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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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Filed Under: deep packet inspection, etno, europe, itu, net neutrality, united nations


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  1. identicon
    Sean, 15 Jun 2012 @ 6:53am

    Getting rid of net neutrality is like putting a toll gate on every entrance ramp to every highway. If your car looks nice enough go on through. If you look suspicious you will have to pay more or take the slow road.

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