Verizon: Keep Politics Out of Network Neutrality

Verizon CTO Richard Lynch told the Progress & Freedom Foundation's annual Aspen Summit Aug. 19, "We need to guard against turning technical and business decisions into political decisions." He was, of course, referring to the Aug. 1 FCC (Federal Communications Commission) decision that Comcast broke the agency's network neutrality principles when it throttled peer-to-peer traffic from BitTorrent.

While Comcast is a rival broadband carrier to Verizon, Lynch is simpatico with the cable provider when it comes to government regulation of the Internet business. As my longtime competitor Declan McCullagh points out from his post at the Aspen Summit, "Both Comcast and Verizon said that engineers, not lawyers and lobbyists, should be making network management decisions."

Lynch's comments came just a day before the FCC finally released its actual order in the Comcast matter. Unlike the obviously political statements of various FCC commissioners on Aug. 1, the Aug. 20 67-page order avoids politics and gets to the nitty-gritty of Comcast's actions.

"The record leaves no doubt that Comcast's network management practices discriminate among applications and protocols rather than treating all equally," the order states. "To reiterate: Comcast has deployed equipment across its networks that monitors its customers' TCP connections using deep packet inspection to determine how many connections are peer-to-peer uploads."

That is to say, Comcast determines how it will route some connections based not on their destinations but on their contents, a clear violation of the FCC's network neutrality principles.

"In laymen's terms, Comcast opens its customers' mail because it wants to deliver mail not based on the address or type of stamp on the envelope but on the type of letter contained therein," the FCC said. "Furthermore, Comcast's interruption of customers' uploads by definition interferes with Internet users' downloads since 'any end-point that is uploading has a corresponding end-point that is downloading.'"

The FCC concluded Comcast's network management practices were not "minimally intrusive," as Comcast claimed, but "invasive and outright discriminatory." The FCC also had little use for Comcast's arguments that terminating P2P connections that Comcast disapproves of does not equate to blocking access to content because Internet users may upload such content from other sources.

"Regardless of what one calls it, the evidence reviewed ... shows that Comcast selectively targeted and terminated the upload connections of its customers' peer-to-peer applications and that this conduct significantly impeded consumers' ability to access the content and use the applications of their choice," the order states. "These facts are the relevant ones here, and we thus find Comcast's verbal gymnastics both unpersuasive and beside the point."

Yet Verizon's Lynch said Aug. 19, "I do get very, very concerned that the people who are taking things like deep packet inspection and making it a horrible thing need to look at it from an engineer's viewpoint."

Take, for instance, VOIP (voice over IP), Lynch said. In order for Internet phone calls to properly work, voice packets must be delivered in a timely fashion. "That may mean that for economic reasons, within the network, to keep the cost reasonable, to keep the price reasonable, that I need to slow down (what's not) a time-sensitive file," Lynch said.

Verizon has repeatedly denied prioritizing VOIP traffic over any other traffic, but it often uses the VOIP example as a reason for network traffic control that the FCC has no right to regulate. In Aspen, in a Comcast-like statement, Lynch made note that customers using a P2P app are not going to see or sense a "22-millisecond delay."

One just wonders when--not if--the broadband carriers will launch its courtroom attack on the FCC's Comcast order.