Verizon & Unnecessary Roughness

Business Week article about how Verizon wants to reserve 80% of its network bandwidth for itself, caused a minor ruckus yesterday as one after another, everyone brought up the issue of network neutrality and started the finger pointing. Given the Bells past record, that was hardly a surprise.

Documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission show that Verizon Communications (VZ ) is setting aside a wide lane on its fiber-optic network for delivering its own television service. According to Marvin Sirbu, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who examined the documents, more than 80% of Verizon’s current capacity is earmarked for carrying its service, while all other traffic jostles in the remainder.

It did not make much sense, given how Verizon is building its network. They are using passive optical network technology (PON), where the transport bandwidth of a fiber is shared amongst N-homes, where N-varies between 8-and-16 homes. Verizon FTTH is split into two parts – one part for video transmissions and the other for data-Internet traffic. The video part of has spectrum limitations and that is why company can currently offer only upto 120 channels. The video signals are sent to your TV set pretty much like how cable companies send their signals to consumer homes. This is TV, not IPTV, and it sucks up most of the available capacity on the network.

IP Democracy points out that the video part of the network will be 3.5 Gbps capacity whole date will have 622 Mbps. Data (Internet) part of the network needs less spectrum, but PON technology for now limits the amount of bandwidth that can delivered per household. In theory, a 622 MB/s link that is shared among say 32 households, means each home gets about 20 megabits/second. Business Week story wasn’t all that clear about the crucial difference between the “TV” and the “Internet part.”

Still, not sure about this, I decided to check with a bunch of smart folks who know more about networks and the Internet than I do. Vint Cert, who is now Chief Internet Evangelist at Google (in an email) said, “My understanding is also that VZ wants to reserve BW for video to compete, presumably, with cable companies.” Going forward, however, the architecture adopted by VZ is going to become a bottleneck, says Cerf (in an email.) “The consequence of this is that the “broadband” access to Internet will be limited in capacity and likely not symmetric, unlike plans of the Japanese NTT-east to offer 100 Mb/s symmetric capacity access to Internet, for instance. ”

Dewayne Hendricks who is quite wise in the ways of the Internet wrote back in response to my query…. “It seems to me that one of the unstated things in this controversy is the meaning of ‘broadband’. Take a look at this blog entry and you’ll see what I mean.” If you go buy into the definition of the incumbents, then 20 megabits/second is plenty. “If like some of us, you see broadband being something like 100 Mbps symmetric and above, then we’ve got some real problems with their current and future offerings and network neutrality takes on a entirely different meaning,” says Hendricks.

Cynthia says it well when she writes, “I’m not being an apologist here for Verizon or the telcos — far from it. But, if you’re engaging in a political fight, at least be accurate with your aim and don’t drum up problems that don’t exist.” My sentiments exactly!

I think the most amusing part of this whole drama has been overlooked by all. So lets assume, Verizon starts selling you video-on-demand movies for $3.99 a movie over its analog TV pipe. Yet at the same time, using the Internet pipe, I can download the same movie (or even stream it) from an online service like Vongo or Movielink for $2.99 a movie. Wouldn’t VZ end up competing with itself. Maybe that’s why the incumbents want the network “tolled.” Just a thought….