Frames that prevent a neutral Net

We’d hardly yearn for Net Neutrality laws if Comcast and other carriers truly understood that the Net is more than an interactive TV channel with troublesome users.

Unfortunately there are technical as well as busines and political reasons why they fail to grok the Net. A big one is DOCSIS, which is the standard framework inside which cable companies funnel Net traffic. DOCSIS all but requires that they think of the Net as just another TV channel. Because that’s how DOCSIS frames the Net. It’s something delivered over analog channels inside a coaxial cable. Carriers can “bond” channels to widen the bandwidth, but they’re still dealing with radio waves going down a coaxial pipe on one or more channels and back up on others. Asymmetry is built in, simply because the return upstream path is, by design, on lower frequency channels with less carrying capacity. It’s also useless to debate with a cable comapny the need (or lack of it) for QoS (Quality of Service), because QoS has been part of DOCSIS since 1999.

Fiber deployments have different capabilities and restrictions, although most of those are modeled on cable TV, for good business reasons. Verizon’s fiber (FiOS) system, for example, is not designed primarily for Internet users, but for couch potatoes. Those tubers are abundant and low-hanging (or ground-dwelling) fruit.

One can’t blame carriers for going after easy pickings; but one can blame them for wearing blinders toward the massive opportunities that appear when they deliver wide-open bandwidth on which nearly anything can run… and to discover their first-mover advantages there.

But, thanks to these ancient frames, the Net is seen by the carriers (and the FCC) as tertiary to their primary and secondary services: telephony and television, or vice versa. That’s why it’s still just gravy on your phone or cable bill.

Bonus link.

8 comments

  1. BlogBites. Like sound bites. But without the sound. » Blog Archive » One can’t blame carriers for going after easy pickings; but one can blame them for wearing blinders toward the massive opportunities that appear when they deliver wide-open’s avatar

    [...] bandwidth on which nearly anything can run… and to discover their first-mover advantages there. Doc Searls Weblog · Frames that prevent a neutral Net   « Let’s give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child [...]

  2. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    We discussed this issue five years ago, as you may recall. Nothing much has changed. Here’s the old link: http://bennett.com/blog/index.php/archives/2003/07/23/symmetry-control-and-progress/

  3. Pauly’s avatar

    Okay, so I never got around to reading your original Frames post. And I agree with many of the points. But I suppose I have to challenge the Eisenhower-era Interstate Highway System investment analogy in a way that I hope doesn’t stretch it too far. Yes, yes, great investment, can’t imagine our economy without it or if it was privately held by fat lazy oligarchies with closed-minded business models. And I also strongly agree that the net should also be freed to open the tremendous pent-up economic benefit (that we all could use right about now).

    But… I’m sure you’ve also noticed that the current I-system is choking on its success? That not only isn’t there the public funding to expand capacity (or turn to a different mode of more energy-efficient transport), but there apparently isn’t even enough funding to maintain what we already have.

    Public or private infrastructure alike take massive levels of funding. And massive levels of funding (again public or private) require a broad consensus backed by equally broad levels of personal sacrifice (in the form of taxation or fees paid for services rendered).

    I’m not quite seeing how we get to either one in today’s corporo-regulatorium-controlled private sector and me-first entitlement-driven political culture.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks for the reminder, Richard. Wish I had been able to attend the hearing, or at least to hear more than the poor wi-fi at my London hotel permitted. I heard a little of your talk, but lost most of it — and nearly everything that followed.

    I’m actually looking for some common ground here, including new turf. Business turf. Opportunity turf.

    There is so much that could be done where there really is competition, such as in the neighborhoods around Boston where poles are strung with Comcast HFC, and fiber from Verizon and RCN. I’d love to see one or more of those guys offer something that isn’t just a clone of what they offer everywhere else. I understand the cost and personnel reasons for doing that, but why not look to local advantages?

    What I want the carriers (and the rest of us) to think about is how to support new and existing businesses. To think creatively about how to leverage abundance where we already have it — and to think of benefits to incumbency other than improving Business As Usual alone.

    Think that can be done? Or that it’s worth convening a meeting (or conference, or colloquium, or whatever) about it?

  5. Richard Bennett’s avatar

    I spend quite a great deal of time talking to telcos and cablecos these days, as you can imagine, and the one thing I’ve learned is that they don’t all think alike. You can see a hint of the diversity of opinions they have from the different architectures they’ve deployed. Both Comcast and Verizon are moving to more symmetrical architectures, with Verizon being the real trailblazer with their 20/20 service that’s perfectly symmetrical and as fast in terms of real throughput as the foreign systems that claim to be 100 Mb/s. So I wouldn’t write them off. Comcast knows they have to compete with a comparable offering, and their only hangup is the fact that they have an installed base of 13 million customers with DOCSIS 1.1 modems. They have a very large bandwidth horizon and the ability to split nodes to get more bw/user, and they’re increasingly dependent on Internet service to pay the bills.

    It certainly does seem wasteful to have some neighborhoods dripping with fiber while others have none, and I’d like to find some way to address that issue as well as to get broadband into rural areas where the economics aren’t so attractive. So yeah, we have a lot of interesting space to chart in order to know where the net needs to grow in order to create the opportunities of the future, and I’m always down with a good colloquy on this sort of thing.

    BTW, the FCC has the video up on a Real server, at http://www.fcc.gov/realaudio/mt022508v.ram

    The tech panel (in the third item in the playlist above) got off to a slow start but picked up toward the end.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Richard.

    I’m looking at the hearing now. But alas, I am not listening to it, since the audio doesn’t work for me. Not sure what the deal is there. Here’s hoping I can figger it out soon…

    [Later...] Now it’s coming and going… arg. Well, I’ll have to wait until I’m back home before hearing the whole thing anyway — probably this weekend. Looking forward to that.

    Meanwhile, I’ll hopelessly urge the FCC to release this stuff in file form so we can listen when we’re offline. That way i could listen on a plane, for example.

    And, while we’re at it, please release documents in HTML as well as .doc, .pdf and .txt (the last of which they don’t mention, but you can read if you swap .txt for either of the others in a URL).

    Back to the grind here in London…

  7. solltex’s avatar

    bandwidth on which nearly anything can run… and to discover their first-mover advantages there. Doc Searls Weblog · Frames that prevent a neutral Net « Let’s give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child

Comments are now closed.