A Tiered Internet – Penny Wise or Pound Foolish

With the debate over net neutrality raging in the background, Internet suppliers are preparing their strategies to bridge the divide between bandwidth consumption and costs. This topic is coming to a head now largely because of the astonishing growth-rate of streaming video from the likes of YouTube, NetFlix, and others.

The issue recently took a new turn and emerged front and center during a webinar when Allot Communications and Openet presented its new product features, including its approach of integrating policy control and charging for wireless access to certain websites.

On the surface, this may seem like a potential solution to the bandwidth problem. Basic economic theory will tell you that if you increase the cost of a product or service, the demand will eventually decrease. In this case, charging for bandwidth will not only increase revenues, but the demand will ultimately drop until a point of equilibrium is reached. Problem solved, right? Wrong!

While the short-term benefits are obviously appealing for some, this is a slippery slope that will lead to further inequality in Internet access (You can easily find many articles and blogs regarding Net Neutrality including those referencing Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee — two of the founding fathers of the Internet — clearly supporting a free and equal Internet). Despite these arguments, we believe that Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) equipment makers such as Allot will continue to promote and support a charge system since it is in their best business interests to do so. After all, a pay-for-access approach requires DPI as the basis for determining what content to charge.

However, there are better and more cost-effective ways to control bandwidth consumption while protecting the interests of net neutrality. For example, fairness-based bandwidth control intrinsically provides equality and fairness to all users without targeting specific content or websites. With this approach, when the network is busy small bandwidth consumers are guaranteed access to the Internet while large bandwidth users are throttled back but not charged or blocked completely. Everyone lives within their means and gets an equal share. If large bandwidth consumers want access to more bandwidth, they can purchase a higher level of service from their provider. But let’s be clear, this is very different from charging for access to a particular website!

Although this content-neutral approach has repeatedly proved successful for NetEqualizer users, we’re now taking an additional step at mitigating bandwidth congestion while respecting network neutrality through video caching (the largest growth segment of bandwidth consumption). So, keep an eye out for the YouTube caching feature to be available in our new NetEqualizer release early next year.

Google Verizon Net Neutrality Policy, is it sincere?

With all the rumors circulating about the larger wireless providers trying to wall off competition or generate extra revenue through preferential treatment of traffic, they had to do something, hence  Google and Verizon crafted a joint statement on Net Neutrality. Making a statement in denial of a rumor on such a scale is somewhat akin to admitting the rumor was true. It reminds me of a politician claiming he has no plans to raise taxes.

Yes, I believe that most people who work for Google and Verizon, executives included, believe in an open Neutral Internet.  And yet, from experience, when push comes to shove, and profits are flat or dropping, the idea of leveraging your assets will be on the table.  And what better way to leverage your assets than restrict competition to your captive audience. Walling off a captive audience to selected content will always be enticing to any service provider looking for low hanging fruit.  Morals can easily be compromised or rationalized in the face of losing your house, and it only takes one over zealous leader to start a provider down the slope.

The checks and balances so far, in this case, are the consumers who have voiced outright disgust with anybody who dare toy with the idea of  preferential  treatment of Internet traffic for economic benefit.

For now this concept will have to wait, but it will be revisited again and hopefully consumers will rise up in disgust.  It would be naive to think that today’s statement by Verizon and Google would be  binding beyond the political moment.

Net Neutrality Enforcement and Debate: Will It Ever Be Settled?

By Art Reisman

Art Reisman CTO www.netequalizer.com

Editor’s note: Art Reisman is the CTO of APconnections. APconnections designs and manufactures the popular NetEqualizer bandwidth shaper. APconnections removed all Deep Packet Inspection technology from their NetEqualizer product over 2 years ago.

As the debate over net neutrality continues, we often forget what an ISP actually is and why they exist.
ISPs in this country are for-profit private companies made up of stockholders and investors who took on risk (without government backing) to build networks with the hopes of making a profit. To make a profit they must balance users expectations for performance against costs of implementing a network.

The reason bandwidth control is used in the first place is the standard switching problem capacity problem. Nobody can afford the investment of infrastructure to build a network to meet peak demands at all times. Would you build a house with 10 bedrooms if you were only expecting one or two kids sometime in the future? ISPs build networks to handle an average load, and when peak loads come along, they must do some mitigation. You can argue they should have built their networks; with more foresight until you are green, but the fact is demand for bandwidth will always outstrip supply.

So, where did the net neutrality debate get its start?
Unfortunately, in many Internet providers’ first attempt to remedy the overload issue on their networks, the layer-7 techniques they used opened a Pandora’s box of controversy that may never be settled.

When the subject of net neutrality started heating up around 2007 and 2008, the complaints from consumers revolved around ISP practices of looking inside customer’s transmittal of data and blocking or redirecting traffic based on content. There were all sorts of rationalizations for this practice and I’ll be the first to admit that it was not done with intended malice. However, the methodology was abhorrent.

I likened this practice to the phone company listening into your phone calls and deciding which calls to drop to keep their lines clear. Or, if you want to take it a step farther, the postal service making a decision to toss your junk mail based on their own private criteria. Legally I see no difference between looking inside mail or looking inside Internet traffic. It all seems to cross a line. When referring to net neutrality, the bloggers of this era were originally concerned with this sort of spying and playing God with what type of data can be transmitted.

To remedy this situation, Comcast and others adopted methods that relegated Internet usage based on patterns of usage and not content. At the time, we were happy to applaud them and claim that the problem of spying on data had been averted. I pretty much turned my attention away from the debate at that time, but I recently started looking back at the debate and, wow, what a difference a couple of years make.

So, where are we headed?
I am not sure what his sources are, but Rush Limbaugh claims that net neutrality is going to become a new fairness doctrine. To summarize, the FCC or some government body would start to use its authority to ensure equal access to content from search engine companies. For example, making sure that minority points of view on subjects got top billing in search results. This is a bit a scary, although perhaps a bit alarmist, but it would not surprise me since, once in government control, anything is possible. Yes, I realize conservative talk radio show hosts like to elicit emotional reactions, but usually there is some truth to back up their claims.

Other intelligent points of view:

The CRTC (Canadian FCC) seems to have a head on their shoulders, they have stated that ISPs must disclose their practices, but are not attempting to regulate how in some form of over reaching doctrine. Although I am not in favor of government institutions, if they must exist then the CRTC stance seems like a sane and appropriate request with regard to regulating ISPs.

Freedom to Tinker

What Is Deep Packet Inspection and Why All the Controversy?

Behind the Scenes on the latest Comcast Ruling on Net Neutrality

Yesterday the FCC ruled in favor of Comcast regarding their rights to manipulate consumer traffic . As usual, the news coverage was a bit oversimplified and generic. Below we present a breakdown of the players involved, and our educated opinion as to their motivations.

1) The Large Service Providers for Internet Service: Comcast, Time Warner, Quest

From the perspective of Large Service Providers, these companies all want to get a return on their investment, charging the most money the market will tolerate. They will also try to increase market share by consolidating provider choices in local markets. Since they are directly visible to the public, they will also be trying to serve the public’s interest at heart; for without popular support, they will get regulated into oblivion. Case in point, the original Comcast problems stemmed from angry consumers after learning their p2p downloads were being redirected and/or  blocked.

Any and all government regulation will be opposed at every turn, as it is generally not good for private business. In the face of a strong headwind, don’t be surprised if Large Service Providers might try to reach a compromise quickly to alleviate any uncertainty.  Uncertainty can be more costly than regulation.

To be fair, Large Service Providers are staffed top to bottom with honest, hard-working people but, their decision-making as an entity will ultimately be based on profit.  To be the most profitable they will want to prevent third-party Traditional Content Providers from flooding  their networks with videos.  That was the original reason why Comcast thwarted bittorrent traffic. All of the Large Service Providers are currently, or plotting  to be, content providers, and hence they have two motives to restrict unwanted traffic. Motive one, is to keep their capacities in line with their capabilities for all generic traffic. Motive two, would be to thwart other content providers, thus making their content more attractive. For example who’s movie service are you going to subscribe with?  A generic cloud provider such as Netflix whose movies run choppy or your local provider with better quality by design?

2) The Traditional Content Providers:  Google, YouTube, Netflix etc.

They have a vested interest in expanding their reach by providing expanded video content.  Google, with nowhere to go for new revenue in the search engine and advertising business, will be attempting  an end-run around Large Service Providers to take market share.   The only thing standing in their way is the shortcomings in the delivery mechanism. They have even gone so far as to build out an extensive, heavily subsidized, fiber test network of their own.  Much of the hubbub about Net Neutrality is  based on a market play to force Large Service Providers to shoulder the Traditional Content Providers’ delivery costs.  An analogy from the bird world would be the brown-headed cowbird, where the mother lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, and then lets her chicks be raised by an unknowing other species.  Without their own delivery mechanism direct-to-the-consumer, the Traditional Content Providers  must keep pounding at the FCC  for rulings in their favor.  Part of the strategy is to rile consumers against the Large Service Providers, with the Net Neutrality cry.

3) The FCC

The FCC is a government organization trying to take their existing powers, which were granted for airwaves, and extend them to the Internet. As with any regulatory body, things start out well-intentioned, protection of consumers etc., but then quickly they become self-absorbed with their mission.  The original reason for the FCC was that the public airways for television and radio have limited frequencies for broadcasts. You can’t make a bigger pipe than what frequencies will allow, and hence it made sense to have a regulatory body oversee this vital  resource. In  the early stages of commercial radio, there was a real issue of competing entities  broadcasting  over each other in an arms race for the most powerful signal.  Along those lines, the regulatory entity (FCC) has forever expanded their mission.  For example, the government deciding what words can be uttered on primetime is an extension of this power.

Now with Internet, the FCC’s goal will be to regulate whatever they can, slowly creating rules for the “good of the people”. Will these rules be for the better?  Most likely the net effect is no; left alone the Internet was fine, but agencies will be agencies.

4) The Administration and current Congress

The current Administration has touted their support of Net Neutrality, and perhaps have been so overburdened with the battle on health care and other pressing matters that there has not been any regulation passed.  In the face of the aftermath of the FCC getting slapped down in court to limit their current powers, I would not be surprised to see a round of legislation on this issue to regulate Large Service Providers in the near future.  The Administraton will be painted as consumer protection against big greedy companies that need to be reigned in, as we have seen with banks, insurance companies, etc…. I hope that we do not end up with an Internet Czar, but some regulation is inevitable, if nothing else for a revenue stream to tap into.

5) The Public

The Public will be the dupes in all of this, ignorant voting blocks lobbied by various scare tactics.   The big demographic difference on swaying this opinion will be much different from the health care lobby.  People concerned for and against Internet Regulation will be in income brackets that have a higher education and employment rate than the typical entitlement lobbies that support regulation.  It is certainly not going to be the AARP or a Union Lobbyist leading the charge to regulate the Internet; hence legislation may be a bit delayed.

6) Al Gore

Not sure if he has a dog in this fight; we just threw him in here for fun.

7) NetEqualizer

Honestly, bandwidth control will always be needed, as long as there is more demand for bandwidth than there is bandwidth available.  We will not be lobbying for or against Net Neutrality.

8) The Courts

This is an area where I am a bit weak in understanding how a Court will follow legal precedent.  However, it seems to me that almost any court can rule from the bench, by finding the precedent they want and ignoring others if they so choose?  Ultimately, Congress can pass new laws to regulate just about anything with impunity.  There is no constitutional protection regarding Internet access.  Most likely the FCC will be the agency carrying out enforcement once the laws are in place.

NetEqualizer provides Net Neutrality solution for bandwidth control.

By Eli Riles NetEqualizer VP of Sales

This morning I read an article on how some start up companies are being hurt awaiting the FCC’s decision on Net Neutrality.

Late in the day, a customer called and exclaimed, “Wow now with the FCC coming down  hard on technologies that jeopardize net neutrality, your business  must booming since you offer an excellent viable alternative” And yet  in face of this controversy, several of our competitors continue to sell deep packet inspection devices to customers.

Public operators and businesses that continue to purchase such technology are likely uninformed about the growing fire-storm of opposition against Deep Packet Inspection techniques.  The allure of being able to identify, and control Internet Traffic by type is very a natural solution, which customers often demand. Suppliers who sell DPI devices are just doing what their customer have asked. As with all technologies once the train leaves the station it is hard to turn around. What is different in the case of DPI is that suppliers and ISPs had their way with an ignorant public starting in the late 90’s. Nobody really gave much thought as to how DPI might be the villain in the controversy over Net Nuetrality. It was just assumed that nobody would notice their internet traffic being watched and redirected by routing devices. With behemoths such as Google having a vested interest in keeping traffic flowing without Interference on the Internet, commercial deep packet inspection solutions are slowly falling out of favor in the ISP sector. The bigger question for the players betting the house on DPI is , will it fall out favor in other  business verticals?

The NetEqualizer decision to do away with DPI two years ago is looking quite brilliant now, although at the time it was clearly a risk bucking market trends.  Today, even in the face of world wide recession our profit and unit sales are up for the first three quarters of 2009 this year.

As we have claimed in previous articles there is a time and place for deep packet inspection; however any provider using DPI to manipulate data is looking for a potential dog fight with the FCC.

NetEqualizer has been providing alternative bandwidth control options for ISPs , Businesses , and Schools of all sizes for 7 years without violating any of the Net Nuetrality sacred cows. If you have not heard about us, maybe now is a good time to pick up the phone. We have been on the record touting our solution as being fair equitable for quite some time now.

Net Neutrality Bill Won’t End Conflicts Between Users and Providers

This week, Representatives Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act aimed at protecting the rights of Internet users and ultimately net neutrality. Yet, before net neutrality advocates unequivocally praise the bill, it should be noted that it protects the rights of Internet service providers as well. For example, as long as ISPs are candid with their customers in regard to their network optimizaiton practices, the bill does allow for “reasonable network management,” stating:

“Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit an Internet access provider from engaging in reasonable network management consistent with the policies and duties of nondiscrimination and openness set forth in this Act. For purposes of subsections (b)(1) and (b)(5), a network management practice is a reasonable practice only if it furthers a critically important interest, is narrowly tailored to further that interest, and is the means of furthering that interest that is the least restrictive, least discriminatory, and least constricting of consumer choice available. In determining whether a network management practice is reasonable, the Commission shall consider, among other factors, the particular network architecture or technology limitations of the provider.”

While this stipulation is extremely important in the protection it provides Internet service providers, it is likely to come into conflict with some Internet users’ ideas of net neutrality.  For example, the bill also states that it is ISPs’ “duty to not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair or degrade the ability of any person to use an Internet access service to access, use, send, post, receive or offer any lawful content, application or service through the Internet.” However, even users of the NetEqualizer, one of the more hands off approaches to network management, don’t have a choice but to target the behavior of certain heavy customers. One person’s penchant for downloading music — legally or not — can significantly impact the quality of service for everyone else. And, increasing bandwidth just to meet the needs of a few users isn’t reasonable either.

It would seem that this would be a perfect case of reasonable network management which would be allowed under the proposed bill. Yet many net neutrality advocates tend to quickly dismiss any management as an infringement upon the user’s rights. The protection of the users’ rights will likely get the attention in discussions about these types of bills, but there should also be just as much emphasis on the rights of the provider to reasonably manage their network and what this may mean for the idea of unadulterated net neutrality.

The fact that this bill includes the right to reasonably manage one’s network indicates that some form of management is typically nececsary for a network to run at its full potential. The key is finding some middle ground.

Related article September 22 2009

FCC rules in favor of Net Neutrality the commentary on this blog is great and worth the read.

Do We Need an Internet User Bill of Rights?

The Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference wraps up today in Washington, D.C., with conference participants having paid significant attention to the on-going debates concerning ISPs, Deep Packet Inspection and net neutrality.  Over the past several days, representatives from the various interested parties have made their cases for and against certain measures pertaining to user privacy. As was expected, demands for the protection of user privacy often came into conflict with ISPs’ advertising strategies and their defense of their overall network quality.

At the center of this debate is the issue of transparency and what ISPs are actually telling customers. In many cases, apparent intrusions into user privacy are qualified by what’s stated in the “fine print” of customer contracts. If these contracts notify customers that their Internet activity and personal information may be used for advertising or other purposes, then it can’t really be said that the customer’s privacy has been invaded. But, the question is, how many users actually read their contracts, and furhtermore, how many people actually understand the fine print? It would be interesting to see what percentage of Internet users could define deep packet inspection. Probably not very many.

This situation is reminiscent of many others involving service contracts, but one particular timely example comes to mind — credit cards. Last month, the Senate passed a credit card “bill of rights,” through which consumers would be both better protected and better informed. Of the latter, President Obama stated, “you should not have to worry that when you sign up for a credit card, you’re signing away all your rights. You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass or a law degree to read the fine print that sometimes doesn’t even appear to be written in English.”

Ultimately, the same should be true for any service contracts, but especially if private information is at stake, as is the case with the Internet privacy debate. Therefore, while it’s a step in the right direction to include potential user privacy issues in service contracts, it should not be done only with the intention of preventing potential legal backlash, but rather with the customer’s true understanding of the agreement in mind.

Editor’s Note: APconnections and NetEqualizer have long been a proponent of both transparency and the protection of user privacy, having devoted several years to developing technology that maintains network quality while respecting the privacy of Internet users.

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