because it’s produced so many benefits. So we tend to reserve our creativity for the problems that we deem most critical and leave the rest alone.  Besides, it’s hard to change the Internet, so every new feature or regulation is likely to cause side effects that we don’t like even if there are net benefits.

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DNS Filtering is an American Innovation

Paul Vixie and some of his fellow DNS experts have published a blog post in The Hill’s “Congress Blog” denouncing the DNS blacklisting feature of the rogue site bills currently working their way through Congress, PROTECT-IP and SOPA. In their view, DNS blacklisting is un-American:

[T]he debate over what we as a society ought to do about online piracy and infringement has gone into the weeds – so much so that bills now pending before both houses of the US Congress (S. 936, PIPA; and H.R. 3261, SOPA) seek to compel American Internet Service Providers to alter fundamentally the way their connected customers access the Domain Name System.

This type of mandated filtering is not an American innovation. Strong governments around the world use DNS filtering to signal their displeasure over all kinds of things they don’t like, whether it be untaxed online gambling, or pornography, or political dissent.

It’s interesting to contrast the view in this new blog post with a post Mr. Vixie published last February announcing the addition of a domain blacklisting feature to the Internet’s most popular DNS server software, BIND, a product maintained by

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Horse with Blinkers

Live Different: Susan Crawford’s Broadband Blinkers

An op-ed by Susan Crawford in last weekend’s New York Times Weekend Review paints a very peculiar picture of America’s broadband networks. Crawford claims, as she has for many years, that American broadband is a dire mess that can only be fixed by the government’s enacting sweeping new regulations on the way the networking business is structured. In particular, she wants Congress to require each network owner to sell wholesale services at a price set by the FCC under a system of “structural separation” that depresses investment in next-generation networks. Her diagnosis is faulty and her snatch-and-grab analysis – motivated more by a desire to reinforce an existing point of view than to understand current developments – causes her to misconstrue major new trends in network adoption, usage, and deployment.

The polemic begins with a superficial look at on-line retailing, arguing that the poor are unable to enjoy shopping deals because they lack wired broadband connections in their homes. The fact that the poor are not notoriously big spenders doesn’t perturb the conclusion: Crawford insists that poor people’s relatively high reliance on mobile networking cuts them off from digital shopping’s

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Playing Politics with the Internet

I suppose this was inevitable. The Internet Society, the non-profit that oversees the development of Internet technical standards and generally promotes Internet adoption, has decided to play politics. ISOC issued a press release last week commenting on the Arab Spring, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and efforts around the world to enlist technical help in dealing with the problem of Internet-enabled crime. As one might expect of good Western adherents of the principles of diversity, inclusion, and human rights, ISOC endorsed the view that the Internet only enables good things, so it has to be left alone by mere national governments concerned with petty “economic, security, or political objectives.”

In particular, the release took aim at the “DNS blocking and filtering” mechanisms that are used to limit spam and which have been proposed as means to limit access to malicious phishing sites, sites that sell counterfeit drugs, and those that deal in pirated movies. The release essentially equates these practices with surveillance technology and the suspension of Internet access.

Not only has ISOC departed from its mission in a very significant way, it has embarked on a slippery

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Want Better Public Safety Networking in America? Commercialize It

One of the hottest issues in mobile broadband policy today is the nature of the national public safety network that’s been under discussion since the 9/11 Commission examined the shortcomings in the systems currently used by first responders.  The Commission’s report highlighted the incompatibility of emergency response networks used by the Fire Department of New York, the Port Authority, and the New York Police Departments, recommending improved information sharing. Subsequently, Congress and the FCC have struggled with the problem of creating a unified, nationwide emergency response network that would replace the existing incompatible systems and enable first responders to act in concert with one another. Their conclusion is that the public safety network should employ the emerging LTE standard that’s in the process of rolling out on commercial mobile broadband networks operated by MetroPCS, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint in the U. S. and by other commercial carriers around the world.

Joshua Topolsky’s column in today’s Washington Post (“Want better wireless service in America? Socialize it”) describes an alternate reality in which cell phone callers can’t call their friends on different networks, can’t surf the Web, and can’t

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