Thursday, November 24, 2005

the end-to-end Internet?

Rise up against US oppressors
By Dan Gillmor
Published: November 22 2005 18:36 | Last updated: November 22 2005 18:36

Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding
By Jonathan Krim
Thursday, November 24, 2005; Page D01


Rise up against US oppressors
By Dan Gillmor
Published: November 22 2005 18:36 | Last updated: November 22 2005 18:36

Dan GillmorThe open internet is under attack as never before, and the attackers are the usual suspects: governments and incumbent communications giants. Unhappily, this applies in America, too.

By “open” I mean an internet where customers use the available bandwidth as they see fit, not as oligopolies decree. Of course, what customers want is not especially relevant to the bureaucrats and executives who are working hard to regain control.

It is not surprising to see repressive governments, especially the ones that control national telecommunications operations, squeeze the life out of this vital new medium. Not just political control is at stake; so, in many cases, is an enormous amount of revenue.

But it is disheartening to watch the US turn in this direction. The nation that spawned the internet is renouncing some core values in the process.

Consider, in particular, a recent interview in Newsweek magazine, in which Ed Whitacre, the chief executive of SBC Communications, made clear that he much preferred the days when US phone companies were monopolies. (Now that SBC is buying and will rename itself AT&T, he and other acquisition-minded American telecoms are well along the way toward recreating those happy – for the monopolists – old days.)

In the interview, Whitacre all but announced his company’s intention to play favourites on the data lines his company provides. At one point, he complained about Skype, the voice-over-IP company, saying, “They use our network free,” and strongly implied that he intended to force Skype (or its customers) to pay extra in order to use the network.

The nearly pure arrogance of this statement only compounded its fundamental wrongness. What the carriers provide is bandwidth: moving data packets from here to there. It is not their role, or should not be, to decide what gets delivered or in what order.

Given Whitacre’s logic, unfortunately supported by key policies, he is surely allowed to put speed bumps, outright roadblocks or extra charges in the way of all content providers on the Net. (And you thought this newspaper was already expensive.)

The SBC chief’s assertions of authority over what data passes over “his” lines – initially acquired via government-granted monopolies – have a ring of reality in part because of current government policy. Federal regulators, untroubled by the implications, are busy telling the incumbent phone and cable giants that they have no obligation to share their lines with competitors.

Oh, there have been mumblings from regulators about requiring what competition advocates call open access, that is, not discriminating in what content gets carried on those lines. But nearly all of the regulations belie such intentions.

In July I fretted about this trend in this column, following a US Supreme Court decision in a case dubbed “Brand X” after the name of an internet service provider blocked from a cable company’s lines. I worried that the decision, which adhered to current law, was another step toward giving big telecoms absolute control over the data that flows in the lines they control in addition to the provision of access itself.

Congress seems ready to compound the damage. Legislation aimed at updating telecom laws threatens the “end to end” principle that, as Internet pioneer Vint Cerf explains, “allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control”.

In a letter to a congressional committee, Cerf, now a senior employee of Google, wrote that the legislation, if it becomes law, “would do great damage to the internet as we know it”. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favour of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity.

It is not only Google making these complaints. Microsoft and other companies not in control of networks are equally concerned.

No one should blame Whitacre and his equally power-hungry peers in the telecom world for wanting to regain control. It is in their DNA to tell us what our choices will be, and what innovation will occur at what speed.

But the Internet’s DNA is precisely the opposite. It lets the people at the edges of networks innovate and make their own choices. This is why the Net has grown so powerfully – why it is a vibrant ecosystem and, increasingly, a platform for our communications future. It’s ours, collectively, not theirs.

Source here

Renewed Warning of Bandwidth Hoarding
By Jonathan Krim
Thursday, November 24, 2005; Page D01

A couple of years ago, a group of big technology companies got together and issued a public alarm about the future of the Internet:

Those who own the wires that get us online, the companies said, should not be able to pick and choose what Web content and services we can see and use.

Just as electric companies can't cut deals with electronics makers to allow only some products to work, the Internet should have similar, guaranteed "network neutrality," argued tech firms such as Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc.

The telephone and cable companies that provide most Internet access dismissed the warning as a pro-regulatory, paranoid rant. It was a solution in search of a problem, they said, and they vowed they would never, ever do such a thing. And the issue receded.

But now it's back in a big way, and the question is: How will the tech industry respond?


On March 3, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it settled a case against a small North Carolina-based telephone company that was blocking the ability of its customers to use voice-over-Internet calling services instead of regular phone lines.

On Sept. 15, the first major draft of proposed changes in the nation's telecommunication's laws was circulated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The draft said Internet service providers must not "block, impair, interfere with the offering of, access to, or the use of such content, applications or services."

On Nov. 2, another draft of the bill came out, with language specifically addressing the Internet video services that are proliferating as connection speeds increase and the phone companies get into the digital television business. In this draft, the prohibition on blocking or impeding content was gone.

If the bill passes as is, tech companies say, the Internet could be forever compromised.

"Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity," Vinton G. Cerf, a founding father of the Internet who now works for Google Inc., wrote in a letter to Congress.

The phone companies argue that with their new fiber-optic systems capable of handling huge amounts of bandwidth, they simply want the ability to set aside some of it for their own services, be it television, gaming or anything else.

Unfortunately for them, the head of phone giant SBC Communications Inc., Edward E. Whitacre Jr., was a little more plain-spoken in an interview in Business Week.

"Now what they [Google, Yahoo, MSN] would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it," Whitacre said. "So there's going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they're using."

Like his predecessor, FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin favors network neutrality "principles," but not codifying them as rules.

The FCC did add them as conditions of planned mergers between SBC and AT&T Corp., and Verizon Communications Inc. and MCI Inc. But those conditions apply only for two years, and only to those companies, so Congress will have to wrestle with this beast.

A coalition of tech companies that includes Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, Google, Ebay Inc. and IAC/InterActive Corp., argues that the issue is bigger than straight-up discrimination.

What if, they say, the Internet service providers decide to reserve 90 percent of their bandwidth for their own services, and leave 10 percent for the rest?

"Allowing broadband providers to segment their . . . offerings and reserve huge amounts of bandwidth for their own services will not give consumers the broadband Internet our country and economy need," Cerf wrote.

Another wrinkle: What if Internet service providers decide to provide lots of bandwidth to customers who buy their other services, such as cellular or voice-over-Internet telephony -- but less if the customer uses rival providers of those services?

That would be similar to the kind of bundling that occurs now, under which, for example, cable Internet service is cheaper if a consumer also buys a cable-television package. That, they say, is the free market at work.

With tech firms and the Internet providers engaged in many joint business relationships, it is unclear how much artillery the technology group is willing to roll out on this issue.

If they hope to succeed against the powerful cable and telephone lobbies, it will require more than some letters and public testimony to Congress.

Source here

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