Network World on Martin’s rash order

Network World’s Brad Reed has a pretty good news piece on the order FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to sell to the Comission’s Democrats. He quotes one of my favorite people, me: Network architect and inventor Richard Bennett, who has long been critical of net neutrality advocates, says he has some concerns about the … Continue reading “Network World on Martin’s rash order”

Network World’s Brad Reed has a pretty good news piece on the order FCC chairman Kevin Martin is trying to sell to the Comission’s Democrats. He quotes one of my favorite people, me:

Network architect and inventor Richard Bennett, who has long been critical of net neutrality advocates, says he has some concerns about the precedent the FCC sets if it votes to affirm Martin’s recommendation. In particular, he worries that the principles in the FCC’s policy statement are far too broadly defined and they will be used to encumber upon traffic management practices that are necessary for ISPs to keep their QoS high for the majority of their customers. Bennett says while ISPs should be barred from engaging in anticompetitive behavior by actively discriminating against rival online content, it should be allowed to slow or even stop transfers that are degrading the Web experience for other users.

“Even in this case where the FCC has banned the used of application-based discrimination, it’s perfectly reasonable for ISPs to discriminate against applications on behalf of a particular user,” he says. “Say you’ve got two customers, and one is using VoIP and the other is using BitTorrent. You’re going to need to give VoIP traffic preference over BitTorrent in order to ensure quality of service.”

I actually said something a little different. I want the ISP to allocate bandwidth fairly among users of a given service tier, and then prioritize within each account. So if the same user is running BitTorrent and Vonage at the same time, I want the Vonage traffic to have priority. Martin’s order would ban that practice, and that would be a Bad Thing.

The fact that Martin is proposing to do just that tells you that the FCC is not ready to impose regulations on ISPs yet. More study is needed, and some public comment on the proposed rules.

Kind of like, you know, a formal rule-making procedure. Hell of an idea, eh?

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6 thoughts on “Network World on Martin’s rash order”

  1. To be fair to Chairman Martin, we do not know yet what his proposed order said, or what modifications the other Commissioners have suggested. Just because Free Press, under its alias “Save the Internet”, writes, “FCC hammers Comcast,” this does not necessarily mean that is it what the FCC will really do. I certainly hope it doesn’t, because even a lighthanded swat at a huge corporation like Comcast could be a huge blow to smaller and independent ISPs, depending upon the wording of the ruling. If the FCC is truly committed to rural broadband deployment and consumer choice, it wouldn’t want to harm them. (It has already nearly destroyed about half by denying them any opportunity to gain access to licensed spectrum.)

    It would be very foolish of the FCC to turn Michael Powell’s raw and naive policy idea about allowing users to run the “applications of their choice” into a de facto rule without going through a public rule making process that could refine the language. Think about it: an “application” (a computer program) encodes behavior. And anyone at all can write one. So, insisting that anyone be able to run an application means that anyone can behave any way that he or she wants to — no matter how destructively — on the Internet. So, this requirement essentially means that no network provider can have an enforceable Acceptable Use Policy or Terms of Service. This is a recipe for disaster….

  2. I agree we need to be fair to Chairman Martin and wait to see the text of his order before we charge him with crimes against the working class. Wait for the order, give him a fair trial, and then hang* him, in that order.

    *Note: this is humor. I don’t propose an actual hanging, but something more like a “high tech lynching” in which no mammal is actually harmed.

  3. I’m just hoping that Chairman Martin has the moxie to stand up to the moneied inside-the-Beltway lobbyists (such as Free Press, whose agenda would hurt the public interest) and do what’s best for his actual constituency: the citizens of the United States. Do they need to be protected against anticompetitive actions by the telcos, cable companies, and backbone providers? Absolutely. In the absence of such activity, do they need the Internet to be micromanaged? Absolutely not. The only lynching here should be of the bogus lobbyists and their astroturfers.

  4. Martin is often called a “telco shill”, but he’s also under Lessig’s influence, which is even worse. Lessig controls Free Press through his protege, Tim Wu, its new chairman. But the larger problem is his lack of understanding about how the Internet works, so we have a largely clueless agency trying to micro-manage a large network, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

  5. Lessig isn’t a Svengali who controls Free Press through Tim Wu. Lessig himself is listed as being on the Free Press Board of Directors. (See their Web site.) Nor does he control Kevin Martin, who certainly has the ability to think for himself.

    Chairman Martin is obviously weighing pressure from Congresscritters (who, in a recent hearing, badgered him to admit that he needed legislative “assistance” to deal with Comcast’s “evil” behavior), the opinions of his staff (staffers in DC have tremendous influence), and the opinions of his fellow Commissioners as well as his own ideas.

    We can hope, at least, that Chairman Martin will not be influenced by inside-the-Beltway lobbyists, such as Free Press (which, according to its own Forms 990, spent more than $700,000 in 2007 alone on its various Internet agendas. (This includes their “Save the Internet” misinformation and astroturf campaign. I’ve spoken to quite a few people who used Free Press’ “form letter machine” to send boilerplate comments to the FCC, and so far not one of them has known what Free Press’ “network neutrality” agenda actually entails. They just responded to the group’s warnings of unspecified “evil,” assuming that since Comcast is a big corporation, it must be in the wrong.)

    Since Free Press has convinced a few credulous lawmakers, and/or their staffers, that ISPs are acting in “evil” ways and that something must be done, it is the responsibility of the FCC as an expert agency to expose the misinformation and set the record straight. This is the best thing that Chairman Martin can do at this juncture.

  6. Martin is clearly being influenced by Lessig, Brett. He spoke at Lessig’s conference, arriving a day early to speak to Lessig’s students, and he held a hearing on Lessig’s turf. It’s not wise to underestimate his ability to con people. Martin is a political creature, and it looks to me like he’s working toward a political decision that draws bi-partisan accolades, which will grease the skids in the next phase of his career.

    One skill I’ve acquired in the 12 years I’ve been lobbying is a sense of a politician’s risk/reward calculation, which in most cases has little to do with the merits of the issue. As you’ve observed, it’s typically a question of group affiliation. In politics, interest groups are called “friends.”

    Free Press has done a great job of drumming up popular support for a completely vacuous issue. That’s something that takes both skill and money.

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