The Broadband Internet (COMN 4520: 2020-21)

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The Electronic Information Network Marketplace

COMN 4520 – Fall/Winter 2020-21

(Draft version, Sept 9: topics and readings may change) 

  • Instructor: David Ellis, PhD
  • jdae (at) yorku (dot) ca

“Just deliver the bits, stupid.” —David Isenberg, 1998

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Course Description

This course is devoted to understanding the global public Internet and how it works. Our focus is not on services or content but the enabling technologies that make the Internet an engineering and cultural marvel.

We begin with the fundamentals, centered on the TCP/IP Internet protocol suite, as well as some of the historical events that got us to where we are today. We then shift to the end-user experience to look at consumer broadband — the gateway to everything we do online. The course winds up with several classes on current cybersecurity threats and how they affect both network operators and end-users. 

Our approach is evidence-based. We consider factual and quasi-factual information from a range of sources, such as technical reports, survey research and market forecasts. One main goal is to develop a critical framework for assessing the competing claims of actors in the communications space, including vertically integrated incumbents, edge providers, public agencies and consumer advocates. Our other main goal is to promote a greater awareness of the benefits and risks that accompany a life lived online.

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Weekly Outline & Reading Schedule

< Fall Semester >

Sept 15 (#1) — Launch day: connectivity, course structure, grading scheme

Sept 22 (#2)  Living in a fool’s paradise 

  • Reading (R1): Pew Research Center (Oct 2019), Digital Knowledge Quiz
  • Reading (R2): Pew Research Center (Oct 2019), “Americans and Digital Knowledge” (pdf)
  • Reading (R3): D. Ellis (Aug-Nov 2019): “Death in the Classroom” (5 parts), Life on the Broadband Internet

Sept 29 (#3) — The TCP/IP protocol suite (1/2) 

  • Reading (R4): Charles Severance (2012), videos #1-2-3 – Overview (25 min), Link layer (10 min), Internetwork layer (38 min) — Dropbox

Oct 6 (#4) — The TCP/IP protocol suite (2/2)

  • Reading (R5): Severance, videos #4-5-6 – Transport layer (15 min), Security layer (23 min), Application layer (26 min) — Dropbox

Oct 13 — Fall Reading Week — No Class

Oct 20 (#5) — When stupid is smart (1/2)

Oct 27 (#6) — When stupid is smart (2/2)

Nov 3 (#7) — Phone engineers vs the Young Turks (1/2)

  • Reading (R7): Steve G. Steinberg (1996), “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired

Nov 10 (#8) — Phone engineers vs the Young Turks (2/2)

  • Reading (R7): Steinberg, “Netheads vs Bellheads,” Wired

Nov 17 (#9) — A revolution in governance too (1/2)

  • Reading (R8): Andrew Russell (2006), ‘Rough Consensus and Running Code’ and the Internet-OSI Standards War (pdf)

Nov 24 (#10) — A revolution in governance too (2/2)

  • Reading (R8): Russell, ‘Rough Consensus and Running Code’ and the Internet-OSI Standards War

Dec 01 (#11) — Global trends in network traffic, connectivity & devices (1/2)

  • Reading (R9): Cisco Systems (2020), Cisco Annual Internet Report: 2018–2023, pp.1-23 (pdf)

Dec 8 (#12) — Global trends in network traffic, connectivity & devices (2/2)

  • Reading (R9): Cisco Annual Internet Report, pp.1-23

< Winter Semester >

Jan 12 (#13) – Broadband: your ISP and the last mile (1/2)

  • Reading (R10): Kevin Werbach, OECD (Jan 2015), The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks, pp.1-29 (pdf)

Jan 19 (#14) – Broadband: your ISP and the last mile (2/2)

  • Reading (R10): Werbach, OECD, The Development of Fixed Broadband Networks, pp.1-29

Jan 26 (#15) — Broadband performance: what it means, why it matters (1/4)

Feb 02 (#16— Broadband performance: what it means, why it matters (2/4)

  • Reading (R12): SamKnows for CRTC, Measuring Broadband Canada

Feb 9 (#17) — Broadband performance: what it means, why it matters (3/4)

  • Reading (R13): Reza Rajabiun & Fenwick McKelvey (March 2019), “Complementary realities: Public domain Internet measurements in the development of Canada’s universal access policies,” The Information Society (pdf)

 < Feb 16 — Winter Reading Week — No Class >

Feb 23 (#18) — Broadband performance: what it means, why it matters (4/4)

  • Reading (R13): Rajabiun & McKelvey

Mar 02 (#19)  The latest in security & privacy news (1/5)

  • Reading (R14): Stories from Benton Headlines for class discussion

Mar 9 (#20) — When smart devices are dumb (2/5)

  • Reading (R15): Bruce Schneier, Talks at Google (Oct 2018), Click Here to Kill Everybody (YouTube)

Mar 16 (#21) — What’s your threat model? (3/5)

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

Mar 23 (#22) — VPNs and other proxies (4/5)

  • Reading (R17): Wikipedia entry on VPNs

Mar 30 (#23) — Are passwords dead? (5/5)

  • Reading (R18): Wikipedia entry on passwords

Apr 06 (#24) — Exam wrap-up: course topics & Benton Headlines

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