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How 'Saving The Net' may kill it

The engineer's case against Net Neutrality

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Q: What would do you think will happen, assuming Net Neutrality dies?

A: I'd like to see service level tiering, and probably that service plan will enable you to use four levels of Quality of Service. Packets will have to be tagged, so BitTorrent can move it at background priority, http and mail move at the best effort, and you have two highest level priorities for Voice and Video.

When we were designing Wi-Fi, some of us envisaged priority levels through differential interpacket gaps. That idea didn't make it in the original standard, but a version was added to 802.11e based on a more elegant but substantially similar idea (802.11 randomizes the delay for each packet to avoid collisions, and 11e allows the randomization to be constrained by priority.) Tests show that 11e enables four times as many voice calls with QoS as without it.

Remember that the internet isn't the network - it is a means of interconnecting networks. It was refined and rewritten. Now we have Quality of Service applications and Wi-Fi networks that use QoS, we have to refine it one more time. The Internet should be a faithful servant to the networks it interconnects.

Q: The religious attachment to End-to-End seems to come from non-technical people.

A: Engineers are very practical. If something doesn't work as designed, if the experiment shows results different to the ones they expected, then they don't pound sand. They go back and try another approach.

Engineers get paid to make it better.

Q: People only seem to object to a 'two lane' highway until you point out one slow lane for everyone isn't any better. Who stands to benefit from the 'Net Neutrality'?

A: I think Google and Yahoo! have made the calculation that IPTV may be lucrative in the long term, and this would put them at an advantage. Google is building massive server farms to enable them to pump enormous amounts of data onto the Internet. The one in Oregon is so big they had to build it close to a dam to get enough electricity - see Markoff's article in the New York Times.

With net neutrality, whoever generates the most traffic controls the network.

Q: But 'Net Neutrality' is presented as a grassroots lobby.

A: I think most people at the grassroots level are really sincere - they really think they're saving the internet.

Up at the MyDD and DailyKos level, there's a lot of manipulation going on. There, it's really about exposure of the brand, and fighting the virtuous fight.

The Stevens Bill is too big and complicated; the bulk of it about video franchising and that's a very contentious matter. So if you're out to exploit the political process, what better way than to find a big bill that's going to be delayed anyway, and jump on it.

[More views on Net Newt tomorrow - ed.]®

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