This is my first post on Tech Talk, so I should probably introduce myself for those of you who haven't followed my career as closely as I have. Congressman Rick Boucher, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet introduced me to his panel recently as "a network engineer and a blogger," and I can wear that label with pride; alternative viewpoints have also been expressed.

I've been designing, implementing, and debating networks and network architectures for a few years now: if you use an Ethernet hub, a Wi-Fi access point, or a UWB system (unlikely,) you've used systems and standards that I had a hand in creating. My chief technical interest for lo these many years has been the design of network systems that support a diverse mix of applications well, an area that we often call Quality of Service.

Those of use who work with QoS can't help but notice a sudden interest in our line of work by lawmakers beginning around 2005. This is when net neutrality became a legislative hot topic, thanks in large part to some provocative statements by a couple of now-retired telco CEOs.

A number of content indexers got nervous, and lawmakers responded in 2006 with a number of bills aimed at protecting this heretofore unknown right. These bills - Snowe-Dorgan is a good example - generally reached into the business model of ISPs and carriers with a ban on fee-based enhanced QoS offerings. This struck me as counter-productive so I entered the fray.

Subsequently, I've testified before Congress and the FCC, debated the set of issues around network regulation with a diverse crowd of lawyers, engineers, and advocates, and generally tried to raise public awareness about an issue that few engineers grasp all that well. I'm currently writing a white paper that puts some of these issues into their proper historical and technical perspective.

We've just elected a president who campaigned in large part on his tech literacy, and he's putting a team in place that will probably take a more activist role in promoting the wider adoption of advanced networking technologies, something that most of us IEEE members would probably like to see. We see the evidence for this in the various pots of money created by the stimulus plan for broadband, health IT, and Smart Grids. Grants and subsidies can go a long way toward improving infrastructure if they're administered properly, and I think we can assume that we all want to see that too.

When politicians mess with technology bad things can happen on the regulatory side, so we all need to keep an eye out for overly zealous attempts to manage business models. I've met most of the Obama tech team, and like and respect all of them, but there are a few among them who've adopted viewpoints that concern me. There's a tendency in Washington to confuse cheerleading with technical awareness. We'll dig into that later.

In subsequent posts, I'll cover some recent events in which I've taken part, and I'll cover some of the topics I've mentioned above. Let me close by thanking Harry Goldstein and the Tech Talk crew for giving me this platform.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

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