Internet Routing Algorithms, Transmission and Time: Toward a Concept of Transmissive Control

Defended September 2012
Dissertation Committee: Dr. Greg Elmer, Dr. Robert Latham and Dr. Barbara Crow
Externals: Dr. Darin Barney and Dr. Avner Levin

Winner of the C. Ravi Ravindran Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award


This dissertation develops the concept of transmissive control to explore the consequences of changes in Internet routing for communication online. Where transmission often denotes an act of exchanging information between sender and receiver, transmissive control theorizes transmission as the production and assignment of common times or temporalities between components of a communication system. Transmissive control functions both operationally according to how computational algorithms route Internet data (known as packets) and systematically according to how patterns in these operations express temporalities of coordination and control. Transmissive control questions how algorithms transmit packets and how transmission expresses valuable temporalities within the Internet.

The concept of transmissive control developed as a response to advanced Internet routing algorithms that have greater awareness of packets and more capacity to intervene during transmission. The temporality of the Internet is changing due to these algorithms. Where transmissive control has been made possible by the Internet’s core asynchronous design that allows for many different temporalities to be simultaneous (such as real-time networks or time-sharing networks), this diversity has taxed the resources of the Internet infrastructure as well as the business models of most Internet Service Providers (ISPs). To bring the temporality of the Internet back under control, ISPs and other network administrators have turned to transmissive control to better manage their resources. Their activities shift the Internet from an asynchronous temporality to a poly-chronous temporality where network administrators set and manage the times of the Internet.

Where this turn to traffic management has often been framed as a debate over the neutrality of the Internet, the dissertation re-orientates the debate around transmissive control. Tactics by the anti-copyright Pirate Bay and Internet transparency projects illustrate potential political and policy responses to transmissive control. The former seeks to elude its control where the latter seeks to expose its operation. These components as well as the operation of transmissive control will be developed through a series of metaphors from the film Inception, the demons of Pandemonium, the novel Moby-Dick and the film Stalker. Each metaphor cooperate to provide a comprehensive discussion of transmissive control.

Dissertation Proposal

My dissertation – as most do – changed over its development. I have kept my dissertation proposal online in hopes that it makes this process more transparent and helps others in their own journeys. Best of luck. Download my Dissertation Proposal (PDF)