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Posts tagged ‘net neutrality’

CRTC Issues Net Neutrality Decision

Submitted without comment.

Submitted without comment.

The CRTC has issued their net neutrality decision. Personally, I’m a little dissapointed in the ruling. Michael Geist points out a couple of areas to feel good about the ruling, but I tend to agree with this quote given to the CBC by Public Interest Advisory Committee legal counsel John Lawford:

“It approves all of the throttling practices that ISPs currently engage in. It requires consumers to prove something funny is going on and consumers don’t have the means to figure out what ISPs are doing and they don’t have the resources to bring that to the commission’s attention,”

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Mark Goldberg Raises Questions about the Couchathon – I Attempt to Answer Them

Mark Golgberg has asked some fair questions of me over at his blog regarding last year’s couchathon and the throttling difficulties we had. As I posted yesterday, am convinced those issues were due to misapplied BitTorrent throttling.

I’ve responded directly on Mark’s blog – but he moderates his comments so I’m not sure when they’ll show up there. In the meantime I thought it would be worthwhile to cross-post my response here – especially as I see some traffic coming through from his site.

Incidentally, Mark’s post flagged that I never updated the Couchathon website with the final totals from the event. With late donations, and some very kind post-event sponsor contributions we were able to raise over $10,000 dollars for Sick Kids Foundation and Child’s Play – not the $5,500 posted on the couchathon site. I must go amend that at once!

My response to Mark below the cut.
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Five Arguments in Favour of Throttling – And Why They’re Wrong

Tell me folks are you sufferin' from the

Tell me folks are you sufferin' from the congestion?

Yes I know this is turning quickly into a net-neutrality blog – but since net-neutrality traffic is up at the moment, I figured I should strike while the iron is hot.

While I thought the CRTC presentation was quite strong, you’re always left with regrets about the questions that didn’t come up. There was a couple of points I was really hoping would be raised, since they are popular talking points of the major ISP’s and it would have been nice to offer a counter-point. So while they’re still fresh, here’s five ISP arguments in favour of traffic throttling, that I just don’t think hold much water:

1. Increasing capacity is prohibitively expensive.

Regardless of my prior post on why building additional capacity is likely far more fiscally responsible than throttling BitTorrent – total smarty-pants Jason Roks made a compelling calculation on Tuesday at the CRTC hearing that a certain national network could likely more than double it’s capacity at the most likely congestion spots for less than $2 per user per month. Of course it’s hard to offer more concrete suggestions when we have no idea of what the profit margins of the major ISP corporate units are (or what portion of their network is devoted to functions other than the Internet – like television, phone, and video-on-demand).
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Net Neutrality for Content Creators – Am I a “Media Personality” Yet?

photo by dalboz17

I now retreat safely to my hole!

So I’m back from my two-day sojourn into the heart of darkness of government.

The CRTC net neutrality public hearings have a couple of (big) days to go yet. I think the joint CFTPA / IFTA team did a tremendous job in preparation and all we can do now is hope that we at least planted the seeds of our message so that the ISP’s don’t get an easy ride when they’re up on Friday.

I had some very positive discussions with media (and other gallery observers) following our presentation – which at least made me feel that our main points got across and we got a lot of nice write-ups today:

Thanks to everyone who sent me links to articles, or kind words following the presentation. Special hat-tip to Erin – for the lengthy consultation on what tie I should bring to Ottawa.

I didn’t speak up when they came for Napster…

Graphic Concept 3

Very interesting day in Ottawa yesterday preparing for the CFTPA presentation to the CRTC today. Lots of involved conversation with extremely intelligent individuals… I’m coming to the startling realization that this “government” of ours actually entails a lot of hard work. Who knew?

Having probably read, spoke, and thought more about the myriad aspects of this net neutrality hearing in the last week than I ever have in my life (and likely, more than is probably healthy) I thought it would be an interesting time to do a little follow up to the series of posts I’ve written following this issue, primarily on why the average end-user, with little interest in public policy should care.

The problem that the Net Neutrality “movement” has is somewhat similar to the issue faced by the ubiquitous WTO protesters – everyone’s in it for a different reason and for completely different politics. For every libertarian who proposes Net Neutrality to guarantee their freedom of net access – another decries any non-market intervention in industry. For every network engineer desperate to keep blanket traffic shaping off their protocols – there’s another that could argue legislation would limit the ability to improve end-user service quality.

I think my viewpoint boils down to this: The majority of these hearings Globally (and the Canadian proceedings specifically) have centered around traffic management of BitTorrent. As a content producer I have a mixed relationship with BitTorrent. I have used it as a legal, valuable, distribution tool – and I have seen it used to pirate works that cost me money (that’s not an abstract “piracy costs the industry billions of dollars” which I still believe is mostly distracting nonsense, that’s a concrete comment at a torrent tracker that was essentially “thanks, I was just about to go buy this on-line”). But BitTorrent is nothing if not a giant red herring. Gopher, Usenet, zero-day websites, kazaa, napster, limewire, WinNY, Tor… all are, essentially, placeholders for “any technology”.

BitTorrent is only particularly interesting in this instance because it has two distinct characteristics:

  • It has certain “P2P” tendencies that make it difficult to manage on a network
  • It is popular

Everything else (for the purpose of Net Neutrality) is distracting chaff.

Well guess what? Pretty much any technology that gets introduced from this point forward will have “P2P tendencies that (will) make it difficult to manage on a network”. World of Warcraft has P2P tendencies now. New VoIP applications have P2P tendencies. Flash (one of the widest technologies in use worldwide) is starting to adopt P2P tendencies. So really the only thing that makes BitTorrent particularly unique at this point in time is that it’s popular. And is that the precedent that we are willing to set? When a technology is widely adopted at a level not conceived of in an original network design the optimum management technique is to strangle it? I heard a great line today (and I haven’t asked for permission so I won’t attribute it) that if we had judged YouTube’s potential on what it was in 2005 (crotch kicks and cat videos) it never would have become such a platform for independent content and political discourse (and, of course, high def crotch kicks, and cats playing piano).

Maybe I, personally, wouldn’t be entirely heartbroken if BitTorrent was throttled out of usefulness… but what about when the next “popular” but “difficult” application is YouTube, or iTunes, or Skype, or my independent video distribution service? How technologies are used change. What technologies we use change. If how we respond to those technologies is to be consistent, we need to make sure they will consistently foster a future we feel is worth working for – not kill that goose before it lays any egg – let alone a golden one.

I can’t see a future of exciting new development opportunities fostered on a network where content judgements of any stripe is allowed ISPs who have their own content interests. That’s not a slight on their character, nor a suggestion of impropriety; Rather it would be improper if they didn’t use that leverage to prioritize their own vision of the future. That’s how the future is built – battling self-interests. But I do think (or hope) that there are more people self-interested in a future with an even playing field that they can build on.

When people ask me why I get so revved up about technology – I generally talk about how I am now able to do things that I couldn’t have imagined when I first logged on to the “Internet” fifteen years ago. Not only things that, literally, would have seemed like magic – but I can tell different stories, to different people, in ways that would have, quite literally, seemed like science fiction. I would like to live in a world where the next fifteen years will be equally as vibrant, creative, and revolutionary to how we – as humanity – tell stories to each other.

Net Neutrality – The “Build Out” Argument

the-internet-a-series-of-tubes

[Update - Excellent executive summary via a friend I was just talking to on the phone who is not terribly interested/versed in technology: "I get it, it makes more sense to just throw more tubes on the pile than paying engineers to constantly crawl through each one trying to figure out what's in there."]

I’ll be going off to Ottawa at the end of next week to offer the CFTPA whatever help I can for their “Net Neutrality” presentation to the CRTC on the 8th (incidentally it’s nice to see that the CFTPA’s position on throttling and neutrality is actually getting some appreciative notice from sectors that, incorrectly, seem to automatically assume that content producers are “the enemy”).

One of the major arguments of the CFTPA’s initial filing to the CRTC is that if solving network congestion is truly the primary concern of ISP’s, increasing network capacity is the only way to do so without stifling consumer choice, competition, and tying an anchor to the creative sector. As I’ve said many times before – the moment that ISP’s get the green light to *evaluate* content (instead of just transporting it) you will make them the sole gatekeepers of how (and what) content will be transported to their end-users. Even if they didn’t misuse that power (and given that both Rogers and Bell have significant digital content-delivery interests – I’m not sure how they could, in good faith to their shareholders, not push the envelope as far as possible) content creators, distributors, and the public would never again know where they stand, and the viability of an entire future of independent content distribution would be lost (or at the very least imperilled).

Aside from that gigantic point, I’m becoming increasingly aware of an equally compelling argument that over-provisioning (increasing network capacity beyond immediate demand) is the more cost-effective solution to network capacity issues as well. David Isenberg has written a very nice post on the “cost” of Net Neutrality which does all of the heavy lifting for this line of thought – I’ll just update it with a couple of numbers for an example.

If we take the Sandvine Internet Traffic Trends Report from October at face value (and I’d point out that as a manufacturer of “traffic optimization” technology they have an extremely large dog in the hunt) up to 22% of current global Internet traffic is due to P2P applications (I’m ignoring their claim about “upstream” traffic – as the differentiation is a sticky wicket for a future day – especially when network traffic is so asynchronous. Given that upstream for end users (who are where Sandvines numbers come from) is usually ~1/5-1/20 that of downstream – a weighted *total* composition of P2P traffic would still be, at maximum, ~20-25%).

So let’s correlate the Sandvine report with CISCO’s 2008-2013 Networking Forecast – which projects that Global IP traffic will quintuple in the next five years. This gives us an interesting forecast.

Presuming that the ISP’s are truly concerned and that their networks are at capacity, with P2P traffic threatening to “tip the balance” as it were, QoS/throttling/deep packet inspection actually would have no impact at all on the eventual outcome. Even if QoS technology could reduce the impact of P2P on the network to ZERO – you would still have at least 300-400% of current demand in the next five years (or an amount equal to 12-16x the entire current amount of P2P traffic). So increasing network capacity is inevitable, regardless.

Now if we go back to David Isenberg’s post, and take into account his very clear arguments on why increasing capacity is actually cheaper than QoS approaches (the brush strokes is that the cost of engineer time to implement the latter (as well as inevitable error, adjustment, monitoring, upgrade) is constant – while additional capacity costs decrease with volume.

So even if you could make an argument that QoS is a more cost-effective approach than increasing capcity at this frozen minute in time – ISP’s are faced with the reality of having to increase capacity by as much as a factor of four to maintain current service levels anyway over the next five years. The question then becomes is it a more logical approach to mix the more-expensive QoS monitoring with the capacity that is going to be otherwise required – or just tack on some additional over-provisioning?

It’s outside of my area of expertise, but I’d be very curious for a projection of how QoS approach costs scale with throughput growth.

So if the effect of P2P traffic on the reality of the short-term Internet is, at best, nominal to the broader issue of global traffic growth (and the CISCO report has some great projections about the volume of video content set to start to use the ‘net as a transport mechanisim which dwarf the current impact of, say, BitTorrent) then what benefit does throttling give ISP’s? Well, other than a very expensive “foot in the door” for when the next “threat to network capacity” comes along. Say, iTunes. Or Skype.

CRTC ‘Net Neutrality Hearings – All the Marbles

There are two major CRTC hearings in the works right now that the copyright/internet savvy should be looking to – and Denis McGrath does a nice job of explaining how they interrelate. The one going on right now, among other things, is looking at the viability of some type of governmental support for creating new media content (the same way it mandates support for radio, publishing, and other creative sectors). Users, generally speaking, are hostile to this thought – because they corrolate it with taxes on blank-media or higher internet fees (either of which could indeed be one possible outcome – but is kind of narrow-sited… CanCon regulations for radio and television don’t necessarily make *them* more expensive, those come out of the post-consumer/advertiser net profits of broadcasters, and can’t necessarily be passed on to end users).

The tricky issue (as Denis adroitly points out) is that these two groups (the ISP’s, vs the creative sector) are also going to butt heads in a few weeks time over net neutrality in Canada (the promised followup to the Bell BitTorrent throttling case, (you might recall at that time, I said not to riot in the streets… that the battle for “all the marbles” had not yet been fought).

As far as I’m concerned this is the battle for an epic amount of marbles.

As we know from similar cases in the USA, ISP’s and telco’s really want to be able to determine what goes through their networks and how. The moment, this precedent gets set – the door is open to a radically different internet, where the services of your ISP (including their own telecom, television, movie, video-on-demand, even websites) can be treated fundamentally different than everything else on the internet. How the ISP’s want to use their network is primary over how the users want to use the network. You are no longer paying for a service, you’re paying for whatever content the ISP’s chose to provide, on whatever terms they deem “necessary”.

It’s been pointed out elsewhere in the CRTC filings that Bell launched a new video-on-demand service around the same time they started throttling BitTorrent traffic. Is that because the volume of the traffic legitimately was overwhelming (interesting, since streaming video has, by some accounts, been the largest single source of total traffic over much of the internet since 2007)? Or was it because it was a competitor to Bell? Should YouTube be throttled? Should Bell implement similar policies against Skype, is it because of volume? Or is it because of competition to Bell’s traditional landline offerings? I’m not saying any of these are true (or even likely), but the point is that once that door is open you (the end user) will never know.

In all the clutter of the current CRTC new media hearings, the preliminary filing by the CFTPA (Canada’s producer’s association) has been mostly overlooked although Michael Geist got part of it:

while P2P applications are undeniably used for the distribution of unauthorized content (as are email, newsgroups and the web), they also are increasingly serving as the foundation for new business models that will enable independent producers to make full use of broadband as a delivery vehicle for Canadian audio-visual programming. Consequently, the CFTPA is concerned that discriminatory traffic throttling may inhibit the development of new applications that would facilitate the ability of independent producers and other content providers to better monetize their content.

Roll that around on your tongue for a minute. That’s Canada’s content producers association saying that while P2P piracy is bad, it’s not nearly as bad as what the control creators would give up if ISP’s are allowed to treat traffic in anything less than an absolutely neutral manner.

The Geist article above goes on to echo this sentiment from a litany of artist organizations (and, interestingly enough, the CBC… one of the few national broadcasters without a related national ISP unlike Bell and Rogers affiliated broadcasters).

But don’t overlook the whole second half of the CFTPA filing either. This is the half which goes on to ask some difficult questions of ISP’s – such as why (if network volume is such an issue) they continue to offer faster, and faster, connections – while actually delivering less and less in the way of actual service. Why the ISP’s advertise speed rates they can’t possibly achieve given their actual infrastructure. Why Canada is rapidly falling in the rankings of Broadband and wireless penitration, adoption, and cost against almost every other OECD country (out of the 30 OECD countries, Canada’s price per megabit of Internet service ranks a near dead-last 27th).

And again, these are the producers – the ones you would suspect would be the first in line to throw a big “down with BitTorrent” party. Heck, the filing goes out of it’s way to point out a number of Canadian shows who benefited from legal BitTorrent distribution – (and I’m not just pleased to see that because they referenced my own Dead End Days and Cerealized).

This filing (and dozens like it) can look past immediate self-interests to see that:

The CFTPA submits that requiring ISPs to adopt an agnostic approach to traffic
management is critical to ensuring that the Internet remains an open-access platform. Such
an approach encourages innovation in the design and development of new applications and
services and facilitates the delivery of Canadian content – including Canadian audio-visual
content – to Canadians.

In a lot of ways the CRTC hearings to date have some amount of “side-show” to them (not that they aren’t important), but this one is the main event. It will shape the way Canadians produce, distribute, and watch content for years to come – and if that’s not enough to make it worth your while to wade through the odd text-heavy report… then I don’t know what is… but don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning to find your marbles strangely absent.

  • Disclosure: I work with a member company of the CFTPA, and have also been involved with the working group behind this filing.

Network Shaping is Bad. Period. Full Stop.

News out of the US that representative Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is trying to sneak anti-net neutrality language into the stimulus bill.

In a nutshell, the senators amendment would tie additional broadband funding in the US with amended legislation that would allow ISP’s to implement “network management techniques” ostensibly to deter child pornography, and movie piracy, and the like.

I recently noted the different approach to piracy in Canada and the US – but here’s yet another concrete example as this amendment appears to be driven by the MPAA in their ongoing anti-piracy campaign.

Let me make this as clear, and concise as I can: The moment content producers allow ISP’s to make a “value” judgement — of any kind — as to data they carry on their network, producers have lost. You have set a precedent that allows the ISP to become the content gate-keeper who will forevermore determine what legitimate services customers will have access to. Read more