2010 11 10

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Contents

Feature Cast for 2010-11-10

(00:00:16.623) Intro

(00:04:20.394) Listener Feedback

(00:06:16.705) Hacker Word of the Week: fireworks mode

(00:07:11.570) Rant: Network Neutrality

  • It is vitally important we all understand what is at stake with network neutrality
    • Concerns were sparked by some ISPs considering charging web sites and services operators
      • To build a toll only fast lane through the internet to their customers
    • Characterizing it as a free speech debate is entirely accurate
      • Even if the genesis of one side of the discourse is rooted in the market
    • No medium before the internet offers the same egalitarian level of access
    • An open democracy depends on the ability of its citizens to discuss and debate
      • Issues that affect them and the character of their society
    • It also relies on access to information, the stock and trade of the internet
      • Not only to inform public discourse but to help support the social welfare
    • Television and cable operators have traditionally had to comply with access rules
      • To furnish some rather poor resources to grant the public limited voice
    • Print has a marginally better history mostly through its roles as the 4th estate
    • There has been a tradition of representing the public interest
      • And giving voice to readers through letters to the editor and ombudsmen
    • None of these compare to network access which is like own your own broadcast tower
      • Or printing press
    • The means of speech and its distribution scale down to the individual
    • The cost to enter is as close to nothing as makes no odds
    • Most people probably don't readily equate the internet with free political speech
    • They might think more of point to point communicate like email
      • Or think of web sites as being a tool for use by someone else
    • When the net was opened up from solely academic use to commerce as well
      • That impression was probably fairly accurate
    • These days, though, setting up a web site to communicate whatever you want
      • Is not only incredibly easy but in many cases cheap
    • It is the only medium that has wholly undergone a shift
      • From supporting the speech of the few, the early adopters
      • To supporting free expression for anyone at all
    • Beyond blogs, many new serves have cropped up to support user generated content
    • All of that "content" is also speech, the same free expression protections are available
    • This is why the automatic copyright filtering and removal service on YouTube
      • For instance, is an especially problematic development
    • The even newer, social tools like Twitter and Facebook are all about speech
    • Facebook may be more closed than Twitter but lets you communicate beyond mere text
    • You can express all kinds of personal choices and ideology
      • By sharing your affinity with groups, people and topics
    • Twitter is like inviting millions of people into a more public space, like a town square
      • And handing every single one of them a megaphone
    • The amplification may be limited, mostly as a function of convincing people to follow you
      • But for users with very large audiences, their reach rivals concentrated, traditional media
    • To date, there has been no need for special rules to provide public access
    • The same resources online used by large media and commercial speakers
      • Have been just as easy to use for private individuals and public interest groups
      • And any initial divide based on early adopter costs have all but evaporated
    • The threat of ISPs discriminating for or against some speakers
      • Even if merely for commercial reasons directly erodes free speech
    • Imagine the network application you use being curtailed
      • Because an ISP felt that it competed too closely with its own offering
      • Or a service with which they've partnered
    • Expecting citizens to even know that ISPs are discriminating against the tools they use
      • Let alone that they would be able to access tools that are unfettered
        • Is both entirely unrealistic and contrary to the idea of open access
    • Jonathan Zittrain and Lawrence Lessig recently discussed the history of network neutrality
    • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman/2010/10/15/radio-berkman-165-jonathan-larry-take-on%e2%80%a6-net-neutrality/
    • Their conversation is a good but incomplete backgrounder to the issues at stake
    • The piece I think they missed was in how we went from open access
      • To hotly contested debates over who can control networks and why
    • The de-regulation of DSL is part of it but they don't speak to why that changed
    • Talking about modems and the new patterns of usage of telephone networks hints at it
    • The Baby Bells didn't have any other model though
      • Other than the one with which regulation had saddled them
    • As much as they may have wanted to tightly control using their infrastructure
      • In order to access the internet
    • I believe the cable companies were a trojan horse
      • Carrying some dangerous concepts leading directly to today's debate
  • We have an ingrained expectation of open access
    • Most of us don't realize it but telephone networks have a history of heavy regulation
    • Over 25 years ago, the Carterfone ruling set an expectation
    • The standard for devices was that they not harm the network
    • It established a divide between the network and the applications that ran on it
    • I would put this in the same context as the early subsidization of print media
    • The federal government here in the US provided cheap postage for newspapers
    • The idea is that the speech embodied in them was worth special privilege
      • To support a wide variety of printers catering to broader speech concerns
    • It is hard to compare early telephone only networks to print
      • Because telephony is point to point and print is a mass medium
    • Being able to attach new devices paved the way for the first modems
      • Which started to change the dynamic of what was possible on the phone network
    • The history around breaking up the original AT&T monopoly shows similar forces at work
    • Regulators acted to restore and improve consumer choice
    • When it comes to most discrete goods sold in the market
      • Competition does a good enough job ensuring choice
    • Telephone networks, like rail and telegraph before them
      • Defied the ability of the market to protect customer freedom
    • I'm sure there is a fancy economy theory about the high barrier to a second network
    • Once you have a telephone wire into your home or a rail depot in your town
      • It is prohibitively expensive for a second to be offered
    • The current ISP market matches this model
    • In my town, you can choose between the phone company and the cable company
    • The fact that there are two options is a historical accident
    • Most homes were wired for both because the wires originally didn't compete
    • I have a co-worker who got fed up with his cable internet and decided to switch
    • He was originally led to believe he could get competitive fiber optic service
      • But the telephone company only told him after his old service was disconnected
      • That their fiber based offering wasn't available in his neighborhood
    • Compare that to the ridiculous ease of switching long distance carriers
      • Back when long distance phone calls actually cost us something
    • As much as the telephone companies want us to believe they funded even this meager market
      • They were granted rights of way by local governments to be able
        • To bring their wires into our neighborhoods and cities in the first place
    • There is already a public interest there as those rights of way
      • Won't be granted again to another operator
    • In many ways, the old dial up model provided us with better choice
    • The owner of the phone line didn't have an interest in the contents of our calls
    • Calling a dial up based ISP was just like making any other call
    • Modems over copper lines turned out to have a limit
      • Far below what is genuinely useful for all but the simplest applications
    • When newer phone based technologies roled in
      • There were some nods to improved competitive access
        • But they were already much paler reflections of older policies of open access
    • What changed here? And how is that threatening our access to free speech?
  • Cable triggered the current conflict over open networks
    • Think about where and how these companies traditionally operated
    • They brought their own infrastructure into the home
      • To compete with over the air broadcast on quality
        • And offerings that the FCC wouldn't allow on public spectrum
    • They benefited from statutory licensing deals that allowed them
      • To re-transmit local broadcasts over their cables
    • The deal structures with which they are used to dealing are very different
    • Content was acquired through exclusivity and licensing fees
    • Cost was passed on to the consumer in tiers of subscription feeds
    • You could opt in for basic cable or pay to get 2nd run movie content
      • And then eventually original and exclusive programming
    • From friends who've worked on the cable network
      • Specifically when they first started offering internet access
      • I've heard it explained that they invested huge profits in over building their network
    • No doubt some of that was on speculation, for ideas like interactive TV that didn't pan out
      • And newer ideas like on demand programming that finally did work well
    • When they broke into the internet access space, cable networks had never been used
      • To provide any kind of telecommunications services
    • What regulatory authority there was dealt with different kinds of issues
      • Like equal access and public access
      • And preventing too great concentration in media ownership
    • Did cable ever have its own Carterfone that drive any kind of open access policy?
    • Absolutely not, quite the contrary
    • The FCC and public interest groups have only recently entered that fight
      • First with cable card and now with its successor
    • Cable companies very successfully kept their set top boxes closed
      • Even using the law to prosecute cable pirates despite a black market for devices
    • Even when cable operators started offering network access
      • They maintained the ability to treat television transmissions separately
    • This introduced new expectations, different from how were treated telecommunications services
    • That is what drive the de-regulation of DSL and the lack of it with fiber services
    • Rather than holding cable companies to the standards of telephone service operators
      • The telcos lobbied heavily to be treated like cable companies
    • The ability to deliver television over fiber networks confused the two, making this argument easier
    • We see evidence of this thinking in the Google-Verizon proposal for net neutrality
    • One of the hold outs is for special services
    • Reading how the describe such offerings, you can see how video on demand
      • And other content oriented offerings would fit into this loop hole
    • Finally, it was Comcast that brought this debate very much to the fore
      • With its move to try to discriminate against Bit Torrent traffic
    • From their point of view, Bit Torrent competed directly with their TV service
    • The fact that a large fraction of Bit Torrent use is pirated material
      • Also undoubtedly put them in an awkward spot with the studios licensing them shows and movies
    • I suspect the entre that Hollywood got into the last mile of the internet
      • Through their relationship with cable companies
      • Has a lot to do with the current calculus by all ISPs about network neutrality
    • It isn't entirely surprising that they've stopped looking at their business as shuffling bits
      • And started more to thinking about lucrative cross licensing deals
        • At the expense of their customers and content consumers
  • What models could we pursue that would ensure some degree of neutrality?
    • Many ISPs claim they need the right to discriminate traffic to deal with congestion
    • This argument is advanced to support interfering with peer-to-peer protocols
      • That are designed to try to re-distribute load to where capacity is greater
    • It is also used to argue for rent seeking behavior
      • Positioned as necessary to fund building more capacity into the network
    • You can borrow a concept from traditional commons to frame this rhetoric
    • Carrying capacity is the amount of activity some common land could support
    • It was used as the basis of rules and norms to prevent
      • The tragedy of an unregulated commons where all commoners
        • Might rush to consume all resources
    • Over use was not prevented by private landers owners
      • But by traditions the commoners observed themselves
    • In many instances, they even enforced these themselves
      • Especially those that also prevented any single actor from enclosing parts of the commons
    • I don't know if a commons is the most appropriate opposite pole
      • To choose when arguing against the sort of monopolistic behaviors undertaken by ISPs
    • Some market mechanisms work but the are often subtle
    • For instance, distributed content delivery networks superficially resemble internet fast lanes
    • You pay fees to have your content duplicated on storage servers spread around the network
    • The CDN embeds the smarts to determine from where a user is connecting
      • Then direct them to a cache much closer to them in the network
    • The different between this and the deals many ISPs want to cut with content providers
      • Is that anyone can buy into a CDN
    • The only barrier is the amount of money any given publisher might have to pay
    • Better yet, there are a few competitive networks
      • And there is incentive for them to scale their offerings down as well as up
    • Cost as a sole barrier also allows for other clever market solutions
      • Like many smaller content creators banding together for a group buy
    • There simply aren't enough opportunities for the market to head of discrimination
    • As I argued at the outset, commercial concerns are far outweighed by matters of free speech
    • The law is another alternative but so far little to no progress has been made
    • In practice, defining a neutral network is very difficult
    • So far, legislative efforts have run aground on definitional grounds
    • There is also the hefty risk of regulatory capture
    • In the copyright debate, we've seen how far lobbying dollars from big content
      • Can contort law making efforts at the expense of free speech concerns like fair use
    • ISPs have also been able to deflect calls for transparency
      • That would better inform any kind of arguments or rationalizations around carrying capacity
    • Maybe empowering the commoners to beat the bounds would make more sense
    • Could given individuals the power to throw metaphor fences down that bar the ability of peer producers
      • And small innovators to access the same resources as big companies
      • Be an effective way to ensure the internet stays neutral?
    • The Internet Engineering Task Force suggests that civic mindedness can be viable
    • These are not appointed keepers of standards and security online
      • Though they are often experts in the field, with considerable experience
  • Some policy is called for, the pressure to carve up the net is unlikely to abate
    • Despite the origins of the internet in academia
      • Where open access and protocols agnostic of content and applications were the norm
    • We clearly have a market that is trying to find any sort of gradient
      • From which they can extract both profits and rents
    • Ironically, growth of fiber has stalled in many areas
      • As ISPs are waiting to see what happens with the FCC's broadband plan
    • Growing high speed access really is the only profit left to the ISPs
    • It boggles the mind that they would leave that on the table
      • On the speculation of rents they may be able to charge
      • Because they are so convinced of their own stories about the cost to grow their networks
    • The longer ISPs stall no expanding access, the more likely they'll wait themselves into irrelevance
    • Many communities are pushing forward with publicly owned fiber
    • This has of course been fought tooth and nail almost everywhere it has been tried
      • But it has been successfully deployed in a few places
    • There is still Cringley's idea of cooperatively owned fiber, through neighborhood associations
    • Sadly it is probably much easier for ISPs to block a coop
      • Because the difference in power and money is even greater than between corporations and cities
    • New forms of wireless may lower the cost to the point where it becomes a more fair fight
    • WiMax didn't pan out, mostly for technical reasons
      • But that doesn't mean a successor like white spaces couldn't do the trick
    • I want to be absolutely clear about these alternatives, though
    • Don't believe anyone who tries to convince you these are market responses
    • The municipal efforts are pretty transparently public options
    • White space trails and deployments have had to face a long regulatory struggle
    • Tech companies are driving them but as a means to reach customers
      • That traditional ISPs are not allowing them to reach
    • These companies get that right now the potential of the internet is all about growth
    • The existing market players failed to support that
      • So they had to completely route around it, making comparable investments
      • In acquiring spectrum, developing new technology, and clearing hurdles
    • The difference, hopefully, in new forms of wireless broadband
      • Is that the technology will be designed to serve the internet first
      • Not as a mutation of carrying television signals or voice calls
    • Hopefully the technology companies will impart enough of their DNA
      • To shift any future debates about white space driven access to be about innovation and access
      • Not petty arguments about rents and congestion as a hindrance to special, captive services

(00:29:06.747) Outro

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