The Battle For Net Neutrality Flares Up Again: But Which Countries Still Have It?

from the time-to-check dept

Net Neutrality has suddenly become a hot topic again. Partly, that’s thanks to some awful ideas about regulating the Internet coming from the International Telecommunication Union, notably those proposed by the ETNO — the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association — discussed recently on Techdirt. New information from WCITLeaks Wikileaks (found via the Net neutrality in Europe site) provides us with the following details (pdf):

To ensure more efficient use of networks and to allow for new business models better reflecting future demand, Member States should support a new IP interconnection ecosystem that provides both, best effort delivery and end-to-end Quality of Service delivery. Delivery based on QoS allows for management of the IP traffic according to its characteristics (i.e. delivery requirements and acknowledged value) thus supporting innovation to provide a value-added service, making better use of the assets of telecommunications operators.

That may sound innocuous enough, but “supporting innovation to provide a value-added service” is a coded way of saying that the telcos should be allowed to abandon net neutrality, something confirmed in one of the accompanying proposals, which reads:

Art. 4
International Telecommunication Services
4.4 Operating Agencies shall cooperate in the development of international IP interconnections providing both, best effort delivery and end to end quality of service delivery. Best effort delivery should continue to form the basis of international IP traffic exchange. Nothing shall preclude commercial agreements with differentiated quality of service delivery to develop.

The key sentence is the last one: “differentiated quality of service delivery” means ignoring net neutrality.

That proposal to move away from net neutrality contrasts with the Netherlands’ decision to enshrine it in law:

The net neutrality law prohibits internet providers from interfering with the traffic of their users. The law allows for traffic management in case of congestion and for network security, as long as these measures serve the interests of the internet user. A technical error in the law might still be corrected in a vote on 15 May. [It was.]

In addition, the law includes an anti-wiretapping provision, restricting internetproviders from using invasive wiretapping technologies, such as deep packet inspection (DPI). They may only do so under limited circumstances, or with explicit consent of the user, which the user may withdraw at any time. The use of DPI gained much attention when KPN admitted that it analysed the traffic of its users to gather information on the use of certain apps. The law allows for wiretapping with a warrant.

DPI is one of the most intrusive ways of undermining net neutrality, since it involves looking inside the data part of an IP packet, not just the header, which contains basic information such as source and destination IP addresses. A recent study from a team at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies has explored the use of DPI to throttle BitTorrent connections:

In order to better understand DPI use and the scope of its deployment, the project makes use of crowdsourced data from a network monitoring test known as Glasnost. An Internet user who runs the Glasnost test can see whether BitTorrent is completely blocked by their ISP, slowed down (throttled), or running normally.

The results for various countries are available as graphs of ISP throttling against time, and show the wide variation in BitTorrent throttling — and hence the extent to which net neutrality is preserved around the world and by different Internet service providers.

The good news:

BitTorrent throttling by most US ISPs ceased after an FCC ruling in August 2008 that declared Comcast’s actions to be against its 2005 Internet Policy Statement. Only wireless ISPs Clearwire and Hughes showed high levels of BitTorrent manipulation after August 2008, but Clearwire substantially reduced it in 2009. But the Comcast Order was reversed by the courts in April 2010. This data shows that no US ISPs have increased their use of DPI-based throttling since April 2010, despite the absence of any network neutrality regulation in the US.

And the bad news:

The UK is one of the few countries where BitTorrent manipulation appears to be on the rise. DPI measurements for the BT Group in particular increased progressively throughout the 3-year period. Talk Talk’s use of it seems to have declined, but it is still consistently above the threshold indicating some form of manipulation. Test results for O2 UK move erratically slightly above and below the error threshold, making any conclusion difficult. Virgin Media, on the other hand, seems to have altered its policy and increased DPI-based intervention in the 4th quarter of 2010.

At a time when much of the debate about net neutrality is driven by dogma, it’s particularly valuable to have some objective data on what’s really happening. It’s worrying that it turns out that net neutrality has been under assault in some countries for a while — and disturbing that ETNO wants to intensify that attack still further.

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Comments on “The Battle For Net Neutrality Flares Up Again: But Which Countries Still Have It?”

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John Thacker (profile) says:

O2 UK actually advertises their traffic management practices quite openly.

They offer three different speed tiers (not uncommon in the US), but they claim that Web browsing is always as fast as the line supports, the difference in the speed tiers is whether video and P2P is throttled (lowest tier, and quite slow, 800 kb/s for video, 50-100 kb/s for P2P), P2P only is throttled (100-250 kb/s), or no throttling at all. Their lowest tier also has a metered usage limit.

US ISPs that were doing traffic management were mostly very opaque about how they did it.

Anonymous Coward says:

sure someone will correct me but if the new UK ‘snooper’s charter’ comes in to force, i assume there will be no net neutrality there? that could easily, therefore, be a main reason for the bill? BT (the telecom, i mean) still do their best to keep control of all the phone lines and the internet connections it can. it doesn’t want to give up it’s monopoly not only because it will lose money but also it will have to do a damn sight more than it is atm as far as broadband is concerned! the infrastructure is crap and any problems on the copper line between box and house will remain, as FTTB is what they are doing, not FTTH. the adverts about what it has achieved and how quickly are total b/s, plus it throttles and restricts as much as it possibly can, making it one of the worst IPSs in the UK. not the impression it tries to give out!!

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s some confusion, I think about how peering relationships work on the ISP level. When ISP A has a great deal of subscribers going to Content Provider B, it is often more economically feasible to either directly connect to that network and share the costs, or to use caching proxy so that repeated downloads of the same content only happen once. This is in effect traffic management and giving priority to that traffic in some regards as it no longer has to compete for bandwidth with other services. Netflix has recently just implemented a public page for ISPs to inquire about this very matter:

That this is some sort of network neutrality issue makes little to no sense, but there should be some sort of inclusion since it’s the way the real world works.

For the ITU, they are actually trying to reverse this peering relationship system by charging CDNs for delivery to subscribers. IMHO, this makes little to no sense in that it is the customers of the ISP requesting information from the content providers. The effects seem to be leading to either content providers will have to have a presence in every country that they serve, or black list countries that are no longer willing to negotiate a peering relationship.

John Thacker (profile) says:

Re: Re:

IMHO, this makes little to no sense in that it is the customers of the ISP requesting information from the content providers.

Why, necessarily? If I buy something online, the shipping companies charge the vendor even though I’m requesting the item from the vendor. (Yes, the vendor may pass on that charge to me, or claim to, but I don’t know what they’re actually paying, only what they’re claiming. And they may include the charges, like with free shipping offers or Amazon prime.)

The trucks that carry the product to me are also assigned a Heavy Vehicle Highway Use Tax, again despite the fact that I have requested that the products be sent to me and despite the fact that I have already paid for unlimited use of roads if I drive on them in my non heavy vehicle. (And once again, that cost may be passed along, though it’s unclear to what extent.)

Now, you may argue that the Internet is different, being a series of tubes instead of like trucks, I guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well to some extent you are correct. The EU could just start charging major CDNs, the effects of this though would be a fractured internet leaving access to poorer countries that are not economically feasible to either have a presence or to pay for transit without service. So lets say Google could just close shop on Finland if they don’t want to pay for transit to Elisa, Saunalahti, etc… Another issue would be international companies could suddenly be cut off from branch offices in the EU simply because of there transit providers decide that it’s not in their best interest to serve those ISPs.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

To use your example (and I might be reading your intent wrong so please excuse me if I am) The idea of charging the sender for something you requested is different than what ISPs want to do. They want to charge Netflix for the bandwidth you already paid for.
So to put it in your example, You buy something from, they include the cost of shipping in their price. UPS shows up at your house and before giving it to you, charges you the delivery cost again. So both parties pay for the same service.

Someone says:



B. No Unreasonable Discrimination
The Company does not unreasonably discriminate in its transmission of lawful traffic over the broadband Internet access services of its customers.

The Company does not block, impair, degrade or delay VoIP applications or services that compete with its voice services and those of its affiliates.

The Company does not block, impair, degrade, delay or otherwise inhibit access by its customers to lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.

The Company does not impair free expression by actions such as slowing traffic from particular websites or blogs.
The Company does not use or demand “pay-for-priority” or similar arrangements that directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic.

The Company does not prioritize its own content, application, services, or devices, or those of its affiliates.

No caps and symmetrical for all levels.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

short/long term

Short Term Telecos/ISP will continue to tighten, filter, block, reroute, shapen, etc with or with out legal authority and help. Some of it “just makes sense” from a technical perspective. Some of it “only makes sense” from a business model perspective.

But this will only happen while consumers don’t care. Eventually Comcast will try to extort money from content providers and eventually content providers will give them the middle finger, and shortly after Comcast won’t be able to provide its customers with anything more than a “view” onto the Internet and those customers will jump ship as soon as an alternative is available.

The alternative will be open/low cost mobile/wireless ad-hoc/mesh type network. Eventually there won’t be a need for a back-bone ISP because the technology/skill will be affordable at such a low denominator that hardware will just “work” right out of the box without having to specify any specific network connection. Local/private networks will be in software only, and will float on top of the “global net”.

What happens? Another democratic seismic shift. ISP/Mobile operates become as relevant as the News-print Industry. We’ll experience another 20-30 years of a struggling industry come to terms with it’s demise, but not before it tries to prevent or change the inevitable via lawsuits, lawyers, and lobbyist.

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