My broadband Internet seminar (4520: summer 2017)





Full syllabus, updated June 26: version 1.3 (pdf)

Instructor slidedecks: May 1 (pdf) — May 3 (pdf) — May 8 (pdf) — May 10 (pdf) — May 15 (pdf) — May 17 (pdf) — May 24 (pdf) — May 31 (pdf) — June 5 (pdf) — June 7 (pdf) — June 12 (pdf) — June 14 (pdf) — June 19 (pdf) — June 21 (pdf) — June 26 (pdf) — June 28 (pdf) — July 5 (pdf) — July 10 (pdf) — July 17 (pdf)


Course Description


This course is devoted to understanding the global public Internet and how it works. Unlike other courses, our focus is not on content and services, but on two major operational perspectives: one, the technologies that make the Internet run; and two, the rules applied by national regulators and international bodies to discipline the behavior of market participants like ISPs. We look at the role of network design principles as embodied in the TCP/IP protocol suite, along with how broadband Internet access shapes the end-user experience. The latter half of the course covers international governance, particularly the mandate of ICANN, and then moves to regulatory issues involving the CRTC and FCC.

Our approach to the course is evidence-based. We consider factual and quasi-factual information from many sources, including numerical data from regulatory decisions, consumer surveys and market forecasts. The goal is to develop a critical framework for assessing the competing claims of actors in the communications industry, including vertically integrated incumbents, government agencies and consumer advocates. The course follows current industry events closely. No prior technical knowledge is required, just a willingness to work hard on understanding new material.

***Course goals

By taking 4520, you can expect to…

  • Appreciate the joys of ditching your phone
  • Learn what makes the Internet a marvel besides Instagram
  • Keep up with current events in the tech industry
  • Learn why you should protect your online security
  • Understand how fundamentals like network neutrality affect you
  • Develop a meaningful perspective on CRTC regulation
  • Get tough with your ISP
  • Receive detailed feedback on your writing




They’re called “required” readings because all students are required to read them – and to do so by the stipulated deadline. In order to encourage timely coverage of the course materials, students keep an official notebook containing their reading and discussion notes, which are vetted regularly by the instructor. The required readings are all available free online in html or pdf, as indicated in the schedule below.

We supplement the core readings with contextual material drawn from online sources, including Benton’s Communications-related Headlines, which requires a free subscription. 



Weekly Outline & Reading Schedule

Mon May 1 (#1)Orientation: course structure, grading scheme, student responsibilities

A. The back story (2)

Wed May 3 (#2) – When computers couldn’t talk (1/2) 

Reading (R1): Jay Hauben (Jan 2008). “The Computer as a Communications Device: Wiener and Licklider and the Internet” (pdf)

Mon May 8 (#3) – When computers couldn’t talk (2/2)

Reading (R2): J.C.R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor (April 1968). “The Computer as a Communication Device” (pp.21-41: pdf)

B. How the Internet works (4)

Wed May 10 (#4) – The TCP/IP protocol suite (1/3)

Reading (R3) – Severance videos #1-2 (2012) – Overview (25 min), Link layer (10 min)

Mon May 15 (#5) – The TCP/IP protocol suite (2/3) 

Reading (R4) – Severance videos #4-7 – Internetwork layer (38 min), Transport layer (15 min), Security layer (23 min), Application layer (26 min)

Wed May 17 (#6) – The TCP/IP protocol suite (3/3)

Reading (R5) –  Benton headlines TBD

Mon May 22 – Victoria Day – No Class

Wed May 24 (#7) – The Internet as a dumb transmission platform

Reading (R6): David Isenberg (1997), Rise of the Stupid Network

C. Broadband vs long-haul networks (4)

Mon May 29 (#8) – Broadband: your ISP and the last mile (1/2)

Reading (R7) – CRTC, Communications Monitoring Report 2016, s.5.3. “Retail Internet sector and broadband availability” (pp.245-271: pdf)

Wed May 31 (#9) – Broadband: your ISP and the last mile (2/2)

Reading (R7) – CRTC, Communications Monitoring Report 2016, s.5.3. “Retail Internet sector and broadband availability” (pp.245-271)

Mon June 5 (#10) – Broadband: what (surveyed) consumers say

Reading (R8) – Pew Internet, Home Broadband 2015 (Dec 2015: pdf)

Wed June 7 (#11) – Peering and transit: how the big networks operate

Reading (R9) – Anna-Maria Kovacs (April 2012). Internet Peering and Transit (pdf)

D. Internet Governance (4)

Mon June 12 (#12) – TCP/IP vs OSI: the Nethead governance model 

Reading (R10): Andrew Russell (2006), ‘Rough Consensus and Running Code’ and the Internet-OSI Standards War (pdf)

Wed June 14 (#13) – ICANN, IANA and the DNS (1/2)

Reading (R11) – Wikipedia entry: ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)

Mon June 19 (#14) –  ICANN, IANA and the DNS (2/2)

Reading (R11) – Wikipedia entry: ICANN 

Wed June 21 (#15) – Regulating the Internet of Things

Reading (R12) – Bruce Schneier (April 2017), IGP video (47 min)

E. Broadband Regulation and Network Neutrality (7)

Mon June 26 (#16) – The ITMP framework: CRTC’s first attempt at “net neutrality”

Reading (R13) – CRTC (Oct 2009), Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2009-657: Review of the Internet traffic management practices of Internet service providers (pdf)

Wed June 28 (#17) – Net neutrality developments in the US

Reading (R14) – Current stories from Benton Headlines

Mon July 3 – Canada Day – No Class

Wed July 5 (#18) – Canada’s zero-rating issues (1/3)

Reading (R15) – CMCRP, intervention to CRTC 2016-192: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch: Historical and international perspectives on why common carriage should be a cornerstone of communications policy in the Internet age (pp.1-31: June 2016 – pdf)

Mon July 10 (#19) Canada’s zero-rating issues (2/3)

Reading (R16) – CRTC, April 2017, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2017-104: Framework for assessing the differential pricing practices of Internet service providers (pdf)

Wed July 12 (#20) – Canada’s zero-rating issues (3/3) — FCC Day of Action on NN

Reading (R16) – CRTC, April 2017, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2017-104

Mon July 17 (#21) – Network neutrality in the US: the FCC’s Open Internet Order

Reading (R17) – FCC, In the Matter of Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet: Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order (paras 1-59: pdf)

Wed July 19 (#22)The Trump FCC’s war on the open Internet

Current stories from Benton Headlines

Mon July 24 (#23) – Exam and attendance review, notebook grading, course evals

Wed July 26 – Study Day – No Class

Mon July 31 (#24) In-class final exam – 3 hrs