Sunday, 20 December 2009

Will China meter the internet - not very likely

The BBC reports that China wants to meter the internet. A proposal to change the BGP-protocol is being discussed in the ITU-T. Andrea Servida, Deputy Head of Unit, Directorate General Information Society and Media, European Commission told this to the House of Lords  (at about 27:50minutes) in the UK. The BBC: "He warned the plan could threaten the stability of the entire internet. (..and)  that China could have a "hidden agenda" in wanting to monitor data flows. And, in later comments to BBC News, he suggested technical changes needed to charge everyone for internet traffic flowing through China could undermine the web's founding principle of openness as well as raising security and stability concerns for all net users."

Some people already reacted that this may lead to an epic battle between China and the internet. I personally don't think this will be the case. I think that it is highly unlikely that the ITU-T will formally push to abolish peering and transit and modifying BGP so that metering becomes possible. This doesn't mean that there aren't people who work for the ITU or people attending their meetings proposing these ideas. 

I base this on developments in regulatory circles in recent years and the time I spend at the ITU in Lebanon and Geneva in the last two months. The traditional model of Calling Party Pays for national telephony calls and international settlements for international telephony is gradually losing supporters. Some excellent examples of this are recent reports by the European Regulators Group and discussions by the OECD on the topic. Academics like Litchfield and Cambini and authors like Scott Markus are steadily gaining traction.

There are still quite some people versed in the old traditions of the telephony world and they have been irritated by the internet's system of interconnection through peering and transit for a long while. Already in 2000 the EU posted a semi-definitive paper on the topic putting an end to any dreams of metered internet interconnection in Europe along the lines of telephony interconnection. It was a topic in WSIS Tunis as well, but there the only mention it got was in paragraph 50:

50. We acknowledge that there are concerns, particularly amongst developing countries, that the charges for international Internet connectivity should be better balanced to enhance access. We therefore call for the development of strategies for increasing affordable global connectivity, thereby facilitating improved and equitable access for all, by:
  1. Promoting Internet transit and interconnection costs that are commercially negotiated in a competitive environment and that should be oriented towards objective, transparent and non-discriminatory parameters, taking into account ongoing work on this subject.
  2. Setting up regional high-speed Internet backbone networks and the creation of national, sub-regional and regional Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).
  3. Recommending donor programmes and developmental financing mechanisms to consider the need to provide funding for initiatives that advance connectivity, IXPs and local content for developing countries.
  4. Encouraging ITU to continue the study of the question of International Internet Connectivity (IIC) as a matter of urgency, and to periodically provide output for consideration and possible implementation. We also encourage other relevant institutions to address this issue.
  5. Promoting the development and growth of low-cost terminal equipment, such as individual and collective user devices, especially for use in developing countries.
  6. Encouraging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other parties in the commercial negotiations to adopt practices towards attainment of fair and balanced interconnectivity costs.
  7. Encouraging relevant parties to commercially negotiate reduced interconnection costs for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), taking into account the special constraints of LDCs.
 Does that mean we're out of mad people demanding settlements? No of course not. The ITU has been given the task to look into the matter and that is where these people flock to. Nobody who is actually responsible for peering and interconnection attends these meetings, so it's like a zoo for dinosaurs of a by gone age.

In Lebanon an African nation demanded to know when the ITU would address these western countries dumping traffic on the countries internet connection. Like western companies are full of ├╝ber-rich, doped up, anarchist hackers shoving youtubes like a DDOS of filth straight through the pipes into the minds of simple, naive, law abiding but curious Africans. When I answered them that an essential property of the internet was that you only got send what you requested, or acknowledged what you wanted to have (except for a Denial of Service attack), I didn't receive a positive response from the country. It also didn't help that I said it was only fair that they paid for their internet connection just like everybody else did and that they were free to not pay and disconnect from the internet. Great thing was that many nations in the room did agree with me.

In Geneva, where I was to enable the likes of Amazon, TomTom, Garmin and Apple to work as their own mobile telco (more on this later), a representative of an Arab nation stated that if the world would have adopted X.25 as the dominant protocol we now wouldn't have all this trouble with hackers and spam. (this isn't correct and we wouldn't have an internet equivalent either... but anyways) At an OECD meeting a couple of years ago Mauro Sentinelli, then deputy Chairman of the GSMA still argued against the internet's way of Peering an Transit, even calling for an increase in cost if traffic crossed a border. ETNO and the GSMA are still arguing against it, but when it comes to internet interconnection they come with no viable alternative.

So all in all, there are dinosaurs, they are arguing against extinction and consequently against the horrors of mammals and their despicable ways. This too shal pass.

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