Sunday, January 08, 2006

Routing around damage

One of the meta-memes about the internet is that it routes around damage. One of my predictions for 2006 and beyond touched on this very topic. I said:
AT&T will continue it's efforts to charge variable tolls on the internet, if they succeed, we'll route around the damage.
Now that makes a great pundit type statement, but how would this happen in reality? Ken seems to be worried about this very thing:
These two guys are convinced they can sell the same commodity capacity on the network time and again, billing everyone who comes near their plumbing (because that’s all either of their companies really provide is plumbing) time and time again.
The reality of the situation is always more complicated than it seems. In order to charge a premium, first you have to segment the market into pieces:
  • Those that can be intimidated by threats
  • everyone else
So, in order to get the "content providers" to cough up some extra dough, you have to essentially do a protection racket.... hey... this is some nice content you're dishing out... it would be a shame if it got broken, we can help make sure it doesn't get broken...

Now, who falls into this class of possible victims?
  • People with LARGE bandwidth needs (choke point #1)
  • People with critical latency issues (choke point #2)
Routing around choked bandwidth

Let's say that oh... Comedy Central, decides they want to sell me access to The Daily Show for $5/year, and I want to buy it. If we go with straightforward downloading from their site, then the choke point becomes obvious... the server. There are already options to get around this:
If they go for scouts honor type trust, it's just a matter of setting up bittorrent, and raking in the dough. ANYONE can do this type of distribution, for less than $20/month.

If they go the DRM route, they could still use Bittorrent, and only distribute the unlock code, or something like that, also bypass the choke point.

In either case, distributing the source points around the net is a way of routing around an artificially narrowed pipe.

Routing around malicious delays

Now, this one seems to be more of a running game, involving measures and countermeasures. In the long run I think we'll end up using governance to keep this from happening...

If a carrier starts preferentially routing packets, someone will figure it out, and the word will spread like wildfire, and the lawsuits and pressure on lawmakers WILL come out of nowhere. We tollerate monopolies because in general they aren't too excessive, except in price, so we live with it. If people sense someone with a God complex, they tend to eventually get clued up, and strike back in their righteous might to victory.

In summary, the short term prospects might not look so good, but in the long term the damage of dark ages thinking will get routed around. And remember, web logs are just text, and text is very, very small compaired to multi-media. We'll always be able to afford a voice.


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