Jeff Pulver, the WSJ, and the Future of the Internet
Back in October of last year, at the WiMAX forum, I first started hearing about what network providers were thinking of doing with IMS - IP Multimedia Subsystem. Following the conference I sat down and wrote my monthly "Ringing Off" VoIP Magazine Column which appears in the current issue. Entitled "Paranoid About IMS?" I question the real intentions of the companies seeking to install IMS on their networks -- do they truly intend to improve the quality of our network? Or is this a brutal land grab by monopolies who think they can get away with exercising their control over the network as a competitive weapon against independent companies that seek to offer alternatives to those monopoly's own products...
I am certainly glad to see this debate heating up all over -- from the Wall Street Journal to those of us in the blogosphere that follow such issues. Jeff Pulver has an excellent post on his reaction to the recent Wall Street Journal article on this topic. It is worth reading his entire piece which begins:
On Friday the Wall Street Journal ran one of those front page “call to action” stories, "Phone Companies Set Off A Battle Over Internet Fees" that should make us all sit up, pay attention, and worry about the future of the Internet as we know it. Only a week into the New Year and already my predictions #3 and #10 (considering the emerging war between Internet Access Providers and Internet Application Providers) for 2006 seem already to be coming true.
A number of comments in response to Jeff are from "network engineers" who are pointing out the reasonable and obvious consideration that in some cases network demand will outrun the capacity that has been deployed in a given circumstance.
Leaving aside the general observation that the monopoly infrastructure providers upon which we rely need to take increasing demand into account when they design these networks, it is a reasonable point to make that certain kinds of traffic are more important - I think even Jeff would agree that he is wrong on this point.
Communications should have priority over file transfers. Synchronous communications (VoIP, video, gaming) should have priority over asynchronous communications (email, IM...) this is logical based on how we use these technologies. If my file takes a little longer to download because I am chatting with my Aunt on the phone, I'd certainly rather have that outcome than have my conversation disrupted.
But what the phone companies are talking about is NOT logical routing of categories of packets (which, by the way, should be under user control). They are talking about discriminating against particular vendors of packets in favor of other vendors of the same packets. Thus, if Vonage agreed to pay SBC's surcharge, my Vonage VoIP phone would work well but my Packet8 phone (a non-protection racket paying provider) might not work very well.
This is not about good network design. I wish it were.