Deep Packet Inspection Firms Trying To Turn Net Neutrality Satire Into Reality

from the yeah,-good-luck-with-that dept

It’s been around for a few years, but those of you who follow the net neutrality debate may have seen the following “example” here or there of what various ISPs would like to do to the internet if they could:

Basically, the idea is that, if they could, ISPs would like to charge you for what you used specifically online. Of course, this was a joke. It was satire. But, then, a bunch of folks have been talking about a recent presentation given by some deep packet inspection firms, about the future of mobile broadband, where they seem to pitch something quite similar — except they’re serious:
The idea, as discussed over at Broadband Reports, is that this is a way for ISPs to get more money out of people using their broadband. It’s all hilariously illustrated by the following graphic in the presentation:
This, of course, implies that ISPs are somehow unfairly carrying the burden of the services people access online. It may sound nice, but the problem is that it’s almost entirely false. Individuals pay for their own bandwidth, and companies pay for their bandwidth. What the ISPs are hoping to do is to effectively double and triple charge both sides in an effort to squeeze even more money out of the system than they already do. What’s ignored is that broadband services are already quite profitable, and they’re already getting paid for this stuff. What’s really happening is that — just as content providers “overvalue” their content, this story is about ISPs overvaluing their own contribution, and wanting a larger piece of the pie concerning money made online. What they ignore is that the reason there are so many useful services online, that make it worthwhile to buy internet access in the first place, is because of the lack of such tollbooths.

However, before people get too alarmed about all of this, and start demanding “net neutrality” laws, it’s worth taking a step back and recognizing just how unlikely it is that proposals like this ever get anywhere. Would the various mobile operators like to do this? Sure. In fact, for years, they tried to resist more open systems by totally locking down their handsets. Even with so-called “smartphones,” the experience was entirely controlled (with tollbooths) by the mobile operators. And what happened? Almost no one used them. It wasn’t until Apple broke down that wall (though, it set up its own, slightly more open wall) that smartphone usage really took off. And, these days, with even more open Android systems growing, more people are moving to those as well.

Will some mobile operators sign up for a DPI system like this? Maybe. I can certainly see some of them testing it out. But, I can’t see it ever actually catching on. While the operators will claim that this will allow for “cheaper” plans for low level users, history has shown that they don’t really mean that. The goal is to get the higher level users paying through the nose. And that won’t work — because people have already learned what can be done with mobile broadband on a device, and simply won’t agree to go to a system that charges like this. It’s a pipedream for some DPI companies and some mobile operators, but the likelihood of it actually becoming the norm seems pretty damn low.

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Comments on “Deep Packet Inspection Firms Trying To Turn Net Neutrality Satire Into Reality”

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Richard Kulawiec says:

A real-time discussion of this is happening inside NANOG...

…which is the North American Network Operator’s Group and includes pretty much everyone involved with keeping the Internet’s infrastructure working in NA. In this particular case, the topic is the Comcast-Level3 peering dispute, but many of the comments touch on the same issues, so it might make interesting reading for those who want to hear from people who actually run networks and have their hands on routers and systems.

Start here:
and note that there are several threads with the string “comcast” in the title, including one long one that’s currently near the bottom of the page.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A real-time discussion of this is happening inside NANOG...

I want the government to demonopolize the cableco infrastructure and information distribution infrastructure. No one is entitled to a monopoly on anything and the U.S. is drastically falling behind the rest of the world in terms of bandwidth speeds and prices thanks to broken laws that grand monopoly privileges to big corporations. No more government imposed monopolies, I want the monopolies gone. In a free market where anyone can build their own ISP and start offering service wherever they want, without our bought government getting in the way, then the ISP’s can do whatever they want becasue I will simply switch to a competitor. But we don’t live in a free market, we live in a government imposed plutocracy and the result is that our prices are higher than everywhere else in the world and our bandwidth is lower.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A real-time discussion of this is happening inside NANOG...

(BTW, I’m reading through your link and it becomes obvious from the discussions, as we already know, that the problem is that big Corporations like Comcast et al abuse their power, they overcharge everyone, and they won’t upgrade their networks, and that six or so corporations own about 85 percent of the market. Well, we already knew that. The problem is a lack of competition. “Comcast is congested.” Upgrade your network and stop wasting all that money on campaign contributions and lobbying for laws to keep competitors out of the market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Screw everything. We can’t have nice things because of corporations. I say we all stop using the internet at the same time see how they like it. If you want to send a clear message to those pricks that’s the only way. Corporations draw their power from their money, where do you think they get it from? Yes, you pocket!!. Stop buying, if you disagree with a company, stop giving them money people!! The problem is everybody thinks: “it’s just me, one person canceling won’t make a difference and i if don’t check facebook i’ll get cancer”

Anonymous Coward says:

I think about how big an ISP could expand if it actually tried give the customer the best network service they could (e.g. actively reducing bottlenecks instead of leveraging them for coercion) while turning a modest profit. But my stomache drops when reality seeps in and notes how fast the company would be destroyed by less virtuous companies though legal but most definitely unethical means.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: the issue turns on the phrase "modest profit"

The problem is that, in the US at least, for the last 30 years companies aren’t interested in a “modest profit”. Hell, they aren’t even interested in a ‘long term’ by any reasonable definition of the term.

Companies, and the people that run them are interested in one thing and one thing only, money. They are doing anything to get the _most_ money they think they possibly can _now_. To heck with the country, the economy, people. To heck with even the long term prospects of their companies. These are the people who would burn down their neighbors house to resell the nails.

It’s what happens when capitalism is allowed to run amuck. You would have thought we would have learned that lesson after the ‘Great Depression’. It one of the primary reasons we are supposed to have a government. Laws were put in place to regulate the unrestrained greed and the country more or less prospered. Sure there weren’t as many _super_ rich, but more of the country was better off.

The government (Bush, Obama, it’s all the same; government by the rich to the detriment of everyone else) has abdicated it’s responsibility. Deregulation (banks back to playing the stock market, magical ‘derivatives’) and worse ‘self-regulation’ or ‘self-enforcement’ (FDA, EPA, etc.) Laws like the ‘Micky mouse’ copyright extension act, who’s only purpose is to funnel more money into the pockets of those paying for laws to be passed. Waging wars we can’t afford and should have been in to begin with (Iraq, Afghanistan) so that we can funnel more money we don’t have into the coffers of the military industrial complex. To the latest, holding the renewal of unemployment benefits hostage to massive tax cuts for the mega rich.

Until the government; legislative, executive, and judicial, stop pandering to lobbyists, and start doing what’s right for their constituents and the country itself things will only get worse before it gets better.

To do that, they will have to forgo getting richer themselves.

To do that, they will have to pass laws that will negatively impact the wealthy (including themselves) for the good of the country.

To do that, they will have to have to apply common sense and enforce the laws equally against the rich and the powerful as they do to the common man.

It would be a nice change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: the issue turns on the phrase "modest profit"

“The problem is that, in the US at least, for the last 30 years companies aren’t interested in a “modest profit”.”

I see nothing wrong with making tons of profit, the problem is that these corporations want to rely on the government to provide them with monopoly rents so that they can make tons of money and not do any work.

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing with the bypassing is, exampled by UK Provider Plusnet, data not identified by the DPI (encryption) or otherwise unclassified (your new VOIP program that isn’t a big enough name to start charging specifically) gets relagated to the bottom bin of QOS. I guess then it would be a race to trick DPI to think your data was of the lowest priced/unlimited but top level QOS data

Dave says:


Great points, Mike. And I rely on broadband to make my living, so I care about this issue.

Unfortunately, these big corporations do tons of lobbying, and politicians may be stupid enough to buy their argument, due to not understanding anything about technology or commerce. Or they could also be simply whoring for the big companies, I suppose.

I hope the groundswell of regular people is enough to keep net neutrality viable.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t see how telephones were important enough to regulate fair use but internet is not. Your phone company didn’t have a say in what you connected and did with the call, such not being able to ban fax machines or modems unless you pay up (alot). For a service that has such a direct impact on the economy, why shouldn’t it be a utility with basic rules that prevent it from stalling that economy.
If it really isn’t that important, lets just shut down all computer networks for a day and see how well life goes.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Let me make this perfectly clear.

I regard Deep Packet Inspection as nothing less than unlawful, private electronic eavesdropping. DPI is no different than the phone company listening to your calls, or the Post Office opening and reading your mail.

Would you tolerate UPS opening your parcels and charging you extra money based on the dollar value of the contents?

Fight this. Hard.

Anonymous Coward says:

You defnitely could reconstruct any e-mail unencrypted if you retained the data the DPI looks at. If a cop can’t do it without a warrant why can your ISP. I like the likely loophole to be made for it though. Since it’s a computer it isn’t a person looking at it so it’s ok. So then I could program a machine to open anyones mail and analize it, output a paraphrase of it but since I never really see the contents, it’s ok.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Apple open ???

It seems to me like most people are screaming about Apple its relation to developers. So I’m not sure that your claim: ‘apple made it possible’ because of its ‘slightly more open handset’ is accurate at all. What is all this talk about the applestore and associated monopolistic problems then ?

The iPhone solution was orders of magnitude more open than smartphones that came before it. Before the iPhone, if you were an app developer who wanted your apps on, say, a Verizon smartphone, you had to go negotiate a deal with Verizon directly. Just getting in the door was difficult. Then the negotiation was ridiculous since Verizon held all the leverage.

No, Apple is not “open,” but it’s a lot *more* open than what came before.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Apple open ???

If I remember correctly…

1. connect phone to PC
2. run installer on PC
3. go through any installer options just like installing any software
4. accept the installation from the phone
5. indicate whether to install to internal memory or storage card

I think that was it. I think some apps you install by putting a .cab file on the phone and running it from the phone. Similar number of steps.

That’s what I always liked about it, I could install anything I wanted.

HrilL says:

DPI should be illegal.

DPI is the same as the mail man opening your mail. This should be completely illegal. No company should be allowed to open any of your packets while they pass though their networks. Each packet should be treated as a letter between you and the host you’re in contact with. I don’t see how them opening packets is any different than someone opening a letter that is not theirs.

We clearly need updated privacy laws that take into account how the internet actually works.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:


The short answer is that you use successive belts of encryption to put people on a need-to-know basis.

I gather there are some issues to be solved, mostly having to do with certificates. I don’t know certificate architectures very well, and I may be talking out of turn, but I gather there is a need for improvements which allow a certificate authority to declare exactly which facts it vouches for, and which facts it does not vouch for. This would enable a certificate authority to issue certificates on the basis of the facts which it comes to know in the ordinary course of its business, at minimal cost, and minimal legal risk. The browser developer would create logic to determine whether the vouched-for facts were sufficient to close the padlock icon or not. In any case, the browser would use the certificate to set up a SSL session.

Traffic to and from a mobile device does not have to go direct from the nearest hot-spot to its ultimate destination. It can be routed through a fixed gateway belonging to the person the mobile device belongs to, and located in a place where it can reach competing internet service providers; and in that case, the mobile device can be brought within a Virtual Private Network.

GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“And DPI is nothing like those things unless an actual person looks at your communications.”

This is an obscenely specious argument.

Just because a DPI system lacks Meatware(TM) eyeballs, does not change the basic assault upon my private communications.

Private means Private. Nobody or NoThing opens them up and looks inside.

The reaction to DPI-Non-Privacy will be “Encryption Everywhere”. And the carriers boo-hoo about capacity challenges now.

Gatewood Green (profile) says:

Re: Re: Privacy on the Internet

Actually DPI is not necessarily akin to a privacy violation. Think of it this way. It could be no different than having a private conversation in a public place that gets overheard. You chose to speak out in a place where others *can* hear you and they have every right and in some cases legal responsibility (say you are talking about killing somebody or robbing a bank, etc…) to report what you say.

It has already been shown in court that choosing to communicate in a public place invalidates your expectation of privacy. One should not expect communications on the Internet (a public place!) to have anymore expectation of privacy.

Now the computer in your house and the server at the company you are shopping at have an expectation to privacy, but if you communicate in the open, the expectation is potentially lost.

*YOU* have the ability to regain that expectation however. *YOU* have the ability to say I will only communicate using a secured channel (say using SSL). At that point you have potentially made the effort to reinstate your expectation of privacy. The only “access” to the contents of the conversation are at the endpoints where the expectation to privacy likely already exists. Do not expect privacy of a post on a public forum.

DPI is a natural evolution not much different than sampling water in a pipe for quality or validating tickets (and checking bags and purses) at the entrance to a concert venue. It is like the cop that sits on the corner with a radar gun as you drive by. All are forms of legal “deep” inspection making sure that everyone follows the rules.

You may not like it, but the idea is a reality of life and you have choice to attempt to counter such inspection using means and tools like SSL, IPSEC, coded communications, etc… Think of SSL like a sealed opaque wrapper around that beer bottle you are smuggling into the concert. Think of SSL as going into the store and purchasing a product at a private room cash register.

Put in proper context, we can better decide how to react than suggest improperly that DPI is evil (it can be and it can also be useful even to you) or think that we have lost all ability to control who sees what and when.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Privacy on the Internet

Recently some courts have ruled the other way.

Some guy in Europe forward all his boss email to him using an explorer feature and was convicted of wiretapping, no encryption there, granted that even if it had encryption it would have been useless since it was being sent by the program itself which brings us to the second ruling in the U.S. apparently that found that emails are protected by the constitution and police need warrants.

Still I agree if you want some more security you should encrypt everything, but there was this allegation that IPSEC was compromissed somehow and people from FreeBSD are looking into it(A developer claims his ND expired and he was paid to put backdoors on the IPSEC stack so the FBI could spy on it, they wanted access to encrypted VPN connections apparently).

Anonymous Coward says:

So if all the mail/package services decide to put in their TOS they can look inside any package or mail they want, it will be ok and i can’t do anything about it since i have no other options? That’s be awesome, i just gotta get some TOS changed and i could do just like a favorite history figure and work for a service, intercept all patents,then file it before the delayed original gets there. BRILLIANT!

Howard the Duck (profile) says:

We pay for Facebook?

Let’s all demand payment from the ISPs every time we enter any demographic data that could be used to market any product or service. Let’s charge ISPs for the CPU cycles required to stay connected to the net. Lets prorate and track every millisecond ISP service is dropped due to outages, and send them a bill. If they ever push something like this through, charging us per meg of data used or per Facebook status posted, we have every right.

Anonymous Coward says:

The article’s major point is getting buried here. Net neutrality and privacy are essential components of the discussion, but the article and cartoons point to another essential issue: Who pays?

The author, along with many commentators, believe that ISPs are making a play for undeserved profits. Truth is, it costs a lot more to provide 100 Mbps of access than it does to simply continue providing 2 to 10 Mbps. The access infrastructure must be rebuilt with new fiber and electronics. In most of America it will cost over $1000/home to increase bandwidth to reach the 100 Mbps/home goal set by the government’s broadband plan. Yet paying $10/month ($120/yr) more for the service is depicted as being a pure profit grab by the carriers. Do the math, would you make that investment for that incremental revenue?

Heavy users moving video, working at home, transferring files and playing games decry usage based billing. They believe they should pay no more than lighter users checking messages, shopping, and surfing around for information. On the other side of the network, content providers raise the specter of net neutrality to confuse the “who pays” issue with legitimate “fairness” issues. Someone has to pay or the network won’t be built.

I am pretty sure the idea behind DPI is not to invade privacy, but to understand where the heavy usage is and to be able to manage the Quality of Service through the network (for example: prioritize video traffic over email messages). This may be cynical, but I really believe much of the hot discussion in this area is stirred up by stakeholders using words like “neutral”, “fairness”, “openness”, and “privacy” when their real goal is: “make someone else pay”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think you work in the field, fiber didn’t change in decades since it was introduced, what changes are the routers that can use the same cable with more wavelengths.

The infra-structure was build decades ago(in the 90’s) in the U.S. that is why Google was able to buy tones of “dark fiber” of course it needs expanding but with billions of profits they sure can afford to do it.

Now how is that Australia can do it, China can do it, Japan can do it, Europe can do it, but not the U.S.?

Traffic is traffic people already pay for that, companies pay for it, but now somehow everyone needs to pay more for the same thing?

I’m sorry but you are full of it.

HrilL says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know what rock you’re living under but I bet the average price for an internet connection of about 10Mbps down and 1Mbps up is around $50. Thats $600 a year for each house. I believe Verizon said it cost about $1400 per home to install brand new fiber to each house. Cable companies already have the cables and all they have to do is upgrade the back end to DOCSIS 3 From the current version 2 that most are using to give each home 100Mbps. A much cheaper upgrade. Most ISPs make you buy your own or rent their modems anyway so that cost isn’t theirs.

We pay for our bandwidth already and should be able to access any contact at our sold speed no matter what the kind of content it is. It should not be up to my ISP to decide that any one type of traffic is more important. If they have to do QOS to keep reasonable latencies then they’ve over sold capacity and lied to their customers.

QoS should only be done on your own router if you’re worried about Voice or video traffic not getting enough bandwidth that you were sold because you’re also using other types of traffic at the same time. If I get 10Mbps from my ISP then it is my job to mange how I use that 10Mbps. Their job is to make sure I have access to 10Mbps of bandwidth at all times. If they can’t offer me 10Mbps then they shouldn’t sell 10Mbps.

Content providers already pay for bandwidth as well. Its not as if they’re getting it for free. No one is free loading here. Say I’m a content provider and I have 1Gbps of bandwidth. That would allow me to serve 100 customers at 10Mbps. I’m not serving the customer 100Mbps while they are only paying for 10Mbps. They’re limited to the amount that they pay for.

Why should a content provider have to pay an ISP to have access to their customers when they’re already paying for their connection and the content provider is paying for theirs. Clearly the ISP is trying to double dip on charging for the same bandwidth. This shouldn’t be allowed.

What do you mean by “make someone else pay”? Everyone is already paying. No one is free loading anything here. The customer pays for 10Mbps. The content provider pays for 1Gbps in order to serve 100 customers. Who exactly isn’t paying?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Truth is, it costs a lot more to provide 100 Mbps of access than it does to simply continue providing 2 to 10 Mbps.”

Yet many other countries provide for it at a much cheaper price than the U.S.

Stop making up the first excuse that comes to your mind just because you think you can get away with it no matter how lame of an excuse it is. These excuses are lies and you would get away with them on the mainstream media because criticism isn’t allowed there. Not here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, and then the next lie that will come to your head would be that population density is different in the U.S. It’s one big fat lie, with no basis in logic whatsoever, but because it’s something you can think of you figure you might as well come up with any excuse no matter how untrue it is. But then easily it’s refuted by the fact that many U.S. states are more dense than many countries with faster internet connections and so that lame excuse died. You have no regard for the true nature of an excuse that you come up with, you will come up with any excuse regardless of how false it is and there is absolutely no reason for us to believe any excuse that you come up with given all the refuted arguments that you have come up with in the past. It’s clear, based on all your past false arguments, that your arguments are just made up in an attempt to find something to stick and you have no intent on being accurate.

anon says:

It's Called AOL 1.0

Modern ISP’s don’t do it because they would go out of business. In fact, there is no example of ANY ISP that does this. This is pure inversion. They are taking the truth, that they want to censor internet traffic, and saying the complete opposite that they are trying to prevent censoring the internet. It is a lie, the most perfect kind of lie.

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