ISP Traffic Management: Will Innovation or Regulation Ensure Fairness?
Two North American telecommunications regulatory agencies are proactively entering into some gritty details of network management. The results might announce a new era of strengthened regulatory capabilities to enforce Net neutrality. Concurrently, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has recently convened two Birds of a Feather (BoF) groups to address traffic-management complexities exemplified by rising peer-to-peer (P2P ) application use that some ISPs claim is choking off bandwidth for other users.
The new traffic-management discussion centers on how far Internet service providers (ISPs) can go in limiting customers’ bandwidth and how much information they must disclose about how they’re doing it. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission found that cable ISP Comcast illegally used deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to throttle application-specific P2P packets. Specifically, Comcast separated BitTorrent P2P packets from the message transport, then used TCP reset packets to make the P2P packets look as though they were coming from other end users’ computers.
Farther north, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/welcome.htm) has also been investigating complaints by the Canadian Association of Internet Providers. The CAIP claims that telecommunications giant Bell Canada has been throttling retail P2P traffic as it traverses the large carrier’s backbones—transport for which the small ISPs have paid Bell without expecting proactive degradation.
"We are currently addressing the traffic-shaping issue in the context of Bell’s wholesale broadband access tariff,” CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein said in an address at the Canadian Telecom Summit in June (www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/NEWS/SPEECHES/2008/s080617.htm). “But this particular dispute is just the tip of the iceberg. Under the heading of ‘Net neutrality’ lies a whole range of questions affecting consumers and service providers. Fundamental issues of technology, economics, competition, access, and freedom of speech are all involved."
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