FCC at Stanford: Winners and Not-so-winners

If you read my post over at GigaOM you can see what I thought was the biggest takeaway from Thursday’s open FCC meeting at Stanford. Now that I’ve finally walked all the way across campus to find my car (could there have been any place in the Bay area with more congested parking and access?), here’s a quick take on the winners and losers not-so-winners from the latest skirmish in net neutrality:


1) Kevin Martin, FCC Chairman. By bending over backwards politically and hosting a meeting on Larry Lessig’s turf, Martin gets to claim he is truly an objective chairman, in search of only the truth. Now back to Washington, where he can scuttle the Skype wireless Carterphone petition.

2) Larry Lessig, Stanford Law prof. See here for more explanation. (Or watch video on Lessig’s own blog.) The only slip in Lessig’s presentation was an arcane dip into a somewhat semantic difference between Lessig’s views on net neutrality, and the recent bill proposed by Mass. Rep. Ed Markey. If the leading net neutrality proponents have differences, shouldn’t they work them out internally? Saying he doesn’t agree completely with Markey just muddles the pro-net neutrality message, something you will never see happening from the other side.

3) Jason Devitt, CEO, Skydeck. One of the newest spokespersons on the net neutrality side, Devitt made some great points Thursday about how PCs are open platforms, but cell phones are not. Expect to see more of this argument, following the Carterphone lead set by folks like Skype’s Christopher Libertelli.

4) Robert “Robb” Topolski, Comcast-blocking hunter. It’s one thing to be geeky enough to spot and call out a major service provider for its misdeeds. It’s quite another to appear at a very public forum and not just hold your own ground (impressing seasoned tech reporters in the process), but to be confident enough to smack down an FCC commissioner, in this case Republican Robert McDowell.

While most of the reports out of the meeting cited Topolski’s comments toward Comcast, he added onto his presentation by pointedly and publicly correcting McDowell on the latter’s misconceptions about Comcast’s practices (McDowell had tried to assert during his remarks that Comcast was only blocking uploads, which Topolski disagreed with).


(I was going to call this section “losers” but that seemed a bit harsh; let’s just say folks in this category failed to impress.)

1) Robert McDowell and Deborah Tate, FCC commissioners. Not much original thought from these two commishes — they could just simply step up to the podium, and say, “big business has told us not to regulate anything in telecom,” and sit down. Whenever you hear politicians, lobbyists or bureaucrats trot out the line about the fear of “unintended consequences” when referring to potential legislation, you know where those words are coming from — big campaign contributors who don’t want Washington mucking around in their profit streams. These two deserved more than the light boos they got. There are valid opinions on the side of lesser regulation, but merely citing the fear of “unintended consequences” isn’t enough. Or shouldn’t be, for regulators at the highest level.

2) Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. Conspicuous by their absence, the big carriers are just making it easy for people to say they aren’t interested in finding a solution to the net neutrality question, only getting their way.


1) George Ou, independent network engineer (who used to have a well-read blog over at ZDNet). With all the telco folks missing in action, poor George was left alone to defend the ideas of net-management-not-net-neutrality, and I thought he didn’t do his own past writing justice.

Like other folks I talked to in the audience (including neighbor and Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian, who had similar comments during his presentation), I’d rather see a different approach to these debates, maybe in a format that allows for more technical give-and-take. Like many folks with more technical details to discuss, Ou seemed handicapped against rhetoric pros like Harold Feld. Too bad, because this debate needs more folks with network expertise, and less D.C. lobbyist types.

2 Responses to “FCC at Stanford: Winners and Not-so-winners”

  1. georgeou Says:

    It was too bad because of all the false and unqualified testimony given, the STACKED panel and seamingly unlimited time given to Lessig, Topolski, and Peha.

    1. Lessig mislead the public about “Verizon blocked text messages”. Verizon NEVER blocked a single text message. Lessig supports the worst form of Broadband for consumers which is Volume Caps, a form of Metered Internet. He won’t use the world “Volume Cap” or “Metered Internet”, but you check his blog (http://lessig.org/blog/2008/04/testifying_fcc_stanford.html) and he reiterated that he supports “Bandwidth Commitments at different prices”.

    2. Jon Peha incorrectly compared P2P to a phone call. After conversing with Peha along with Richard Bennett, Peha showed that he didn’t understand the technical aspects of P2P. P2P will automatically resume where it left off; it doesn’t require the user to redial like a telephone. Furthermore, P2P usually has about 10 to 30 TCP streams running so if you did a TCP reset to 25% of those streams, you’d slow it down by 25% and NOT “block” it like Peha testified. Peha was shocked when I told him that a BitTorrent download typically had 10 to 30 TCP streams running at the same time and it was clear Peha has never studied how P2P works.

    3. Topolski was propped up as a hero by Martin in front of a very anti-corporate audience where half of them seemed to have been from “Poor Magazine” and a solid showing from “Raging Grannies” who were told to attack George Ou on sight by SaveTheInternet.com. Topolski is a software QA tester; not a network engineer. He made startling comments and claims that the “Internet started out as a peer-to-peer network” conflating p2p file transfer with a point-to-point experimental network. Topolski made grand claims about Comcast issuing TCP resets at 1:45AM when he hasn’t submitted any forensic evidence, he’s too small of a sampling point, he has no idea whether the TCP reset came from Comcast or not, nor does he have any idea whether Comcast had congestion problems at 1:45AM. Topolski tried to argue with my point that spoofed TCP resets are common saying I was wrong, but Topolski is no expert in networking. Brett Glass (another panelist who runs a wireless ISP) told me after the event he’s been using TCP resets for 15 years to clean up orphaned dial up sessions and network architect Richard Bennett explained that even NAT (Network Address Translation) will issue spoofed TCP resets to clean up orphaned TCP sessions that the end points didn’t bother cleaning up themselves.

    The whole hearing was a political circus. You said I didn’t do my past writing justice but it’s kind of hard to do that when the other side gets a 10:1 time-to-speak advantage against you. I got interrupted by Chairman Martin and the Raging Grannies and it ate in to my measly 5 minutes of time to present. As a result I rushed and veered off my script and I got rattled under the pressure and it showed. People who didn’t understand networking like Larry Lessig rambled on for a 26 minute monologue and an 8-minute reply to one of Martin’s questions while I got cut off from giving a more technical rebuttals at times. Brett Glass got cut off in his presentation while Herald Feld (who misrepresented me on VONTV claiming I was against transparency) rambled on for much longer in front of a one-sided anti-corporate audience. So yeah, are you surprised I didn’t do well under the given circumstances?

  2. georgeou Says:

    George Ou has moved to a new blog.

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