Reporting Net Neutrality Violations Is Now A Snap… Actually Identifying Them Not So Much

from the real-game-is-now-afoot dept

As you might have heard, the FCC’s new net neutrality rules went live on Friday and, contrary to ISP and friend prognostications, the internet did not explode into a fiery cacophony of Armageddon-esque proportions (surely that happens later). With the courts refusing a stay of the rules, the FCC’s neutrality protections will remain intact until either the ISPs are victorious in court, or there’s a 2016 party (and associated FCC leadership) shift. Until then, consumers can file their complaints with the FCC in a variety of ways, including snail mail.

Of course, actually determining whether your ISP is up to no good is another issue entirely, and unfortunately for those of you sick-to-death of the neutrality discussion, getting the rules in place is really just the beginning.

We’ve talked a few times over the years about people crying net neutrality wolf, and attributing perfectly run-of-the-mill network issues to malicious intent. That’s sure to be an even bigger problem going forward. The average internet user doesn’t really have the ability to differentiate run-of-the-mill routing or DNS problems from aggressive anti-competitive behavior, and in the new age of more subtle net neutrality infractions, that’s probably going to be more true than ever. That’s of course why folks like MLAB have started offering an internet health test that will investigate your connection for hints of ISP skulduggery.

If you’ve yet to run the test, you might want to; data’s going to be stored, cataloged, and eventually publicized for potential use against neutrality violators:

“An individual test may be considered an aberration,” (Free Press boss Tim) Karr wrote. “In order to make the case that there’s systemic throttling or degrading you need to perform several tests from different addresses and at different times. That’s what we’re hoping to show by gathering data from hundreds of thousands of separate tests.”

“I think participating in the Internet Health Test is the best thing an Internet user can do to gather comprehensive evidence of abuse,” he added.

Battle for the Net hasn’t published the results of its analysis on Internet Health Test data yet, but it plans on doing so sometime in the future.”

So while companies and organizations like MLAB should be able to substantiate neutrality violation claims with hard data, that’s going to be notably less likely for individual consumers. The problem, as we’ve touched on previously, is there are still a variety of ways to violate net neutrality while looking like you’re just engaging in everyday business affairs from a network analysis perspective. For example, there’s every indication that the FCC is going to let zero-rating and cap-related shenanigans like AT&T’s Sponsored Data and T-Mobile’s Music Freedom continue as is.

As Facebook and Google are painfully learning overseas, most neutrality advocates realize these kinds of zero-rated programs violate neutrality by tilting the playing field against smaller companies or independent operations — all while convincing users they’re doing them a favor. So ISPs certainly can get away with neutrality violations under this new paradigm — they just have to be much more clever about it while massaging public sentiment. Whether the FCC cracks down on zero-rating (the practice of letting some companies buy their way around already arbitrary usage caps) should provide a pretty good litmus test for whether or not the FCC’s going to be willing to go the extra mile on enforcement.

Of course, if nobody files complaints, ISPs will be sure to insist that this is proof positive that there was never anything to worry about in the first place. Except that’s not true: the absence of complaints could indicate the threat of the rules is working as intended. In fact, we’ve already seen transit and last mile ISPs suddenly and magically get along beautifully after a year of very ugly bickering, thanks simply to the mere threat of real rules.

All of that said, we’re still in a much better place than we were under the original 2010 rules, which excluded wireless and had enough loopholes to drive entire military convoys through. Of course, if you’re still the type to buy into the ISP (and paid friend) narrative that meaningful Title II-based net neutrality protections will destroy the internet, crush free speech, hinder innovation and harm puppies, then there’s probably no evidence on earth that’s going to knock you off that particular perch. But while you’re busy waiting for the internet to die to make a political point, the rest of us will need to remain vigilant to ensure that the FCC, now equipped with the right tools, actually does its job.

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Comments on “Reporting Net Neutrality Violations Is Now A Snap… Actually Identifying Them Not So Much”

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Joe Hill Still lives says:

Here in kanuckistan

We don’t have quite the same problems but if you have noticeable network issues in this day and age it’s probably malicious. just sayin’ that multi Gigabit links are common, so if your having problems with the less than 1 meg page your loading.. never attribute to incompetence what can be attributed to malicious intent

Anonymous Coward says:

Legitimate question: are forced-in DNS wildcards worth reporting?

Time Warner Cable has a “helper” feature where all failed DNS requests incorrectly return an A record pointing to a Time Warner server (with sponsored searches if you happen to be using a browser, and generally broken results for every other protocol). That server lets you “opt out” of this service, but the opt out never works. It remembers the last state of the button across page refreshes, so they clearly do remember your choice – they just do not respect it. This is not a neutrality violation in the typical sense, but it is broken and in my opinion evil to have this forced on. VeriSign got reamed for trying it at large scale, but Time Warner seems to have gotten away with it so far.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Legitimate question: are forced-in DNS wildcards worth reporting?

Yeah this is an extremely unpopular practice that started about a decade ago and is generally seen as acceptable, even if it breaks the core functionality of the Internet. I highly doubt the FCC would get involved here, as in most instances users can now switch DNS providers or opt out.

I’ve seen a few ISPs with opt-out systems that don’t work, but regulators rarely seem to find it worth fighting over.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Free toasters

Say, if I started a marketing campaign Use our webservice for 500 hours and get a free toaster! that would also be a shenanigan that may balance the market in my company’s favor, but free toasters (or other free swag) are acceptable in the US brick-and-mortar markets, such as gasoline and bank accounts.

So it’s not a long logical leap to say that free AT&T data when you use our website, even at one-for-one, is acceptable, given wireless data is currently sold as subscription throughput.

There are plenty of arguments to be made against data caps on a monthly service, (or short expiration terms on a pay-per-byte service) but the free-thing-when-you-use-our-service bit is so old as to be considered common practice, and it seems nitpicky when it can be a toaster or a baseball cap but not a data-rebate.

I agree with net neutrality generally, and think our big ISPs take way too much advantage of their market control and are seriously dickish for it, but this one is going to be tricky to delineate out where the acceptable practice ends and the wrongful practice begins.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Free toasters

“I agree with net neutrality generally, and think our big ISPs take way too much advantage of their market control and are seriously dickish for it, but this one is going to be tricky to delineate out where the acceptable practice ends and the wrongful practice begins.”

Yep, and that’s where the ISPs will settle in and the abuse is going to occur. Going to be a daily battle for the FCC To determine what undermines the fundamentally balanced nature of the Internet, and what really accounts to a “free toaster.”

After AT&T introduced Sponsored data (letting some ISPs pay to be cap exempt) and saw a backlash, I think they’re soon shifting to the free toaster idea, wherein you get X amount of general use data if you “interact” with a brand, which to me is a far less dangerous model.

andy says:


Ok why say it is almost impossible for anyonee to determine if an isp is doing something to traffic. It is so very easy to do a traceroute and determine where there are issues, damn there are numerous websites that enable you to double and triple check your data to determin if there is a specific issue with an individual route.

Sadly most isp staff are just yes men and don’t know the first thing about what is wrong they just escalate or put in an address get access to it and think it is a problem with your pc.

Also there are those that think a few ms over normal is a huge issue when it is not, but if you use common sense it is almost impossible t not identify if a isp has an issue with doing or not doing things that slow down traffic.Which is the biggest problem with them overall.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

“It is so very easy to do a traceroute and determine where there are issues, damn there are numerous websites that enable you to double and triple check your data to determin if there is a specific issue with an individual route.”

Many of these tests show you there’s a problem, but they won’t always show you WHY there’s a problem. A lot of the data needed is kept confidential (especially on issues like interconnection).

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