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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:18pm

    yea - sounds great.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    misanthropic humanist, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:29pm

    It's not a two way street

    ISPs are providing a communication service, and they should provide it failry and equally.

    A website is a private resource that may choose who may access at any given time. These are not two sides of the same coin, they are entirely different.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rich Kulawiec, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:36pm

    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. 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.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Panaqqa, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:37pm

    An when it's a cratered highway...

    What a great opportunity for a massive proxy service to charge tolls for making detours around the craters...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Joshua, 13 Dec 2006 @ 4:44pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Arochone, 13 Dec 2006 @ 5:12pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2006 @ 5:28pm

    Dangerous... but is an effective boycott because these are paying customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    misanthropic humanist, 13 Dec 2006 @ 5:31pm


    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rich Kulawiec, 13 Dec 2006 @ 7:11pm

      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 24x365.

      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 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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        misanthropic humanist, 14 Dec 2006 @ 5:32am

        Re: Re: hmmm

        Well, thanks for sharing that. It's sad to hear someone who's obviously an old school practicing sysadmin with high (old fashioned) standards give such a damning synopsis of the present commercial network, but I think we all know this ride is going.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        ebrke, 14 Dec 2006 @ 7:35am

        Re: Re: hmmm

        Great post, Rich. I share your pessimism.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adam, 13 Dec 2006 @ 8:00pm

    This may work very well, because it will force all potential customers who know about TPB to rethink setting up an account with that ISP. If you were to select an ISP and knew that TPB was blocked, you'd go elsewhere.

    Less customers effects the ISP directly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2006 @ 8:00pm

    The major websites should band together and agree to blacklist any ISP that blocks content from any of the other members' websites. Can you imagine if Yahoo, MSN, YouTube, MySpace etc all blocked every Verizon customer from their sites if Verizon were to block just Google Video? There is more power in numbers, man.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Dec 2006 @ 8:52pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bumbling old fool, 14 Dec 2006 @ 6:37am

    I don't quite get how this is bad for the ISP...

    If I were the ISP, I'd be dancing in the streets.

    Torrent users consume about 90% of the network capacity, but account for about 2% of the userbase.

    By blocking access to the torrents, they are effectively doing a HUGE favor to the ISP, without the ISP having to look like the bad guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Louis, 14 Dec 2006 @ 8:22am

    Second the motion

    Eloquently put Rich!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wesha, 14 Dec 2006 @ 2:34pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stu, 14 Dec 2006 @ 4:27pm

    Thnak you Rich Kulawiec for your insight, standards and eloquence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrea, 14 Dec 2006 @ 7:16pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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