A New Challenge to Net Neutrality

The media activist group Free Press has a new release (3/19/09) warning of the latest threat to free speech online: “a technology known as Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) that offers Internet service providers unprecedented control over Internet content.” DPI, says Free Press, “could spell disaster for the free market online,” AKA Net Neutrality. According to Free Press, DPI is designed to “monitor, control and ultimately charge subscribers for every use of an Internet connection,” because it “‘enables service providers to project potential revenues and profits from setting up a tiered service infrastructure’ and allows providers to ‘reduce the performance of applications with negative influence on revenues.'” All of which adds up to “a major threat to the open Internet”:

DPI technology has played a central role in recent controversies surrounding Net Neutrality and online privacy. When Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, was caught secretly using DPI to block peer-to-peer applications, it was met with overwhelming public opposition and ultimately ordered by the Federal Communications Commission to stop the practice. And after advertising startup NebuAd, in partnership with several ISPs, used DPI to secretly monitor users’ Internet traffic and insert unwanted advertising, the company was investigated by Congress, dropped by its ISP partners and forced to abandon the business model.

Cox Communications is the latest ISP to receive public scrutiny for its use of DPI technology. The cable company is conducting trials of a new system that uses DPI to prioritize traffic from online applications it arbitrarily deems “time sensitive.” Cox has a history of DPI usage: Research by the Max Planck Institute in Germany last May indicated that Cox was engaging in the same blocking practice as Comcast.

Read the full Free Press paper, “Deep Packet Inspection: The End of the Internet as We Know It?“, a co-author of which states that “the Cox trial, coupled with other DPI abuses, is setting the alarming precedent that Internet service providers can pick winners and losers online.”