Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Seeing Net Neutrality Through A Glass Darkly

While they still haven't released the 330 page set of rules they voted on a week ago, the FCC has released a five page summary.  Consider this all propaganda or PR (same thing).  Glittering generalities that don't make any sense when you think about them. 

Short detour for the very newest readers.  My day job is as a radio design engineer.  While I'm currently designing weather radars, most of my 30 years as an engineer has been in systems that send and receive data.  I say that to point out that I know a bit about the technical side of getting data from place to place, and what bandwidth really means. 

Their "Bright Line Rules" say No Prioritization; the "all bits are equal" argument.  Given that bandwidth isn't infinite, and never will be, how can this make sense?  In reality, there are services that matter more than others.  For example, it doesn't really matter if an email takes a minute to assemble at the receiving end, and it doesn't really matter if your shopping cart or bank transfer takes a few seconds longer, or goes slower to allow a video to stream without buffering, but saying No Prioritization means forbidding slowing those to allow video to stream.  If nothing is higher priority, then that means your video will be slowed by making everything the same priority. 

Since no traffic can be prioritized over any other legal content, in my opinion, that makes ISP Spam filters illegal.  Spam is legal, after all.  Right now, around 2/3 of the Internet traffic is spam (one article I read measured 90.4%!).  The FCC Document says No Prioritization, and that "providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic".  Since spam is lawful traffic, it has to be treated like all other bits. I wouldn't be surprised if a big company sued to get their junk through. 

If all bits are truly bits, it's probably going to impact things you haven't thought of.  You probably don't consider your TV as internet traffic, but to your broadband provider's cable, fiber optic, or wireless link, it's all bits.  Those bits will be slowed by Internet traffic, too.  Let’s say a new service comes online; an Ultra HD video 24/7 streaming service that will use 75% of your ISPs bandwidth (not a bad comparison to Netflix coming online when providers weren't ready).  The ISPs are forbidden from charging them more, and they have to just let everything buffer at the exact same priority, so they’ll slow down everything else you do.

It seems to be based on the idea that we have infinite bandwidth, or that bandwidth will expand indefinitely.  That seems optimistic at best, if not stupid. 

The build out of the network capacity that has gone on for the last 20 to 30 years is nothing short of amazing.  My guess is that's going to end, or slow dramatically.  Gun Free Zone offers this perspective:
When I came into the internet, it was through American On Line.  It charged me (IRRC) $2.45 per hour of usage at 9,600 bps and I had to get a spare phone line so our main wasn’t blocked if I was online. If I got distracted and forgot to disconnect, that monthly bill got huge ensuing significant fights with SWMBO.

Right now I am with one of the big companies that according to the FCC need to be reigned in. I am paying $50 a month for 25 Mbps unlimited and I killed any phone land lines long ago.

Now a simple feat of math: If was still paying AOL prices and connected 100% of the time ($2.45 x 24 x 365) at the end of the year I would be paying $21,462 on a really slow connection. Right now on high-speed Internet unlimited, I am paying $600 a year. That is what? a forty-fold decrease in price with an almost thirty-fold increase in speed on an unregulated internet subject to the whims of the free market?
(Lisa Benson at Town Hall


  1. Drop me a line when you can.

    I used to do a lot of weather radar stuff for Sea Launch.

  2. I'm a network engineer in Northern Virginia, working for a major telco.

    Thank the Lord, I don't do a lot of BGP these days, but used to do all the peering deployments at many an exchange.

    Balancing traffic just for sake of performance and reliability is enough of a pain, and a constant battle.

    Would be nice to think that "neutrality" would let us throw away all the weighting, shaping, and just let the bits fly free...

    This is going to be a huge nightmare for all involved, hugely expensive to the providers (and thus the consumers).

    I reckon that's the idea.

  3. What I think we'll see is mutltiple performance tiers as those with the resources build private networks to get around the government-mandated dismal performance.

    Recently the NYSE upgraded its line-of-sight microwave connections with LOS laser connections at no small cost. That's feasible for them because trimming a few milliseconds of latency means billions to companies engaged in automated stock trading. There's also a reliability improvement with laser over microwave.

    That's not an option, however, for Netflix, Amazon or Last National Bank; those enterprises - and their customer base - are dependent upon the internet.

    LOS laser has possibilities, once economies of scale drive the cost down, to support limited size hub-and-spoke private networks, and SpaceX is close to much less expensive satellite launch. The proverbial Last Mile will be an issue because ditches are so much more expensive than the fiber or copper in them, but what happens if a regional comm company goes completely private to get out from under fed dot gov scrutiny and takes their buried lines with them? Back in Ben Franklin's day fire departments were membership organizations, but I don't know how that business model would work in an environment that required interconnection.

    I think one reason Our Rulers are tackling this is an attempt to regulate (read: control) communication about discontent in an attempt to preserve their position atop the pyramid. I suspect the result may not correspond to their desires.

    I wouldn't give up on sneakernet just yet.....


  4. Alien - I can see it going the way of private networks form to get around the regulation, but I could also see them outlawing that in the regulations nobody is allowed to see yet.

    The Last Mile seems to be a place for RF links (being an RF kind of guy). I need to go read up on the type of laser the NYSE just put in. I saw the story on Zero Hedge and I Just Don't Get It. Light is much more susceptible to scattering from fog than microwaves are. Microwaves are subject to absorption, but that's ameliorated by switching frequency bands and increasing power.

    Long distance trunk lines have been by microwaves forever (almost), so it's not like this is a new problem and workarounds don't exist.

  5. Can't remember the name, but there was an outfit in Orlando in the late '90s that tried TV via LOS RF over the "last couple of miles", associated somehow with AT&T, IIRC. It died a quiet death after a couple years because it was all LOS, impacted by weather, and they couldn't match cable's bandwidth or distribution geography - since it was LOS, they couldn't get enough customers. One of my neigbors still had an antenna in a pine tree on their property when I moved out in 2011, almost a decade after the company failed.

    I don't doubt any successes will be outlawed by gummint (that's what they do).

    The USN has used some laser comm for a while (I looked at it for disaster planning both before and after the 2004 hurricanes, but in both cases the dollars were out of budget).

    There's a huge amount of MW experience, lasers over distance is still climbing a learning curve.

  6. "SpaceX is close to much less expensive satellite launch."

    Uh, no.

    I am sorry, did not notice the period above.


    When, SpaceX invests a couple billion or so at the front end in land and infrastructure around the world to launch a rocket or two at only at the nominal hundred mil per, then, when.

    Until 'when' they are getting the resources for 'free'.

  7. I fully expect the FCC to create new bandwidth, the same way the Fed creates new money. What? You can't print bandwidth? Of course you can. If the Won "executive orders" it, you can do anything.

    Of course, you realize that the new rules will only be applied to conservative sources within the Internet. The Left will get "unlimited" bandwidth and privileges, while the right gets restricted and silenced. Like the way the Lacey Act was applied to both Gibson and Martin . . .