Saturday, August 21, 2010

The FCC Has Recognized the Need for Differentiated Services

Last week the FCC published its’ report on U.S. broadband Internet usage entitled Broadband Performance: OBI Technical Report No. 4.  The press chose to report on the sensational claim in the Executive Summary that actual measured bandwidth was half of the advertised bandwidth.  If they would have taken the time to read past the Executive Summary or not copy the other articles written about the report, they would have noticed that the report supports Quality of Service (QOS);  thereby, implicitly endorsing differentiated services.  They even dedicated Appendix 3 to a cursory discussion of QOS.

In Section I, the concept of QOS is first mentioned when profiling the different types of traffic users download.  In the quote below, The FCC states that high definition video needs bandwidth and QOS.

At the high end of the range, an application such as enhanced high definition (HD) video teleconferencing could require 5–10 Mbps, or more along with significant quality of service (QOS) performance (see Exhibit 9, where “Symm.”—short for symmetrical—indicates that the download speed is also required for upstream traffic).

In the next paragraph they reveal the other parameters that are required for HD video conferencing.

Download speeds are only one measure of broadband performance.
For example, HD quality videoconferencing requires very fast upload speeds to allow a person to transmit her image and voice while simultaneously receiving the image and voice of another person. In addition to upload and download speeds, measures of QOS such as availability, latency and jitter (variation in latency among different packets) may be important. Some applications, like e-mail or text-based Web surfing, are generally insensitive to these other measures of network performance, but for other applications, such as videoconferencing, these measures may be important (see Exhibit 10).

These statements introduce the reader to the concept that bandwidth alone may not be sufficient for certain types of services.  Later in Exhibits 9 and 10, services are classified by their need to be experienced immediately along with the need for QOS to determine user experience.  The FCC is unequivocally stating that all bits are not created equal.  They identify real-time and near-real-time traffic as needing lower packet loss, latency, and jitter from typical web browsing or e-mail reading.  The FCC’s quiet endorsement of differentiated services came in the beginning of Section III by stating:

The NBP therefore relies on a National Broadband Availability Target defined in terms of quantified download and upload speeds, with qualitative reference to a QOS consistent with the delivery of voice and video applications.

Perhaps the reason why the FCC was dragging their feet on net neutrality regulation was that internally they actually support differentiated services.They realize that it can improve overall user Internet experience and provide real competition to the incumbents.  By letting Google and Verizon publish their principles of net neutrality, they let those two take the flack for supporting differentiated services instead of staff having to deal with the political fallout.  Whatever the reason, I am glad that the bureaucrats recognize how the application of QOS will benefit the Internet.  Too bad the press missed it.