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The Network Management Excuse

Telco front-man Scott Cleland, in a recent blog post, thumbs his nose at the Four Internet Freedoms and says that the FCC should too. Under current leadership, it probably will.

Referring to the recent submissions to the FCC by Free Press and Public Knowledge and Vuze complaining about Comcast’s use of reset packets to block applications that compete with Comcast’s own proprietary video entertainment offering, Cleland says “Network management trumps net neutrality.”

There are lots of reasons for, ahem, managing. Cleland neglects to observe that controlling congestion the way Comcast does it is like scattering nails in the road for traffic control.

Cleland continues, it is “... preposterous [that the Four Internet Freedoms should have a] legal and binding effect.” He says that, “law trumps FCC rules, FCC rules trump FCC policy statements.” The Four Internet Freedoms, in the Martin FCC, are a policy statement.

Policy statements are, indeed, at the bottom of the enforcement totem pole. The washy, wishy policy statement, washy as originally articulated by Michael Powell, and even wishier under Martin [compare Powell and Martin versions here], with footnotes loose enough to drive a truck through sideways, should be strengthened to make the creation and dissemination of data as much of an entitlement as its reception and use. Then the policy statement should be given the force of law. And it should be enforced with a wise purview and an iron hand. A difficult job at every step.

In paragraph three, Cleland turns on the after-burners, saying it is, “naive, irresponsible, and unreasonable . . . that networks with an end-to-end design magically manage themselves or require no management, investment, or maintenance whatsoever.”

Nobody, nobody, nobody is saying that. We’ve gotta have network management. Cleland’s rhetoric here is shamefully mis-directive. Remember the red herring that NN meant that you had to treat every packet identically or you would be breaking the law? Nobody said that either. This is one of those.

For network management to be legit, it has to be for congestion control, not to control the competition.

Cleland neglects to mention that a stupid network, or an end-to-end network, or a network of conduit, not content, is a very simple network with very simple network management needs. It’s only when Kontent Konflates with Kongestion that Komplexity arises.

Cleland’s hinge is that the proponents of Network Neutrality are petitioning the FCC to manage carrier networks rather than the carriers themselves. This was predictable. In fact I predicted it, especially here. I must say I agree. The situation exists because the carriers have a financial interest in what they are carrying.

As long this financial interest exists, the carriers have an overwhelming motive to “manage” in ways that advance their interests and disadvantage competing interests. If the telcos divested all interest in what they’re carrying, there would be no problem with them managing their networks. They could manage their networks as innovatively and creatively as they wanted without further regulation, and the motive for anti-competitive behavior would not exist.

Cleland’s willful ignorance extends to the end-to-end principle as it is embodied in Internet architecture. It surfaces in his claim that Net Neutrality would overturn the Americans with Disabilities Act. He ignores the fact that the Internet shifts the whole idea of “accessibility” to the application layer. He ignores the fact that once a carrier provides the pipe, it doesn’t need to worry about the accessibility of the applications. The programmer, not the carrier, turns text to speech for the blind, amplifies the lower frequencies for the hearing impaired, and provides the voice command interface for those unable to use a keyboard. Only in telcoland are apps and pipes inextricable.

In this post, Cleland appeals to “common sense” eleven times. Network engineer John Quarterman observes that this appeal, “means he knows he doesn’t actually have a legal argument.” Quarterman concludes,

It’s not about network management. It’s about corporate and political control of the Internet trying to stifle net neutrality and Internet freedom.

Yes. But don’t expect today’s FCC to act accordingly.

By David Isenberg, Principal Prosultant(sm), isen.com, LLC

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