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January 12, 2010

Harold Feld on why Comcast wants to win, but win just enough

Harold Feld presents a coherent, incisive perspective on why Comcast is afraid of winning too big in its court case that argues the FCC does not have the jurisdiction to enforce Net Neutrality rules. This question is especially important since Comcast looks like it is indeed going to win its case.

Plus Harold has a most excellent Buffy reference.

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September 25, 2009

Broadband. Trust them.

At last, that brave band of oppressed companies who have been granted near-monopolies to deliver over-priced, under-performing broadband to the entire USA (exempting the parts they don’t find particularly profitable) have managed to scrape together an organization to give voice to their position. is finally going to air their views about why de-regulated near monopolies are the best and only way to bring affordable, open Internet to everyone in the country — views that until now have gone unheard, except from their hundreds and hundreds of lobbyists. Why, the industry could barely put together a mere $765,000 to send to John McCain’s campaign!

The site itself seems innocuous. Their history of the Internet nods in some appropriate directions, including to Al Gore and to students who have innovated on the Net. (It oddly leaves out Tim Berners-Lee.) Of course, it’s actually a paean to private industry that cleverly equates the role of creative individuals who have contributed mightily for free and the incumbent infrastructure providers whose financial incentives lead them to prefer to tilt the field against cash-starved start-ups. The closest the organization comes to stating its actual intent is in the wording of the print ad they’re running. Hmm. On the open medium of the Internet the organization hides its purpose, but in the controlled medium of print, they come close to stating it. How unexpected!

So, welcome to the Web, BroadbandForAmerica. Now — after your long list of rules of discussion, followed by a forum that is only soliciting happy stories — how about engaging in some honest, forthright discussion?

[Later that day:] Here’s a New Yorker interview with Julius Genachowski about Net Neutrality.


April 27, 2008

Comcast’s ID overkill

If you want to chat online with a Comcast support person, they cannot do so unless you give them your social security number.

Lessons to learn:

1. Unless restrained, companies will demand more and more identification from us, because violating our privacy doesn’t cost them anything.

2. We cannot rely on market forces to restrain publicprivate sector ID greed.

3. Comcast continues to lead the field in overall corporate suckage.

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March 2, 2008

Susan Crawford: The Internet is not a medium

Susan Crawford comments on the Comcast FCC hearings, urging that we not view this simply as a matter of keeping net management neutral. Rather, she says, we should recognize that the Internet is not a medium but purely a transport system. The implication is that those who sell access to the Internet should not also be selling content and services over the Internet. (Delamination now!)

This is the crux of the matter. We’ve handed the implementation of our Internet over to companies that view themselves as providers of programming (in the TV, not the software, sense). That’s why they almost all think that giving you a fifth or a tenth of your download capacity for uploading makes obvious sense.

We could get a favorable (from my POV) ruling on Net neutrality from the FCC and still leave our Internet in the hands of those who are structured to treat it as a medium for passive viewers of high-def programming.

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The Boston Globe has a pretty good editorial about the Comcast affair. My main concern with it is that it assumes this country’s failure to deliver a satisfactory Internet infrastructure shows that that infrastructure can’t come from a competitive market … as if the current situation is a competitive market. In my view, we need a mix of government steps to open the market (by rquiring access providers to act as wholesalers, for example), probably some direct government intervention (e.g., subsidies of some sort to reach areas quickly that the market won’t), and (I wish) government-enforced de-laminating of the industry. Something like that. But I have more faith in the power and efficiency of truly open markets than the Globe seems to have.

PS: I still wish we’d embrace the Open Spectrum idea. Lots of problems would be rapidly solved if and when it becomes practical technically and politically.


February 27, 2008

What a non-neutral Net could look like

Click here for a dystopic taste of the future. (This page will not harm your sensibilities, your computer, or your ability to procreate.)

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February 26, 2008

Comcast’s real-world denial of service attack

Comcast has sort of admitted that it stacked the audience at yesterday’s FCC hearing with paid seat-warmers. More here and here.

sleepy seat warmers

Since over a hundred people were turned away, this papering of the house is not just a bad joke. Although it also is a bad joke.

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Giving packets sirens

I want to pull on just one thread in the argument against Net neutrality: The claim that it’s obvious that some types of applications deserve priority. It’d be crazy not to give priority to Internet telephony packets or to heart monitoring packets. Right?

It seems crazy because it’s a fact that some application types are sensitive to delay and others are not. No denying that.

But given finite bandwidth and an indefinite number of jitter-sensitive, delay-sensitive app types, it’s not obvious that the ISPs are the ones who should make the decision about how to prioritize the packets. That is, it makes sense to give vehicles with sirens priority in the streets, but when an indefinite number of vehicles have sirens, who decides which vehicles get priority? If I’m not a VOIP user and if I don’t care about watching videos over the Net, why should my World of Warfare packets suffer? Why should your interest in high-def ESPN packets shoulder aside my SecondLife packets? Do my in-game chat VOIP packets deserve the same — or greater? — priority than your VOIP business calls? If I’m a Boston researcher who is engaged in some obscure (but important to me) delay-sensitive research with a lab in Japan, why should I have to hope the ISPs will decide to honor my packets’ sirens? Will my physician have to petition Comcast to let my kidney monitoring data have priority? Diabetes monitoring vs. thyroid info? Who decides if routine heart monitoring data should go at the same speed as critical care heart data?

And if I invent a new type of application that happens to be delay-sensitive, who has to approve it to get it onto the priority list?

If the only way to manage this were to rely upon the ISPs, then we’d just have to hope they’d make decisions that are genuinely in the public interest. But, if end-users can instead make those decisions, why not give them the power to say that they want their heart monitoring data to have a huge siren, and VOIP to be a Yugo that needs a valve job? And when their hearts stabilize, let them turn down those packets’ priority. in order to avoid an obvious gaming of the system, only let users change their designated siren vehicles once a month or so. And, I’d prefer that the ISPs not charge for this service — it’s simply a bit of network mgt — because I don’t want to give them an incentive for keeping the system sluggish.

There are some easy ways to present this to users, ways that never use the word “packet” or “jitter.” Let them designate some sites as high priority. Let them specify some application types (telephone calls, on-demand video). Even maybe let them choose “What type of user are you?” from a list.

It’s entirely possible that the solution I’m proposing is technically impossible or too expensive. IANAG (I am not a geek.) Nevertheless, thinking that some packets obviously should have priority doesn’t resolve the problem of figuring out how to prioritize packets. The more you look at it, the less obvious it becomes. [Tags: ]


February 23, 2008

Me on Net neutrality in the Boston Globe, and the FCC comes to Berkman

The Boston Globe today is running an op-ed by me on Net neutrality. (It grew out of conversations with David Reed and Yochai Benkler, but they are obviously not responsible for what’s wrong about it.)

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This Monday, the Berkman Center is hosting an FCC hearing on Comcast’s blocking of BitTorrent. It’s a series of panels that look to be composed of matter vs. anti-matter. Some fantastic people are on board. I hope the panel format works for this.

Immediately afterwards, there is likely to be a Berkman-led discussion among those in the audience, since there’s no room in the hearing schedule for public comment.

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February 14, 2008

Free Press’ FCC filing & Harold on Markey

Here is an extract from the summary of’s filing with the FCC protesting Comcast’s throttling of bittorrent, a clear violation of Net neutrality (and possibly of laws against impersonation, although that one seems like a stretch to my non-lawyerly mind):

Free Press focuses these comments on two topics: network discrimination and required disclosure.

Regarding network discrimination, Free Press et al. urges the FCC to declare that discriminatory tactics, such as those employed by Comcast, violate federal policies and will not be tolerated. First, we demonstrate that four relevant sources of law prohibit broadband discrimination: 1) The FCC Internet Policy Statement, 2) The Communications Act, 3) Precedent in a recent order and 4) The FCC orders eliminating ISP open access. Second, we refute the arguments advanced that discrimination is merely ‘reasonable network management.’

Arguments based on bandwidth, “delaying,” and anti-competitiveness are as dangerously wrong as they are irrelevant. Moreover, we show that Comcast’s actions are anticompetitive.

Regarding disclosure, Free Press et al. demonstrate that, while network providers must be required to disclose their network management practices, disclosure is not enough. First, network providers should be required to disclose their network management practices so that consumers, the tech community, software providers, and the FCC can respond accordingly.

Second, while we generally prefer a competitive market solution, which disclosure can often promote, disclosure alone will not result in pro-consumer or pro-innovation market outcomes here. The market is too concentrated for disclosure to discipline the market participants or empower consumers.

Third, network providers have repeatedly made a deal with the public and the FCC in merger reviews, sworn declarations, and FCC proceedings—the network providers were relieved of competition and in exchange promised not to discriminate, not merely to disclose their discrimination. Similarly, the FCC pledged it would ensure for consumers an open Internet, not mere disclosure, should the network providers break their vows. The rubber has now hit the road.

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Harold Feld explains Ed Markey’s Internet bill, and why he likes it even though it’s not as strong as it might be.

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One more item just crossed the ol’ digital desktop: J.H. Snider, a Shorenstein Fellow, is having a talk and dinner on Feb. 19 at 6pm on the current FCC auction as “a paradigmatic example of special interest politics and media failure.” It’s in Cambridge, and if you want to go, you have to rsvp to camille stevens by putting an underscore between her names and sending it to her In any case, you can read Snider’s “The Art of Spectrum Lobbying: America’s $480 Billion Spectrum Giveaway, How it Happened, and How to Prevent it from Recurring” here.