Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Net neutrality and IPv6

We have new net neutrality laws that impact the way ISPs provide service. These are EU regulations.

First off a quick point about net neutrality. The basic idea is that an Internet provider (ISP) should treat different types of traffic and destinations without discrimination. This may seem obvious. It is to us as at A&A, but it is to help ensure we do not go down a slippery slope where you need to be with a particular ISP to get access to certain services or TV channels or web sites, etc. The ISP should provide access to everything in the same way. It may seem far fetched but this has already happened in the US where certain streaming services were heavily restricted via certain ISPs. So in principle net neutrality is a good thing for consumers. The devil is in the details.

Now, one of the things I thought this would help is the deployment of IPv6.

So, again a bit of a summary. Internet Protocol (IP) is how computers communicate on the Internet. The current version, which is version 6, (IPv6) has been around for a couple of decades now, and has started to be used more and more. It is used by big players like FaceBook and Google. But some ISPs are slow to provide access to the current version, IPv6, only offering the older version IPv4. The old version will be with us for a long time still, so you need both. Fortunately it is pretty much all "behind the scenes" for most people, but you do need an ISP that handles IPv6 to make proper use of IPv6.

One of the things that is outlawed by these new regulations is offering an Internet Access Service which does not provide access to the whole Internet. This is good in principle. There is an exception for legally mandated blocks, but not optional ones that the ISP simply chooses to impose.

So, if an ISP decided not to allow access to a specific chunk of the Internet, say China, or a specific type of protocol, say Voice over IP (VoIP), then they would be in breach of these new regulations.

My immediate thoughts when I heard of net neutrality some years ago was that it finally means all ISPs have to offer IPv6. It is not fundamentally difficult to do - and for some it is a long process, but IPv6 has been around a long time now. AAISP have offered it to customers since 2002. We hear BT will roll it out by end of this year.

After all, choosing to exclude a whole chunk of the Internet (all of the IPv6 addresses) would not be treating everyone equally.

Indeed, informal discussions with my lawyer friends would seem to suggest that if an ISP chose not to allow access to a block of the IPv4 address space (e.g. China), then they would be in breach. He even thinks that if an ISP offers IPv6 as well, but chose not to route to a part of that IP address space, they would be in breach too.

However, the guidance notes, not specifically the regulations, says, rather bizarrely, that an ISP offering IPv4 only and not IPv6 would not be considered in breach of the regulations.

To me that is batshit insane. In the example above, an ISP offering IPv6 but blocking all the IPv6 in China, would be in breach. So they could become compliant by blocking more, by blocking all the IPv6 everywhere else as well. That shows how nonsensical the guidance is.

Why on earth have EU regulators pulled their punches here and not simply said that failing to route the CURRENT Internet Protocol version is simply failing to provide an Internet Access Service?

At the end of the day, it is OFCOM that enforces this, and they should consider the guidelines. Maybe OFCOM will have to guts to say no, IPv6 is needed to be an Internet Access Service.


  1. I unfortunately would have to say that someone offering IPv4 only would indeed be offering an "Internet access service", just _a rubbish one_. I say this reluctantly. It's like car manufacturers: some make rubbish cars which are just cheap and nasty, but they are still cars.

    For whatever reason, some providers simply can't get the job done. For example, I did trial Zen, but one reason I dumped them in favour of AA was the lame excuses they kept maintaining about why they hadn't even managed to make a start on IPv6 implementation yet, year after year.

    1. Not quite as simple as that as not offering IPv6 means some parts of the Internet are not accessible. One simple example is www.loopsofzen.uk but there are others and will be more and more over time.

    2. Agreed about eg loopsofzen, which I was aware of. I think we merely differ on matters of terminology, on feelings about the applicability of words.

  2. I think it comes down to whether it's a result of an action or an inaction. ISPs that don't provide you with an IPv6 address aren't blocking it, it's just not available. I think that over time the rules will be changed so that IPv6 is a required protocol, but we're not at that stage yet (from a capabilities standpoint).

  3. As RevK points out this is about access, I interpret the EU rules as Adrian does that not routing via IPv4 or IPv6 would be a breach of those rules. As for Ofcom standing up to be counted on this - Don't hold your breath.

  4. Related to this - have you ever tried tackling any of the many sites that you can use to check if websites are up? I haven't found any that work for IPv6 sites.

    This is the sort of thing you get: http://www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com/www.loopsofzen.co.uk