[p2p-research] The stupid network will get a hearing

Ryan rlanham1963 at gmail.com
Fri Nov 13 22:15:08 CET 2009

The rise of a plenty-based network rather than one based on scarcity...


Sent to you by Ryan via Google Reader: The stupid network will get a
hearing via Open Source by Dana Blankenhorn on 11/13/09

Advocates of transforming network regulation from Bell services to dumb
bits will get a hearing from the FCC, as David Isenberg, author of the
classic Rise of the Stupid Network, has joined the agency as an expert

(Picture taken in 2004 from Isenberg’s Isen.com Web site.)

Isenberg will be part of the team that will deliver the National
Broadband Plan to Congress in February. He wrote on his blog that, as a
result of his agency assignment his annual conference on broadband
reform, Freedom2Connect, will be postponed.

A bit of disclosure. I covered the 2006 Freedom2Connect conference in
Washington for ZDNet.

In the Stupid Network essay, which he wrote while at AT&T in 1997,
Isenberg argued that the most efficient network is controlled at the
edge, with a design based on the idea of plenty rather than scarcity,
and transport based on the needs of the data.

The idea, he wrote, was that the network did not need intelligence at
the center, that it should just “deliver the bits, stupid.” Hence the
stupid network.

The problem is that while the stupid network is fine engineering, great
for users and consumer equipment suppliers, it doesn’t leave much for
the telephone company to do but move bits. And Isenberg wrote at a time
when the bit-moving market was highly competitive, with prices falling
every few months.

Thus the phone companies have argued against the stupid network. They
have sought to install gear within the parts of the Internet they
control to guarantee Quality of Service, to distinguish between bits
based on protocol or what the customer is paying to move them, and to
stop bad bits before they arrive at a user’s desk.

“Those are nice bits there, a shame if something happened to them.” And
the phone company is Santa Claus, deciding which bits are naughty and
which are nice.

The problem with this is it slows the network, and creates a barrier to
entry for innovation, which must win permission from the network
operator in order to reach the market. It is also redundant if customer
equipment can handle tasks previously done by the intelligent network.

The Internet, as it exists today, is essentially a stupid network.

Cellular networks, you will note, are completely different from stupid
networks. Such networks are all centrally controlled, with the carrier
defining different bits as separate services, controlling who can sell
what, and taking a cut on every transaction.

Isenberg left AT&T in 1998 as “Distinguished Member of the Technical
Staff” but has been better known as mud, Voldemort and Who’s He at Bell
offices ever since. (This is especially true for those who work as Bell

Isenberg will just be one member of the agency’s National Broadband
Task Force, one voice out of many. The FCC is also taking public
comment online and holding hearings.

But at least his voice will be heard.

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