Be Sure to Comment on FCC's NPRM 14-28

Wednesday 4 June 2014 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I remind everyone today, particularly USA Citizens, to be sure to comment on the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) 14-28. They even did a sane thing and provided an email address you can write to rather than using their poorly designed web forums, but PC Magazine published relatively complete instructions for other ways. The deadline isn't for a while yet, but it's worth getting it done so you don't forget. Below is my letter in case anyone is interested.

Dear FCC Commissioners,

I am writing in response to NPRM 14-28 — your request for comments regarding the “Open Internet”.

I am a trained computer scientist and I work in the technology industry. (I'm a software developer and software freedom activist.) I have subscribed to home network services since 1989, starting with the Prodigy service, and switching to Internet service in 1991. Initially, I used a PSTN single-pair modem and eventually upgraded to DSL in 1999. I still have a DSL line, but it's sadly not much faster than the one I had in 1999, and I explain below why.

In fact, I've watched the situation get progressively worse, not better, since the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While my download speeds are little bit faster than they were in the late 1990s, I now pay substantially more for only small increases of upload speeds, even in a major urban markets. In short, it's become increasingly more difficult to actually purchase true Internet connectivity service anywhere in the USA. But first, let me explain what I mean by “true Internet connectivity”.

The Internet was created as a peer-to-peer medium where all nodes were equal. In the original design of the Internet, every device has its own IP address and, if the user wanted, that device could be addressed directly and fully by any other device on the Internet. For its part, the network in between the two nodes were intended to merely move the packets between those nodes as quickly as possible — treating all those packets the same way, and analyzing those packets only with publicly available algorithms that everyone agreed were correct and fair.

Of course, the companies who typically appeal to (or even fight) the FCC want the true Internet to simply die. They seek to turn the promise of a truly peer-to-peer network of equality into a traditional broadcast medium that they control. They frankly want to manipulate the Internet into a mere television broadcast system (with the only improvement to that being “more stations”).

Because of this, the three following features of the Internet — inherent in its design — that are now extremely difficult for individual home users to purchase at reasonable cost from so-called “Internet providers” like Time Warner, Verizon, and Comcast:

  • A static IP address, which allows the user to be a true, equal node on the Internet. (And, related: IPv6 addresses, which could end the claim that static IP addresses are a precious resource.)
  • An unfiltered connection, that allows the user to run their own webserver, email server and the like. (Most of these companies block TCP ports 80 and 25 at the least, and usually many more ports, too).
  • Reasonable choices between the upload/download speed tradeoff.

For example, in New York, I currently pay nearly $150/month to an independent ISP just to have a static, unfiltered IP address with 10 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up. I work from home and the 2 Mbps up is incredibly slow for modern usage. However, I still live in the Slowness because upload speeds greater than that are extremely price-restrictive from any provider.

In other words, these carriers have designed their networks to prioritize all downloading over all uploading, and to purposely place the user behind many levels of Network Address Translation and network filtering. In this environment, many Internet applications simply do not work (or require complex work-arounds that disable key features). As an example: true diversity in VoIP accessibility and service has almost entirely been superseded by proprietary single-company services (such as Skype) because SIP, designed by the IETF (in part) for VoIP applications, did not fully anticipate that nearly every user would be behind NAT and unable to use SIP without complex work-arounds.

I believe this disastrous situation centers around problems with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While the ILECs are theoretically required to license network infrastructure fairly at bulk rates to CLECs, I've frequently seen — both professional and personally — wars waged against CLECs by ILECs. CLECs simply can't offer their own types of services that merely “use” the ILECs' connectivity. The technical restrictions placed by ILECs force CLECs to offer the same style of service the ILEC offers, and at a higher price (to cover their additional overhead in dealing with the CLECs)! It's no wonder there are hardly any CLECs left.

Indeed, in my 25 year career as a technologist, I've seen many nasty tricks by Verizon here in NYC, such as purposeful work-slowdowns in resolution of outages and Verizon technicians outright lying to me and to CLEC technicians about the state of their network. For my part, I stick with one of the last independent ISPs in NYC, but I suspect they won't be able to keep their business going for long. Verizon either (a) buys up any CLEC that looks too powerful, or, (b) if Verizon can't buy them, Verizon slowly squeezes them out of business with dirty tricks.

The end result is that we don't have real options for true Internet connectivity for home nor on-site business use. I'm already priced out of getting a 10 Mbps upload with a static IP and all ports usable. I suspect within 5 years, I'll be priced out of my current 2 Mbps upload with a static IP and all ports usable.

I realize the problems that most users are concerned about on this issue relate to their ability to download bytes from third-party companies like Netflix. Therefore, it's all too easy for Verizon to play out this argument as if it's big companies vs. big companies.

However, the real fallout from the current system is that the cost for personal Internet connectivity that allows individuals equal existence on the network is so high that few bother. The consequence, thus, is that only those who are heavily involved in the technology industry even know what types of applications would be available if everyone had a static IP with all ports usable and equal upload and download speeds of 10 Mbs or higher.

Yet, that's the exact promise of network connectivity that I was taught about as an undergraduate in Computer Science in the early 1990s. What I see today is the dystopian version of the promise. My generation of computer scientists have been forced to constrain their designs of Internet-enabled applications to fit a model that the network carriers dictate.

I realize you can't possibly fix all these social ills in the network connectivity industry with one rule-making, but I hope my comments have perhaps given a slightly different perspective of what you'll hear from most of the other commenters on this issue. I thank you for reading my comments and would be delighted to talk further with any of your staff about these issues at your convenience.

Sincerely,

Bradley M. Kuhn,
a citizen of the USA since birth, currently living in New York, NY.

Posted on Wednesday 4 June 2014 at 11:20 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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