Category Archives: VoIP

Movie King of the Internet: Bad Idea

kong_iup2.jpg Andrew Odlyzko asks what if the duopoly gets its way and completely does away with net neutrality:
But what if they do get their wish, net neutrality is consigned to the dustbin, and they do build their new services, but nobody uses them? If the networks that are built are the ones that are publicly discussed, that is a likely prospect. What service providers publicly promise to do, if they are given complete control of their networks, is to build special facilities for streaming movies. But there are two fatal defects to that promise. One is that movies are unlikely to offer all that much revenue. The other is that delivering movies in real-time streaming mode is the wrong solution, expensive and unnecessary. If service providers are to derive significant revenues and profits by exploiting freedom from net neutrality limitations, they will need to engage in much more intrusive control of traffic than just provision of special channels for streaming movies.

The delusions of net neutrality, Andrew Odlyzko, School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA Revised version, August 17, 2008

Why is that?
But video, and more generally content (defined as material prepared by professionals for wide distribution, such as movies, music, newscasts, and so on), is not king, and has never been king. While content has frequently dominated in terms of volume of traffic, connectivity has almost universally been valued much more highly and brought much higher revenues. Movies cannot be counted on to bring in anywhere near as much in revenues as voice services do today.
The Internet isn't about Sarnoff's Law (broadcast content like TV, radio, and newspapers) or even about Metcalfe's Law (1-n connectivity, like telephone or VoIP): it's about Reed's law, 2n-n connectivity, such as blogs, P2P, and facebook). That's my interpretation; Odlyzko probably wouldn't agree.

Anyway, that video content such as movies is king is one of the primary delusions Odlyzko addresses in this paper. The other is that movies need to be streamed in realtime. It is mysterious why people continue to believe that in the face of the massive evidence BitTorrent and other P2P services that deliver big content in chunks faster than realtime. I can only attribute this second delusion to a bellhead mindset that still thinks in terms of telephone, which was realtime because nobody knew any other way to do it back in the analog-copper-wire-connection day.

As Odlyzko sums it up:

The general conclusion is that the story presented by service providers, that they need to block net neutrality in order to be able to afford to construct special features in their networks for streaming movies, is simply not credible. If lack of net neutrality requirements is to be exploited, it will have to be done through other, much more intrusive means.
So why let the duopoly force a policy on everyone else that won't even work to the advantage of the duopoly?

One way to get net neutrality would be to let the duopoly have its way, and wait for it to implode. However, given that for streaming video to have any chance of succeeding, the duopoly would have to clamp down on everything else to eliminate any competition, I shudder to think what this would mean. The Internet as a source of real news and opinion would go away. Given that the vestigial traditional news media in the U.S. (TV, radio, newspapers) provide so little news, there's a very good chance that most people in the U.S. wouldn't even know how bad they had it as the country sped its slide into parochialism and irrelevance. How many people even know now that the U.S. has slid from #1 to #23 or whatever the latest number is in broadband uptake? If the duopoly is given its head, even fewer would know.

If we let King Kong Telco and T Rex Cableco battle it out to be Movie King of the Internet, where does that leave poor Fay Wray Public?

FCC, FTC, Congress, executive, and courts, not to mention the public, should all read Odlyzko's paper, and should all refuse the duopoly's demand for special privileges that won't even produce profits for the duopoly. Then all of above should legislate, enforce, and maintain net neutrality so we will all profit and benefit. Yes, even the duopoly can win with this.


Boehner’s Latest Crying Jag

20070216-tearfulboehner.jpg Boo hoo:
At least one lawmaker is already crying foul over Friday’s expected Federal Communications Commission’s censure of Comcast for faking internet traffic to limit its customers’ peer-to-peer file sharing.

Republican minority leader Rep. John Boehner said the FCC would be “essentially regulating the internet.”

Lawmaker Cries Foul Ahead of FCC Net-Neutrality Decision, By David Kravets, ThreatLevel, July 31, 2008 | 7:02:45 PM

This is rather like crying foul because courts regulate contracts. I wonder how the free market would operate without them? The Internet free market in applications and services wouldn’t operate very well without net neutrality.

I don’t recall Boehner crying foul when Congress voted to regulate the Internet to require ISPs to hand over every bit (every email, phone call, web page, video, etc.) to the NSA and to legalize them having already done it when it was illegal. No free market talk from him then. Guess he didn’t think the Fourth Amendment was worth crying over, unlike Anna Nicole Smith.

And back in 1995, it was the duopoly ISPs demanding regulation from the FCC, because they wanted to squelch VoIP.

Now they want to squelch everybody else’s P2P and especially online video, except what they get a cut of. They think they can get away with it if the FCC stays out of the way, so now they are against regulation.

Their principles flip-flop kind of like Boehner’s, don’t they? Bunch of cry babies.


Back to the ITU Future

itu.jpg I should have expected the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to be involved in this:
Another document came out last week that ties this all together. It’s from the ITU, and it’s called “Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2007: The Road to Next-Generation Networks (NGN).”

The ITU defines “NGN” as a network that provides quality-of-service-enabled transport technologies. The idea is that packet transport will be “enriched with Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) to ensure Quality of Service (QoS).”

Translation, as far as I can tell: packet transport becomes the same as circuit-switched transport. Prioritization is controlled; it’s a network optimized on billing.

Tying things together, by Susan Crawford, Susan Crawford blog, Mon 10 Sep 2007 08:05 PM ED

This takes us back to the bad old days when national telephone companies sold you data service by the byte, through their preferred protocol, X.25. The advantage of circuit switching was supposed to be fully provisioned copper wires or other resources all the way through between two parties. The disadvantages were that you sometimes couldn’t get a connection and the high price, which got even higher between countries. It seems the telcos have settled on MPLS as their modern equivalent of X.25.


Crack Google?

robberbarons.jpg Cringely gets anxious over Google’s floor bid for 700Mhz. After pointing out that Verizon and AT&T coming around to Kevin Martin’s leaked counterproposal of watered down “open access” rules, he says:
Look who Google is up against — all the largest Internet service providers in the U.S. Google will not win this even if they win the auction, because the telcos and cable companies are far more skilled and cunning when it comes to lobbying and controlling politicians than Google can ever hope to be. The telcos have spent more than a century at this game and Google hasn’t even been in it for a decade. And Google’s pockets are no deeper than those of the other potential bidders.

Is Google on Crack?: Eric Schmidt bets the ranch on wireless spectrum, Robert X. Cringely, Pulpit, 27 July 2007

Cringely is missing the point about who Google is up against. These outfits have not been the largest ISPs for more than a century. They’ve been telephone companies for more than a century. And being around for a long time isn’t necessarily a sure win. Look at the Vatican; it’s been around for two thousand years, and it’s managed to lose most of its traditional heartland of Europe. Sure, Google is fragile, in some senses even more fragile than Microsoft, as Cringely points out. But even Microsoft is losing market share from IE to an open source browser, Firefox. Google, as a proponent of open source that actually understands it, has a fair chance here. The incumbent duopoly telcos aren’t really in the Internet business; Google is.

Maybe Cringely’s right that Google alone couldn’t win the auction. But Google and Sprint possibly could. Sure, Sprint is a phone company, too. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to side with the rest if it scents profit. Maybe with a little help from Apple.

Let’s hope that’s what Google is really up to, rather than expecting to get Martin to change the rules and then wait for AT&T to deliver another striped bass.

I also don’t think Cringely is taking into account the stakes here. Continue reading

e911 vs. Net Neutrality

bob_cringely.jpg I don’t usually blog the same article twice, but Cringely said something else important (the all-caps emphases are his):
Now let’s look at this in the context of net neutrality. For the cable companies, at least, it probably doesn’t matter. That’s because while cable Internet service and cable VoIP service both use the CMTS, it is easy for the cable company to configure its VoIP product as completely separate from its Internet product. IF YOUR CABLE OPERATOR WILL SELL YOU VOIP SERVICE WITHOUT INTERNET SERVICE, THEN NET NEUTRALITY DOES NOT APPLY.

If excess Internet traffic causes problems for the VoIP services of these cable companies, they can prioritize their own VoIP packets with impunity because VoIP isn’t defined as an Internet service. And for that very reason, packet prioritization can — and will — occur even if the broadband ISP has signed an agreement promising net neutrality.

The next level of this ploy is to validate the un-Internetiness of the VoIP system through public service interconnects like 911. “Should calling the police get priority treatment?” will be the question and most courts won’t say “no.”

Beyond Net Neutrality: If at first you don’t succeed, change the game. Robert X. Cringely, I, Cringely, April 6, 2007

The various VoIP companies better be worried about this trick, because it’s all the incumbent duopoly really needs to say their own VoIP is an essential public service and any others are interfering with public safety. Continue reading

Incumbents Preparing

about_bob.jpg Cringely gets pessimistic:
In the end the ISPs are going to win this battle, you know. The only thing that will keep them from doing that is competition, something it is difficult to see coming along anytime soon, rather like that lemonade-powered sports car.

Beyond Net Neutrality: If at first you don’t succeed, change the game. I, Cringely, Pulpit, April 6, 2007

Is he just whining? Continue reading

Vonage Lost in Patent Thicket

Previously I noted that even if allocating spectrum won’t work to keep small players from disseminating traditional services such as radio over the Internet, nonetheless copyright could do the trick. And patents can serve the same purpose, this time regarding Voice over IP (VoIP):
Vonage, which recently lost a court battle against Verizon Communications, is also facing a patent lawsuit from Sprint Nextel. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, in October 2005 will likely go to trial in September, a Sprint representative said Wednesday.

Vonage legal woes continue, by Marguerite Reardon, C|Net, March 14, 2007 1:32 PM PDT

Ah, patent thickets! A traditional way to keep out the upstarts. Continue reading

Service or Fundamental Connectivity?

Bob Frankston, commenting on how telcos want to shift entirely off copper to fiber so they don’t have to share and so they can allocate 99% of the resulting bandwidth to video and voice and 1% to the Internet, hits on an important point:
The real impact has come more from the 24×7 connectivity than the speed. It is this persistent connectivity that has made VoIP both important and not very interesting. Kids playing Xbox-live with friends around the world are not making phone calls – they going beyond the conceptual model of telephony. By treating the Internet as a service rather than fundamental and vital connectivity, we cannot use it as the basis for new services such as medical monitoring and emergency communications. The tragedy is that the resilient Internet is far better for emergency services than E911 could possibly be even if it weren’t locked into legacy rules.

Why Settle for Just 1%? by Bob Frankston,

As long as we have all major carriers and their oversight body (the FCC) thinking in terms of voice, video, and Internet as discrete and separate services, instead of thinking of the Internet as fundamental connectivity for everything, we’ll continue to miss out on opportunities for services well beyond triple.