Universal Interconnect Agreements for the Media and ISP Industries

InterStream has frequently been asked to articulate the differences in our approach to creating a new wholesale bandwidth interconnection agreement over the "traditional approaches". Unfortunately, there really haven't been any traditional methods that have gained wide industry traction for offering "diamond lane" services at exchange points. About 4 or 5 years ago, one small and relatively isolated ISP in Asia began offering this kind of service using MPLS-based VPNs (Multi-Protocol Label Switched Virtual Private Networks). This "traditional approach" certainly worked and as I understand it, now, a select few other carriers have picked up on this method to deliver premium bandwidth to their broadband consumers as well.

Unfortunately, MPLS-based approaches haven't delivered on the promise. At first, these "stateful" approaches to quality of service (QoS) appeared to offer a great deal of promise. Then, the network equipment vendor community and coordination requirements amongst ISPs created an overly onerous proposition. For those of you in the industry, you probably remember the consternation about Martini, Kompella, for layer 3 VPNs and now Atom as an interconnect method for layer 2. Remembering which network equipment vendors were going to support which standard and insure interoperability significantly delayed market adoption. While much of that is now behind the industry, there are still a number of interoperability challenges which include how new standard protocols should work transparently between ISPs. In the InterStream framework, this would include standards for demand specifications of ISTP and the mediation policies used on the downstream networks. In other words, due to proprietary implementation differences, and the lack of coordination amongst ISPs, the MPLS-based solutions haven't met the need to work ubiquitously across the Internet -- particularly in the enterprise.

In addition, since the existing "diamond lane" agreements, as sparse as they are, only exist between two parties, they don't satisfy the requirement for a pervasive broadband television network service. Here in the United States, we have two primary automatic toll collection services: E-ZPass and FasTrak. These services allow you to place a transponder in your car and breeze through toll booths without stopping. In some cases, you can use them to pay for "diamond lane" access to avoid congested highways.

The video Internet today doesn't have a general purpose "FasTrak or E-ZPass service." We don't even have general "diamond lane" access. Two-party agreements at the exchanges can't possibly enable an end-to-end system for "diamond lane" or other services. There has to be a single party collecting those tolls for access to the services and acting as a neutral metering service for the exchange of traffic between the ISPs. This is only business arrangement by which a true end-to-end Internet service can evolve. InterStream provides the framework by which this service can be enabled through nuMetra. The Mediated Bandwidth Agreement (MBA) forms the basis for the legal and business framework of the association and a business model which ensures mediation technology will be deployed pervasively through the network. In other words, InterStream enables nuMetra to act as the "FasTrak or E-ZPass for the video Internet."

In this system, anyone who pays the toll and conforms with the association's anti-piracy policy, gets their required bandwidth to stream video anywhere on the Internet just like today's best-effort model. I can load a web page from Australia, India, South America, or Africa today because the existing wholesale peering and transit model scales globally. The same will be true under the MBA. Because it reciprocal and transitive, any InterStream provider in the system will automatically be connected globally with all downstream providers. Therefore, customers of the media grid can buy service from these ISPs with confidence that they'll be able to reach all corners of the network.

There are number of other advantages to use of a MBA as well. Specifically, the MBA is:

Non-Proprietary - open, not vendor or service provider specific

Transparent - open to all legitimate parties who meet the InterStream association's quality standards and anti-piracy policies

Ubiquitous - works with virtually all broadband connections

Extensible - open source allows any party to extend the system, agreement, or network specific technology

Supports Media Industry Anti-Piracy Initiatives - pirates don't get access to diamond lanes, and illegitimate content will be throttled via mediation policies

Audit-able - legal and business framework allows association to audit and evolve anti-piracy policy quickly to meet market conditions

General - supports all mediation policies - interactive, streaming, best-effort, throttled, and other new services

Enables a General End-to-End Protocol - ISTP can work across entire Internet

In essence, the interconnect approach using the MBA doesn't fan the fear-mongering flames of the net neutrality advocates either. Private interconnect agreements would, in essence, allow any two parties to be exclusive in a "diamond lane" service agreement. Anyone who pays to tolls in the InterStream approach gets service. The proprietary and private wholesale approaches create a great deal of risk for ISPs and the media industry in that they invite regulatory oversight. Keeping interconnection open and transparent is not only the best thing for the industry, it also serves the self-interest of the ISP and media industries because it will demonstrate that self-regulation can work and the industry doesn't require formal governmental oversight.

In an upcoming blog, I'll discuss the why the real problem with net neutrality is a technical problem, or the lack of an "Erlang model" for the Internet. Until then, feel free to send us your feedback to info [at] interstream [dot] com.

Jeff Turner

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