North Wind And Sun

NCTA to FCC: Well…they do it too!

Posted in Uncategorized by Ricardo Bilton on 29-July-2008

(Note that the title to this post should be read in the reader’s best five year-old voice.)

National Cable and Telecommunications Association vice president Daniel L. Brenner submitted a list to the FCC which detailed the network traffic and bandwidth consumption polices of various American Universities.

In the letter attached to the list, Brenner presents his argument, which, at first glance, is particularly sound:

If temporarily delaying P2P uploads to prevent congestion is deemed somehow to violate the principles of the Commission’s Internet “policy statement” then surely the more severe outright prohibitions on P2P usage imposed by wireless carriers and by colleges and universities must violate them as well.

He goes on:

If there is to be regulation, therefore, it must apply equally to all providers […] But the far better approach, in the absence of any evidence that network management is harming competition or consumers, is to allow different network providers to continue to see out the network management techniques that are best suited to preventing congestion on their particular networks and maximizing customer satisfaction.”

In other words, if the FCC allows colleges and universities to manage their network traffic, then they are most certainly contradicting themselves denying ISPs that very right. Makes sense.

But on closer inspection, Brenner slips up. Instead of referring to companies like Comcast as ISPs,  he lumps them with colleges and universities, calling them “network providers.” Of course, therein lies the key difference between MIT and Comcast – while MIT is an institution of higher learning, Comcast is – and this should go without saying – a company. Calling Comcast merely a “network provider” is ignoring the fact that they are also a main source of Internet services as a whole, and not solely what Brenner calls “networks.”

One question that I wish I had an answer to is whether the FCC even has jurisdiction over the network management practices of colleges and universities in the first place. Does a typical university network qualify as delving into interstate or international communications,  areas where the FCC enforces its regulations?

In all, Brenner’s letter strikes me as a surprising juvenile ploy, and a classic one at that. What better way to attempt to take the focus off your constituents’ own practices than to implicate some other, unrelated party?


3 Responses

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  1. CableTechTalk said, on 29-July-2008 at 8:29 pm

    You actually were exactly right with the beginning of this, but then misread the intent of the letter and specifically the reference to “network providers”.

    Cable has been accused of blocking P2P because these services provide video and that content is seen as competition to the cable industry. That’s simply not true.

    The letter merely suggests that universities are also blocking P2P content, yet have no competitive motive for doing so. There is a much larger issue that all “network providers” have to deal with and that is the burden placed by a small percentage of users on the experience of all users. That’s true regardless of the size/scope of the network.

    What the letter says is exactly what you first took from it – network managers in two different situations are using similar tactics to guarantee quality of service due to the exact same network problem.

    The FCC’s principles allow for reasonable network management. However, the Commission is allegedly going to make the argument that the actions of a university to combat P2P congestion are reasonable, but the same actions by a cable operator are not.

    The letter draws the comparison not to suggest that Universities be regulated, but in an attempt to make the point that the FCC’s conclusion seems to be incorrect.

  2. thecableshow said, on 29-July-2008 at 8:29 pm

    On first glance, this sounds like a pretty good takedown of our Ex Parte Letter. But I’d strongly recommend that people read that letter for themselves.

    Because your description sounds like we focused on comparing cable operators and colleges & universities as service providers, that we argued that MIT and Comcast are the same thing.

    What the letter actually says (again, read it for yourself) is that we take ”issue with the allegation that P2P protocols were being singled out by cable operators for anticompetitive reasons — because some peer-to-peer applications can be used to obtain video programming that may compete to some extent with the video services offered by cable operators.” In other words, some people have said that the cable industry’s claims for the necessity of network management are false and that we’re merely targeting P2P as a competitive technology.

    So, we noted that “similar tools for managing congestion have been adopted by other network operators, such as college and universities, that have no conceivable anticompetitive intentions.” Many of these institutions of higher learning and “several do so in ways that are far more restrictive and ‘blunt’ than merely managing the flow, and sometimes delaying, the flow of P2P uploads.” Some prohibit P2P. Some manage downloads in addition to uploads. That’s their business. But they’re clearing not managing their networks because they fear competition from P2P applications.

    We’re not trying “implicate some other, unrelated party,” we’re raising the question of why two different network managers dealing with the same issue in exactly the same way have completely different motives assigned to their actions.

  3. thecableshow said, on 30-July-2008 at 2:38 pm

    2 minds here had the same thought at the same time. Sorry for the double team!

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