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Sunday, September 29 • 9:35am - 10:10am
Deep Packet Inspection: Effects of Regulation on its Deployment by Internet Providers

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Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) has been the subject of heated policy debates. This paper examines theoretically and empirically patterns of DPI adoption during the past five years. A range of uses can drive ISPs to deploy DPI in their networks. What is less understood is the extent to which government policies encourage or discourage DPI adoption by ISPs. We explore those forces and find evidence that regulatory frameworks exert considerable influence on the adoption of DPI.

Method: Our conceptual framework looks at DPI as a technology with potential costs and benefits for an ISP. The decision to deploy DPI is therefore modelled as a technology investment decision within national legal and institutional conditions. Our empirical analysis is based on a crowd-sourced online test named Glasnost, hosted by the Measurement Lab. Users run Glasnost to detect whether their ISP uses DPI to throttle BitTorrent traffic. We built a dataset based on around 250,000 tests completed within a five year period (2008-2012). For each test, we looked at the IP addresses of the users, identifying their country, and the ISP that connects them to the Internet. We then calculated a score for the extent to which DPI was used at the level of each ISP and in each country. This method resulted in DPI-scores for 75 countries and 288 broadband ISPs, allowing us to describe patterns of adoption. To test conjectures derived from our conceptual analyses, we added variables reflecting the market and governmental forces relevant to the countries and ISPs. These were drawn from a variety of sources, including the ITU, Worldbank, TeleGeography, Privacy-International, and the OpenNet-Initiative. Because not all information was available for all 75 countries we method resulted in an unbalanced panel.

Preliminary Findings: An examination of the data revealed that in 2011, around half of all broadband operators worldwide made noticeable or pervasive use of DPI for bandwidth management purposes. This figure is high in light of the public and regulatory unease over the use of these technologies. It suggests that from the ISPs? perspective, the costs of DPI are often outweighed by its benefits, most notably cost savings on bandwidth and postponing infrastructure expansion. Using an integrated modelling approach, we hypothesized that all other things being equal, stringent privacy regulation would discourage the use of DPI, whereas strong social censorship policies would encourage it. There are also countries where neither is present. In those cases, we hypothesized that the ISPs own incentives dominate adoption. The countries for which we had the relevant data were grouped across two axes: privacy protection (PP) and online social censorship (SC). This resulted in three groupings: countries with a hands-off approach to the telecom market (low PP, low SC), a group with a push towards privacy (high PP, low SC), and those with a push towards censorship (low PP, high SC). We then looked at the relationship between groups and country-level DPI scores, where higher scores indicate more use of DPI.

Our finding is that ISPs in the hands-off group score on average 0.19, the privacy-push group 0.11, and the censorship-push group 0.36. These differences are statistically significant and in line with our theoretical expectations. Another interesting angle is opened by looking at the ISP-level scores. The country-level score is weighted based on ISP size; if we use the unweighted scores, the group averages change to 0.17, 0.15 and 0.32 respectively. The differences are in the same direction, but become less profound. This suggests that that the regulatory frameworks of privacy and censorship have stronger impact on the decisions of the larger ISPs. Presumably, they are under higher scrutiny. We conclude the paper with a discussion of policy implications.

avatar for Johannes Bauer

Johannes Bauer

Professor, 38-6005984
I am a researcher, writer and teacher interested in the digital economy, its governance as a complex adaptive systems, and the effects of the wide diffusion of mediated communications on society. Much of my work is international and comparative in scope. Therefore, I have great interest... Read More →
avatar for Milton Mueller

Milton Mueller

Professor, Goergia Institute of Technology
Milton Mueller is the O.G. of I.G. He directs the Internet Governance Project, a center for research and engagement on global Internet governance. Mueller's books Will the Internet Fragment? (Polity, 2017), Networks and States: The global politics of Internet governance (MIT Press... Read More →

Sunday September 29, 2013 9:35am - 10:10am PDT
GMUSL Room 120

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