Net Neutrality Works Both Ways: What Happens When Websites Block ISPs?

from the there-are-no-websites-left-to-browse dept

While lobbyists on both sides of the aisles have muddied the issue, the network neutrality debate centers on whether network operators should be able to block or degrade competing video or disruptive voice traffic. Less discussed is what would happen if a popular website blacklisted ISP customers, in retaliation for the ISP doing something the website disagreed with. After discussion with anti-piracy officials, Swedish broadband ISP Perspektiv decided that they didn’t want their broadband users accessing the Russian discount music store, despite the fact that the controversial website claims it is completely legal under both Swedish and Russian law. In response, Swedish Torrent tracker The Pirate Bay has decided to block Perspektiv broadband users from accessing The Pirate Bay’s website. While The Pirate Bay may have good intentions, holding uninvolved customers hostage is a dangerous position to take. Some anti-spam organizations believe that collateral damage is the best way to get an ISP to stop harboring spammers, so they’ll blacklist entire swaths of IP addresses in order to force non-spamming customers to complain. That tactic has been violently debated for years without consensus, and the only way outfits such as SPEWS get away with it is by remaining anonymous. One can only imagine the broader network neutrality impact if everyone erected blockades to settle digital disputes. AT&T bans Google video to hinder U-Verse competition, Google bans AT&T DSL customers in kind, and pretty soon the Internet is little more than a cratered out highway, riddled by vendettas.

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Comments on “Net Neutrality Works Both Ways: What Happens When Websites Block ISPs?”

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misanthropic humanist says:

Round up the lawyers

In a way the internet already is a that cratered highway riddled with the fallout of vendettas. At present it’s mostly intellectual property disputes that attack legitimate fair use and sharing. We don’t realise how much damage is being done to millions of man-hours of work by the stroke of a lawyers pen. Take the OLGA guitar tab archive for example… 12 years of hard work by tens of thousands of volunteer contributers flushed down the pan because of the meglomania of the RIAA. While “there is no way to peace, peace is the way” – I can only see things getting worse, perhaps leading to the fragmentation of the internet into disparate subnets again. In fact perhaps we have already seen the passing of the “golden age” of a unified network.

The agent provocoteurs, the men with the guns, they are the lawyers.
Our only hope is to disarm the lawyers before the tit for tat scurmishes become a full scale war and a way of life from which nobody can escape. After all, who can blame Pirate Bay for fighting back in the only way they are empowered? As usual, in war it is the innocent who suffer the most.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Unfortunately, this is where we have arrived

There *was* a time, back in ARPAnet days, when peer pressure
was more than adequate to cause operators of troublesome hosts
or networks to fix their problem. (And on the rare occasions
when that didn’t work, “let us know when you think you’re
fixed the problem and we’ll let you know when you might get
your connection turned back on” sufficed.)

This is no longer the case. Most web hosts and ISPs simply
do not care about the abuse pouring forth from their networks
in unceasing torrents — even when that abuse affects their
own customers.

They care about money.

So it has become necessary to speak to them in a language they
understand. And one way to do that is to decline to extend to
them (and their customers) the privileges to which they are NOT
entitled, but to which they’ve been accustomed. (Your contract
with your ISP for services only extends to the borders of *their*
network. Nobody else owes you squat. They may generously
extend you services or they may decline at their sole option.)

This in turn causes unhappy customers which in turn causes
complaints and *maybe* lost revenue and *maybe*, eventually,
the necessary changes. (And yes, it does happen. Anyone
who has actually been paying attention to the spam problem
over the past decade already knows this. Everyone else
should go do their homework.)

It’s sad that it’s come to this. It shouldn’t be necessary.
But…here we are. And I doubt we’re going back to the days
when people actually took some pride in their operations and
worked hard to prevent them from being a source of problems
for others. Raw greed has trumped good network practice.

So…those who are unhappy about this should keep in mind
that it is their own ISP, their own web host, who are to blame
for this — since the situation is completely under their control.
(If they tell you it’s not, then they are either lazy, stupid, cheap…
or being paid off by spammers to look the other way.)

(Oh…and expect blacklisting to extend to protocols other than
SMTP, which is where it’s most commonly used today. As abuse
becomes prevalent via those protocols, so will blocking.)

Joshua says:

If the ISP’s want to regulate content then the sites *should* regulate ISPs. Communications providers seem to be under the illusion that companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! will pay them protection and not make a big enough fuss over it to bother them. Redirecting all users of an ISP that is trying to extort the website’s owners to a page explaining the reason why the user can’t access the page would be a great way to get the communications providers to shape up.

I could see a situation where the bigger content providers (Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL, Google, etc.) could join together in a consortium not too unlike a union. When the communications providers step out of line and try this tactic of extortion they respond by, effectively, going on strike. Making the communication provider’s quality of service to those sites that people rely on and want, plummet, along with their customer satisfaction.

Arochone (user link) says:

The problem...

A large amount of us, myself included, don’t really have a choice in ISP. I have Comcast or dial-up. I’ve been getting DoSed by a comcast IP for about two months now, and they refuse to do anything about it. Well what am I gonna do? I can’t really go to dial-up. I have to deal with it. Most ISPs have an effective monopoly, so it doesn’t really matter how much you complain, they know you can’t go anywhere else. God how I wish cable and DSL were like dial-up. Even in my small town we’ve still got around 10 dial-up providers.

misanthropic humanist says:


Okay, Josh and Rich, I’m coming round to seeing it. I think it was Mikes line about “holding customers hostage”, that’s what seems so unfair – as we are all customers of the internet in one way or another.

But yes, if you are going to take punative measures then you should definitely go about it by making a redirect to a page that says why certain customers are blacklisted and make it very clear that they should complain to their ISP.

The transition from the days of ARPA to the modern commercialised net is typical of many evolutionary stories from glorious days when the few elite behaved on-side by unwritten gentlemanly agreements
to a popularist, anarcho-capitalist free for all where everyone is bound by inflexible, well intentioned but unworkable regulation, which everybody ignores or tries to use as a weapon of oneupmanship.

But my analogy to war still feels right. It’s all a case of precedent. If you killed a couple of our guys last week then we will kill a couple
of yours this week. It’s a psychology of escalation that thrives against a background of distrust and bitterness, like the Isrealis and Palestinians. The more entrenched you go the harder it is to extricate, and eventually the talk becomes about “winning” the unwinnable.

Nobody is ever going to “win” on the internet. So maybe it’s good if Pirate Bay can really hurt Perspektiv and set up a deterrent, I don’t know.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Re: hmmm

I share your misgivings, misanthropic humanist. I’m not
in the tiniest little bit happy about this.

On the other hand, I’m also not happy that incoming spam
rates went up 300% between Labor Day and Thanksgiving,
and have doubled again. We’re now rejecting 98% of
incoming mail, and no, that’s not a typo, and no, we’re
not making many mistakes. (And yes, other observers
are seeing just about the same thing.)

So when I notice, for example, that so far in 2006 I have
received spam from 3,594 different hosts on the network
run by, and I also note that 14 complaints filed with
them about it have received no response of any kind…what
I am to do?

I’ll tell what I have done: I’ve blocked their entire network.
Because as far as I can tell, they simply do not care. So far,
*I* have shown more diligence about their network than they
have, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work at all — I don’t
work for and their customers don’t pay me.

I’m sure some, perhaps even many or most of their customers
have no (real) choice of ISP. That’s too bad. But this is not
my problem. My problem is that unless I take measures like
this, I will have to spend even more money and time defending
my mail servers — which are already about 20x the capacity
they actually need to be to handle the real traffic load, because
they need that much horsepower to deal with the beating they’re
taking 24×365.

The same can be said of (1,289 different hosts),
(5,114), (4.955) and a depressingly long list of others.
(Comcast — 32,017. Verizon – 21,522. But I’ve only blocked
chunks of their networks…so far.)

The remarkably consistent thing about this is that none of these
network operators can even manage to do the basic things required
for responsible participation in the Internet — e.g. maintain
a functional postmaster address per RFC 2822 and RFC 2142.
Oh, sure, it’s just a small thing, but it turns out to be indicative
of their overall approach.

So I do get that end users are unhappy when their mail (or other
traffic) is declined by hosts/networks who no longer feel it
necessary to keep extending privileges in the face of massive,
systemic, long-term abuse. But those end users need to direct
100% of that unhappiness AT THEIR OWN ISPS because
that’s who’s responsible for the problem. (Or as I’ve said before,
blacklisting is not a problem. Blacklisting is merely a symptom
of the problem.)

My apologies for the length of this, but let me extend this one
more paragraph by noting that this will probably not end well.
Those of us who regard our first duty to be NOT to the bottom
line, but to the entire rest of the Internet, are being replaced.
We have ceded our control to bean-counters who don’t care
about what havoc they cause next year as long as they make
this quarter’s numbers. And so we are watching a real world
example of the tragedy of the commons unfold on a global
stage, with ourselves as unwilling participants.

Anonymous Coward says:

The biggest problem with the statement that some of you make regarding the big 3 (MSN, Yahoo, and Google) or top 3 traffic sites (Myspace being within that range) is simply, they are TOO big. If Google blocks ISP X, then those subscribers of ISP X instead of using google, would–in a majority–go to a competing site (MSN, Yahoo or another search). The same would be true for Myspace, it could be the best thing the site did, or it could quite literally kill the site. While blacklisting is a great tool, just like any great tool, it needs to be used in the right application. You wouldn’t use a .45 to kill a roach when a shoe would suffice, except, maybe, if it was the mother of all roaches.

Wesha says:

A good metaphor for ISP is a railroad system (or a trucking company, for railroad challenged Americans). I package whatever I please into a standard shipping container (data packet), write the destination station name on it, and deliver it to my local railroad depot (ISP’s endpoint), where it’s attached to a train, and routed through the vast railroad network to the destination. That said, I won’t pay a damn to a railroad that complains that they don’t allow containers painted red (port blocking), containers full of rubber di^Hucks (blocking by packet content), or don’t want to let the container to be routed to the city X because they don’t like the local mayor (site blocking).

This is a freaking data packet I hand the ISP. It’s an entity in itself. It’s soooo not their business what’s inside it. It IS their business, however, to deliver it from point A to point B as requested, for it’s the service I pay for. No service, no money, period.

Andrea says:

Great Idea

It’s time to take the fight in their own backyard! (Sorry for the bad english). I will, in my own little, not-so-much-visited web sites, stop customers from that ISP from entering, and also explain to them why I must do that, encouraging them to ditch a provider that censors content. Piratebay is even providing php code to do that: LET’S FIGHT! I think it’ a great idea to finally let them know that we don’t accept censors at any level.

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