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[ NNSquad ] Re: FCC paths to Internet network management? (from IP)

At 07:35 AM 2/27/2008, David Farber wrote:

So lets get down to details. What exactly do you want to FCC to do
about network management. Details -- not just enforce NN -- that is a
motherhood statement. Details and then  maybe the conversation can get

I agree. Let me start by responding to some remarks in Brad Templeton's posting to IP, since these responses lay the groundwork for a workable solution. I'll follow with seven specific suggestions.

Brad writes:

In this case, with BitTorrent, users trade their spare upstream
bandwidth -- which in many cases, such as the typical DSL ISP is otherwise
going unused and wasted --

This is fundamentally incorrect, and it's important to understand this. All bandwidth, and especially upstream bandwidth, is a scarce and precious commodity.(This is especially true for ISPs, such as mine, which buy economical asymmetrical pipes to support fast Web browsing. Without them, many ISPs' balance sheets would go negative.) We need absolutely every shred of bandwidth we buy, because at the prices we pay we can't afford to waste it.

to other users in exchange for their
upstream bandwidth in return. (Or, in a "pay it forward/golden rule" situation,
they sometimes just do it out of philanthropy or in the hope of promoting a system
where they will be rewarded later.)

Actually, as Brad should be well aware, with BitTorrent the "contribution" of bandwidth isn't voluntary; it is compulsory. And just as "sharing" the copyrighted materials which constitute all but a vanishingly small percentage of P2P traffic is not really sharing, so too P2P is not "sharing" one's own bandwidth but taking bandwidth from the ISP in violation of its terms of service.

It is commonly incorrectly stated that
this is done to benefit the 3rd party (such as ubuntu.com) but the trade is
really mostly among the users.  The seed gets no means to reward tit for tat.

This is likewise incorrect, particularly in the case of Vuze, Inc. -- the most strident of the commercial P2P companies in the current debate. Vuze's petition to the FCC is, by its own admission, motivated by its selfish economic interests. Unlike YouTube, it doesn't want to pay for the upstream bandwidth that's needed to deliver its content to customers. BitTorrent's testimony at the hearing was likewise self-serving.

What is often missed is the question really comes out of this concept of
the user having spare upstream bandwidth.   Most ISPs sell a flat rate,
upstream package and as such the bandwidth is sold to the customer and
is theirs to use to further their usage of the internet.   In the case
of DSL, the upstream is truly otherwise unused and is lost forever if not

Not true. While the bandwidth of an individual user's telephone line may be idle, the provider's upstream bandwidth is being used by many such upstream connections and is, if the ISP is optimizing its network properly, close to full utilization given normal usage that conforms to its terms of service.

With DOCSIS and wireless ISPs this is not as true.

Actually, wireless ISPs are in a much better position than cable providers in this regard for two reasons. Our (mostly IEEE standard) wireless is flexible in that it can shift bandwidth from downstream to upstream as needed and only puts 50 customers on an access point, not 500. New access points are also less expensive for us than new distribution points are for the cable guys.

However, the cable guys have one insurmountable advantage over us: they can bundle
and cross-subsidize. We only do Internet, so if mandatory passage of P2P traffic is imposed by regulation, it would raise the cost of providing adequate service above our retail prices. We'd be out of business in a hurry unless we increased our rates somewhere between 50% and 100% (depending upon what the rules said).

Some ISPs want to claim you don't really have any spare bandwidth to trade,
that they didn't really sell it to you, that it is theirs, not yours,
in spite of what they advertise.

We never advertise any such thing. In fact, we are very explicit. Again, the analogy of an all-you-can-eat buffet is a good one. Customers do not "own" all of the food on the buffet; they only own what they, individually, can put in their own stomachs during the meal. Everyone who eats must pay to do so. You can only eat what's on the buffet; you can't raid the pantry. And there are no doggie bags and no smuggling food out to third parties. Not even if those third parties are not-for-profit.

If so, there have been calls for them to be clear in their advertising about these limits.

The cable companies' ads do point out many of these limitations, though they often do it at the bottom in the fine print. Our ISP is more explicit; we tell every user, and state very clearly in our terms of service, what we restrict.

And, hence, my suggestions with regard to what (if anything) the FCC should do with regard to ISPs and P2P.

First, there have been claims of inadequate disclosure of network management policies and terms of service by ISPs. While none have ever been made against our company, I'd love to see all such claims put to rest once and for all, and would be quite willing to post a form (much like the ones that come with credit card solicitations) summarizing our policies prominently on our Web site. These could include such things as permitted and forbidden activities (e.g. outbound SMTP), and whether these are allowed under different service plans (e.g. P2P might be allowed with measured rates but not flat rates). However, ISPs should not be required to include technical details (such as lists of blocked ports) that might allow hackers to bypass security measures or would have to be updated minute-by-minute as attacks were blocked.

Second, all Internet users absolutely should have access to the legal content of their choice -- but NOT at infinite speed and not via protocols or programs that disrupt or hog the network or violate our terms of service. Here, we think that the onus shifts to content providers. Content providers should provide alternate, non-P2P means to reach their content (as does, for example, Blizzard Entertainment). ISPs should be held blameless if the content provider chooses not to do so. They should also be held blameless if they block traffic to and from known spyware or malware sites (e.g. gator.com).

Third, with disclosure, ISPs should be allowed to do such things as post messages in the user's browser window, frame pages, or employ similar mechanisms so as to provide informational messages to them. (There was a furor a month or two ago when Rogers Cable did this -- a shame, because the mechanism is extremely useful and unobtrusive.)

Fourth, ISPs should be prohibited from engaging in practices that are directly anticompetitive. For an example, a cable company that offers VoIP should not be allowed to block or degrade Vonage. However, an ISP absolutely should be allowed to block a service such as Skype, which attempts to take their bandwidth by turning users' machines into free servers (generally without the users' knowledge).

Fifth, content and service providers desiring to use P2P should be required to PROMINENTLY disclose whether their software is capable of turning the user's machine into a server or consumes any resources beyond what it takes to transfer the content or provide the service to that one user. Content and service providers should also be required to turn off, by default, any features that turn the user's machine into a server, and only allow them to be turned on if the user chooses to enable them and the ISP indicates (via a mechanism such as the "robots.txt" files commonly used to control indexing) that such use is permissible. Note that, again, this might vary by service plan or by venue (e.g., a Wi-Fi hotspot might be more heavily restricted than a private connection).

Sixth, there should be no obfuscation of P2P. It is ironic that Comcast was accused of hiding its minor mitigation of P2P, but no one at the hearings mentioned that the implementors of BitTorrent are actively pursuing obfuscation techniques themselves. If ISPs are expected to be open, so should P2P users.

Finally, any rules that are promulgated should make it absolutely clear that ISPs retain the right to stop abuse of their networks and to enforce their acceptable use policies and terms of service. Otherwise, they could not defend against spamming, worms, "bots," and other scourges of the Internet.

--Brett Glass