The popular press and news feeds have been full of stories about advocates of “net neutrality” testifying to congressional committees, lobbying the federal government and railing against the big ISPs over the past while. Not much mention of arguments against net neutrality, though. It’s hard to decide whether those arguing for net neutrality are foolish, ignorant or disingenuous.
Let’s begin with some definitions. When someone demands “net neutrality”, they usually mean that the network must not discriminate between applications being carried in IP packets; that identical transmission characteristics (throughput, delay, number of errors, etc.) are to be provided for all packets regardless of what is being carried in them. They claim (correctly) that this is not the case at present, that the network service provider is “throttling” certain applications, “slowing down” or “shaping” traffic and that this, in their opinion, must stop. They sound the rallying cry “the net should be free”.
What a load of hogwash.
But are these arguments foolish, ignorant or disingenuous? Hard to decide:
Foolish: The Internet Protocol, IP, does not provide any guarantees. There is no guarantee that a packet will be transmitted, when that might happen, how often that might happen, or how long it will take to reach its destination. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkes. In IP, there is even no way for a device to which a packet is proposed to be transmitted to report back whether it got the packet, sent it onward or what. Nothing. This is called a connectionless, unreliable network service.
Here’s the foolish part: if we are to use an IP network for real-time, delay- and loss-sensitive applications like phone calls and watching television, implementing Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms to guarantee transmission characteristics is essential… otherwise, there is no way to guarantee quality of the reconstructed signal at the destination. Television pictures would freeze, then jump forward, sometimes have block distortion effects and other artifacts. Clicks, pops, muting, breaking up and similar effects would be heard on phone calls. Saying that we should not take measures to prevent this is foolish. All phone calls and television will happen over IP in the future.
Guaranteeing transmission characteristics is easy if there is no traffic on the network. The difficulty happens when there is contention, either for the use of an outgoing circuit at a network device, or contention for the use of the processor in a network device… and this contention is going to have to be resolved in favor of real-time, delay- and loss-sensitive applications like phone calls and watching television to the detriment of applications that are less sensitive to delay and packet loss like web page downloads, email and file transfers.
Here’s the ignorant part: IP network service providers are not operating IP networks as such. They are operating MPLS networks. MPLS is the IP world’s implementation of virtual circuits, where we define classes of traffic and pre-determine routes and relative priorities for the classes. A class of traffic is a flow of packets going from the same place to the same place and should experience the same transmission characteristics. We establish multiple classes going from the same place, to the same place but each with a different specified transmission characteristic. This way, the class is a number to look up in a table in an intermediate routing node that will yield the address of the next-hop device and the priority level of the packet.
At the entrance to the MPLS network, the first MPLS router, called the ingress device, analyzes the packet to determine what (among other things) application is being carried in the packet (voice, video, music, email, web page, etc.) to determine class it belongs to, and when it decides, pastes a label on the front of the IP packet with a number indicating the class. Intermediate Label Switching Routers in the network do not examine the IP address, they use the number in the label to lookup the routing decision and the priority level of the packet. This is how Quality of Service is implemented on packet networks.
It’s ignorant for these supposedly-well-informed net-neutrality advocates to talk about “IP” networks when they are actually MPLS networks, and one of the main reasons for the network operator having implemented MPLS was to be able to prioritize packets based on the application being carried inside them, to be able to guarantee transmission characteristics for phone calls and watching television! MPLS as the Quality of Service (QoS) technology to implement the exact opposite of “net neutrality” is already in place on all commercial IP networks. It was used to manage the bandwidth for the download of the article you are reading right now! Too late.
More ignorance: thinking that the Internet is a public utility. It ain’t. It’s a business. read more here
“Disingenuous” is usually defined as being not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness; being insincere. Here’s the disingenuous part: the application that is being “throttled” or traffic that is being “shaped” or “slowed” (the correct term is “policed”) is piracy. Theft. In most places, illegal activity. Downloading illegal copies of copyrighted material. Stealing.
The category of application being policed is peer-to-peer file sharing. Examples of this kind of application include bittorrent and limewire. These applications are used 99.999% of the time to download illegally-made copies of Hollywood movies, music of all kinds from Beethoven to Eminem, training videos, software, ebooks, audio books and other copyrighted works without paying the author or publisher. Take a look at one of the bittorrent sites like piratebay dot org and click “browse torrents” to see for yourself. Yes, the advocates can describe how bittorrent was designed for the legitimate delivery of software, and trot out one example of a legitimate use… but this is definitely a case where the exception proves the rule. 99.999% of the use is theft.
In English common law there is a maxim: you can’t come to court with dirty hands; in other words, you can’t ask for justice if you yourself are obviously breaking the rules. The people whose traffic is being policed have filthy dirty hands. Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
ALL “NET NEUTRALITY” ARTICLES:
Net Neutrality – Foolish, ignorant or disingenuous?
Net Neutrality II: If the power company allowed this, your electrical bill would double
Net neutrality – not. VideoTutorial on Service Level Agreements, traffic shaping and traffic policing
Is the Internet a Public Utility?
“NET NEUTRALITY” AND IP NETWORKING TECHNICAL RESOURCES:
the most comprehensive discussion of this topic is in this course:
Course 110 Understanding IP Telecom: IP, VoIP and MPLS for Non-Engineers,
Chapter 14. Quality of Service in the IP World: NET NON -NEUTRALITY
Course 101 Telecom, Datacom and Networking for Non-Engineers,
Chapter 3-3 “Bandwidth-On-Demand: Packet Network Services” and following
Video Course DVD-4 “Understanding Networking 1”
Part 3 WANs – Bandwidth On Demand: Packet Network Services
Telecom 101 Textbook
Chapter 18 Bandwidth on Demand
17 thoughts on “Net Neutrality – Foolish, ignorant or disingenuous?”
You said “IP network service providers are not operating IP networks as such. They are operating MPLS networks.” This isn’t true for the ISPs for the public internet is it? Like Earthlink, Mindspring etc.
Yep, shore is. All operators use MPLS in the core of their network to manage traffic between hubs (think of hub-and-spoke architecture).
If they are in the retail business, they will physically provide or order from a physical provider and resell a native IP network interface between the customer and their router in that area (the router is the hub in their hub-and-spoke countrywide network). Then between the hubs it’s MPLS.
This is true whether they own the physical transmission facility connecting their hubs, if they are paying someone else to move the traffic on their physical facility or what. They have to do traffic management on the hub-to-hub high-traffic connections using MPLS.
See Figure 15.21 in Course 101, showing the native IP access but MPLS innards. That figure is also on http://www.teracomtraining.com/blog/tcpip-over-mpls .
VideoTutorial on Service Level Agreements, traffic shaping and traffic policing
Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.
Good points, but not necessary right.
1. Foolish. All packets do not have guarantee, we agree. But doesn’t that they are treated equally? No one gets guarantee: equal. If some gets guarantee, some does: not equal. Got it?
[response from author]: Ummm, no.
However, as one ISP does, competitor’s VoIP is blocked, but its own is allowed. This is not called NOT equal. I think you misundertanding what “equal” means in net neutrality.
2. Ignorant. Again, ISP can manage the network, no boby is arguing against it. The question is how to manage it. If it manages based on standards in MPLS, we are OK. But giving a priority to the packets ISP like, blocking or slowing the packets it does like (e.g., the competitors’, or these websites dare to not pay it – double pays I would say since end users already pay), is NOT allowed.
[response from author]:
Please see my repsonse on neutrality = source/destination neutrality further down. The devil is in the details of making discrimination illegal. The Law of Unintended Consequences awaits.
3. Disingenuous. Where do you get the number 99.999? Comes out of thin air? Let’s forgot about torrent.
[response from author]:
Can you find ONE thing to download on mininova dot com that is not stolen property? And no, let’s not forget about bittorrent. It is the main cause of the need for traffic policing.
why dont you go and read some basic facts about IP and such before blogging junk!
[response from author]:
Does spending six years at University to get a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering, then a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, both specializing in communications count?
Does authoring this course count?
Nice blog. Thought provoking.
Technology as usual, is non judgmental and can be used any way you want.I do not think the debate about net neutrality is about whether you want to prioritize delay/jitter sensitive traffic. That is very much required,because the nature of the applications(web browsing vs ph call) demands it.
It is about throttling content from say netflix and prioritizing the ISP’s own video streaming portal.
Convergence has made telecom behemoths like AT&T and verizon into bit pipe providers, and they are trying to find ways to charge for the content. Content providers such as Amazon/Google does not like that. This is a trade dispute, IMO, and both sides are trying to use public opinion to push there agenda through.
You said: “If “net neutrality” principles were applied to electricity, it would be like having no electricity meter.”
My comment is: No. The antithesis of net neutrality applied to electricity would be like an electric company being able to tell what types of things you’re powering, and be able to throttle your use of your videogames consoles so that everyone on the block can power their refrigerators.
If “net neutrality” principles were applied to electricity, it would be what we have right now. You pay based on how much you use, not what you use.
A pipe is just a pipe. I, and every other person paying for the same service in my area, should get N Mb/s, regardless of what I’m using. Period. If I paid for N Mb/s (perhaps with a transfer cap of M gigabytes of data per month), I should get N Mb/s until those M GB are reached.
I should be able to use that on mission critical business applications or on X-box Live. I already pay for my electricity which powers my X-box *and* my IBM Thinkpad. How you can *POSSIBLY* compare “net neutrality” with “no electricity” meter is the most absurd thing I have read recently.
– – –
[response from author]:
The premise of the “no electricity meter” analogy is that there are a significant number of people in the “net neutrality” camp who are very much opposed to usage-based pricing or monthly download caps. If they have their way, there would be no transfer caps allowed, no meters.
“would be like an electric company being able to tell what types of things you’re powering, and be able to throttle your use of your videogames consoles so that everyone on the block can power their refrigerators”. That’s not correct. It would be much more like the electric company throttling your use of 200 amps 24/7/365 for the halide lighting system for your basement marijuana grow-op so that everyone on the block can power their refrigerators. The thing that is being restricted is bandwidth-hogging bittorrent used for unlawful activity: stealing copyrighted content. Let’s not pretend otherwise lest we forget the whole reason for the problem.
“A pipe is just a pipe”. That’s not correct. You are confusing access line speed with a service level agreement based on a traffic profile. The capacity internal to a network is designed based on statistical multiplexing, meaning that the internal capacity is less than the total of the access line speeds. How much less can be calculated knowing the historical demand statistics, i.e. how often people transmit packets at their access line speed, hence the term statistical multiplexing.
The internal network capacity is certainly not designed for people to transmit packets at their access line speed 24 hours a day which you seem to be suggesting by saying the service is just a pipe.
Since the internal network capacity is purposely designed to be less than the total of the access line speeds (lowering the cost to the users!), then there have to be mechanisms to ensure that the traffic experienced by the network is actually within the design parameters, the usage statistics.
The mechanism for that is to define a traffic profile and sell a service level agreement. The traffic profile specifies the “statistics”: the maximum average number of bits per second, maximum number of bits per second, maximum burst size. The service level agreement is between the network and the user: if the user agrees to transmit at or below the traffic profile, the network agrees to guaranteed transmission characteristics like maximum delay, maximum number of dropped packets.
When you pay $50 per month for network service, you are not buying a “pipe” at your access line speed. You are buying a residential-user traffic profile, which is an agreement for considerably less than transmitting at your line speed 24 hours a day.
If you want a network service that is a “pipe”, i.e. where you can transmit at your line speed 24 hours a day, that can certainly be purchased. But it wouldn’t cost $50 a month. It would cost $500 to $1000 a month.
Complaining because you aren’t getting a $500/month service for $50/month?
Last point: if we change your statement “perhaps with a transfer cap of M gigabytes of data per month” to “with a transfer cap of M gigabytes of data per month”, that would fix part of the problem. But…
(a) There are many people in the “net neutrality” camp vehemently opposed to limits. They want to pass laws to force traffic profiles to be an unlimited “pipe”, i.e. a $500/month service mandated for everyone.
(b) If monthly caps or limits continue to be legal, what happens if everyone tries to transmit and receive at their line speed starting at 00:01 on the first day of the month until they reach their cap a few days later… and they all do this at the same time… and it is illegal for the network to enforce traffic profiles?
It would be legally required that the network support everyone transmitting at full line speed. The network would have to be designed to allow everyone to transmit at line speed continuously at the same time, even if it were only used that way for a few days a month. The cost of the network would be 10 times higher. Cost of Internet service would have to jump from the current $50 per month to $500 per month to support it.
Net neutrality isn’t about removing QoS from ISPs, it’s about not allowing them to charge companies like Google or Microsoft money to make their search engine go faster for their subscribers.
[response from author]:
If that was all that “net neutrality” was, then I would agree with you.
Unfortunately, there are many different voices in the “net neutrality” camp, demanding that many different things be made illegal, including bandwidth caps, traffic profiles and (believe it or not) the freedom of businesses to define terms of contracts with each other in peering agreements.
If we could strip those people out of the “net neutrality” camp and put them in the say, “unworkable ideas in practice” camp, then I would have no problems with net neutrality as you describe it.
Net neutrality means people can get any content they want, and companies cant brainwash them with their “preferred channels”.
[response from author]:
If that was all that “net neutrality” advocates were trying to make illegal, I would agree with you. Unfortunately, they also want to make usage caps, traffic profiles and even the freedom to define terms of private service contracts between networks illegal too. No thanks.
You must work for a big cable / telco.
Remember if you are receiving any compensation from them, its now required by law that you as a blogger disclose that to your readers.
[response from author]:
You assume that anyone who disagrees with you must work for a network service provider?
If you did a bit of fact-checking, you would discover that I work for myself. My personal website is http://www.teracomtraining.com if you want to learn more about me.
No, I disagree with you because you and people like you want to pass very poorly-thought-out laws that in addition to all the noble things like preventing brainwashing and anti-competitive practices, would also have the effect of:
– dramtically raising the cost of Internet service for the populace,
– dramatically lowering network speeds for typical users doing web surfing and email, and
– curtailing the freedom of businesses to define the terms of private contracts,
not to mention supporting thieves stealing copyrighted works using bittorrent.
“Think Again” @ 1:26 AM needs to follow its own advice. Blogging a POLITICAL opinion about pending legislation and guidelines is not covered by the restrictions imposed by the October 4 FCC ruling. That ruling deals with PRODUCT endorsements.
Furthermore, snarky attempts at smears, such as its high school debating society failed attempt at polemical rhetoric (“You must work for a big cable / telco.”) are seen for what they are in a forum comprised mostly of intelligent posters. It was a distraction and an attempt to shut down discussion, not improve it. It reveals that poster’s bankruptcy of ideas on this subject.
To put the issue simply and counter the misrepresentation in this blog, the problem isn’t that net neutrality won’t allow things like QoS, it’s that QoS will only be provided to what the ISP decides will get it. Basically the ISP’s systems won’t ask ‘what kind of packet are you’, it’ll ask ‘who is going to get this packet’. The former would be neutral and allow proper QoS, the latter would ignore real QoS and would be anti-competitive.
[response from author]:
If that was all “net neutrality” meant, then I would almost* agree with you. However, the fact is, different advocates of net neutrality also want to variously make traffic profiles and caps illegal, traffic shaping and policing illegal, multiple service levels (“tiers”) illegal, and even the freedom of businesses to define terms of private contracts illegal. These are very poorly thought-out ideas. They would lead to serious increases in the cost of internet service and serious reductions in service speeds. No thanks.
*The part where I still disagree with you is related to the statement:
“the ISP’s systems won’t ask ‘what kind of packet are you’, it’ll ask ‘who is going to get this packet’. The former would be neutral and allow proper QoS, the latter would ignore real QoS and would be anti-competitive.”
This is also related to the statements I’ve made along the lines of “want to make the freedom of businesses to define terms of private contracts illegal.”
Here’s the thing:
The Internet is a business. It is not implemented by the government and paid for by taxpayers. The internet is a collection of Autonomous Systems (ASs) that are interconnected. An Autonomous System is a group of interconnected routers that are controlled by the same organization. A university is an AS. An ISP is an AS. Google has an AS.
One method of interconnection between ASs is called “peering”. This is where two ASs, for example, two ISPs, notice that they have fairly equal volumes of traffic going to and coming from each other’s networks, that is, the rate of packets where the source IP address is on one ISP’s AS and the destination IP address is on the other ISP’s AS is equal to the rate of packets the other way around. So these two ISPs, even though they may be competitors, enter into a very confidential agreement to connect a router of ISP “A” to a router of ISP “B” and exchange packets. No money changes hands except for the cost to install and maintain the connection.
That’s all fine. It is in fact a fundamental part of the internet.
The problem happens a bit later. What happens if ISP “A” begins to transmit packets to ISP “B” over this peering link where the destination IP address is not on ISP “B”s network, but on ISP “C”s network.
In the absence of any discrimination based on source and destination, ISP “B” would be obliged to carry these packets from ISP “A” over its network and deliver them to ISP “C” somehow… at the expense of ISP “B”.
Does that sound fair to you?
Would it not be fair for ISP “B” to verify that the destination IP address on the packet was in fact on ISP “B” network, and if not, treat the packet differently? Like discard it?
Would it be fair to pass a law that made it illegal for an ISP to discriminate between packets based on source and destination IP address? I don’t think so.
But wait, you say, of course that would be OK, it’s other kinds of discrimination between packets based on source and destination IP address that we would make illegal.
Which brings me to my problem with “net neutrality” advocates. Certainly, some of the ideas are laudable. Some of them are not, and would result in huge cost increases and slowdowns for typical users.
But even if we could get rid of the “no meters” faction in the “net neutrality” camp, the devil is in the details. The “no source/destination discrimination” faction in the “net neutrality” camp wants to pass very poorly thought-out laws that would have unintended consequences, not least of which would be restricting the freedom of businesses to define the terms of private peering contracts… and who knows what else?
Jay’s comment said: “No. The antithesis of net neutrality applied to electricity would be like an electric company being able to tell what types of things you’re powering, and be able to throttle your use of your videogames consoles so that everyone on the block can power their refrigerators.”
FWIW, the electric utilities are moving to enable exactly that capability. Check out the “Smart Grid”.
The concept has been around for a long time. 10 years or more ago the electric company put a box on my water heater that would allow them to meet peak loads by turning it off. There is no way I would notice my water heater being off for 15 minutes. With the advent of electric vehicles this whole concept is being revisited. Ways to encourage charging during off peak periods. Perhaps peaks could be met by taking power out of the vehicle battery.
At the very least, you will be charged more for electricity during peak periods. Appliances will be built to take advantage of the off peak discounts.
No more net neutrality on the electric grid either.
What about the scenario where an ISP favors its own content and degrades the content of its competitors. For example, Comcast now owns NBC. Network Neutrality in this case basically means that Comcast could not squeeze out competition for its content on its network. This has nothing to do with the piracy issue; this is about squeezing out all content providers except those which are in a position to either dominate a network or be large enough to enter deals with networks to get equivalent efficiency. If such preferential treatment is unchecked, it could eventually lead to a reduction in content diversity.
[response from author]
If that was all “net neutrality” meant, then I would agree with you. However, the fact is, different advocates of net neutrality also want to variously make traffic profiles and caps illegal, traffic shaping and policing illegal, multiple service levels (”tiers”) illegal, and even the freedom of businesses to define terms of private contracts illegal. These are very poorly thought-out ideas. They would lead to serious increases in the cost of internet service and serious reductions in service speeds. No thanks.
Very Nice Blog by a Very Knowledgeable Professional!