Over the years, there’s been talk on and off about a technology called Deep Packet Inspection, but apart from sounding like the title of sysadmin-themed porn, why should you care?
Technically, DPI is what happens when an ISP looks past the headers, or metadata, of the packets that carry information all around the Internet and into the content. On its own, looking doesn’t hamper the Internet, but only that packet header is required by the machines that need to pump the cats through the series of tubes.
Note: This column originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of the magazine.
At this point in the game, Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings puts little effort into hiding his disdain for Comcast, the largest cable operator and Internet service provider in the U.S. He's complained about Comcast before and the favoritism the ISP gives its own Xfinity Streampix service over Netflix, and he decided to dole out a mini rant over the weekend using Facebook as his soapbox.
After hemming and hawing (and probably a heck of a lot of backroom dealings), the FCC finally passed a basic – if very limited – version of net neutrality late last December. As could be expected, net neutrality opponents began frothing at the mouth and threatening to sue the day the law went into effect (which happens in 12 days, actually). This week, Senators are voting on S.J. Res. 6, a simply worded resolution that aims to defang the new net neutrality rules. Today, the White House released a statement saying, basically, “Don’t even try it.”
Sorry, optimists. If the net neutrality law working its way through Washington ends up getting approved, that doesn't necessarily mean that ISPs will stop traffic-shaping on their networks. Even the government realizes that; the FCC chairman created the "Open Internet Challenge" earlier this year with the sole purpose of creating apps that detect naughty neutrality-hating ISPs red-handed. That competition's been a bust, but researcher Dan Kaminsky's announced a free new app at the Black Hat conference in Vegas that promises to do the same thing. He calls it N00ter, and that makes us smile.
Net neutrality's motto is simple: Hey ISPs, don't tell us what to do with the Internet. Comcast's P2P traffic-shaping fiasco kicked the movement into high gear a few years back. The net neutrality dream took one step closer to becoming reality yesterday, as the FCC officially registered its hotly debated rules with the Office of Management and Budget – a vital step towards getting the new law on the books. There's still a hard road ahead, however; pissed-off companies are expected to throw legal challenge after legal challenge at the proposed regulations.
Twenty years ago, Tim Berners-Lee was instrumental in the invention of the Internet. In a recent speech at MIT, Berners-Lee has called access to the web that he created a "human right". The tech pioneer even went so far as to compare web access to access to water. His bottom line, to thrive in a competitive world, web access it a must.
Several content companies have experimented with “Pay-Walls”, but the ongoing NYT implementation reminds us why they never seem to work, they are just too bloody complicated. According to PR representatives the previously announced five article limit which was to be applied to “Google Only” referrals, are now instead being extended to all search engines. The company attempted to explain the communication confusion over current policies by admitting that some limitations are currently being tested in Canada, and may be different than what they eventually end up implementing.
Google caught a fair bit of flack for siding with the wireless carriers in the net neutrally debate, but in exchange they seem to be living up to their commitments to protecting the wired Internet as promised. The search giant confirmed today that they have awarded a $1 million contract to Georgia Tech researchers to help develop simple tools to aid in the detection of Internet throttling, government censorship, and other “transparency” problems.
Hit the jump to learn more about the project’s goals.
ISPs are often issuing dire warnings about the unsustainable course the Internet is currently on. They would have us believe they can't afford to make the necessary network improvements. In many places around the world, these companies are making nose about changes in billing and network management that they'd like to see. For the good of all of us, of course. According to ArsTechnica, four major European ISPs have commissioned a study to "A Viable Future Model for the Internet." As you might expect, this involves pretty much everyone giving the ISPs more money.
The study calls out four changes that need to happen for ISPs to remain sufficiently flush with cash to keep us online. First, consumers have to pay more per month. Specifically, about $8 (€6) per month more. Second, large internet companies should pay ISPs about $0.07 (€0.05) per gigabyte of traffic delivered to their network. For traffic delivered to mobile networks, that charge would be an astounding $4 (€3.03) per gigabyte. Next, the ISPs will need to be allowed to do paid traffic shaping for service like Netflix. A site that offloads lots of data would basically be forced to pay so their bits don't get held up. Finally, ISPs should set up more "managed services" that operate from within the ISPs network.
The report is available here (PDF), and it is worth a look. We’re not sure about this supposed unsustainable level of economic pressure on ISPs. After all, one American ISP has enough money to just buy NBC-Universal. The entire thing seems tailor made to fit into the ISPs' vision of the future, and that's really its value here. This report lets us know how these businesses think. This is a look into the intentions of your ISP.
Video streaming and disc rental service Netflix has come out swinging with an analysis of various ISPs' ability to reliably stream Netflix video, Cnet reports. When all the numbers were in, smallish ISP Charter Communication was the winner, barely edging out Comcast, Time Warner, and Cox. Internet providers like AT&T and Verizon were in the middle of the back, and wireless ISP Clearwire was dead last.
This report seems aimed at making ISPs nervous. Netflix has a product that many people love, and the idea that their ISP isn't giving them the best Netflix experience could sway consumers. It only makes sense with the wrangling over bandwidth access fees. Some ISPs have made it known they don't like having to pay to pass all the Netflix data to their customers. Netflix seems to be saying Don't mess with us. We're watching.
The data was acquired by averaging the sustained download rates of each ISP across their entire footprint for a three month period. The newer DOCSIS 3 cable internet connections likely helped cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner to boost their scores here. Companies that rely mainly on DSL didn't really have a chance. How well does your ISP handle that Netflix stream?