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Class struggle on the 'Net?

By Scott Bradner

I do not understand it. The IETF is working hard to define new technology to bring quality of service (QoS) capabilities to the Internet and people are starting to complain.

One of the most persistent complaints about the Internet and TCP/IP networks in general is that they do not provide any useful way to provide for the predictable delivery of data. The current Internet technology is known as "best-effort delivery". Some wags have noted that for some Internet service providers (ISPs) this is indistinguishable from worst-effort delivery.

As you might have noted from all of the hype, there is a big push on for "convergence", which, this time around, means putting everything over IP. Or, as Vice President Gore put it the other day, "IP everywhere." But there are many of these services which would be essentially unusable in the current Internet. For example, an IP telephony session through some of the overly congested public ISP peering points such as MAE East, would generally be unintelligible.

For the last few years many pundits have used up a lot of ink lamenting the state of the 'Net and the World Wide Wait, and saying that the Internet will be useless for real work until it gets some QoS capabilities. At the same time they grabbed at any straw that might someday provide some chance for a QoS-capable Internet. There have been a succession of potential magic bullets in the past few years but for various reasons they have not yet been able to provided the desired functions.

Recently the IETF started a new Differentiated Services working group to explore another approach to providing QoS functions for IP that can support networks of the scale of the Internet. ( This technology is not a magic bullet but does have considerable promise.

But just as this technology is starting to jell we are starting to hear from another quarter -- people who seem to want to have everyone get the same bad service and are affronted that someone who is willing to spend a bit more might get better service. For example, last week the CNN news service carried a story titled "Tiered service might lock Internet into class struggle."

You only need QoS controls when there are not enough resources to go around and QoS controls by definition do an unfair allocation of the scarce recourse. But the idea that we should forgo the ability for users to pay extra to get support for the many applications, such as IP telephony, that are waiting to migrating to the Internet and instead wait until there is no shortage of resources is very silly indeed. It is like insisting that everyone must eat at McDonalds because some people might be willing to pay extra to eat at Morton's Steak House instead. It is sad that some commentators seem to make a living out of crying "class struggle" whenever they see that having money is better than being poor.

disclaimer: "Class struggle" is an all too common epithet to Harvard, but the above is my observation.