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.

Filed Under: deep packet inspection, mobile broadband, net neutrality, wireless


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  1. icon
    Gatewood Green (profile), 17 Dec 2010 @ 12:13pm

    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.

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