The Danger of Dogma

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on August 31, 2010 at 11:22 am

One of the central dogmas of the Church of Extreme Net Neutrality (CoENN) is that quality of service on the Internet, or using the preferred nomenclature of the CoENN, “paid prioritization,” is the equivalent of a deadly sin.

The CoENN creed against quality of service states that paid prioritization of Internet traffic: (1) has never been contemplated by standards organizations like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); (2) does not exist on the Internet today and, to the extent it exists anywhere, is probably being used nefariously by the pagans; and (3) if it did exist on the Internet, it would be available to and affordable for only a small number of deep-pocketed hegemons.

These iniquities of paid prioritization are spelled out in a recent filing at the FCC in which Free Press preaches the old time religion of the dumb network.  But, like so many dogmas, this one turns out to be, well, not exactly true.

Which leads me to the letter we filed yesterday in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding to correct the record with respect to paid prioritization.  In a nutshell, we point out that, contrary to the CoENN’s claims: (1) the IETF documents clearly contemplate and permit differentiated pricing of Internet traffic based on the use of prioritization; (2) paid prioritization of Internet traffic is widely available to businesses today; and (3) such prioritization is often voluntarily purchased by small and medium-sized enterprises, including minority-owned businesses and community organizations. 

I think our letter speaks for itself, and provides the details and facts on these three points in a succinct five pages, but I would like to elaborate briefly on a couple of points. First, the elders of the CoENN seem to have adopted a somewhat self-contradictory creed.  At various times, Free Press has expressed the view that any router-based prioritization of Internet traffic is by definition harmful to unprioritized packets. Yet now they seem to have endorsed the use of DiffServ, which is a mechanism for router-based prioritization, as long as it is in the control of “end users.”

Free Press apparently does not recognize that content and application providers may also be “end users” of Internet access services.  Indeed, to the extent that packets must be marked for prioritization at their origin, content providers may be the “end users” best placed to make use of DiffServ.

One sometimes hears from members of the congregation of the CoENN that the introduction of paid prioritization would enable ISPs to turn best effort Internet transmission into a “dirt road” and force virtually the entire Internet ecosystem to “pay extra” for prioritized transmission. (Query:  why would ISPs require such an elaborate scheme to raise rates if they have the market power attributed to them by the CoENN?) Yet now Free Press seems to suggest that ISPs would restrict prioritization to only a few “deep-pocketed Internet giants.” While I enjoy the Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories as much as the next blogger, I do expect at least some superficial consistency.

Finally, Free Press has tried heroically to distinguish “router-based” prioritization from “geographic” prioritization (i.e., CDNs), based on unsubstantiated allegations that geographic prioritization does not result in any displacement of unprioritized traffic. For whatever reason, they apparently never subjected this particular doctrine of the faith to any empirical testing.  Well, someone else did and found that geographic prioritization can be quite effective in pushing unprioritized packets to the proverbial slow lane.

The FCC must view with healthy skepticism the interpretations and opinions it receives on technical Internet standards, and how they are operationalized by ISPs, from an advocacy group with no demonstrable expertise or experience in such matters. When it comes to data-driven policy making, there is no room for faith-based initiatives, as Chairman Genachowski testified before Congress last year.

Comments (21)

It’s quite scary to think that people like you have any influence over policy decisions aiming to give rise to formalized, egalitarian communication. Your post is a religious jargon filled red herring; if the pagans are those people who made the internet what it is today, and who in the face of impending regulation now hope for a protected free internet (this “dumb” internet made you rich, by the way), then you are one of the street vendors selling them overpriced idols with service & usage agreements. Virtuous character should be a prerequisite of leadership.

Alex August 31, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Surprise, surprise, AT&T is all for destroying the internet’s freedom along with Verizon and Google.

What they won’t tell you however is that here on the eve of the decades old pay TV model being destroyed by Apple, they are shaking in their boots and scrambling for a plan to continue gouging customers. Gouging us is nothing new to AT&T of course (An extra $20 to tether data from an iPhone? really?).

The shift that is coming is one that people have clamored for and wanted for years, a la carte pricing on TV. Instead, the cable companies make us pay for crap we don’t want, leading to much higher bills than anyone wants.

The new model of app based, internet TV will change all of that. Is True Blood the only show you want on app cable? Get the HBO app. Addicted to Hell’s Kitchen? Get the Fox app.

As a result, the telco giants are very disturbed and looking for a way to stop their ship from sinking. The answer? RESTRICT THE INTERNET! Once they have the right to control WHAT you access on the internet, they can continue to gouge us.

The simple fact is that bits are FREE!!! They continue to dupe people with this. A perfect example is charging $1500/MB for text messages. Sending a text takes less bandwidth than placing a call, letting it ring once and hanging up.

They are going to try and carry this over to internet access. You don’t want to buy TV from our cable division? Fine! You’re download limit is capped so low that you have no choice but pay us $100/mo if you want to watch TV over the internet!

The idea that people downloading more costs them more is ridiculous. Once a proper infrastructure is in place (something AT&T is seemingly incapable of doing, but hey, their executives need $100’s of millions a year to feed their families!) the bits flow along at no additional cost. I suppose there may be a few dollars a year of electricity, but that’s all.

Don’t buy their lies. The telcos are doing nothing more than trying to set up the next big price gouging scheme against their monopolies. The fact that there is no competition in broadband and often only one company available to most people will allow them to continue this way, forever raising prices when every other service and product in history usually gets cheaper with time.


Shaun September 1, 2010 at 7:49 am

I understand that there is a need to prioritize traffic. Certain protocols need to take priority on the internet so that services sensitive to network utilization/congestion can operate in a way that allows those services to operate within the expected norms. A prime example is VoIP.

The problem/fear comes into the picture when wealthy companies have a way to capitalize on a breadth of traffic, possibly in a way that far exceeds the needs to deliver quality services.

The balance is drawing the line between you, the providers, to deliver a quality service, without overstepping the goal of delivering a quality service and capitalizing on every bit that flows across the wire.

Let’s face it, it is the nature of public/commercial entities to capitalize as much as the laws allow. That’s just the nature of business. If new markets are artificially created due to traffic prioritization, market forces will drive the price of goods, which means that the highest bidders will run the show. Laws are intended to protect the rights of people, the environment, competitors, and a lot of other entities whose goal is not capitalization.

Axton Grams September 1, 2010 at 11:30 am

Paid prioritization is not the same as quality of service. You confusing the terms. The quality of service (QOS) fields in the IP header were intended to resolve technical problems, not financial ones. For example, QOS can prevent an email from interfering with an internet phone call. You are trying to use the field in a way that was not intended.

William Garrison September 1, 2010 at 2:34 pm

The main point of contention is actually the record of the data services industry in customer service, reliability, and quality of service (not network QoS, but the actual quality). In other words, the CoENN does not trust AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, et al., and until the data services industry behaves ethically with regard to how it sells and operates its services, the mere suggestion that new routing practices might be acceptable to the CoENN is simply untenable.

You have made the CoENN your advesary by refusing to act reasonably. You bundle services and hide fees, you make labrythine websites that focus almost entirely on propagandizing your services and only include real details as footnotes. You have walked away from selling your services and returned selling the emperor’s new clothes (ie, not relying on the merits of your product). Therefore, you can point to as many IETF documents as you please, but it won’t change that fundamental fact: the CoENN doesn’t believe you are to be trusted with a place as vital for the future of humanity as the Internet.

Adam Dane September 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I completely agree with the comments above. If there were companies that I would fear abusing the ability to prioritize traffic to their own gain it would be the cellular companies and cable television companies in the United States. Both bundle services and structure pricing similarly to used car dealerships. I understand there may be cases, such as with denial of service attacks on servers where companies may need to block or slow some traffic. That said, these companies are the last ones I would trust to self regulate and not abuse their customers to try to extract as much money as possible.

Zach Friedman September 2, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I agree with you. Most people don’t have a technical engineering level understanding of actually HOW the internet works with BGP, routing, etc and therefore make uninformed opinions. QoS/DiffServ and like it is *ABSOLUTELY* needed in the internet IP core because otherwise we would have problems of VoIP phone calls dropping because of a overloaded circuit and engineering problems with that. Before there was the Internet and packet switching we had circuit switching which was *EXACTLY* what QoS was about differentiating different types of applications based on their engineering/technical need. This is not even related to business but more of smooth running of the network in most cases. The internet changed that with packet switching while more efficient (a single type of protocol for all content), QoS mechanisms need to exist to differentiate traffic based on engineering needs. To Shaun and whoever else above said “The idea that people downloading more costs them more is ridiculous.” is wrong. If you actually have engineering background there IS capacity constraints on the internet just like there was on the old POTS (plain old telephone network) or water. While physical infrastructure of copper, fiber, wireless, and DSL-type technologies have certainly advanced in recent years leading to exponentially more bandwidth capacity, adding capacity to a network still costs money in terms of hardware/software/man hours. Yes the days of laying more copper are long gone replaced by fiber but fiber still has a finite limit limited by the DWDM hardware running it to those nay-sayers that say fiber has infinite bandwidth. Yes fiber has *infinite* theoretical bandwidth but is still limited by the hardware running it (DWDM, etc, etc…)

Will September 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm

You know this guy is on the right side of the argument. The party that spends more time with empty rhetoric and name calling and less time addressing the substantive issue is always on the correct side of the argument. To answer your query (“why would ISPs require such an elaborate scheme to raise rates if they have the market power attributed to them by the CoENN?), you have to ask yourself who has deeper pockets, Joe Sixpack or Google? That’s right, Google. And yes, any smart monopolist would aim for those pockets too.

K.C. Garner September 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm

For once, I’m impressed with the content of the comments at the bottom of an article (using the word loosely, here).

I understand that it would probably be counter-productive to post an actual, coherent argument here, Hultqueist, since it’s part of an ad campaign. But the “Church of Extreme Net Neutrality” thing comes across as painfully shrill, and there’s more sarcastic posturing here than there is defense of your viewpoint.

Now, I respect that this is because your viewpoint doesn’t really have an ideological defense. That’s because it’s not rooted in ideology–it’s based on dollars. You don’t have to believe what you’re saying, because you’re paid to believe it, and anyone reading knows it (particularly because they probably came here by clicking a paid advertisement). So this whole approach is kind of doomed from the start, isn’t it? The fact that you start your blog by alienating everyone with petulant sarcasm is just icing on the cake.

Gareth Sparks September 3, 2010 at 9:56 am

AT&T’s position is exactly correct and well stated. People tend to forget that the Internet is a commercial enterprise not a public institution. Companies like AT&T spend money to build and maintain the Internet and they have a right to make a reasonable profit. It is in these companies where the expertise to manage and evolve the Internet lies, not political organizations backed by the likes of George Soros. TOS bits and DiffServ are tools that can be used to improve the quality of service for services that run over networks. Differentiated services allow companies like Boxee, Netflix, and Hulu to compete with the cable companies and offer quality services. I applaud the coming together of the industry and would gladly pay Netflix or my VoIP and extra couple of bucks a month for prioritized service. Let the competition begin.

Mark Milliman September 3, 2010 at 11:50 am

The current chair of the IETF, Russ Housley, disagrees with AT&T’s assessment.

“AT&T’s characterization is misleading,” Housley said. “IETF prioritization technology is geared toward letting network users indicate how they want network providers to handle their traffic, and there is no implication in the IETF about payment based on any prioritization.”



Your position is so logically and factually challenged that one can only wonder whether you are stupid, or you think we all are. Seems to me it must be one or the other.

M. Hunt September 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm

That digitalsociety URL is a joke, figures it’s from one of your paid lobbyists. All George Ou has got are end-user diagnostics he’s trying to pass off as scientific observations, when in fact they’re anything but.

If there was any validity to his claims, you’d think we’d have heard from AT&T Labs Research by now, and not just some whacko. I remember when AT&T used to innovate and impress the industry with impressive research. It’s a real shame you’ve stooped to this level, and I hope someone in corporate will wake up and give Digital Society the boot.

Mike Hunt September 7, 2010 at 12:58 am

You can call me paranoid, but I think the telephone and cable TV companies don’t want to deploy fiber optic cabling and real high-speed internet to the end-users. The surplus of bandwidth would cause the price to plummet – destroying profits, and potentially destroying the companies.

When you have enough bandwidth, traffic prority becomes a non-issue (or at least reverts back to a technical issue).

What we need is a real political movement that will bring the telecoms under government control again, so they can be used to lay fiber optic cabling all over the place. The cost of deployment would be borne, not by the telcos, but by the taxpayers. We absorb that risk, and in return, we finally get real high speed internet.

We need the jobs in this lousy economy.

John K. September 7, 2010 at 3:04 am

As a matter of principle, knowledge and the search for information in an open forum should not be limited or controlled by money. The analogy for paid prioritization is a public library where only the books by publishers who have donated to the library are catalogued and displayed. All books should be displayed. The publishers’ donations should be recognized on the donors plaque in the lobby, with the font size determined by donation value. If the publisher own,ed the library, they would own the content and could treat it as they wished. But ISPs are a portal to the Internet; they do not own the Internet’s content.

Robert Lewis September 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

Net Neutrality rules to preserve the Open Internet that the FCC must re-establish (and the FCC must reassert its authority by classifying broadband a telecommunications service under Title II) specifically ban ISPs from creating new managed services (that’s the moniker telecos use) in which they can degrade, filter, or block any web packets they dislike — but that requires them to look what’s inside the packet an invasion of user privacy so there is a privacy issue here for individuals as well.

In some cases prioritization is needed to deal with span, viruses etc and threats to the network but paid prioritization that AT&T wants to implement would result in the creation of two Internet(s) a slow lane (public Internet) and a fast private for profit lane — resulting in an unequal two tiered Internet where websites pay ISPs for faster access.

Any webmasters who cannot afford to pay for priority access will have their websites under this model restricted to a slow lane — without openness future webmasters and future Internet entrepreneurs would need permission to innovate. Keeping the Internet open means preserving the Net as a level playing field where all businesses, old and new, big and small have equal access.

With Net Neutrality AT&T cannot speed up FOX and slowdown or give priority over Huffington to have their website load faster.

All websites get to load at the same speed. Furthermore AT&T is trying to mislead the FCC into thinking the Internet Engineering Task Force is against Net Neutrality. The Internet was built on openness, maintaining Net Neutrality is about preserving the Internet in its current form. The Internet Engineering Task Force has rejected AT&T’s claims. This is a monopolist telecom company broken up over a decade ago — to create new competition in the wire-line long distance phone market — AT&T should never have been allowed to put Ma Bell back together.

As a condition of its being allowed to re-merge with SBC Communications and Bell South (two Baby Bells) during the Bush Cheney Administration AT&T agreed not to mess with Net Neutrality for at least 2 years, and in that time never tried to mislead the FCC, Congress or the public about it, nor did they try to lobby against it. After the two years ended AT&T made it clear they wanted Internet freedom killed so they can become a corporate gate keeper on the web and censor the free flow of communication and information made possible by an Open Internet.

AT&T are lying thru their teeth — they are a shameless greedy, evil corporation only caring about their bottom line. When broadband was regulated during the Clinton Gore years under Title II there was more jobs created and more investment in the sector.

No corporation should be able to control the Internet. Microsoft tried to monopolize the web browser market in the 1990s when broadband Internet access market was still competitive and regulated to ensure competition the Clinton Administration’s DOJ came down hard on Microsoft for antitrust violations and sought to enforce penalties on them. Thanks to Bush’s election Microsoft got a sweet deal to settle charges without sufficient punishment and broadband Internet access market became a duopoly of big cable and phone companies.

Under Title II there were more jobs and investment, and more competition resulting in higher consumer choices under deregulation we see fewer jobs and investment but higher revenues for the greedy big cable and telecom companies.

The Internet must remain an open and democratic medium. As a U.S. Citizen I am fed up with corporate control of our media and now our democracy. The Internet represents the future of all media and we the people have to take our media back from corporations like AT&T, Verizon Communications, Clear Channel, Sprint Nextel, Verizon Wireless, CBS, Disney/ABC, Viacom, GE or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., The future of our media belongs to the entire American public — it belongs to us — all of us responding to AT&T’s baseless letter and everyone else nationwide; even Americans serving abroad in the military.

AT&T if your reading this quit trying to mess with the Open Internet. Quit trying to screw us over. We need consumer protections — we need government regulation — deregulation can be just as bad as too much regulation — we have to have some regulation of ISPs and it should extend to mobile broadband — it matters not how we connect to the Internet we should have same open, nondiscriminatory experience on a computer and/or a mobile device.

Maneesh Pangasa September 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm

@Maneesh Pangasa

Oh goodness, foxnews might run faster? Looks like DailyKos even runs faster than foxnews. Someone call the police!

George Ou September 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

That’s more than ok. Fight harder At&t. In fact go ahead and do just about whatever you want. In the end it won’t matter. The more abusive the role you take with a public utility the faster and harder you will fall. It’s a proven fact. More than you will ever realize. It’s history. Just like all the big companies before you who have done the same. In the mean time you will give up a wonderful opportunity to increase your profits and share holders by taking this path. Others will rise up and innovate where you fail too. That too is a proven fact. It too is history.
America is a huge market place. A few years ago companies like vizio didn’t exist or barely had a plan. But they used the global economy and the internet to change their position and lead the way.

Mike Shaw October 5, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Figures. Another day, another corporate cash grab. I personally hope that, despite the spiel about ‘reclassification not affecting prioritization’ this gets shot down. Just another example of why corporations can’t be left to their own devices without a good kick in the pants every so often – they start trying to screw the hand that feeds.

Anthony Gambardella October 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm

“Differentiated services allow companies like Boxee, Netflix, and Hulu to compete with the cable companies[…]”

@Mark If cable companies had their way, Boxee, Netflix, and Hulu traffic would be de-prioritized so badly that it would take two hours for your one-hour episode of Lost to load. And of course, AT&T would be offering a prioritized service for an extra $20 a month for their own on-demand service, or an extra $30 a month for unlimited HTTP downloads. Great deal!

You don’t seem to understand that services such as Boxee, Netflix, Hulu, and Wikipedia (yes, even wikipedia) rely upon neutral network carriers in order to function correctly. If network carriers cannot reliably be neutral, then I’m (the entrepeneur) am not going to build a new service that uses the internet. Too risky.

Oh, and about the wikipedia bit:

Ichimonji10 October 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

In my opinion you are unfit to operate on the public airwaves that have been leased to you. Your draconian and money grubbing anti-neutrality policies will put you out of business within a decade.

Kevin F. Rooney Jr. October 6, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Dear, At&t, I could go on a rant about how wrong and greedy the idea of paid prioritization is, but you are probably already aware of that, and trying to go forward with it despite the fact you know it is ethically wrong. So I will vote with the almighty dollar, and if you try to go ahead with your dastardly plot, I will boycott you completely.

Charles Deuter.

Charles Deuter October 6, 2010 at 4:24 pm

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