Solutions to Net Neutrality

August 29th, 2006 | by ian |

I recently discovered Farber’s “interesting people” discussion list: a bunch of fascinating folks debating (primarily) internet issues. A few months back Bob Cringely highlighted Bob Frankston, one of the list members, in one of the most lucid articles about network neutrality. In a message to the IP list, Frankston debunks the value of services provided by the legacy telecoms and provides suggestions on how to begin working around them.

Cringely summarizes:

To Bob the issues surrounding Net Neutrality come down to billability and infrastructure. While saying they are doing us favors, ISPs are really offering us services they can bill for. Nothing is aimed at helping us, while everything is aimed at creating a billable event. Take WiFi hotspots, for example. Why should the telephone or cable company care about who connects to my WiFi access point? They are my bits, not the ISP’s. I paid for them. If I can download gigabytes of pornography why can’t I share my hotspot with someone walking down the street wanting to check his e-mail? Frankston’s analogy for this is accusing someone of stealing your porch light by using it to read a street sign.

Internet map from

A suggestion of Franston’s is to logically separate the service from the infrastructure: he advocates community ownership of infrastructure. Frankston’s post to the IP list is a must read.

The whole concept of “telecommunications” seems to be fundamental and necessary. But if you step back you see how all the pieces fit together but they are in a world of their own. We are able to create our own solutions. The question is not whether carriers will permit us to communicate, it’s only a question of how long will we allow our economy and safety to be held out bay in order to support an obsolete and business model that preserves scarcity rather than allowing us to get the benefits of abundant connectivity.

More on this in his insightful essay “Telecom is Just a Phrase We’re Going Through

Everybody needs access to roads to move around, water to survive, and…everybody should have access to the internet to communicate. Bob points out the absurdity of the current direction Telcos are attempting to take internet services in “Sidewalks: Paying by the Stroll”


I have been discussing that the internet will adapt, or workaround the obstacles of discriminatory practices. This is largely why I am not overly concerned about whether internet service is regulated or not.

The importance of Skype is that it’s the real face of end-to-end. It may seem like a paradox but to get true end-to-end behavior you cannot depend on the underlying transport being end-to-end. If you’re at a conference and you just connect to the Ethernet jack you naïvely assume you’ve got E2E but you don’t know anything about all segments of the network and it is likely that someone will be watching your packets, even if only for entertainment purposes.

Just as you can create a reliable path over an unreliable network using a protocol like TCP you can take a compromised network and get end-to-end behavior by encrypting and not being dependent upon the accidental addressing structure. In both cases there are limits to how well you can do it but it’s important to observe that you can and that you must.

So Skype, a favorite application of mine, is showing the way allowing remarkably reliable communications overlaid upon an unreliable and often unfriendly network. This approach to networking, as Frankston points out, is the future of how the internet will operate in the face of attempts to control our ability to communicate.

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