June 2014
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About the whole Net Neutrality thing

The Internet

The Internet

I suppose it comes down to asking the question; who owns the internet?  For that, there is no easy answer.  In order to clarify the question a little more, just what exactly is the internet?  So this is from wikipedia:

The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link several billion devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of millions of private, public, academic, business, and government networks, of local to global scope, that are linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies

That sums up the technical aspect fairly well. Thus, TCP/IP protocol stack seems to be intricate in the design and operation of the internet. The internet protocol suit was developed by ARPA (now DARPA or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as a way to link computers together across multiple OS’s and network types. It works very well. TCP/IP and related protocols are open source and are maintained by the IETF or Internet Engineering Task Force which is a standards organization.

Thus far, it looks like the software that runs the internet was developed with tax payer money, therefore, by way of reason, we paid for it, we own it.

However, this does not consider the physical infrastructure that makes the connection; the cables, routers and data centers that make the whole thing work. That infrastructure was installed and maintained by corporations, AKA “big data.” Companies with names like ATT, Verizon, Cogent, Sprint/Softbank, Century Quest, Global Crossings/Level Three, and NTT/Vireo. This is known as the information infrastructure. Again from Wikipedia, which sums the term up nicely as:

An information infrastructure is defined as a shared, evolving, open, standardized, and heterogeneous installed base of the people, processes, procedures, tools, facilities, and technology which supports the creation, use, transport, storage, and destruction of information.

The ownership of the physical infrastructure is a little more dicey because the US government has subsidized with tens or perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars of tax payer money. See also: Universal Service Fund.  It is difficult to nail down the exact figure because there so are many different programs, most having to do with broadband deployment.

To muddy the waters a little bit further, there is the Title I or Title II question.  Under telecommunications act of 1996, Title I services are defined as informational, which means optional.  Title II services are defined as telecommunications, or common carrier e.g. things like the PSTN (public switched telephone network or POTS).  It becomes a question of being a regulated monopoly or an unregulated monopoly.  Naturally, corporations shun regulations, so they desire strongly to be classified as Title I unless subsides are available then they like Title II.

In light of Verizon‘s (and others) desire to dump the old copper PSTN network in favor of fiber to premises (AKA FiOS) do they not also become Title II providers by default?  VoIP telephone service, whether through FiOS or the cable company is becoming the default in many places.  The Internet, like other utility services has gone beyond “informational” classification to the needed and necessary to do business category.

Cable and other wired networks, which own “natural monopolies” of broadband facilities either need to be regulated as such or loose their monopoly status through unregulated competition.  There are other ways to deliver broadband internet to business and residential customers.

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6 comments to About the whole Net Neutrality thing

  • John W

    If I may humbly weigh in:

    1. I believe that the majority of cable and POTS wire were installed via US Government granted monopolies. The US Governments (Federal, State, and local) have throughout the years made deals with various companies that allowed them to be the sole-provider for specific areas, thus eliminating free market competition. Without the pressures of free market competition for the wires (and thus the ISPs feeding the wires), consumer’s voices are vastly diminished and all but ignored. This entire debate over “Net Neutrality” would have already been solved by consumer’s demands (one way or the other) had the Governments not interfered with the free market.

    2. I personally don’t believe in the concept of the Government forcing all ISPs to treat all data packets equally.
    First and foremost, doing so is akin to hitting your home’s thermostat full force with a hammer in hopes of adjusting it up or down one notch.
    Second (and more importantly), certain data traveling through the internet really does need to have higher priority than other data. I speak mainly of real-time audio and video. Data that is _generated_ in real-time and _consumed_ in real-time (as opposed to pre-recorded stuff than can be easily buffered at the point of consumption) should indeed be given a “faster lane” on the internet.
    Third, I think we can all agree that there are many types of data that are not time-critical, and could easily be put in the “slow lane” on the internet without significant impact.

    3. Now, having made the first two points, I’ll say this: Given our current state of the internet (a messed up collection of monopolies and rather outdated regulations), I am not in favor of allowing effective monopolies the right to start _charging customers money_ to “put them on the fast lane on the internet”. If all of the companies that comprise the whole internet were competing in a free and open market, then I would agree that they could _try_ anything they wanted. (I say “try” because true competition between providers would then put the consumers back into the driver’s seat for prices/services, including any data prioritization, or lack thereof.)

    So, in summary, I am not in favor of “Net Neutrality” as proposed. I am, however, in favor of allowing data packet prioritization for clearly technical reasons. But if ISPs are permitted to do such prioritizations, I don’t favor allowing them to charge extra money for it.

  • Chris

    Verizon wants to switch from copper (POTS) to Fiber (FiOS). Since the telephone (voice) service is the same, the telephone (voice) portion is classified as Title II and doesn’t change.

  • Paul Thurst

    John: I agree with you on most of your points. My preference would be to get away from the regulated (or “Natural”) monopoly model in favor of a competitive market place. Secondly, the point you make for giving data packets priority based on technical criteria already exists with the QoS flag. This is mostly used for VoIP and AoIP applications.

    Regarding the so called “fast lanes.” This is a bit of a misnomer as it appears traffic shaping would be used to create the “fast lanes.” With traffic shaping, bandwidths and data rates can be reduced below the capacity of the link being used, but cannot be increase above the link capacity. Thus, traffic that is flowing along a 10 GB fiber link without impediment today would be shaped based on a payment plan. Non-payees would see their speeds decrease while paying users traffic would stay the same.

    Chris: correct, except now the “telecommunications” and the “informational” (Title II and I respectively) are now traveling on the same infrastructure which is being subsidized by the government. As such, it should all be classified at “telecommunications.”

  • John W

    Paul: While the QoS flag does exist, it’s one of those good ideas that just plain fails. That’s because its value is controllable at the source, and we humans can’t resist the temptation of abusing that flag to increase our data’s priority for no good reason. (i.e. When people discovered that VoIP packets had a higher priority than plain data, they started using that protocol to transfer non-video data just because they could get a faster transfer.) Unfortunately at this point I don’t see any good/fair way to prevent QoS flag abuse that doesn’t involve lots of laws and the creation of an “internet data-packet police”.

    So how do we give a higher priority to a VoIP stream when there’s a life-threatening situation going on between, say, NASA and the ISS? Or someone hurt in a car accident and OnStar? Traffic shaping, based on pre-designated subdomains seems to be about the only reasonable way. Yeah, it’s a ham-fisted solution, but what other options do we have?

    And like I stated, I certainly would not allow these Government-subsidized monopolies the charge _more_ for such data prioritization or traffic shaping services. They must not be allowed to maintain the same service prices while _reducing_ throughput speeds due to any new traffic shaping implementations on their existing lines. If any of these types of ISPs want to begin traffic shaping, they need to first add new lines to increase their speed/capacity so that current customers see no changes. And even then I’d still oppose allowing such monopolies to charge customers extra fees to use such “fast lanes”.

  • Paul Thurst

    John: The QoS flag is not something that can be easily switched on an off. It is set at the application layer (layer 7 or 4 depending on the model) on the datagram header and passed down to layer 3, where it is set on the packet. Those packets are framed up and routed over ethernet. Each interim router strips off the incoming frame, reads the source and destination IP address, then reframes the packet and sends it out the appropriate port. I know of no application or program where the user can surreptitiously set the QoS flag, sysadmins and programmers are specifically warned against doing this.

    Running a second set of physical cabling and infrastructure to accommodate a “fast lane” is not feasible (nor is it necessary) for several reasons. Segregating internet traffic based on source IP addresses opens up a whole new area for abuse of monopolistic power. It starts a slide down a very slippery slope and sets up yet another pay to play scenario which will limit innovation and stifle start ups.

  • Stephen Donovan

    Some devices will allow manipulation of the dscp tags. Also, and I do this in my network to standardize tagging, I can use mangle rules in my mikrotik routers to detect certain traffic (udp 10000-20000) and tag it appropriately (dscp 46). I do this across my backbone network and at customer edge. This insures consistent tagging especially with customer provided Voip services and equipment that may or may not tag properly.

    With several simple rules in every access router in the network, core routers and edge routers, I’m able to offer a very robust voice service to my customers, even on wireless last mile while maintaining priority for other voice services if my customers so choose to use them.

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