EFF Releases ISP Throttling Detector

The potential throttling by ISPs of certain types of Internet traffic has been in the news quite a bit lately. In fact, this last Friday, the FCC issued a ruling (PDF) against Comcast, stating that "Comcast's network management practices discriminate among applications rather than treating all equally and are inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet."

Whether the FCC actually has the authority to take action against Comcast in this matter is still under debate, but the core of the FCC's argument is that Comcast engaged in "discriminatory network management practices" by monitoring and selectively blocking users' access to peer-to-peer (P2P) connections. The FCC's position is that it is its role to protect "consumers' access to lawful content." (Interestingly, the FCC states that "blocking unlawful content such as child pornography or pirated music of video would be consistent with federal Internet policy.") It also needs to be stated that Comcast is not the only ISP that has used such network management practices; but as one of the largest ISP in the U.S., Comcast is an easy target--and perhaps one that the FCC is looking to make an example of so that other ISPs take notice.

Credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation

One of the players in this drama has been the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which conducted tests that eventually helped out Comcast's network management practices. Now the EFF is taking another step forward with its net neutrality advocacy by releasing its own tool to the public for detecting if ISPs are throttling traffic. The new tool is called Switzerland, and is built upon a version of another EFF-developed ISP throttling detector it developed last year, pcapdiff.

Before you get your hopes too high and think that you can just download the app and hit the "test" button, the current version of Switzerland (which the EFF calls an "alpha release") runs only from the command line and might not even run on all operating systems. Right now, only those familiar with installing and compiling Linux apps are likely to get the software running. As the EFF is releasing Switzerland as an open-source application, the EFF hopes that developers will make the application easier to use and run stable on more OSes, so as to be accessible to a much wider audience.

"Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Switzerland is an open source software tool for testing the integrity of data communications over networks, ISPs and firewalls. It will spot IP packets which are forged or modified between clients, inform you, and give you copies of the modified packets...

Switzerland is designed to detect the modification or injection of packets of data traveling over IP networks, including those introduced by anti-P2P tools from Sandvine (widely believed to be used by Comcast to interfere with BitTorrent uploads) and AudibleMagic, advertising injection systems like FairEagle, censorship systems like the Great Firewall of China, and other systems that we don't know about yet."

By putting this tool into the hands of the public, the EFF hopes to educate Internet users about what it considers a threat to people's "freedom," and to enable folks to "gather evidence about ISP interference practices." The EFF is a proponent of net neutrality and feels that the more voices added to the call for net neutrality, the more likely it will actually happen (be it by sanctions, legislation, or self-regulation).
nECrO1967 6 years ago
I'm going to state up front that I do not use any P2P software. That being said I don't think an ISP has any right to throttle any users bandwidth. If a customer is downloading copyrighted material, that's between them and the owners of the copyrights.
I don't really think this about that though. This is all about Comcast saving money. The customers that use P2P simply make less money for Comcast in the form of higher operating costs per user. I'm sure Comcast would like us all to be like my Grandma and check e-mail once a day and Surf for about 1 hour a week, but Comcast has no right to decide what we do with our connections. We pay for an "unlimited" plan and that's just what it should be. Lastly How do they tell who is using P2P and who isn't? The only way is by looking at the bandwidth any particular customer is using. Well here's a wake up call for Comcast, There are other ways to use that kind of bandwidth and NOT be using P2P. Like Usenet. For these reasons I applaud the EFF for releasing this tool.
rapid1 6 years ago
I'd love to get my hands on that tool !
Redline 6 years ago
I think a lot of the throttling being done by ISPs is focused on not just P2P apps but more so VOIP (such as that offered by Vonage). Users are already paying for the high-speed Internet connection and they simply sign up for Vonage - which reduces their home phone bill. Now they get phone and high-speed Internet combined, Vonage makes a few bucks, but the ISP is still getting the same monthly amount they were before. In my opinion, the ISPs are jealous and want to get in on the action, and when they can't, they resort to throttling and measuring bandwidth usage in order to "penalize" heavy users. Those "penalties" are really not much more than usage taxes imposed by the ISPs to get their piece of the pie!
mazuki 6 years ago
i think a good question here is, after being forced to remove the block on LEGAL P2P downloading, how are they going to discern which is legal and which isn't?

it would have to be more invasive, of they would have to block it based on websites, which would be more illegal (unless i'm mistaken)
nECrO1967 6 years ago

Excellent points redline and Mazuki. Throttling VOIP users could be dangerous and illegal. Hopefully congress and the government will give the FCC some power in this matter. I wouldn't hold my breath. Comcast and the big ISPs buy.... err contribute a lot of money to powerfiul politicians.

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