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.