Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Net Neutrality Debate - Symulcast

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Notice in the video above that they "protest" the bill claiming that it does not go "left enough". They speak with so many points of misinformation with their ambiguity of their comments intended to promote the fear of what "MIGHT" happen if the government doesn't put a grip upon the corporations.

This discussion would ordinarily be put in the sister blog "Technological Reparation"  where issues about the intersection of technology and society are discussed.

Unfortunately when it comes to "Net Neutrality" the attempted insertion of activism into the technological and communications space has promoted this issue onto my "policy analysis blog".   Since the claims that "the least of these" (Blacks and the poor) might be harmed by the greedy telecom companies (see the "Democracy Now" video) - this issues has found a place on the "Within The Black Community" blog.   Some people show pictures of barefoot children in Guatemala to trigger action for their cause.  Other despicable characters hold up Black people in America to have their way.

I am sure that you would agree that if I were to talk about the functions of the human digestive system to a physician - upon hearing my verbal molestation in explaining what she lives and breathes every day would have you to look to her as the more credible source.   When I hear various left-wing activists on "Democracy Now", "Bill Moyers" or "The Color Of Change" web site similarly molest the facts about how large scale carrier networks are architected  AND their nefarious intentions to restrict traffic I hope that you would also assign credibility based on the ability to present a TRANSPARENT set of facts of the case.

Social Justice Comes To The Technology Sector
The American Internet System is the most expansive, most pervasive than any other in the world.  If we look at the traffic on most other country's Internets - they are running applications developed in America - FaceBook quickly growing to be the #1 application in most developed nations.

If you listen to people with a more of a social activist spirit describe the same picture will be darked with claims of squandered leadership and corporate hijacking for the sake of profit.
  • They point to South Korea as having a "faster Internet" with 100Mbps, yet don't note the far smaller number of access points to build out there as compared to the USA.  
    • Comcast just announced a 150Mb connection
    • Several companies are just now upgrading their Internet trunk circuits to 40Gbps because the optical interfaces to support these speeds are just now becoming available and affordable
    • The applications that would drive the need for RESIDENTIAL speeds at 100Mbps (ie: HD video) are just now coming on line as the Internet architecture to support this increased demand AND the copyright system for content is settled upon.
  • They point to Norway as having a higher "Broadband Penetration Rate" than does the USA
    • They fail to note that Norway has about 6 million users and a high density of people while the USA has about 90 million users and is better thought of as an array of local access networks.  
      • The high density cities have full coverage
      • The low density areas have satellite or wireless because a physical build out of a cable system can't be cost justified
On the one hand the constant indictment of the telecommunications companies and the FCC listening in can serve as a countervailing force to keep the companies from acting in a monopolistic fashion.  I can appreciate a certain amount of advocacy.

It is when they operate in a purely ideologically skewed manner where they attempt to take their (flawed) theory of economics and regulation and use the presence of a favorable leftist-dominated FCC to have their way - all the while telling half truths and fear tactics that I receive the "fingernails on the chalkboard" effect per hearing their words.

I am going to set out to provide a baseline of the argument at hand to provide an understanding of the issues at hand.

The Internet Architecture

The American Internet is made up of a series of interconnecting corporate owned networks.  A company such as Level3 lays fiber cable across the country, connecting "high speed node cities" together.  From these nodes they can sell long haul access to other telecom companies (ie: Comcast).   It doesn't make sense for Comcast to build its own national "Internet" . They are access providers - selling cable access to the local markets they serve.  Comcast will negotiate with Level3 to purchase a connection from their national Internet connection to allow their users to have open Internet access.

There are several other "Tier 1" backbone providers in addition to Level3.  Many of them are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their "trunk circuits" to support 40 gigabits per second of throughput.  The electronic switches at the ends of the fiber runs determine the amount of data that can flow through the fiber.

AT&T is both a Tier 1 provider and an access provider with its DSL service.  The access network must run past every home in their service area.  The access network is the network "streets" while the trunks are the "Interstate highways".

As access speeds increase (ie: to 50Mbps) there is a need for larger trunk circuits.   Since most people are not using the full amount of data that their access connection allows them - the access network is "oversubscribed".  It has more potential for speed than it could actually carry IF everyone were to try and stream HD video at the same time.

When demand exceeds what all of the network switching points from the source (ie: web browser) though to the video server (which might be on the other side of the country) a "bottleneck" is created".   The end user experiences the bottleneck as a slowdown in throughput.

The carrier has a vested interest in removing bottlenecks.  They can continuously add more bandwidth, requiring them to add more fiber and switches to accommodate the increased traffic.   This can be cost prohibitive and/or limited by the time frame or business justification.

When there is congestion the carrier can perform what is called "traffic shaping".  The routers can identify "video streaming" traffic from e-mail and web browsing and choose to put the video traffic into a lower priority queue so that the other traffic will get a "fair share" of the bandwidth instead of being blocked out.

The Convergence To IP

If you have cable television service - ie: Time Warner - you have one large black cable coming into your house.  This single cable actually has a "television broadcast" domain and an "Internet" domain on the same cable.  Each of them operate at different frequencies and are independent from each other.

As IPTV becomes popular the cable companies seek to adopt new features (ie: Interactive television) they are likely to scrap the broadcast domain and make the entire "pipe" as one IP domain, providing higher access speeds in the process.

With this single domain - their standard cable package video content now streams along the same network as does YouTube videos and web video from CNN. 

As people cancel their cable packages a once valuable stream of revenue is lost by the cable companies.  The same subscriber that had been paying $105 per month for television and Internet now is paying $42 per month for Internet alone AND is demanding faster speeds.   In the context of lost revenue the company is demanded to upgrade their access networks AND pay Level3 more money for a larger port to their national backbone.

The problem is clear:  The customers are paying less money but demanding faster and better service.  The carriers have less leverage in going to Wall Street to finance their next generation upgrades due to the eroded revenue flow.

The High Speed Traffic Lane

Recall when Alaska senator Ted Stevens became a laughing stock when he said "The Internet is a bunch of tubes"?   From my vantage point the people who try to explain their justification to support Net Neutrality should be laughed as just as well.

They make indictment against "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" yet don't realize that if their arguments were to be applied to the morning rush hour - they would be opposed to "car pooling" and "HOV lanes".

The diagram below shows the video of a football game.  The game is being streamed on the Internet from a server that is located in New York.  

Since each individual web user makes a separate request for the video Image - this same video content is transmitted REDUNDANTLY for each user.  As the image notes - 3 users in Seattle seeking to view the video are going to saturate the long haul Internet connections with their 3 copies of the very same video.  Multiple this times a few million and you can see that we have a problem.

Again - the Internet is built with OVERSUBSCRIPTION in mind.  As a larger number of users demand higher bandwidth because they are using video - the Internet routers and switches will not be able to handle the traffic.

Clearly THIS "long haul" architecture will not support the migration to near 100% video streaming.

The Content Distribution Network - The Evil "High Speed Lanes"

Over the past several years as companies like Microsoft have switched to distributing their Windows software via download instead of mailing of CDs/DVDs they have suffered server crashes because of the massive demand for downloads from their facilities.   Their infrastructure that was built to handle a certain normal load of traffic now has to handle 5 times as much during the first few days of release.

The same issue is the case with streaming of special events such as The Super Bowl or The Olympics.

A new type of network service was created to fix this problem:  Content Distribution Networks.

Companies such as Akamai came along to address the problem.  They built a series of local data centers that are distributed around the county.

The content owner - ie: NBC - sends the video feed into the Akamai network.  Akamai takes the one video feed and sends it to each of their distributed content distribution centers.

As web users seek to stream the NBC content they no longer all have to traverse the nation to reach the video feed in New York.  Their browser is redirected to the closest Akamai center.  This has the effect of relieving the long haul Internet circuits of a lot of duplicate traffic.  (Akin to taking single drivers out of their car and putting them in a carpooling van).

Akamai charges NBC - the content owner - money for use of their "Fast Lanes".
Akamai must pay Comcast and other access providers money for a connection into their content distribution center.  This is to their benefit because the local content reduces their costs in having to acquire access to expensive long haul circults.

Where Net Neutrality Gets It Wrong

When you hear the activists saying "carriers are forcing people to PAY for higher speed content" the above scenario is what they are talking about.

In as much as they try to frame it as a MONOPOLISTIC CONSPIRACY, the truth is that what they are arguing is counter-logical.

They don't suffer the COSTS of these multi-million dollar trunk circuits and thus have no interest in efforts to reduce the redundant use of these expensive resources.  Again - they are arguing that Greyhound bus service should be shut down and everyone should drive their cars across country.

Indeed Google - which owns YouTube - has constructed data centers around the nation and thus has become its own "Akamai".   They worked with the various access network providers to negotiate "fast lanes" directly into their local networks.

The activists imagine that some college drop out is going to open up a new video service from his garage but because he doesn't have the financing of a Google - he will be shut out of the game, and the billion dollar giants will trample innovation.
(If I am molesting their argument please tell me).

The truth is that they promoting their ideology and throwing away architectural FACT.

With the "unicast" communications that are in place - that new video service would need to purchase an Internet port that is large enough to handle the redundant traffic that each user session demands.   No residential DSL will suffice.  The "Next Bill Gates" will need to have a fiber optic network port with at least 40Gb of throughput.  These costs (likely) more than $30,000 per month.

In essence - economic truth - should have it that these expensive resources be allocated to those who can PAY.

Show Me The Money

All the while the new "advertising model" has it as such that Google is making money from the actions of the users while the infrastructure providers make their money off of your $42 per month payment for service and the fees they charge Google for their connections.

In essence what we have is an imbalance in which the subscribers hammer the infrastructure providers for faster services as Google and other content providers receive the bulk of the revenues.    The tiered bandwidth pricing is an effort to limit the use of these shared resources.  I suspect that in the long run some sort of advertising consumption model will work to reduce your bandwidth consumption costs. (Think 800 number)

(Part II - How Wireless Is Different)

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