Monday, November 17, 2008

Cato Institute has paper by Tim Lee "The Durable Internet: Preserving Network Neutrality Without Regulation"

Timothy B. Lee, University of Minnesota graduate and now an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, has authored a major paper “The Durable Internet: Preserving Network Neutrality Without Regulation,” dated Nov. 12, 2008. The PDF link is here.

Mr. Lee had spoken at the Cato Institute’s forum “Copyright Controversies: Freedom, Property, Content Creation, and the DMCA” on April 26, 2006, link here.

Mr. Lee traces the history of today’s user environment all the way back to the 1960s with ARAPNET and then TCP/IP. He points out that early attempts to guarantee perfect service to a more limited set of users (familiar to programmers in the mainframe world) affects flexibility and cost. He then builds a broad, heaving footnoted narrative about the way the Internet today tends to police itself without the need for much regulation. The main natural antidote to ISP or telecommunications company manipulation is the availability of so much other content and other providers, and the capability of developers or publishers to work around problems on their own.

He builds his discussion around some core concepts, starting with “The End-to-End Principle.” Later (in a section called “Is the Internet neutral now?”) he answers the concerns that practices such as backbone peering, website safety blocking and spam filtering would defeat the spirit of network neutrality.

He gives some interesting anecdotes about the practical pressures on companies not to interfere with user behavior or self-published content. For example, Digg had an interesting controversy when someone published DVD decryption codes in a report. Digg apparently bowed to legal pressure to remove the codes, and then was flooded with stories about the incident, overwhelming the site. Nevertheless, the incident was a test case for the unique way that Digg packages content, making it valuable to users in a way that distinguishes it from larger companies like Yahoo!, AOL, CNN, etc.

Actually, that is what I have tried to do with my own sites and blogs: group the material in such a way that it has an "impartial" political impact even when discovered by a relatively small volume of visitors.

He also discusses some technical issues around the controversies of monitoring overuse of broadband services, involving BitTorrent, and the voluntary negotiations to solve such issues. He also notes that previous business models based on “walled gardens” or proprietary content (like early AOL and Prodigy in the 1990s) have tended to fail eventually because of competition.

The network neutrality debate does not generally encompass the “social problems,” like reputation defense and liability concerns, that could cause others to want to regulate how individuals can access and publish on the Internet further.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Getting residential broadband into distant rural areas is becoming a challenge

Peter Svensson has an important AP story “Location and broadband,” describing how broadband has gone from a luxury to practical necessity for many people, especially those who have any intention of running a small business from home. Land broadband may be essential to some work-from-home jobs (like customer service agents). The AP link is here. It is becoming more difficult to offer land-wired broadband in all rural areas.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has an important report (PDF) “Home Broadband Adoption 2008: Adoption stalls for low-income Americans even as many users opt for premium service that give them more speed.” Pew maintains that about 55% if Americans have broadband at home now.

Wireless is an option in some areas, and satellite broadband is available in most areas, but these services tend to have lower usage limits and are sometimes less stable.

The Washington Times also offers the AP story today (Nov. 10) on the “Your Tech” column on p B3, with a diagram of how fiber-optic works.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

ATT, Comcast, Time Warner all experiment with or implement home broadband usage caps

Telecommunications companies are starting to become more specific about bandwidth limits or bandwidth-variable pricing for home broadband use.

According to Dan Costa at PC Magazine, Comcast has limited most home users (numbering 12.9 million) to 250 gigabytes a month, officially since Oct. 3, 2008, but covertly since 2005. Apparently this observation explains the infrequent occurrences where Comcast has terminated a few broadband customers. Costa’s story, also from Oct 3, is titled “Comcast’s broadband usage cap won’t hurt my mom,” here. Costa does agree that, even with “Democrat” (and probably Obama) supported Net Neutrality arguments accepted, heavy users should pay more. Indeed, a fair pricings structure is essential to providing service to lower income people, seniors, or people in rural areas—an objective that the new administration will want to enhance.

Time Warner is testing a much more restrictive cap in Beaumont, Texas, where the cheapest plans cap at 30 gig, and where over 40 gig you pay a buck a gig. That could add up for very heavy users. But that it is the point: it is a few super users who cause the slowdowns and stalls (and perhaps signal/noise problems) that can affect all users.

Today (Nov 5) Chloe Albanesius reported in PC Magazine (story) that AT&T will implement a system that would limit most home customers to 150 gigabytes a month. New AT&T customers in Reno, NV would be allowed 20 to 150 gig, depending on “speed tier.” AT&T will also charge $1 per gig for overage and notify customers 60 days in advance. AT&T also says it will provide customers with a bandwidth measuring tool and notify when customers exceed 80% of their limits.

Shared web hosting plans often have limits, which expanded considerably around 2006 and may have contracted slightly. A $30 a month plan is likely to allow 10 gig of disk space and 500 gig of bandwidth.

By way of comparison, a Verizon wireless national broadband plan would allow 5 gig for about $60 a month.

A very heavy user of video, high definition and Bit Torrent can apparently go through a few gig in one evening. Most home users and even “ordinary” bloggers probably would not approach 1 gig a day, it seems, although some of the plans (like Beaumont) sound like they have limits that could be approached. The Comcast limit of 250 gig sounds pretty generous for almost any reasonable use, at least now.

I can see problems down the road. Say you’re an independent film maker, do your own editing with Premiere or Final Cut Pro and want to share your own work (legally, when its yours) with P2P. That could use a lot of capacity.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Credit crisis affects smaller telecoms, threatening competition, broadband in more remote areas

While large cable companies raise prices and seem to be doing all right during the credit crisis, smaller competitors may be floundering. Cecilia Kang has an important story on p D1 Business in The Washington Post on Monday Nov. 3, “For Telecoms: Some Signals of Distress: Credit Crisis Squeezes Smaller Firms”, link here.

Some of the smaller companies mentioned are Ciena, Cogent, and XO Communications. On page D4, the Business Section of Monday’s paper gives separate stories about Ciena, Cogent, XO, and Sprint Nextel.

Both presidential candidates have mentioned the need to improve broadband and other communications services in remote and lower population density areas throughout the country.

Update: Nov. 10

Reuters has a story by Caroline Humer and Anupreeta Das about small technology companies that were over-leveraged before the financial crisis, "Tech sector may be next in restructuring wave," link here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Cable companies raise rates around the country; but is competition actually increasing?

The PR Newswire reports on Oct. 22 that competition in cable services in Maryland is starting to pick up even though rates in several Maryland counties around Washington DC and Baltimore recently went up by an average of 6.4% (some changes effective Nov. 1). In one county, a special telecommunications tax was imposed to help out schools. The story is here.

The same news service produce a story Oct. 20 about Illinois, here.

A similar story, worded in a similar way, appears for Virginia rates in “The Street Insider” Oct. 22, link here.

Does this story apply to most states?