Thursday, 2 November 2017

Net Neutrality

I am hopefully doing a short piece on this on Saturday on TalkRadio, but my blog gives me a chance to go in to a bit more details.



I have mentioned this before, but now I know a lot more, and I had not fully appreciate that this is law, now. It has been since April 2016, and OFCOM were given the responsibility for enforcing it in June 2016. The law is directly from EU regulation so does not need to be transcribed in to UK law to apply. That also means it may "vanish" when we leave the EU - we have yet to see.

The key part is this: "Providers of internet access services shall treat all traffic equally, when providing internet access services, without discrimination, restriction or interference, and irrespective of the sender and receiver, the content accessed or distributed, the applications or services used or provided, or the terminal equipment used."

There are a handful of caveats, such as complying with a court order or law to block something, or reasonable and necessary traffic management measures. So, for example, we sort of prioritise smaller packets when a link is full to a customer so that services like DNS and VoIP which (unlike TCP) do not easily re-transmit can work well on a full link. This is the sort of thing we can do, and customers actually want. That said, we even allow control of that with settings on our control pages.

But what is this all in aid of? Why have these rules?

The problems are mostly theoretical, in that the worst case scenario is that you have to pick ISP based on which services you want and then have to buy specific packages for different services. One ISP could favour a particular streaming media company and make all the rest slow or block them even. Or they could make access to one service "unmetered" and charge for access to another. All of this counts as "discrimination", or "restriction", or "interference" respective of the sender or receiver.

Basically, that would be bad - a bit like having to choose your electricity provider depending on which brand of TV you use.

Initially when this all came out I was "wow, IPv6 will be mandatory now" and was shot down by people pointing out the guidelines say an ISP is still providing an Internet Access Service if they allow access to "virtually all" end points. The guidelines have one paragraph on this saying they consider an IPv4 only ISP is doing so. But the guidelines do not cover the fact that such an ISP is discriminating such traffic and effectively blocking access to IPv6 only web sites, a separate issue, and, in my view, a break of the regulations. At present the blocked sites are few and far between, or possibly mostly Chinese, but as time goes on it will be more and more of the Internet. At some point this has to count.

I tried to explain this all to someone recently, and they quite sensibly could not see why ISPs would do this, but then the next day Vodafone launched this... "The first big change is the introduction of Vodafone’s new Passes for Pay Monthly subscribers, which means you pay a set fee and then can enjoy “endless” data usage of certain specific apps on your Smartphone (e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Spotify and Viber etc.).". They are not alone as an ISP in Portugal is doing similar.

The key bit there is "specific apps". Note "applications" in the very wording of the regulation! I.e. they are "discriminating" which things will be free to use as much as you like, and which will not be - clearly a blatant breach of the net neutrality regulation that has been in place for over a year!

It seems to me that differential pricing based on sender or receiver or application is exactly the sort of thing that net neutrality is there to stop. It also impedes new entrants to the market that somehow have to get on Vodafone's list for specific packages (possibly even for a fee?).

The real test now is whether OFCOM have the teeth to do anything about it? They have the power, but do they care?

P.S. Thank you Vodafone for launching this now so as to highlight why we need net neutrality - now do the right thing and scrap it so you comply with the law please.

26 comments:

  1. Other mobile ISPs have been doing this for a while. Virgin Mobile offer free WhatsApp IM and Twitter. They get around the net neutrality rules because it's not priority based, and if you use up all of your allowance browsing other stuff then you can no longer access the free sites either. So the traffic is treated equally, and not available when others are blocked, but it just doesn't contribute towards your usage

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    1. It is not down to "priority" in the wording of the regulation, it is "discrimination" (or "restriction" or "interference"). Pricing discrimination is still discrimination.

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    2. Devil's advocate though, if pricing discrimination is still discrimination, then why are usage tiers in telecoms still a thing? Should everyone be entitled to the fastest that their line allows for the same price? What about usage caps?

      Would appear that your points were raised at the time but voted down http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34649067

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    3. But charging for usage or having a quota is not discrimination if it is the same basis regardless of application or sender or receiver, i.e. £x/GB or some such regardless. I am not sure I understand the BBC article - the regulations are clear that they must not discriminate, and zero rating some traffic is very clear discrimination.

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    4. Asking this because I genuinely don't know the answer, but when someone runs out of quota on their line, do you still permit access to AA pages for billing / support? Do AA pages count towards the used quota?

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    5. You get to a special page just allowing top up. Yes AA pages are not otherwise treated in any special way.

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  2. You mention that not providing IPv6 is effectively discrimination. Last time I checked AAISP wasn't offering access to IPv4 or IPv6 multicast sites.

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    1. Now that is an interesting point. I may have to look in to that one more.

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    2. Multicast itself is basically a LAN protocol, so not relevant. The protocols that are needed to convey such packets over an ISP work in various ways, and I suspect some could work, but I have to read up more.

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    3. I used to work for a company that sold a system that distributed digital TV over ADSL using IP multicast. Kingston Communications used it in Hull for their TV offering for a number of years, and Sasktel used it in Canada as a rival to the local cable TV company. Sasktel had 40,000 TV subcribers when I left, we'd had to do work to get the system to scale up to bigger numbers but none of that was to do whith the IP multicast. We also distributed the EPG data over multicast.

      So it is wrong to say that IP multicast is a LAN only protocol. It can work well enough over ADSL and an ISP for 40,000 people to watch TV streaming at several megabits per second.

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    4. Pretty much every ISP in Germany offers IPTV using multicast and have done since the early days of xDSL....

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    5. TV services in the UK distributed via the BT TV Connect platform (eg TV services offered by BT Retail, Plusnet, Talk Talk etc) are also multicast.

      http://www.sinet.bt.com/sinet/sins/pdf/511v1p9.pdf

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    6. Indeed, they work in a different way not using L2TP. I’ll take another look anyway. The actual multicast packets need support of modes that create the distribution tree.

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    7. The main thing required I believe is IGMPv2 to support the claims and releases to receive particular multicast addresses. All the routers and switches have to support this. I don't believe IP multicast has anything to do with L2TP.

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    8. BT's multicast "injection" in to ISP tails does, AFAIK, which is why we could not use it for BT TV stuff. I am surprised multicast at a top level is not written to allow the distribution tree to avoid needing intermediate nodes to understand it. That would mean ISP support becomes a mere optimisation rather than a re-work of whole network.

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    9. L2TP tends to get in the way, since each customer connection becomes an opaque tunnel - RFC4045 was intended to address that by adding multicast support on L2TP, but BT would probably rather build a separate (chargeable!) "product" instead - they've had an obsession with being big video players as far back as dialup days...

      Not quite sure how an intermediate node could distribute the data efficiently without understanding what it's doing, though?

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  3. Many years ago, Three used to do "free Skype calls" (so presumably didn't bill you for the data they used). I think this is long since dead and they now treat all data equally.

    But I think this is going to need a lot of care to explain to the public - people are going to see "free Facebook" as a benefit and it's hard to argue against this point of view. The main thing is that this gives Facebook an unfair advantage over a competitor (and if Facebook were involved in their preferential treatment, such as paying off the ISP, there would probably be some serious questions asked about them abusing their market position to keep competitors out).

    Legislation aside, this isn't much different to Tesco doing "50% off Heinz soup" without also offering "50% off Campbell's soup" at the same time - I'd like to see someone convince the public that this is a terrible idea.

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    1. "Three used to do "free Skype calls" (so presumably didn't bill you for the data they used)."

      Three's implementation didn't actually use data at all - your "Skype" voice calls were actually placed to a regular PSTN endpoint on Three's network, which was then relayed into Skype's systems on that end. That integration was also how they were able to restrict the Skype service in various ways, including no access to SkypeOut (to avoid undercutting their own call services).

      Three don't treat all data equally, either - they're zero-rating Netflix, Soundcloud and others as part of their new "Go Binge" offering: http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2017/07/threes-binge-tariff-good-for-you-bad-for-society/

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  4. Does this mean that plans that prohibit tethering for mobile data might fall foul of this?

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    1. IMHO, yes, on the basis of "terminal equipment". BEREC agrees, in paragraph 27 of its guidance.

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    2. Yep. Off to try tethering my SIP2SIM SIM in my iPhone over the weekend!

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    3. I was waiting for that. No idea where we stand. We are not blocking tethering. Manx say they are not, I think they are blaming Apple. Apple are customers choice of CPE. It may be worth us trying Manx again though on basis of the regulation (though they are not in EU).

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  5. Does this mean that server and pure access providers who 0 rate traffic to other internet destinations on their network but charge for data sent to addresses outside of their AS are breaking the law (e.g AWS, Google Cloud, ect).

    If not, how about ISPs that have private agreements to host Netflix or Google Caches deep in thier network. Surely they are now obligated to now offer everybody the ability to put a cache in their network for free, if they didn't it would be treating netflix differently - yes?

    In essence, this means to have any congestion whatsoever on any of your external ports on your edge router is actually illegal - correct? If my LINX port was congested but my transit port wasn't but the LINX learned route is the selected path then illegal.

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    1. Thanks anon, I was going to make the same point. Where are "traffic" and "services" defined? We could talk about these words in respect of many of the standard layers. Treating them all equally across the entire stack isn't feasible or sensible.

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