The Broadband Internet (COMN 4520)

THE ELECTRONIC INFORMATION NETWORK MARKETPLACE

COMN 4520: Summer 2019

Course description

This course is devoted to understanding the global public Internet and the role it plays in our daily lives. We examine the subject from two main perspectives: the technologies that make the Internet run; and the social issues that arise from our increasingly heavy reliance on networked services and content.

Our approach is evidence-based. We consider factual and quasi-factual information from a range of sources, such as regulatory decisions, survey research 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, edge providers, public agencies and consumer advocates. The course follows current events closely. No prior technical knowledge is required — just a willingness to work hard at understanding new material.

By taking this course, you can expect to:

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

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Course downloads (pdf)

Class slidedecks

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Required readings

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, vetted regularly by the instructor. The readings are all available online in html or as pdf downloads. We supplement the core readings with contextual material drawn from other online sources, notably Benton’s Communications-related Headlines, which requires a free subscription. 

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Weekly Outline & Reading Schedule

Mon Apr 29 (#1) — Orientation: course structure, grading scheme, student responsibilities

A. The backstory (3)

Wed May 1 (#2) — The engineering culture wars (1/3) 

Reading (R1): Steve G. Steinberg (1996), “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired

Mon May 6 (#3) — When stupid is smart (2/3)

Reading (R2): David Isenberg (1997), “The Dawn of the Stupid Network”

Wed May 8 (#4) — The engineering culture wars redux (3/3)

Reading (R3): Andrew L. Russell (2006), “’Rough Consensus and Running Code’ and the Internet-OSI Standards War” (pdf)

B. How the Internet works (7)

Mon May 13 (#5) The TCP/IP protocol suite (1/3) 

Reading (R4): Charles Severance (2012), videos #1-3 – Overview (25 min), Link layer (10 min), Internetwork layer (38 min)

Wed May 15 (#6) — The TCP/IP protocol suite (2/3)

Reading (R5): Severance videos #4-6 – Transport layer (15 min), Security layer (23 min), Application layer (26 min)

Mon May 20 — Victoria Day — no class

Wed May 22 (#7) — Global IP traffic, 2017-2022 [change]

Reading (R6): Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Trends, 2017–2022 (pdf)

Mon May 27 (#8) — Broadband access: your ISP and the last mile (1/2)

Reading (R7): Kevin Werbach (Jan 2015), The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks, OECD (pdf)

Wed May 29 (#9) — Broadband access: your ISP and the last mile (2/2)

Reading (R7): Werbach, The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks

Mon June 3 (#10) — Peering & transit: network interconnection trends (1/2)

Reading (R8): Wikipedia entry on peering

Wed June 5 (#11) — Peering & transit: network interconnection trends (2/2)

Reading (R8): Wikipedia entry on peering

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C. The open Internet & network neutrality (4)

Mon June 10 (#12) — The CRTC experiments with net neutrality (1/2)

Reading (R9): CRTC (Oct 2009), Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2009-657: Review of the Internet traffic management practices of Internet service providers (pdf)

Wed June 12 — Reading Week — No Class

Mon June 17 (#13) – The CRTC experiments with net neutrality (2/2)

Reading (R9): CRTC Telecom Regulatory Policy 2009-657

Wed June 19 (#14) – Zero rating and why “free” is not neutral (1/2)

Reading (R10): Intervention of Vaxination Informatique re Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2016-192, “Examination of differential pricing practices related to Internet data plans” (28 June 2016 – pdf)

With special guest discussant J-F Mezei

Mon June 24 (#15) — Zero rating and why “free” is not neutral (2/2)

Reading (R11): CRTC, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2017-104, “Framework for assessing the differential pricing practices of Internet service providers” (20 April 2017 — pdf)

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D. The online privacy crisis (7)

Wed June 26 (#16) — Net neutrality wrap-up and intro to privacy

Reading (R12): Class screening — Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

Mon July 1 – Canada Day – no class

Wed July 3 (#17) – Facebook and the zero-privacy business model

Reading (R13): Nicholas Thompson, Fred Vogelstein (April 2019), “15 Months of Fresh Hell Inside Facebook,” Wired

Mon July 8 (#18) – Privacy and encryption (1/2)

Reading (R14): Lex Gill, Tamir Israel, Christopher Parsons (May 2018), Shining a Light on the Encryption Debate: A Canadian Field Guide (Exec Summary & Intro, pp.i-iv, and Parts 1-2-3, pp.1-38: pdf)

Wed July 10 (#19) –  Privacy and encryption (2/2)

Reading (R15): The Citizen Lab et al., Secure your Chats! 

Mon July 15 (#20) – Is your privacy dead? (1/3)

Reading (R16): Joe Kissell (Apr 2019), Take Control of Your Online Privacy

Wed July 17 (#21) – Is your privacy dead? (2/3)

Reading (R16): Kissell, Take Control of Your Online Privacy

Mon July 22 (#22) – Is your privacy dead? (3/3)

Reading (R16): Kissell, Take Control of Your Online Privacy

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

Mon July 29 (#24) In-class final exam – 3 hrs