A Brief Response To Richard Bennett's New Paper

I salute Richard Bennett’s new paper Designed for Change, in which he traces the engineering history of the end-to-end principle. It is a serious paper and deserving of serious response. Unfortunately, it being right before Yom Kippur and various deadlines, that more serious response will need to come from elsewhere. I can give only a brief, surface response — reality is messy.

OK, too brief. A bit more elaboration. Richard Bennett is eminently qualified to write the technical history and draw engineering conclusions. As are a large number of other folks who take very different views on the issue of net neutrality and the virtues of end-to-end (Vint Cerf, David Reed and kc claffy to name a few folk of my acquaintance). The history described by Richard is layered onto an equally rich history of political and economic events which all interweave, and continue to interweave, to create a complex and messy reality in which public policy tries (in my opinion) to set rules to create the strongest likelihood of the best possible outcome.

More below . . . .

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The Comcast Bandwidth Cap — Blame Florida (and lack of competition and refusal to upgrade).

As all the world knows by now (the world that follows this anyway) Comcast has imposed a new bandwidth cap, limiting downloads to 250 GB/Month. Unsurprisingly, some folks blame the FCC’s recent decision on prohibiting Comcast from blocking BitTorrent and other p2p applications as pushing Comcast to make this change, although Comcast itself has repeatedly stressed that it was not compelled to do this and planned to do this anyway so no biggie.

What the world did not know, but I thank PK’s Art Brodsky for finding, is that Comcast agreed to clarify its cap as part of a settlement with the Florida Attorney General’s office. As some of us have observed for awhile now, Comcast long had a policy of cutting off “bandwidth hogs” for exceeding a capacity cap while refusing to say what the actual capacity cap was. Well, on July 29, Comcast agreed to make clear their capacity cap and pay $150K in fines.

I highly recommend reading the full terms of the settlement — particularly the factual background which Comcast has agreed is true (without, of course, admitting wrongdoing). Of greatest import, until it announced the 250 GB/month cap, Comcast did not have an actual hard and fast cap. Rather, according to Paragraph 5 of the factual stipulations, Comcast simply knocked off the highest 1000 users regardless of their actual bandwidth usage or geographic location. Comcast is almost certainly telling the truth when it says the highest 1000 users were atypically intense bandwidth consumers. duh. Of course the top 1000 out of 14.4 million will be at the high end of the curve.

No, the more interesting question is what the hell kind of a system is it where Comcast simply goes after the top 1000 users no matter how much they actually use, and why Comcast would adopt such a policy if it wants to reasonably manage network congestion? It seems rather . . . inefficient and arbitrary. Unless, of course, one is trying to save money running a crappy network and generally discourage high-bandwidth use.

Apparently, the Florida Attorney General also thought a policy that simply shut off the top 1000 users every month regardless of actual use or congestion did not meet proper standards of consumer protection or “reasonable network management.” The settlement requires Comcast to state clearly what it means by “excessive use of capacity” in its acceptable use policy (AUP). That’s it (as well as paying $50K for attorneys fees and other associated expenses to the AG for bring this action). Comcast has total discretion to set a limit or have a limit or change a limit, as long as there is (a) an actual fixed limit, and (b) Comcast clearly communicates to its subscribers what that limit actually is. This is in line with the settlement reached last year between Verizon Wireless and the NY AG’s office that Verizon would no longer advertise its wireless internet access package as “unlimited” but would provide a hard monthly cap.

Which explains why Comcast is not going around telling the world that it adopted bandwidth caps because of the big bad awful FCC and their wicked regulatory ways. They didn’t. Rather, Comcast was using an even more ridiculous bandwidth cap the entire time, and they were required as a matter of consumer protection law in Florida to actually come clean with a real number so customers can find out what they are paying for and get full value for their monthly subscriber fee. It seems Comcast has sense enough not to play those kinds of games on something so easily verifiable. Good for them. Nice to see they learn from experience.

Stay tuned . . . .

Yet More Proof That Comcast (and Cox) Are Deliberately Blocking BitTorrent; I Await the Whacky Weasel Words To Come.

There are those still clinging to the desperate hope that somehow critics of Comcast’s “network management” policy of “delaying” BitTorrent packets “only during peak congestion periods” will be discredited. These folks have therefore wasted much time and energy calling those of us who filed the Comcast complaint all manner of nasty names, made sneering and condescending comments about Robert Topolski’s qualifications and the accuracy of his tests, and generally behaved like total obnoxious gits. So you will forgive me if I once again channel my “inner Cartman” and provide these folks with some bad news.

The Max Planck Institute for Software Development (MPI) has just released major study showing that Comcast and Cox Cable engage in major blocking of BitTorrent traffic regardless of network congestion levels, Robert Topolski and Jon Peha are right, and George Ou needs to shut the [bleep] up with his pathetic whining. Oh yes, and Ou also needs to get over his belief expressed at the Stanford FCC hearing that the reset packets could be coming from some mysterious source other than Comcast. Unless George is going to express a belief in the “reset packet faerie,” who sprinkles forged reset packets over good little networks to keep them safe from bandwidth hogs (which explains why this constant “leakage” only happens to Comcast and Cox), it’s time to face the reality that Comcast (and apparently Cox as well) really are using forged reset packets, deliberately, and all the time, just like we said they were.

Knowing, however, that folks like Ou (and paid flacks such as my friend and sparing partner Scott Cleland) are as incapable of admitting error as a certain Decider-In-Chief, I eagerly await the whacky weasel words that will inevitably follow. Will it be hand-waving technobabble? Ad Hominem attacks, cheap rhetorical tricks, and endless hair-splitting about definitions or ‘what I actually said was blah blah blah’? An effort to brush past this by proclaiming “this was never really about whether there were WMBs (weapons of mass BitTorrent blockage), this was about freeing the good customers of Comcast from the oppression of Al Qeda bandwidth hogs that use 90% of the capacity?” Another “expert study” that tries to cast doubt on Max Planck Institute (MPI) study? Or perhaps some delightful combination of all of these? The heat will be on!

A bit more analysis and a lot more snarkiness below . . . .

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Comcast /BitTorrent Update: Important Filings by Topolski, Peha, and Ou (and some analysis by yr hmbl obdnt).

Most folks do not monitor the day-to-day filings in the Broadband Practices Notice of Inquiry, Docket No. 07-52, the proceeding which has become the open docket part of the regulatory discussion on Comcast’s treatment of p2p uploads. Lucky them. But the sifting of this endless stream of regulatory filings has yielded some rather important nuggets of gold in the last few weeks that deserve much greater attention for anyone who cares about the substance of the debate. As I discuss below, three recent filings deserve particular attention:

a) Robert Topolski demonstrates that Comcast blocks p2p uploads at a remarkably consistent rate, at any time of day or night when the test takes place, and regardless of the nature of the content uploaded. This is utterly inconsistent with Comcast’s stated position that it “delays” p2p traffic only during times of peak network congestion. Topolski adds some other interesting details as well.

b) Jon Peha, a Professor of electrical engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, provides his own explanation why Comcast’s characterization of its “network management practice” as merely “delaying” p2p uploads and its claim that this practice is in accord with general industry practice is nonsense.

c) In defense of Comcast (or at least, in opposition to any government action to restrict the ability of ISPs to target p2p traffic specifically), George Ou filed this this piece on how bittorrent and other p2p applications exploit certain features of TCP, a critical part of the protocol suite that makes the internet possible. Ou argues that as a result of this feature of p2p, heavy users of these applications will always be able to seize the vast majority of available bandwidth on the system to the disadvantage of all other users. Accordingly, the FCC should acknowledge that it is a “reasonable network management” practice to target p2p applications specifically as opposed to heavy users or all applications generally.

My analysis of each filing, and something of a response to Ou, below . . . .

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