Saturday, April 26, 2008

FCC Hearing on Network Neutrality

On April 17, 2008, the Federal Communications Commission held an en banc hearing at Stanford University. The subject of hearing was "Broadband Network Management Practices." A month earlier, the FCC held a similar meeeting at Harvard University. Comcast got embarassed at that meeting when it turned out that they paid people just to fill a seat in order to keep others from finding a seat. Not to worry, there was plenty of available seats for this meeting. I ate my lunch outside the auditorium before the meeting started and listened to the Raging Grannies. They were singing songs all related to keeping a neutral internet and all very appropriate for this meeting.

Chairman Martin opened the meeting by reading a letter from Ms. Anna Eshoo, our local congresswoman. Ms. Eshoo said that non-discrimination and internet neutrality is very important and that we all must vigilent to make sure that happens. All 5 FCC members spoke, each with a slightly different take on the subject. The issue that brought the FCC to Stanford was the report by Robert Topolski, a Software Quality Engineer, that stated Comcast, his ISP (Internet Service Provider) was sending out IP Reset messages that stopped the uploading and downloading of files using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer (P2P) communication protocol. Comcast along with 20 other ISPs were invited to this meeting, but only one showed up, Brett Glass, CEO of out of Laramie WY. BitTorrent and other P2P file sharing operations work by spreading the files amongst the users as opposed to a central server farm where the data is stored on central servers, e.g., YouTube, Picassa, etc. These operations pay for the connection to the internet. This is where the problem comes up. P2P users do not pay their ISP for service as a server farm. An individual may sign up for a 6Mbit/sec service, but that rate is not guaranteed at all times or an average rate that is close to this 6Mbit rate. Comcast got into trouble because they were sending out IP Resets for specific applications ( an IP Reset will stop a file operation). Their service agreement never mentioned this. It seemed there was a concensus that ISPs should not differentiate amongst the internet applications the user uses. Also resets are not a standard protocol for controlling internet messages and should not be used. The ISP should just slow down the data pipe when the network is too busy to handle the required tasks. This is the so-called Network Neutrality issue. What needs to happen is that the FCC needs to make sure the ISPs keep from locking out certain applications they find with high traffic. It seems that P2P users also need to pay more money for their monthly internet service. The entire meeting can be viewed or listened at and then click on the April 17, 2008 item of your choice. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

DTV is Coming

The United States federal government is going to shut off your television viewing after February 17, 2009 if you have an analog television and receive the signal over the air with an antenna ( rabbit ears or roof style). That's the date that the federal government has mandated that all high power TV stations must turn off their analog signal and broadcast only DTV (Digital Television). And if you have an analog TV (unless your TV was purchased in the last couple years, it is analog) and don't have cable or satellite reception you will need a DTV converter box. The converter box converts the DTV signal to an analog signal so that your old TV can display the picture and sound. The government has set up a coupon program to help defray the cost of the DTV converter box. Your household can receive 2 coupons worth $40 each towards the purchase of 2 DTV converter boxes and all you need to do is go to or call 1-888-388-2009. The DTV2009 web site is full of information with answers to all your questions regarding DTV and the coupon program. Another useful web site is DTV. This is an FCC site with lots of information for consumers, an outreach toolkit, publications on DTV, and the rules and regulations regarding DTV.
The FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are both very concerned that many people in the United States will not be ready for the transition to DTV on Feb. 17, 2009. People are going to be very angry when their TV does not work on February 18, 2009. But that's what will happen unless a DTV converter is installed to receive over the air signals. Anybody with cable or satellite service do not need to do anything, they are all set. The FCC held a workshop on April 1, 2008 where their concerns on the public readiness was raised, you can view the workshop at DTV Television Consumer Education Workshop Focusing on Low Income Consumers and click on the April 1, 2008 item. The workshop is excellent with many ideas for out-reach solutions. Check it out. Please add a comment or send an e-mail with your concerns and questions.