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Series of tubes

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Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who referred to the internet as a series of tubes.
Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who referred to the internet as a series of tubes.

"Series of tubes" was a metaphor used by United States Senator and then-Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). He was trying to describe the Internet in a speech about network neutrality on June 28, 2006.[1] Stevens was criticizing a proposed amendment to a committee bill which would have prohibited Internet service providers from charging fees to give some companies higher priority access to their networks or their customers. The metaphor became emblematic of the speech (and Stevens' seemingly poor understanding of the Internet) despite Stevens making several other odd comparisons and references.


[edit] Partial text of Stevens's comments

Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

[...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.[2]

[edit] Defense of the comment

Stevens's speech was notably defended by Princeton computer science professor Edward Felten, who said that he disagreed with Stevens's argument but felt that his terminology was entirely reasonable as a non-technical explanation given off-the-cuff in a meeting.[3]

The term pipe is a commonly used idiom to refer to a data connection, with pipe diameter being analogous to bandwidth.[4]

Routers use a data structure called a queue to buffer packets.[5] When packets arrive more quickly than can be forwarded, the router will hold the packets in a queue until they can be sent on to the next router or be dropped.[6] On links that become congested, packets typically spend more time waiting in the queue than they do actually moving down wires or optical fiber. It is the delay of packets in the queue that causes the latency problems that make certain types of services impossible to use.[7]

[edit] Publicity

On June 28, 2006, Public Knowledge Government Affairs Manager Alex Curtis wrote a brief blog entry introducing the Senator's speech and posting an MP3 recording.[8] The next day, the Wired Magazine blog 27B Stroke 6 featured a much longer blog post[2] by Ryan Singel, including Singel's transcriptions of some parts of Stevens's speech considered the most humorous. Within days, thousands of other blogs and message boards, including BoingBoing,[9] Slashdot,[10] Fark, DailyKos and Digg[11] posted the story. Most writers and commentators derisively cited several of Senator Stevens's misunderstandings of Internet technology, arguing that the speech showed that Senator Stevens had apparently formed a strong opinion on a topic which he understood poorly (e.g., referring to an e-mail message as "an Internet", and blaming bandwidth issues for an e-mail problem much more likely to be caused by mail server or routing issues). The Internet phenomenon sparked mainstream media attention, including a mention in a New York Times story.[12] The technology podcast This Week in Tech discussed the incident in Episode 60.[13]

[edit] Citations on The Daily Show

Stevens's speech was also ridiculed on seven episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart which featured clips of Stevens's speech, illustrated first by Stevens's photo and later by photos of Gabby Hayes and of Grampa Simpson. In the first instance, on July 12, 2006, Stewart compared him to "a crazy old man in an airport bar at 3:00 am", then going on to answer his question, "Why?" with, "Maybe it's because you don't seem to know jack shit about computers or the Internet — but that's okay — you're just the guy in charge of regulating it."

On July 19, 2006, The Daily Show again addressed Stevens's concept, this time featuring John Hodgman's faux-expert criticism of the tubes metaphor.

Stevens's "series of tubes" were again referenced in a July 24, 2006 interview with John McCain, where Stewart asked, "You know, privately, can you pull Senator Stevens aside and go, 'It's not really literally tubes'?", to which McCain replied, "I wouldn't want to disillusion him."[14]

On August 8, 2006, The Daily Show again referenced Stevens's quote in regard to BP's troubles with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Correspondent Rob Corddry started to explain the trouble with the pipeline, then turned it over to a recording of Ted Stevens saying, "It's not a big truck. It's, it's a series of tubes!"

On October 2, 2006, correspondent John Oliver remarked, "Everyone knows that Congresspeople are assigned to committees based on their greatest weakness! Why else would Senator Ted Stevens, a man more comfortable in the horse and buggy era, wind up in charge of regulating the Internet... which, he believes, is a series of tubes... a series of tubes through which other Congressmen can reach in and fondle sixteen-year-old boys?" (referring to the Mark Foley scandal.)

On December 18, 2006, host Jon Stewart, in an interview with ex-Presidential candidate Tom Vilsack, referenced the quote while plugging Vilsack's website, stating "Is that one of them Internets? ... Go visit him on the series of tubes."

On January 23, 2007 when talking about presidential candidates using the Internet as a campaign tool in the 2008 election, Stewart said "The candidates are now turning to the interwebs, a series of tubes..."

By March 2007, Stewart's tube references had become shorter, but possibly more frequent, e.g., "intertubes," or "tubular interwebs."

On April 16, 2007, Stewart pretended to call Stevens in regards to the deletion of 5 million emails from the White House server. Steven's answers to Stewart's questions included excerpts from his "series of tubes" speech.

[edit] Video game citations

Gears of War for Microsoft's Xbox 360 included an achievement titled A series of tubes that required the player to host and complete 50 ranked matches over the Internet.[15]

[edit] Media

[edit] References

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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