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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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Dec 2010 @ 1:16pm

    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".

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