16 Comments

Summary:

The Free Press issued a report today that blames deep packet inspection technology for “The End of the Internet,” arguing that Internet service providers’ use of equipment that can inspect individual packets of data should raise concerns for both users and lawmakers. The report: “Deep Packet […]

The Free Press issued a report today that blames deep packet inspection technology for “The End of the Internet,” arguing that Internet service providers’ use of equipment that can inspect individual packets of data should raise concerns for both users and lawmakers.

The report: “Deep Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It?” highlights the use of DPI equipment by Comcast in throttling P2P traffic, in Cox’s traffic prioritization scheme, the role DPI played in NebuAd’s plans to monitor web surfing in order to deliver advertising, and the use of such equipment to introduce consumption-based broadband programs. It neglects to cover the use of DPI for Internet threat monitoring and other more beneficial uses of the technology.

The central conclusion is one I would agree with, and have written about before:

Network providers can and will use DPI technology to improve their profits at the expense of their customers. The technology permits network operators to reduce the amount they spend on network  upgrades by allowing them to oversell their networks while simultaneously increasing the amount the average customer pays, through the creation of new revenue streams.

However, the report comes across as almost hysterical by blaming of the DPI technology rather than the carriers and how they are using it. Carriers are investing in their networks, although slowly, and are pricing new offerings with an eye toward increasing their margins. The real villian behind this creeping trend isn’t DPI. It’s a broadband policy that hasn’t encouraged competition — without which, a user that’s upset with a carrier trying to gouge them can’t easily switch to an equivalent provider.

  1. Agreed, Stacey. As technology penetrates deeper and deeper into the fabric of our culture and the gulf widens between those who understand the technology and those who don’t, this type of untangling becomes ever more vital. The most dangerous reports are the ones like these from supposed experts who don’t convey the facts quite carefully enough or who have vested interests in misrepresenting reality.

    I see this all the time in p2p, such as when p2p applications are reported as using nefarious techniques for circumventing firewalls while in reality they’re using the same IETF standards Comcast, Cisco, and Apple are using to accomplish the same thing.

    The rush for the sensational story or report is just too tempting and often profitable. Thanks for keeping ‘em honest!

    -Adam

    Share
  2. The irony of the article is that the headline and content are so in line with the NRA’s slogan “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. I don’t grasp the idea that carriers can make money by adding new revenue streams as a bad thing. The implication is that we all have to pour in our investments and expect no return on investment.

    Do you work for free? I know we get your wisdom for free, but you get what you paid for!

    Share
  3. I see this all the time in p2p, such as when p2p applications are reported as using nefarious techniques for circumventing firewalls while in reality they’re using the same IETF standards Comcast, Cisco, and Apple are using to accomplish the same thing.

    Share
  4. Agreed. It’s always about money, isn’t it?
    I would probably go one further and place equal blame on the uneducated consumer population for allowing this to happen.
    We can’t go blaming the gun for the shooter’s trigger finger.

    Share
  5. Hi Stacey,

    I think to report was correct to highlight the fact that Deep Packet Inspection(DPI) technologies can and are abused. I live in the UK where there is little choice of of who you have as broadband supplier. If carriers in the UK are allowed to use DPI technologies to favour their own services over comparable services on the web there is a real risk of strangling the competition.

    Overtime in the USA there will be an increasing consolidation of carriers, especially in an economic downturn. The danger to entrepreneurial businesses may not be as clear and present as it is in UK, but it should not be ignored.

    There are of course other issues raised by DPI being used by carriers. Commercially sensitive and personal data is also part of the content of internet traffic and carriers should not be allowed to access it. The truth is that you can’t know what is commercially sensitive or personal data without inspecting and analysing the content of traffic and simply put that is wire tapping. Carriers should have no right to inspect packet content using DPI or anything else, unless in compliance with a court order.

    Share
  6. Just want to push back on a couple things:

    1) “It neglects to cover the use of DPI for Internet threat monitoring and other more beneficial uses of the technology.”
    2) “…blaming of the DPI technology rather than the carriers and how they are using it.”

    Page 3: “The first DPI devices were used for manual troubleshooting of network problems and to block viruses, worms and Denial of Service attacks. ”
    Page 10: “DPI technology itself need not be anti-consumer if it is used to resolve congestion or security problems without harmful discrimination.”
    Page 13: “Network providers can and will use DPI technology to improve their profits at the expense of their customers.”
    Page 13: “Yes, DPI can help alleviate problems of congestion in a network, thus improving the user experience. But the same DPI technology – the same electronics equipment, in fact – also allows providers to monitor and monetize every use of the Internet”
    Page 14, the last 2 sentences of the paper: “DPI now offers capabilities far beyond simply protecting Internet users from harm, and the service providers purchasing and installing DPI equipment are well aware of these possibilities. If service providers flip the switch and turn on these control mechanisms, it might mean the end of the Internet as we know it.”

    Avid’s comment is very good: “I don’t grasp the idea that carriers can make money by adding new revenue streams as a bad thing. The implication is that we all have to pour in our investments and expect no return on investment.”

    This is a legitimate source of disagreement about what the future of the Internet should be – whether it should be an open pipe to other Internet users (what it has been in the past, and what has arguably led to the value of the Internet, and certainly to the Internet “as we know it”), or whether the Internet should be converted into a range of differently-priced and differently-offered services that vary from carrier to carrier (something that ultimately will look more like cable television). The report favors the former (strongly), but the objective is not to push that view of the Internet as much as to illustrate that marketing of DPI, and modern use of DPI by carriers, is about trying to turn the Internet into the latter.

    Share
  7. The carriers aren’t working in a vacuum. The carriers depend on sound products being offered by network vendors. The carriers depend on network engineers who understand and defend the open architecture and standards of the net. Finally, the carriers depend on a legal framework and enforcement of existing policy and laws guarding freedom of choice and personal privacy. DPI has been an appropriate choice open to private company networks for years, but is wholly inconsistent for an Internet where privacy, freedom and a level playing field are principal features.

    Share
  8. Jerry Fleckhiemer Friday, March 20, 2009

    First and foremost there are privacy issues involved with DPI equipment in anyone’s network. Now that it is here, regulation or policing of the police needs to be developed. Personally, I don’t see any purpose of DPI like I don’t see the purpose of a handgun. To define DPI in the context of an open network is moronic. These two topics should be debated separately in which nullifies the platform for DPI. You can have an open network in the context of discussing the open internet. But, you can’t have an open network in the context of discussing DPI. Inherently, DPI inspects or interrogates the packets to determine the treatment if used properly or as defined by every carrier using it.

    Carriers want to be “gatekeepers” for their customers, protecting us from all of the malfeasants of the open internet. Whooopppeee, I am on the internet and I am protected from viruses and malicious attacks by bad people. Try a little self determination and awareness and there would be no need for your “gatekeeper”. Why do we need protection when natural awareness naturally protects us? The ignorant do need protection for those looking to use them as fodder or as a stepping stone. The ignorant should use the internet if they are afraid of it. If the water is hot, the smart thing to do is don’t jump in the tub. The cooling process is you going out and learning about what you are about to jump into. American’s and their education system, unfortunately, I was a teacher.

    This aspect of the gatekeeper is very provocative because they don’t have your interest in mind, but there bottom line. So, if they are keeping the keys to YOUR gate and they have no interest in your privacy, they will hand your keys over to anyone who they feel has the “authority” to your information, regardless any true prospective of authority.

    Share
  9. There is so much here that is wrong I almost don’t know where to start…

    First, do not expect broadband operators to invest capital in order to expand capacity and availability without a corresponding method to increase revenue. No business would (or should). Even the rocket scientists at Freepress probably look askance at investing personal funds unless they expect some level of return.

    Second, there are few regulatory obstacles to competition. I live in an area blanketed by AT&T and Cox. If a new entrant wants to overbuild my neighborhood with fiber or fixed wireless they are free to do so. The problem is that no one (not even the scholars at Freepress) would give them the money to do so because of the capital intensiveness and the lack of a return. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that unbundling the physical plant would spur competition. We tried that in 1997 and the results were disastrous.

    Finally, we should be more specific what we mean when we talk about the “open internet” or “net neutrality.” It is the layer three connection between the subscriber gateway and the ISP edge router that we want to be unfettered. No blocking, throttling, injecting reset packets, etc. Most, even service providers, can agree on that principal and we have in place already the tools required to punish bad actors. However, that does not mean that the broadband pipe cannot also be doing other things in addition to the best-effort high-speed internet (HSI) connection. Connections specifically engineered for video, for example, can share the broadband pipe without impinging on HSI bandwidth. In this way, and maybe only in this way, can we have our cake and eat it too—best effort, open and unfettered internet access coupled with fee-based services that pay for the infrastructure.

    Share
    1. Kevin

      good points and of course since you sell the DPI equipment well not surprising at all. On FreePress you are making valid points etc., nevertheless, i think there are bigger issues with the over network architecture of the incumbents. Funny how ISPs like Free (in France) don’t have to resort to such tactics. Lastly, about 1996 Telecom Act and unbundling — it was a poorly written act which loaded the game in favor of local operators and made the mockery of unbundling. Inherited regional monopoly has become semi-nation monopoly (duoply if you may).

      that said, you point about “open internet” and “net neutrality” is spot on.

      Share
  10. [...] to track surfing habits in order to serve up ads, and Comcast in order to block P2P packets. The technology isn’t evil, but its implementations have been questionable. [...]

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post