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6 posts from February 2008

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February 26, 2008

More about FCC Hearing on Network Neutrality at Harvard Law School, 25 Feb 2008

The Federal Communications Commission hosted a public hearing yesterday, where networking experts, academics and representatives from several web service companies and Comcast debated Network Neutrality -- aka "traffic management" policies -- before a standing room only crowd.

Here's the agenda, along with links to the speakers, streaming content, commentary and some of the reaction reverberating around the event.

You can file comments and documents of your own with the FCC.  Submit them electronically along with Proceeding Numbers 07-52 and 08-7.

Archived audio and video webcasts:  Posted here.  (requires RealAudio)

Date:  Monday, February 15, 2008.  11:00 am - 4:00 pm

Location:  Harvard Law School, Ames Courtroom, Austin Hall, 1515 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA

Agenda:

11:00 am - Welcome/Opening Remarks

11:45 am - Technology Demonstration - Gilles BianRosa, CEO, Vuze, Inc

12:00 pm - Panel Discussion 1:  Policy Perspectives

  • Marvin Ammori, General Counsel, Free Press (SaveTheInternet.com)
  • Yochai Benkler, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School; Faculty Co-Director,Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School
  • The Honorable Daniel E. Bosley, State Representative, Massachusetts
  • David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation
  • The Honorable Tom Tauke, Executive Vice President – Public Affairs, Policy and Communications, Verizon Communications
  • Timothy Wu, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
  • Christopher S. Yoo, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition, University of Pennsylvania Law School

2:15 pm - Panel Discussion 2:  Technological Perspectives

  • Daniel Weitzner, Director, MIT Decentralized Information Group
  • Richard Bennett, Network Architect
  • David Clark, Senior Research Scientist, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab
  • Eric Klinker, CTO, BitTorrent
  • David P. Reed, Adjunct Professor, MIT Media Lab
  • Scott Smyers, Senior Vice President, Network & Systems Architecture Division, Sony Electronics, Inc.

3:45 pm - Closing Remarks

4:00 pm - Adjournment

RELATED POSTS

Here are related posts I found by the participants or interviews of them.  Hopefully it gives a flavor for their various positions.

Marvin Ammori - "Comcast's new Terms of Service:  A Recipe for Discrimination"
Marvin Ammori - "SaveTheInternet.com on the Hill" [YouTube video 10:15]
Marvin Ammori - "Q & A with Marvin Ammori at The Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School"

Yochai Benkler interview - "Yochai Benkler" - 2 Nov 2007

Tim Wu & Christopher Yoo - "Keeping the Internet Neutral?: Timothy Wu and Christopher Yoo Debate"

Tom Tauke - "Staying Ahead of the Broadband Curve" (22 Aug 2006)
Tom Tauke - "Say No to 'Net Neutrality' Rules" (16 Mar 2006)
Tom Tauke interview - "Newsmaker: Net Neutrality - Meet the winner" (CNET, 12 June 2006)

David L. Cohen testimony - "Reconsidering our Communications Laws:  Ensuring Competition and Innovation" (US Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, 14 June 2006)

Daniel Weitzner - "The Neutral Internet:  An Information Architecture for Open Societies"
Daniel Weitzner - "Twelve Billion Bargaining Chips - The Web Side of the Net Neutrality Debate" [pdf] (IEEE Computer Society, Jan-Feb 2007)

Richard Bennett - "Change or no change? - Why is there so little honesty in the Net Neutrality debate?" (27 Jun 2006)
Richard Bennett - "Net Neutrality is Intelligent Design for the Left" (21 Aug 2006)
Richard Bennett - "The trouble with end-to-end" (27 Jul 2006)
Richard Bennett interview - "How 'Saving the Net' may kill it" (17 Jul 2006)

David Clark - "Network Neutrality:  Words of Power and 800-Pound Gorillas" [pdf] (Int'l Journal of Communication 1 (2007)

David Reed - "Preserve the Internet Standards for Network Neutrality - Two Types of Neutrality" - (co-signer)

SOME NOTABLE PRESS STORIES about the 25Feb2008 hearing:

"Net Neutrality Hearing:  When Is an Internet Traffic Delay OK?" - The New York Times, 25 Feb 2008, 2:36pm
"FCC Head Says Action Possible on Web Limits" - washingtonpost.com, 26 Feb 2008
"FCC chief says net providers can't block access 'arbitrarily'" - boston.com, 26 Feb 2008
"Comcast, net neutrality advocates clash at FCC hearing" - ars technica, 25 Feb 2008, 8:18pm CT
"FCC Continues to Wrestle with Net Neutrality" - internetnews.com, 25 Feb 2008
"FCC hearing weights Net neutrality" - computerworld.com, 25 Feb 2008

A nice report on the hearing from Chris Herot: FCC en banc Hearing at Harvard Law School Draws a Crowd

February 26, 2008

Comments submitted to FCC Hearing at Harvard Law School

Glance submitted the following comments to the FCC for the hearing yesterday (25 Feb 2008) in Cambridge at Harvard Law School debating Net Neutrality.  A representative from Glance, who attended the hearing, reported that there ensued quite an interesting discussion of basic rights, policy, competitiveness, innovation and some deep technical issues.  More on that below...

Comments on FCC Hearing in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Broadband Network Management Practices
February 25, 2008

Docket Numbers:  07-52 and 08-7

Glance Networks is a small Internet business with headquarters in Arlington, MA and customers all over the country and the world.

The issue of "traffic shaping" or "traffic throttling" is not just about bitTorrent, and it's not just about limiting file sharing.

Glance Networks provides a legitimate web conferencing service to thousands of mostly small and medium sized businesses.  They use our service to demo their products, do sales presentations and train over the Internet. 

Traffic throttling systems do not typically distinguish between file sharing and businesses streaming media content such as ours.

This is not just a theoretical or a potential issue.  Our business is being effected right now in Canada.  Our customers in Canada on Shaw Cable and Rogers Cable have been seeing this kind of traffic throttling for several years now.  It's gotten to the point that when someone calls up saying their session is incredibly slow, the first question we ask is: "Are you in Canada"?  "Are you on Shaw or Rogers Cable"?

Our business and our customers' business depends on high quality broadband Internet.  The Internet is an open infrastructure that has allowed the creation of hundreds of thousands of small businesses and new innovative services that could never have existed before.  And none of these businesses or ideas can grow into large ones either.  Without this infrastructure, Amazon.com would not exist today, eBay would not exist, Google would not exist.

It's as if all the good, wide paved roads went only to Wal-Mart and to McDonald's.  As if new and small businesses were only served by narrow dirt roads.  It's allowing a competitive disadvantage in a near-monopoly infrastructure that should support the entire economy of today and the future.

Please do not allow new small businesses to be throttled to benefit established large businesses, do not allow new and innovative services to be throttled to benefit established types of services.

Various solutions were debated at the hearing, from regulation to increasing competition.  But we'd come to pretty much the the same conclusion that Dave Clark of MIT shared at the hearing.

What's the solution?  I'm not fond of it, but I think I know what it will have to look like.

First -- what's the problem? And there is a problem, largely of the cable companies own making.

For years they've sold the promise of broadband.  "Blazing fast Internet"!  "A thousand times faster than dial-up"!.  What they don't make obvious is that they're pitching fast download speed, not upload, which often is only a tenth as fast.  This doesn't matter much if you're a passive consumer of media, but not if you create or send media. 

But the real dirty secret, in the fine print or buried in the terms and conditons, is that none of that speed is guaranteed.  That's in perfect conditions, five A.M. on an wide empty highway with a fresh cup of coffee and the radio cranked loud.  Not when there's a lot of traffic on the road.

And the reason is, they can't actually deliver that speed to everyone.  Their network isn't built to support it. 

This isn't how we, as a company, buy bandwidth.  Glance Networks, like other web service companies and large websites, puts our servers in a big co-location facility.  One is down the road in Somerville, and there's a clone of it (a hot backup) out in LA.  We're connected to the the Internet by huge pipes, with unimaginable speed.  But we only pay for what we use.  We buy a particular tier of bandwidth for a fixed rate, and there's an overage charge if we go over that.  As our traffic grows, we eventually bump up to the next tier.

Does this sound familiar?  It's a lot like cell phone pricing.  Remember years ago when you got your very first cell phone?  Maybe you got the 60 minutes per month plan, then you got the bill and saw all those extra overage minutes at 25 cents each.

Well these days everyone has a 300 minute plan, or a 1000 minute plan, at fairly reasonable flat-rate prices.  And we even have unlimited nights and weekends!

It's easier now to predict your cost, and to compare rates among different providers.

I'll miss the old unlimited Internet as much as anyone, and I suspect we'll lose something along the way.  But as technology and needs and competition evolve, pricing will come down, the tiers will get bigger, and it will all work out.

The solution is not to prefer one set of customers over another, or one type of traffic over another.  The solution is to just pay for what you use.

February 25, 2008

Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality is back in the news.  But what you don’t hear about is that the problem already extends far beyond BitTorrent. 

Many “legitimate” businesses are on the verge of becoming collateral damage. These companies see vast regions of the Net –- nearly all of Canada and pockets of communities here in Massachusetts and other states can countries -– as far from “neutral.” ISPs in those regions already employ "traffic management" policies that can unknowingly render many services useless.  These include web conferencing companies (like Glance), photo sharing sites, disk backup services, and more.

The crux of the problem is that many ISPs sold far more bandwidth than their networks can deliver.  They wrongly anticipated consumers would mostly download data from the Internet, not upload data into it.  While the “core” of the Internet – the Net’s massive superhighway – still enjoys plenty of surplus bandwidth, the “last few hundred yards” of some networks can be easily maxed out, particularly by users uploading lots of data.

BitTorrent causes a large fraction of the upload traffic, so a number of ISPs have developed methods to squeeze BitTorrent traffic on their networks to a trickle, freeing up space for other traffic.   

But their methods, called “traffic shaping”, can be like fishing with dynamite.  They may get the bass they’re hunting, but not without killing the trout, pickerel and everything else swimming nearby.

Consider Canada, where the two ISPs dominate – Rogers Cable and Shaw Cable.  They have been traffic shaping for several years to limit BitTorrent traffic.  But their method is astonishingly crude.  It crushes nearly any high speed data stream sent by a customer that uses one of the Internet’s most popular protocols. 

If a typical Rogers or Shaw customer tries today to host a web conference using that protocol to show some slides to colleagues, he may find it can take minutes to send a single slide. 

Often he’ll assume the web conferencing provider is at fault.  After all, everything else will seem to run fast.  Even if he calls his ISP, the ISP will probably deny culpability.  The public position for most ISPs has been to deny they employ traffic shaping.

The customer suffers, because a critical web service fails.  The web service provider suffers, because customers incorrectly assume its service is at fault.

In the short term, many web service companies have been investing R&D dollars implementing methods to avoid traffic shaping.  But this is just a finger in the dike.  The BitTorrents of the world are doing the same.  At some point, seemingly overnight, legitimate web services could fail to work at all. 

Applying a blunt instrument to the problem that punishes all bandwidth users indiscriminately is not in the spirit of true net neutrality.

Sure,  ISPs should have the right to “fire” a customer or put them on a plan that reflects their true cost.  But they should not be permitted to impose broad policies that discriminate against Web applications unrelated to the problem.

Follow this issue at:
http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-280373A1.pdf

http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/djf500/200802241813DOWJONESDJONLINE000310_FORTUNE5.htm

February 24, 2008

Net Neutrality vs Traffic Throttling

[Here's a post from Ed Hardebeck, Glance's VP of Engineering...]

The issues of Net Neutrality (Neutrality on the Internet) and Traffic Shaping or Throttling as a network management practice by ISPs (particularly cable companies) are closely related, but often confused.

They have different motivations, and somewhat different negative consequences:

1. Traffic Throttling/Shaping

ISPs will use this if they oversold their bandwidth.  The problem is that they built networks better suited to typical web-surfing and email.  They don't want all that bitTorrent stuff or other file sharing to use up bandwidth.

The negative effects are:

  • It sucks for people who like file sharing and think they've paid for the bandwidth to use as they wish.  You can't say these customers are "hogging" bandwidth.  They want it, they want to use it, they think they've paid for it.


  • The ISP can't easily distinguish file sharing traffic from other services, like web conferencing.  So they can end up throttling us and and possibly other interesting or new services. (It's NOT easy to tell and it will likely get worse.  The file sharing developers will actively TRY to make their protocols look like something else.  I've seen these discussions among themselves.) 

    This has the potential to kill new or different services of the future.  Remember that the Internet was around for over TEN YEARS before the web appeared.  What if we were all stuck now using only the services AOL wanted to provide in 1998?  Short term, it hurts innovative new companies; long term, it throttles innovation on the 'net in general at the expense of the status quo applications.

2. Net Neutrality

This battle is over money.  The ISPs don't just want to be carriers, they want to make money from content providers.  Some want to strike deals with big providers, like iTunes or CNN or Amazon or eBay, to carry their traffic preferentially.  Or for the cable providers, THEY want to be providing video content, not having you get it from youTube.  If you're surfing to smaller websites, other providers that have no deal, that traffic is slower.  They don't care what you the customer wants to do, they're used to telling you what you're going to get.

The negative effects:

  • Small business gets screwed, big business rules.  It's like all the good, wide, well paved roads went only to WalMart and McDonalds.  If you wanted to go to a local shop, or a Thai restaurant you had to take the windy unplowed dirt road.  Small business actually generates more jobs and is a larger part of our economy.  Without this public infrastructure, small business can't compete and small businesses never grow to large businesses.  Web conferencing might exist, big established providers like BrandX may pay them, but we likely can't.
  • Generic big-company blandness.  The Internet becomes like TV.  A one-way medium where only big companies provide the content and Internet users become passive consumers of it, they don't create content or communicate.

In the long run...

I don't really don't think it's economically or technically or ethically feasible to legislate protection of various kinds of traffic and not others.  And I think it's stupidly shortsighted to choke off small companies and innovation.

So, long term, I only see two ways this could possibly play out:

  1. Nobody gets much upload bandwidth at all.  The Internet essentially becomes a one-way medium, like TV.  Everyone becomes passive consumers of content rather than creating or communicating.  Worse, only certain large producers get any download bandwidth carried at reasonable speeds.  Small business and new services (particularly those that rely on upload bandwidth) get screwed.  The end of the Internet boom as we know it.
  2. Charge by level of traffic.  Per megabit up/down bandwidth usage charge, just like we all pay in the colos, with tiered pricing.  You want to fileshare or do web conferencing all day?  Go ahead.  You just need to buy the x MB plan.  Pretty much just like cellphone pricing.  And it will keep coming down as the technology improves, and you'll probably get free nights and weekends.

And I don't think free market competition can save this.  There's just not enough space on the poles or spectrum in the ether.  (You should see the great loops of cable on the poles outside my house).   This is something of a natural monopoly, like roads, like telephone service, like electricity.  And like them it is an infrastructure that is important to the entire economy.  It's got to be regulated somehow.  And I know how this grates on people who instinctively can't stand the idea of "the government" interfering with anything.  But this is exactly why we have government at all.  This is the sort of thing it's supposed to do.

There have been proposals to create competition like was done with telephone service, by "unbundling" services and requiring the wires to be shared with competitors.  But that's not really free-market, it's a lot more regulation.  Maybe it would work to increase some competition, but it doesn't solve the technical problems.  (For example, we can buy T1 service from any number of companies, but it's always Verizon that has to show up and connect the wire...)


-- Ed Hardebeck

    February 15, 2008

    Mothers-in-law.. a Glance success story..

    At MacWorld last month, quite a few people immediately latched onto the idea of using Glance (and our recently introduced remote control feature) to support their relatives with technical problems.   This comes up suprisingly often, even recently in an article Keith Shaw wrote for Network World. 

     It seems to have become a real hazard of having any technical expertise these days.  Everybody needs and uses their computer, but the things are still so complicated with so many little things to go wrong.  Suddenly all your relatives want to talk to you...

    It reminded me of an amusing story from an inimitable former colleague at Glance:

    From: "Xxxx Xxxx" <____@gmail.com>
    Date: September 23, 2007 12:10:49 PM EDT
    To: glance@glance.net
    Subject: Mothers-in-law.. a Glance success story..

    So, it is Sunday morning, and I awoke to a bruised cranium (I'm afraid
    last night involved Grey Geese instead of the traditional Grey Goose)
    and a call from my mother-in-law. She was in a panicked state that
    her email was no longer working, then demanding that I immediately
    drive the hour to her house to resolve this issue. I believe you all
    remember my monster-in-law stories, so there is no need to elaborate..

    After delivering this call to me, my lovely bride grabbed my Mac, a
    cup of coffee and the Excedrin. While booting my Mac I had the
    "customer" quickly download 2.3. She got a session running, at which
    point I asked for the key. Once in, I had her click on that new
    fangled remote control button. I then promptly asked her to end the
    phone call and leave her office.

    The email problem was simple to fix.. she had her smtp and pop3
    settings at pop.smtp.com.. I have no clue how she did that, I am just
    so pleased that my entire Sunday was not ruined to resolve the issue.

    I called the "customer" back to explain the issue was resolved. She
    was amazed that I did so in a few minutes while working remotely. She
    then added "I guess you will never have to drive to D_____ again?"..
    hmmm.. I did not respond..

    Thank you Glance...

    Xxxx

    Now we haven't really designed Glance as a remote support tool (yet...), but some people are using it that way.  And if it can save you an hour of driving or a lost half day of productivity or serious loafing time, that can be worth a lot!

    -- Rich Baker, Founder & CEO, Glance Networks

    February 05, 2008

    Bells and Whistles

    "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful" -- William Morris

    When we started Glance our idea was just this:  Make it simple to show what you see to others -- as simple as talking to them on the phone.

    We wanted it to be effortless, elegant, and instant.  We spent a lot of time not putting in extra features and complexity.  And we had the help of some really smart advisors who kept beating us up whenever we strayed and thought we had to have this feature or that.

    I think we all admire products that are beautiful, elegant and a joy to use.  So why are most products so complicated and painful to use? 

    I think it's because of human nature.  At the point of sale, we're dazzled by the features.  And I'm not alone...

    There's an article I found fasciating about this paradox, written by Roland Rust, Debora Viana Thompson and Rebecca Hamilton in the February 2006 issue of Harvard Business Review.  Entitled "Defeating Feature Fatigue", they ask why products succumb to feature bloat, why consumers say one thing and buy another, and finally, what really makes customers happy.

    Some of their conclusions from their research (and they've got interesting hard data to back these up):

    "Consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, but before they purchase a product they value its capability more than its usability"

    "Once consumers have used a product, their preferences change.  Suddenly usability matters very much."

    This is why it's tough to keep designs simple. 

    You can imagine how the purchase decision process goes.  It's hard making a commitment to a software product or service.  You want to make the best choice, and you want to be objective.  But it's hard to be objective about the subjective experience.  It's easier to say "Well, BrandX has this and that and the other thing.  I don't think I need those thing, but it's safer to get them just in case I ever do."  Then no one uses it (or learns to creatively curse) when it's hard to use.

    Worse still, someone gets tasked with picking a solution.  So they interview everyone about their "requirements".  And everyone tries to think of anything they've ever heard of.  And a huge laundry list of requirements gets generated.  Then the poor shmo sets out looking for the product that slices, dices and has a built in AM/FM clock radio.

    So, as Rust et al. point out [emphasis added]:

    "If you are a manager in a consumer products company, our research presents you with a dilemma.  Adding features improves the initial attractiveness of a product but utimately decreases customer's satisfaction with it.  So, what should you do?"

    Many of their suggestions match what we've done.  Consider this set of requirements:

    • I want my 9:00am Web Demo to start at 9:00am
    • I want it to just work, no matter what or is on the other end or where they are located
    • I don't want to have to involve IT, or support or anyone else
    • I don't want the demo tool to get in the way of my presentation

    What matters more than that?  Is it worth giving up seldom used bells and whistles, if you could have all that?  Give us a try.

    -- Rich Baker, Founder & CEO, Glance Networks