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Save the Internet contests Laws of Physics

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Who passed these Laws of Physics? Let's sue 'em

So what we have here is a demand that the FCC and Comcast repeal the laws of physics and provide unlimited non-delayed uploads to everybody everywhere on the Comcast network all the time. That's not going to happen no matter who's in charge of the agency.

The FCC should clarify the nature of "reasonable network management", and do so with sufficient force that the coalition is motivated to take its regulatory zeal elsewhere. In particular, that would mean saying that the following are presumed reasonable unless proved otherwise:

  • Any network management practice whose effect is to limit traffic load to the capacity of the network.
  • Any network management practice whose effect is to prevent a small number of users from dominating limited network resources and increasing delay for others.
  • Any network management practice necessary to keep the network operating within its stability parameters, which depend on the technology itself. E.g., Wi-Fi, DOCSIS, and Ethernet are all stable in different ranges of load.
  • All that virus and security stuff is also clearly fine.

I believe that we need to ignore the methods and concentrate on the effects because network equipment doesn't always allow multiple choices of the methods that manage traffic. The regulation advocates suggest, for example, that Comcast use "dynamic caps" to manage BitTorrent traffic rather than busy signals (TCP Reset is a digital busy signal). Dynamic caps aren't available in all DOCSIS modems, but the busy signal at the network portal clearly is.

In other words, Comcast manages its network according to what works, not what some weird coalition of angry lawyers and sweaty advocates think will work.

And I'd seriously like for the FCC to consider referring the complaint to the Justice Department for consideration of perjury charges. Some of the signatories have filled out "penalty of perjury" declarations after making irresponsible charges and claiming to be subject matter experts. I know this is pro forma, but some of their charges are so extreme that it would be wise to make examples of them. I don't expect that to happen, of course, because there's a wide latitude for lying in advocacy, but it would thrill me if it did.

Playing the politics game with the net

The bottom line here is that the Internet, which has succeeded largely because of its lack of regulation, has become the lust-object of a whole slew of regulators. Its existence and success are an affront to the livelihood and reputation of regulators everywhere, and they can't allow such a rebuke to stand. And sooner or later, the 535 regulators who make up the Congress will side with them. The Internet is too juicy a plum for them not to get their grubby little paws on it.

Net neutrality's father, Tim Wu, committed a gaffe recently and admitted that his movement is a power struggle for control of the Internet. Indeed it is. We can either allow the Internet to continue operating as it always has, under the control of engineers and users, or we can transfer control to lawyers, bureaucrats, and appliance testers. There are disturbing signs that the bureaucratization of the Internet is well underway. ICANN, the group that oversees domain name registrars and other sundry details, recently elected a lawyer to lead it in place of a former network engineer.

So enjoy it while it lasts.®

Richard Bennett is a network architect and occasional activist in Silicon Valley. He wrote the first standard for Ethernet over twisted-pair wiring and contributed to the standards for WiFi and the Ultra-Wideband wireless networks. His eleven-year old blog is on his personal website, at bennett.com, where this article first appeared.

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