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Net Neutrality Never Really Existed? 157

Posted by kdawson
from the cry-me-no-tiers dept.
dido writes "In his most recent column, Robert X. Cringely observes that network neutrality may have never really existed at all. It appears that some, perhaps all, of the major broadband ISPs have been implementing tiered service levels for a long time. From the article: 'What turns out to be the case is that some ISPs have all along given priorities to different packet types. What AT&T, Comcast and the others were trying to do was to find a way to be paid for priority access — priority access that had long existed but hadn't yet been converted into a revenue stream.'" Cringely comes to this conclusion after being unable to get a fax line working. His assumption that the (Vonage) line's failure to support faxing is due to Comcast packet prioritizing is not really supported or proved. But his main point about the longstanding existence of service tiering will come as no surprise to this community.
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Net Neutrality Never Really Existed?

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  • Nice Logic... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:19AM (#18717979)
    I didn't RTFA, but the mans comes to the conclusion that the big companies are out to get him on the basis that his fax won't work? Astounding logic! We should have been able to figure this out by assuming the companies are trying to increase profits.
  • by omnipotus (214689) <> on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:19AM (#18717987)
    The last time I tried to setup something similar, I came to a dead end, find several sources via Google that indicated that the compression used by fax machines was incompatible with the compression used by VOIP. Has the stat of the improved, or is Bob on a goose chase here?
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:19AM (#18717991)
    I don't know anything about Vonage , but if its like other VOIP systems it'll used lossy compression. Which is death for most kinds of digital to analogue systems running over a phone like using systems such as QAM or PSK since important information will be stripped out. This is why you can't use dial up modems over most (all?) VOIP services (why you'd want to anyway is another matter).
  • by Hatta (162192) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:21AM (#18718019) Journal
    There's a difference between giving priority to different kinds of packets (QoS), and giving priority to packets from different sources, which is what Net Neutrality is all about. QoS is ok, it's encouraged so long as every packet of the same type gets treated the same way. The problem comes when your VoIP packet gets preferential treatment over my VoIP packet.

    P.S. Fax is obsolete. Scan and email.
  • Fax over VoIP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jallen02 (124384) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:26AM (#18718099) Homepage Journal
    I use Bellsouth (now ATT). I had some serious issues sending faxes as well. One of the key ways to resolving this problem was to set the error correction levels on my Fax to the highest and to set the fax machine rate to the slowest possible speed. Doing this I was able to send and receive faxes with no trouble. The same worked for Comcast as well. This was also with Vonage. I used it with Comcast and VoIP some time ago, though. Perhaps things have changed in the last year or so.
  • by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:27AM (#18718115) Journal
    Indeed, he seems to set up a huge conspiracy theory for what could be a faulty digital to analog conversion. I'm sure that there is at least some wrongful packet prioritization, but I doubt you would ever see the effect to the extent that a fax wouldn't work.
  • by jfengel (409917) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:31AM (#18718165) Homepage Journal
    I don't really know anything about the subject, but it's Cringely, so I'm going to assume that the opposite of whatever he said was true.
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:36AM (#18718235)
    Net neutrality is also about giving the customer what they paid for. The customer paid for the internet, not for a subset comcastnet, verizonnet, or any other connection. They didn't pay for the company to double dip on both sides.

    It be like paying for phone service and getting only good connections to people who paid that also paid that specific phone company off.
  • Re:Nice Logic... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brew Bird (59050) on Friday April 13, 2007 @09:45AM (#18718349)
    Man, that takes me back.

    Of course, what you are pointing out is the basic flaw with the whole 'net neutrality' argument. It's not a public network, per se. It's owned and opperated by someone. They have the right and privledge to impose what ever restrictions they want on people.

    When I first got into the ISP business about 14 years ago, there were a few basic rules that we insisted people follow as terms of their service

    1) Dont do anything illegal. We will rat you out.
    2) If you want to run an ISP, thats fine, we have special rates for heavy users
    3) If your usage for your web host exceedes a reasonable percentage of our available bandwidth, we reserve the right to raise your rate.

    No one seemed to have any issues with these simple rules.

    Cringly is even getting bitchslaped for being an ignorant dumbass over this on his own website. Serves him right.
  • As someone who works on this for a living, I can tell you that most VoIP vocoders are not compatible with most high speed voice band modems and Faxes.

    Most vocoders, such as GSM AMR NB, G.729 AB, G.723.1, are ACELP based (Algebraic Code Excited Linear Prediction) which basically parameterizes speech at the encoder and resysnthesises it at the decoder. These are specifically made for speech processing (and don't usually do well with music) and provide great compression with good quality (depending on the bit rate chosen).

    Other compression, such as G.726, uses ADPCM (Adaptive Differential Pulse Code Modulation) which still works well for most modems and Faxes, but don't provide the best compression rates.

    In the case where an ACELP vocoder is used on a line that is to support Fax or Modem connections, a Fax/Modem relay is used. In this case, your local VoIP box will have a Fax machine in it, as will the remote side of the link. You local Fax machine connects a fax session with the VoIP box, the decoded Fax data and signals are sent digitally using T.38 or other protocol to the remote VoIP, where it is connected to the remote Fax machine. These Fax relays often use specific network protocols (RTP instead of TCP) to reduce delay time (hence, lack of equal packet speeds (which is not the same lack of net neautrality that we are all resisting). Also, depending on the bit rate of the vocoder, this type of Fax/modem link may not support the highest standard connection rates.

    Code Master

  • Yes and No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:13AM (#18718751) Journal
    Back in the 80's, the net was carried by the CLECs. They did not give a hoot. Heck, we had not real security. I was able to connect to the modem at the univeristy with NO password and later my work modem pool at US West had just simple shared password. After all, it was local and long distance that carried the money.

    When Clinton commercialized it, at ISPs were created, the CLECs still did not mess with packets other than that ALL Internet packets had the lowest of low packets on the ATM.

    By 2000, qwest (old uswest) had packet shaping but I understood that it was only being used it to make sure that their employee packets got through.

    2 years ago, Now, I have heard from a friend of mine that is there and they do shape based on other criteria, including who the packet goes to. In particular, qwest had a battle with cogent and SLOWED down the dns to them until they agreed to pay them more connect money. Basically, it has been turned into a weapon of sorts to have the big clecs control the small upstarts. Obviously, it will by used against end customes as well.
  • by moeinvt (851793) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:28AM (#18718945)
    Prioritization based on data "type" is clearly much different than prioritization based on source/destination.

    While I generally agree that the former is acceptable, I think the VoIP providers would have a legitimate gripe if a big telecom company slowed VoIP packets to a crawl in order to protect their competing telecommunication services.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:33AM (#18719043)
    Spoken like a true Mac user!
  • by massysett (910130) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:36AM (#18719079) Homepage
    Okay, let's say that I close my eyes, think really hard, and say "It will rain in Seattle tomorrow." Let's say that I do this every day, some days I say it will rain, and that when I say it will rain, I am right 75% of the time.

    Does this mean I KNEW it will rain? No. Does it mean that I PREDICTED it will rain? Again, no. Maybe it just means that it rains 75% of the time in Seattle. To KNOW it will rain tomorrow or even to predict it, I have to have a basis for my prediction. Sheer odds, such as it raining 75% of the time, is not basis for my "prediction" that it will rain TOMORROW.

    So it is with Cringely. He has demonstrated time and again that he has zero knowledge of technical issues. Just because he says something and it comes true doesn't mean he PREDICTED it. He needs some sort of basis in fact to have a "prediction". Seeing as his statements in this column are grounded in nothing more than a false belief that fax should work over his lossy VoIP line, he has shown yet again that he is shooting straight in the dark. He cannot "predict" based on his faulty knowledge, and he deserves no credit if his faulty "predictions" turn out to be right.
  • Re:Nice Logic... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:41AM (#18719151)

    Of course, what you are pointing out is the basic flaw with the whole 'net neutrality' argument. It's not a public network, per se. It's owned and opperated by someone. They have the right and privledge to impose what ever restrictions they want on people.

    This is a non sequitur. Just because it is an owned network does not mean they have the right to restrict people however they want. I may own a private road, but that does not automatically grant me the right to deny passage to the people that own the mineral rights to that same land. I may own a flower shop, but that does not grant me the right to deny service to blacks, without repercussions.

    These privately owned networks were funded largely with our tax dollars, hundreds of billions of them the government provided in subsidies. Many of these privately owned networks run on public right of ways to which the government has granted them an exclusive monopoly. Further, those same private businesses are being granted exemption from obeying the law, namely copyright laws, libel laws, pornography laws, free trade laws, conspiracy laws, etc. Those exemptions from obeying the law are granted under "common carrier" statutes that say impartial carriers goods and information are not held liable for what they carry provided they impartially carry everything. I say it is just fine for these private businesses to decide not to be impartial and to slow down or block traffic from some people to gain a competitive advantage. What I object to is them doing that, and being exempted from punishment for the laws. Common carriers are a public service and that is the only reason they are protected. If you're not serving the common good and are just making money for yourself without benefiting society, why should you be given special privileges?

    When I first got into the ISP business about 14 years ago, there were a few basic rules that we insisted people follow as terms of their service

    So here's the problem... the rules you list have nothing to do with net neutrality. Net neutrality is simply about treating some traffic differently than others not based upon the type, nor the traffic levels, but based upon the person or location from which the traffic is being generated. You can block all users that send more than a gig a day. What you can't do is block just the black users that send more than a gig a day, or just the republican users that use more than a gig a day, or even the users that do business with your competitor and use more than a gig a day... if you still want to be given all the special privileges that are given to common carriers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2007 @10:44AM (#18719197)
    As a former Vonage tech support rep, I can assure you that it is possible to get a fax line to work over a VoIP line.

    I've only done it once with a baud rating over 4800, a few dozen times at or below 4800. Unfortunately, most faxes can't drop that low, even using the hidden system menus most have.

    A single dropped packet often ends up as an unrecoverable error. Very few ISPs provide a stable enough connection to lose no data.

    Latency is also an issue. VoIP lines have a much higher latency than POTS. People notice this as an echo, fax machines don't replay the signal but could easily time out waiting.

    Also, at the time that I worked there, some of the techs were working on compiling a list of affinities that different model faxes had for different codecs. Higher bandwidth did not always get a fax working, seemingly arbitrary mid-range settings worked as often as low- or high-bandwidth codecs.

    Net neutrality aside, don't expect a fax to work over a VoIP line.
  • by Randolpho (628485) on Friday April 13, 2007 @11:23AM (#18719789) Homepage Journal
    ISPs *have* been prioritizing traffic [] for years -- usually based on packet content-type. I helped install a "packet shaper" when I worked at a mom-and-pop dialup shop in the early 2000s. The thing is, TFA missed a key point about Net Neutrality: proponents aren't fighting QoS type prioritization, they're fighting prioritization based on origin and destination. QoS services organize packets based on their content type -- if you wanted to cut down on illegal downloading but still provide a decent web experience, you would throttle down P2P type packets, but let http packets through. What big ISPs are trying to do is go to major websites and say "hey, we'll give you priority for $x/month. Oh, your competitors? We'll just throttle their bandwidth to nothing. But if they pay the big bucks and you don't, you're screwed." What TFA is complaining about (ignoring the VoIP/Fax compression issue already pointed out) is old-skool QoS, something we've had for years. Net Neutrality is about unfairly shutting out the competition.
  • Net neutrality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaveHowe (51510) on Friday April 13, 2007 @02:18PM (#18722919)
    well, one obvious advantage to maintaining at least the illusion of net neutrality is "common carrier status" - this is what stops an isp being sued when its naughty customers use p2p to share the latest britney spears hit.

    All that (and the legal shield it provides) goes away if the isp *does* look at what the packets are and asserts control over them.

  • Not quite. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Irvu (248207) on Friday April 13, 2007 @02:35PM (#18723169)
    You, and the other posters seem to have missed the one essential hook for net neutrality, indeed the only one that counts; Common Carrier Status. In order for you, and the phone company, and UPS to not be charged with a crime when someone does something illegal via your service you have to be a Common Carrier. Lacking that status you would be charged as an accessory to the crime even if you ratted them out first.

    The cost of being a common carrier is having no content-based selection in what you carry. You must be completely neutral and select customers based upon what they are willing to pay not what they want to send. Once you hook things to what they want to send (i.e. content) then you are no longer a common carrier and you are responsible for knowing what is being sent at all times and answering for it if it isn't.

    The issue here is twofold. Firstly the status Cringley is looking at might be more aligned to paying extra so the package moves faster type service which doesn't (necessarily) violate common carrier status. However , the argument that many ISP's are making is that they should be able to have their cake and eat it too that is, filter based upon content in order to make more money and stifle competitors while at the same time not being responsible for the legality of any content sent (i.e. child porn). Such a position is basically a whiny monopolists cant that I have no time for.

    And yes it is true that the lines are private, in large part, but the service itself is still an infrastructural service and one that, like phone lines, has costs too significant to allow for basic competition. Not anyone can setup their own phonelines. As such that is the legal hook for government regulation and guaranteed fairness. Without it the dominant position of extant carriers (who built their power under the open competition regime but now want to shut the door on other competitors) would become so dominant as to be a monopoly and kill any hope for an open internet market.

All great ideas are controversial, or have been at one time.