-Funded Report: Internet Could Choke if Lawmakers Intrude”>
In a thinly veiled attempt to talk policy makers out of legislating for Net neutrality, an AT&T-backed report suggests that the net managers who have kept the machine growing all these years have innovated, know best how to keep innovating, and should be left alone to do just that, thank you very much.
The report, titled “The Never-Ending Rush Hour” and put out by a think tank called the New Millennium Research Council, was issued on the same day that Pearl Jam cried foul after AT&T censored a concert Webcast, expunging the bands criticism of George Bush.
Net neutrality advocates warn that broadband providers will use their control over the “last mile” to discriminate between content providers, particularly competitors. Advocates also predict that telecom companies such as AT&T will seek to impose a tiered service model as a means of profiting from their control over the pipeline as opposed to demand for particular content or services.
During a teleconference with the press Aug. 9, the think-tank experts, including report author Jason Kowal, stressed that the growth of the Internet is getting a bit mind-boggling. Between TV networks posting their shows online, music downloads, movie downloads and other content downloaded via peer-to-peer sharing applications, and graphically intensive social networks such as MySpace, it is estimated that by 2010, 20 households could generate more bandwidth demand than the entire Internet handled in 2005, Kowal said.
There are also estimates that YouTube uses as much bandwidth today as the entire Internet did in 2000. Surveys have shown that more than 6 million U.S. households have downloaded files of 10MB or more.
Then, too, theres the future: The Beijing 2008 Olympics, for example, are expected to generate online streaming video that will suck up an enormous amount of bandwidth.
A growing Web is nothing new, Kowal said. Since its advent in the early 1990s, the Web has seen a “consistent pattern of rapid growth that shouldnt be surprising to anybody.”
The key point, he said, is that the Internet “has grown rapidly for a long time and has sustained itself because of the combined efforts of a lot of very smart network engineers and continual investment by network operators to keep backbones growing over time.”
Most recently, the explosion of Internet video has hit a point of “critical mass” with regard to what kind of content can be produced and consumed by users, Kowal said. One data point he gave: A recent study showed about 70 percent of Internet users in the United States are downloading multiminute streaming video clips. “Thats a pretty good indicator of prevalence of online video today,” he said.
Online video presents unique challenges to network mangers, he said. These changes in bandwidth demand dont happen overnight, but “they do require constant vigilance by people who run networks to keep them running properly,” Kowal said.
That means two things: That networks have to be continuously monitored in preparation for the next stage of network evolution, and that there has to be some level of network grooming tending to the relations of every network operator with every other network operator, he said.
That tending also has to do with what kind of traffic network operators deal with, as well as what the peaks of traffic are at different points of the day. These are factors that are “constantly monitored by network operators and continuously kept up in order to maintain the health of each individual ISPs infrastructure.”
Click here to read more about a DNS rebinding attack can be used to test Net neutrality.
The Internet isnt in crisis, mind you, Kowal said. “No, its in a period of rapid growth like its always been,” he said. “However, that doesnt mean we should take for granted it will flourish indefinitely without continual monitoring.
“A key point [is this]: The internet is an organism which is continuously changing at different rates, in different parts. If there are disincentives to keep on top of things and have the ability to experiment with different traffic management techniques, the net result could be the inability to deliver on the next wave of potential growth in Internet traffic,” he said.
In other words, let the carriers tinker with whatever revenue models they like, ignore the issue of Net neutrality, and please, policy makers, keep your noses out of it. Kowal summed it up with these suggestions to policy makers: “One, if there are any policy decisions to be made, the best course is the obvious one: Dont choose a path which would prefer one business model over another. [Policy makers] should set up rules which allow for any business models to succeed.”
Second, policy makers “should consider methods for encouraging network investment and remove obstacles to get to the next wave of Internet evolution,” Kowal said.
And finally, regulators “should not inhibit [Internet growth],” he said.
Avoiding the words “differential pricing” or “Net neutrality,” Kowal acknowledged that “this is a contentious issue for some, not all,” and stressed that “experimentation is essential” to get to the next level of Internet evolution and services such as real-time video, which is extremely sensitive to delay and quality-of-service issues.
The New Millennium Research Councils advice echoes that given by Net neutrality critics, who call Net neutrality rules “a solution in search of a problem” and maintain that legislation would reduce incentives to upgrade networks or launch next-generation network services—such as real-time video.
The fathers of the Internet have come down on opposing sides of this debate. Bob Kahn, co-inventor of the IP, has testified against Net neutrality legislation, calling the term “a slogan.”
“I am totally opposed to mandating that nothing interesting can happen inside the net,” he is quoted as saying in a Register article to an audience at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., in January.
Vint Cerf, on the other hand, sent a letter to a Congressional hearing in 2005 on Net neutrality, saying that “the remarkable social impact and economic success of the Internet is in many ways directly attributable to the architectural characteristics that were part of its design. The Internet was designed with no gatekeepers over new content or services.
“My fear is that, as written, this bill would do great damage to the Internet as we know it. Enshrining a rule that broadly permits network operators to discriminate in favor of certain kinds of services and to potentially interfere with others would place broadband operators in control of online activity. Allowing broadband providers to segment their IP offerings and reserve huge amounts of bandwidth for their own services will not give consumers the broadband Internet our country and economy need. Many people will have little or no choice among broadband operators for the foreseeable future, implying that such operators will have the power to exercise a great deal of control over any applications placed on the network.” Cerfs letter is printed in full on Googles official blog.
Read more here about Cerfs position on Net neutrality.
Meanwhile, in a June report, the Federal Trade Commission urged restraint with respect to the new regulations proposed by Net neutrality advocates, noting the “broadband industry is a relatively young and evolving one,” and given no “significant market failure or demonstrated consumer harm from conduct by broadband providers,” such regulations “may well have adverse effects on consumer welfare, despite the good intentions of their proponents.”
The Federal Communications Commission, for its part, is launching an inquiry to determine how broadband providers are behaving in terms of providing Internet access to subscribers. The Notice of Inquiry, announced at a March 22 commission meeting, is intended to seek comments on whether providers are restricting access to sites on the Internet, whether they are giving any sites favorable treatment and whether the companies charge extra for that, and how consumers are affected.
Some say providers are already practicing hostility toward Net neutrality. Dan Kaminsky, IOActive director of penetration testing, wants those providers to know that people now can detect what theyre up to, thanks to something he stumbled upon when dissecting browser behavior for a DNS rebinding design flaw. Namely, hes come up with a detector that doesnt let a network know its being tested. “This is not something I thought Id ever say,” Kaminsky said after demonstrating the technology at Black Hat Aug. 1. “But I believe a huge amount of the vibrancy of the Internet comes from commercial enterprise. If we go to a kingmaker model, nobody will be able to safely invest and all existing models will die on the vine. It doesnt matter if you create the best system. It doesnt matter if users really like you. Because someone else will show up and pay more than you will.”
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