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"It's The Internet Stupid" …I Respectfully Disagree

Suresh Ramasubramanian

Today, in response to "It’s The Internet Stupid”, Richard Bennett highlights (on the IP List) something I've noticed even among other advocates of 'Net Neutrality' (and how I've come to detest the term after its widespread and misguided overuse).

Richard Bennett Writes:

"...the side-effects of such a regime are enormous, reaching not only into the prohibition of business contracts that would give consumers real choice in voice and video services, but banning necessary network management practices to prevent DOS attacks, Spam, and other exploits."

Legislating against the concepts of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) or other preferential treatment of packets is not the brightest thing to do. I've seen others draw analogies to gun control using the 'guns don't kill people' argument. Network algorithms don't kill people either but that's the most I'll take that line of argument forward, it is loaded and the traps are 'easy' to find for people on both sides of the argument.

Much as I agree with other parts of what is a very well constructed and persuasive argument, that is the reason I am not going to sign it. Though I do see several friends with far more network clue and background than I do have signed it — I'll beg to differ with them in this case.

What follows next is a comment on the entire Net Neutrality debate so far — and it is emphatically not targeted at David Isenberg. Kind of a summary, I'd say.

That doesn't appear to stop people opposed to these concepts, or to spam filtering, or to various other things. It is a tactic I dislike — and one which has an uncomfortable resemblance to that old Goebbels quote about repeating a lie often enough so that people start to believe it.

Which is one reason why I've had rather long arguments with various users of this tactic — for example the EFF about spam filtering. Very similar rhetoric indeed if you read through old Politech/IP posts. It was a nasty and disagreeable surprise for me to see that same tactic recycled with Susan Crawford, whose knowledge and opinions I have a deep respect for, believing enough of it to liken DPI to "the sidewalk eavesdropping and wanting money".

As I said in my comment on that article, "DPI is a tool - And a very useful tool for security. Feel free to blame its abuse if you wish. But don't knock DPI for that." I wanted to say rather more but left it at that, having gone through a rather long series of such arguments only a few years back with the late and unlamented dearaol.com group and its "goodmail is blackmail" campaign.

End result — dearaol.com is dead in the water after a lot of noise for a few months, and the argument (from my perspective) is summarized here… my comments on propaganda and its abuses in that CircleID article hold good even here, I'm afraid. That and various other efforts to completely eliminate server side spam filtering (which is — these days — based on user reports, and so while there's a chance that solicited email may get blocked if enough people report it as unsolicited, well… there's always a chance you might get obama as president even if you voted for George Bush).

Note: I have been involved in spam filtering from a volunteer perspective long enough that I tend to react more strongly about spam filtering than about Net Neutrality ...not just because it is my day job ... my involvement in CAUCE predates any day job I've had at an ISP or spamfilter provider.

The quality of the arguments being advanced has either gone down or has grown boringly familiar from being recycled several dozen times. So, besides being inaccurate, the arguments have become boring not to mention plain silly. Which is why you haven't seen me post as actively about these long Net Neutrality threads as I have about spam filtering.

This argument lacks the silliness of various other arguments put forward against net neutrality. And it has been put forward by a person that I respect and signed by other people that I respect. Which is why I rebutted it and then posted in this level of detail rather than simply ignore it, or in one or two cases, wax sarcastic about it. I will still disagree with it though. Because I think the approach is wrong — and it is the sane end of a spectrum of wrongness.

By Suresh Ramasubramanian, Antispam Operations

Related topics: Access Providers, Broadband, Net Neutrality, Policy & Regulation, Telecom

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After reading the article Suresh refers to Michael Hammer  –  Jun 09, 2009 6:29 AM PDT

After reading the article Suresh refers to I find myself agreeing with him. I also find the names of many people I know and respect as signatories to the document. Like Suresh I cannot find myself willing to sign the document for several reasons.

One he has expressed - that DPI is simply a tool. Like any tool it can be used in a variety of ways, some beneficial and some harmful.

I have also wondered at the "Net Neutrality" debate of recent years. This is NOT the "Net Neutrality" debate/discussion I first encountered in the U.S. during the 1990s that culminated with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. At that time the focus was on CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers) and whether incumbents providing access to physical plant would discriminate in handling the traffic of CLECs.

The years leading up to that point were heady ones. The internet was growing by leaps and bounds. Many smaller players, particularly BBS operators were trying to make the leap into being Internet Service Providers and the Net Neutrality discussion was in many ways focused on what constituted a Common Carrier in the context of the CLEC discussion.

Peer to Peer (P2P) wasn't a significant gleam in anyones eye and there was a scramble to provide access to content rather than any discussion of preventing access. The walled gardens of many providers were falling as they opened the gates to the Internet at large.

Net Nautrality as a slogan or a premise as presented is a red herring. The real goal should be a multiplicity of options for internet connectivity and full disclosure of policy and practices by operators such that potential customers can make informed choices.

context for dpi opposition and net neutrality support Elliot Noss  –  Jun 09, 2009 8:49 AM PDT

[bias upfront. I signed the document]

I think these positions need context. in north america we have decidedly poor broadband markets and very strong oligopolies. IN THAT CONTEXT opposition to dpi and support of net neutrality are, imho, very important.

I think all of us, both signatories to the document and likely suresh and michael, would like a more competitive, more robust broadband market. we must all continue to work in that direction.

sadly, while things still suck as they do now dpi and no net neutrality are scary guns in the hands of those who currently wield them.

and I have to ask, how is goodmail doing these days? ;-)

DPI and no net neutrality? Ah well .. Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 11, 2009 9:52 AM PDT

Do note that I suggested a need to regulate the misuse of DPI, rather than demonize it.

And goodmail is doing quite well indeed - as good as most reputation vendors around. They seem to have snagged the white house as a customer for example.

I wish them just as well as I wish any other rep vendor in this space, I'd say.

Net Nut-trality Brett Glass  –  Jun 12, 2009 8:38 PM PDT

Elliot, if you think there is not enough competition, don't regulate; encourage competition instead. Regulation deters investment, kills innovation, and destroys nascent competition. Big players love it because they have buildings full of lawyers to handle it while their potential competitors in a garage do not. My small, competitive ISP is a case in point. "Network neutrality" regulation would not just commoditize our product; it would prevent us from managing our network or controlling costs. If David I's suggested regulation were adopted, we and our 4,000 or so colleagues would not be able to continue in business. Is that what you want: no innovation and less competition than there is now? If not, it is imperative that you reject David's manifesto.

this is about innovation not religion Elliot Noss  –  Jun 13, 2009 9:15 AM PDT

brett, sadly your post is much too religious for my taste. your argument is simple. regulation = bad. there is good regulation and bad regulation. and we must remember the start point.

right now infrastructure markets are HEAVILY regulated. telcos and cablecos have their existing infrastructure due to regulation. GIVEN that, how can we best incent competition and innovation.

north american broadband Internet markets are an abject failure. I am sad for my children. the Internet is as important for the economy and innovation and the general well being of the population as running water and electricity were then they first arrived on the scene.

brett, the existence proof is that when it is a fair fight small service providers will WIN. when they are able to leverage capital and regulation, telcos and cablecos will win. when small guys win they will win on service and services AND if pipe is treated as true infrastructure, they will win on bandwidth as well. this has been the case in every global market that has evolved this way.

Yes, this is about innovation Brett Glass  –  Jun 14, 2009 10:00 PM PDT

Elliot, your attempt to dismiss my remarks as "religious" is argumentum ad hominem. The fact — and I can speak with authority on this topic because I, unlike you, am in the business of providing high speed Internet service to end users — is that the regulation proposed by David Isenberg and his cohort would further harm competition and innovation and put small service providers at even more of a disadvantage. Even David has realized that the regulation he proposes would likely kill off smaller competitors if it were applied to them and would not address market failures in areas such as the "middle mile."

In a heavily regulated industry, the regulation always favors the largest and most powerful players, who can afford buildings full of lawyers to deal with the regulation while smaller ones cannot. For this reason, government should only step in if there is market failure and/or to stop anticompetitive tactics. And these are two things that are not addressed at all in David's document. Instead, the document advocates regulation which he himself admitted, on Dave Farber's list, would deal a crushing blow to small competitors.

Elliot, if you'd like to see competition, do not regulate it out of existence. I have spent 17 years bringing high speed Internet to unserved areas and options to ones that are underserved. And I will fight to the death to ensure that meddlers who know nothing about this business do not destroy what I have built or leave my customers without access to the Net.

Based on what...? Dan Campbell  –  Jun 15, 2009 6:57 AM PDT

On the statement, "north american broadband Internet markets are an abject failure."

On what exactly do you base that?  Comparisons to other countries?  As we've seen, these evaluations are tenuous at best, often comparing apples to oranges, making gross generalizations and estimates, and giving no consideration to the differences in geography or population density relative to major cities.  For example, counting all tenants in an entire multi-dwelling unit as being "fiber ready" when in reality it is just the building itself that has fiber, which is then split out in the building to the tenants in one form or another, sometimes DSL.  And sometimes the fiber doesn't even stretch that far but is left at the street.  Another example is looking at customer counts rather than homes passed.  My 91 year old aunt and 77 year old mom both have the same (multiple) high speed options that I have yet neither use the Internet.  I'm not sure my aunt has ever touched a computer.  With a nod to futuristic services delivered over the Internet that aren't exactly web, voice or video, those who have options but choose not to use them should not count in the analysis.  Basically, the evalautions I've seen seem to be tuned to proove the theory that the author developed before any research began.

I and pretty much everyone I know have multiple high-speed Internet access options, and that is before even considering any competitive wireless carrier or satellite provider like WildBlue or Hughes.  Prices are cheap, so much so that inside of the triple play service I have the broadband component is about as dwarfed as the phone line component.  I don't even have the highest speed service I could get yet it all still works very well and is as fast as I personally need.  I realize that "cheap" and "expensive" are relative words but, regulation or not, competition or not, since when is $30/month considered expensive for what is essentially faster than a T1 to your home?  Has anyone who has complained about such prices ever actually seen what circuits really cost, or the operational costs of running a service provider, or considered the value they get for that small cost?  My commuting costs are $13/day.  If I am able to work from home with my Internet link just 3 days a month I have paid for the line.  Seriously, what should it be for a subscriber...free?  $10/month?  Completely government subsidized?  My guess is that those saying yes are the same ones gasping at unemployment rates, or when a major service provider in their region lays off 7000 people, or when their telecom funds take a nosedive, or when they call for support and find out it has been offshored to Mars and they to wait in a 20 minute queue to get a response.  The money has to come from somewhere, and these are commmercial companies in the business to actually generate revenue and make a profit, a novel concept in today's economic climate.

Keep in mind also that people make choices with respect to where they live, and there are a vast number of tradeoffs, one of which is the availability of certain services.  You make your choices and evaluate the tradeoffs knowing that you'll never get it all.  I've had broadband for 11 years in the 4 places I've lived and in each case it has been an increasingly higher priority on my list.

Could it be better?  Of course.  But a statement that the entire NA broadband market is an abject failure is one of many gross exaggerations that doesn't help the cause.

Brett, you are twisting my words David Isenberg  –  Jun 15, 2009 5:43 AM PDT

Brett is twisting my words beyond recognition. My email to Farber's list, which Brett misquotes, is below. Where in it do I, myself, admit that something I have proposed, "would deal a crushing blow to small competitors"? I honor Brett for his business endeavor, but very frequently his claims about policy don't stand up to even the most superficial scrutiny.

From: "David S. Isenberg (isen)"
Date: June 7, 2009 5:41:01 PM EDT (CA)
To: dave@farber.net
Subject: Re: [IP] Re:  It's the Internet Stupid


For IP per your judgement.

I'm one of the primary perpetrators of http://ItsTheInternetStupid.com

I've told Brett many times, and I'd like to say it again publicly,
that even though I favor, "prohibit[ing] discriminatory or preferential
treatment of packets based on sender, recipient or packet contents,"
I ALSO FAVOR AN EXEMPTION FOR SMALL ISPS. I don't know exactly where
"small" ends, but if the ISP is independent and serving its community
well, I wouldn't bind it to network neutrality rules so strict that
it would put the ISP out of business.

As I say, I've told Brett this many times, but he never seems to
remember. So I do hope you'll publish this to inform the readers
of the comment of his that you just published.

David I

Careful what you ask for.... Michael Hammer  –  Jun 15, 2009 7:04 AM PDT


You state that you favor "prohibit[ing] discriminatory or preferential
treatment of packets based on sender, recipient or packet contents,"

So, you favor prohibiting the blocking (discriminatory treatment based on content) of packets originating from the Russian Business Network or other places that spew malware, spam, etc although you might graciously allow small ISPs to do so.

How does one define "serving it's community well" in determining whether a "small" ISP should be exempted? Would this be kind of like the Saturday morning "educational" cartoons on broadcast television?

I'm not comfortable with everything Brett says but I'm less comfortable with your statements seeing as you are looking to impose something on others where he is not.


Mike's comment is the fatal flaw in David's argument Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 16, 2009 6:57 AM PDT

It is a well reasoned advocacy of something that's fundamentally wrong.

And yes, strange as it might seem, Brett's right here in that we can't go around distinguishing between small and large ISPs in this weird and wonderful fashion.

Define appropriate and inappropriate uses of DPI and barring a few edge cases where we can continue this debate, I think you'll find that there are some clearly drawn lines.

Trying to make DPI go away by legislative or regulatory fiat is a non starter. Even with such high powered backing as David's petition has garnered so far. And even given the circumstances Eliot Noss describes about US broadband regulation. That's not quite germane to the flaw being discussed here is what I feel.

David, take a good look at what you said. Brett Glass  –  Jun 15, 2009 6:49 AM PDT

You yourself admit, in the message you quote above, that small ISPs would have to be exempted from the onerous over-regulation and micromanagement that you are proposing or they would be put out of business — an obvious sign that the regulation you propose is wrongheaded to begin with. And you do not propose, either in that message or in your comments to the FCC, any effective measure to deal with anticompetitive practices. Q.E.D.

Your recommendations, sadly and ironically, parallel the dysfunctional behavior of the George W. Bush administration. They said, "We've been attacked by Al Qaeda - a Saudi Arabian group hiding out in Afghanistan? Good! Let's attack Iraq. We've always wanted to. Who cares if it hurts our fight against the people who actually attacked us and inflames the the entire Muslim world, making things worse?"

You're saying, "There isn't enough competition for our liking among ISPs? Good. Let's impose arbitrary regulation. We've always wanted to. Who cares if it destroys competition and makes things even worse?"

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