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Net neutrality and peering policies: a technologist's perspective

Previous Politech message:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Why conservatives and libertarians should oppose 
Net neutrality [econ]
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006 00:16:55 +0200 (CEST)
From: Paul Wouters <paul@cypherpunks.ca>
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
CC: Politech <politech@politechbot.com>
References: <444E8D0B.40104@well.com>

On Tue, 25 Apr 2006, Declan McCullagh wrote:

 > While "neutrality" sounds benign, the proposed legislation would give the
 > FCC powers that it currently does not have. Be clear, *there is no
 > neutrality legislation in place and we are doing just fine. *

Are we? The peering model (also called "Hot potato routing") is working
fine so far, but we are seeing larger and more dominant players on
the market. And though they may adhere to different peering policies,
and transit Service Level Agreements ("SLA's"), up to now it has always
been the case that once you receive a packet, you send it onwards as
best you can with the existing policies in place.

 > More importantly, from a technical and economic perspective, I am a great
 > supporter of innovation and experimentation and the free markets that 
 > them.

What we are beginning to see now is policies dictated on market share per
packet and competition packets. For example, some ISP's drop VPN packets
because they are offering VPN subscriptions. But there is no "innovative
reason" to treat these packets differently from web traffic. It's just
a packet. It just happens to be marketable for an extra surcharge by
the ISP's Premium Product.

Another step we are seeing now is a result of the telco industry moving
to a packet based ISP model with the bloacking of VOIP traffic. This
has nothing to do with allowing "innovation and experimentation". The
sole purpose is to keep the "old fashioned" mobile phone sytem up for
as long as possible, because it is profitable.

If Rogers is dropping VOIP packets, it is not because they are
innovating. It is because they also run a GSM network that is more
profitable then their IP network.

And finally, we are seeing the emergence of "multi tier networking"
which is just an excuse to renegotiate peering and transit agreements
using blackmail. Verizon blocking gmail as "spam" is a good example of
this, as gmail is by far the least spammy "free email" service out there.

 > A neutrality mandate would give the federal gov't regulatory powers to
 > decide right and wrong at the router level.

It seems you want me to do a knee-jerk response and say "Oh no! we can't
give the government more power!", while so far it seems that it is not
the government that is stiffling innovation.

 > It is also being sold as "fear the big bad corporations". I don't 
have any
 > particular affection for any of the companies involved here, but I do 
 > that customers know best. Some customers might indeed say, I will pay
 > more for better video. Alternatively, the market may say "we like it 
the way
 > it is", which is neutrality de facto. In either case, we don't need 
 > or the FCC to make the call.

Unfortunately, the needed splitup of AT&T and Bell have become mostly
undone by Internet company mergers in the last few years. People tend
to have two choices of broadband (DSL and Cable), though indeed with
various wifi providers popping up, it looks like we might indeed get
more options. So I might agree with you that a free market is enough,
and that the government would not be needed to dictate rules, but there
is still the matter of unfair competition by killing VOIP package (eg
Vonage) for no other reason then profit. This issue is the same as the
opening of the landline and cable networks to multiple providers.

 > The history of the Internet has taught us we should imagine the 
 > Let's preserve the absence of inhibition that has gotten us this far. 
 > it libertarian. No new laws.

Again, I don't want to do a knee-jerk response. New laws are not
neccesarilly bad.  But I can predict what will happen in the near
future. Governments all over the world want to be able to tap more
internet in the name of security. ISPs are made to pay for making
themselves tappable and they will need to store a lot of information
with coming data retension laws. This trend, combined with the selective
dropping of IP packets by commercial entities based on the type of packet
(eg VOIP), will cause people to start using crypto more and more. It will
protect against an overzealous government, it will protect against
hackers when using the internet at Starbucks, and it will allow my WIFI
phone to work despite provided issues filters to encourage me to buy
their GSM subscribtion. And with Linux based wifi phones already on the
market, it will become unstoppable.

We can observe this trend already. Skype is masking their internet
traffic in such a way that it becomes extremely difficult to recognise
the traffic as VOIP data. It is also using encryption, though since their
binaries are boobytrapped to prevent debuggers from analysing their code,
we have no idea how safe or backdoor'ed the encryption is. But it still
protects me from silly hackers at StarBucks, so it is better then nothing.

Unfortuately, we the consumers would be best served with clean and
well designed IETF protocols, instead of confidential propiertary
non-interoperable hacks by companies that try and outsmart each other. We
have already seen what the "portal and advertising" opportunities for
instant messenger clients have done to us. We now have to use MSN,
AIM, ICQ, Jabber and Yahoo clients to be able to talk to all our
friends. Instead of one clean good working IM protocol.

Hopefully, the free market forces will be enough to protect us. But if
we need FCC regulations to protect our IP packets from being filtered
by the telco-ISPS, then so be it.


Posted by Declan McCullagh on Apr 26, 2006 in category economics

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