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Freedom to Connect

Over the last ten years, Andrew Odlyzko has been writing about a pricing algorithm that would assure reasonable service levels at reasonable prices. If you’re going to F2C, you might want to read that brief article or this slightly more complex one to learn (or refresh your sense of) PMP—Paris Metro Pricing models to deal with network congestion. You’ll also get a sense of why throwing bandwidth at the network will not be sufficient.

Here’s a great article from 1995. Standing tall on the pedestal of ISDN and analog modem engineering limits Bill Frezza predicts what the wireless landscape of 2000 might look like.

Last summer Leon Erlanger argued persuasively that the days of the “fat dumb pipe” are over. Besides addressing the very real concerns of latency in global networks, Elanger says that a smart network is necessary for security:

The proliferation of XML and SOA promises to magnify performance and security issues. XML is verbose and inefficient, bringing new security issues. In fact, Cisco, HP, and vendors of network-based XML acceleration and security devices, such as Sarvega and Reactivity, will tell you that the network could offload a lot of XML processing, translation, and security from beleaguered servers. It could even take over some of the classic application and data-integration burden.

I feel a little bit like I’m riding a pendulum of indecision. Some really smart people argue persuasively for the stupid network, while some really straightforward analysis suggests that building in intelligence can improve throughput, improve utilization of bandwidth, improve application performance and so forth. Stuart Cheshire argued long ago that not all intelligence at the edges is really that smart. I feel a little retro including links to articles about modems and ISDN and such, but the fact remains that most USian connectivity sux anyway… most of our broadband isn’t that broad, and that is an issue we should be addressing with our connectivity providers.

For me, connectivity bespeaks end-to-end, and the only way I know to get from one end to the other is through the pipe, and if the pipe is crowded and/or my access to it is slow, then my ability to move my bits to your place, and vice versa will suffer. While it is fine to think of the network of networks as a cloud, to ignore the wizard behind the curtain, there are huge enterprises at work providing that connectivity through the pipes. This is a public service, no different from highway construction and maintenance, no different from electrical power generation and distribution.

The Reagan era spelled doom for public service regulation. Our highways, our schools, our networks, our power systems are all at risk because of lack of adequate, ethical oversight. For me, the opportunity at the F2C conference will be the opportunity to spike the koolaid of the stupid network with the intoxicating rush of populist control. How can we intervene with decent legislation and empowerment of regulatory agencies, to prevent duopoly price fixing and content control? How do we avoid a cultural devolution into Disneyland, or worse—into Singapore (described by William Gibson as Disneyland with the death penalty).

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