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Sunday, September 29 • 10:10am - 10:45am
Reporting Policies of ISPs: Do General Terms and Conditions (GTCs) Match with the Reality?

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Technological progress allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to carry out network management practices in a discriminatory fashion without being detected by their customers. This creates the risk that providers will exploit this information asymmetry in an opportunistic way by blocking and/or throttling certain services and applications without informing their customers in an adequate fashion that their Internet service is a restricted one.

Against this background, empirical studies based on M-Lab data (Glasnost Test) provide evidence that some ISPs in the countries examined (Germany, France, Italy and USA) deployed DPI mechanisms for the given time period in order to discriminate P2P BitTorrent applications. The investigations showed that some large ISPs were deliberately throttling or in some cases completely blocking BitTorrent traffic (even at times of low network loads). Bearing this in mind and also the fact that an average Internet user is usually not aware of the common network management practices on the part of her/his ISP, the paper at hand examines the extent to which reporting policies ? as implemented through the General Terms and Conditions (GTCs) ? of selected European and US ISPs (both cable and telecom service providers) match with the display of discriminatory behavior by the very same ISPs. Hence, we intend to answer the questions whether European and US access providers inform their subscribers about the on-going (adverse) network management operations and whether there exists sufficient transparency regarding network management practices in Europe and USA.

Moreover, in order to analyze GTCs, signed between ISPs and their subscribers, we apply a cross-provider/cross-country approach. By conducting such an approach, we are seeking to find any similarities/differences in the reporting policies amongst ISPs in general but also between cable and DSL-based operators on a national or international level ? especially between Europe and USA concerning their opposite regulatory situations in terms of net neutrality.

The study represents a semi-quantitative research concept to the extent that we investigate the GTCs of the selected providers based on some general assumptions and parameters previously defined, and compare these findings with the results of the empirical results gathered from previous research projects.

Due to the fact that GTCs represent a fundamental contractual agreement between an ISP and its subscribers by defining all the duties and obligations both parties have to adhere to, they are also an important factor upon which end-users can make an informed decision concerning a particular ISP. Hence, having a precise and accurate reporting system clearly stating all the bandwidth management activities a specific ISP conducts, will certainly improve both transparency and competition on the Internet access markets. This also aligns with the general EU and US approach towards net neutrality which stipulates a promotion of competition and transparency in the field of telecommunications.

First results show that no significant evidence of contractual transparency regarding the actual adverse deployment of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and similar traffic management tools by the ISPs could be found. This supports our plea to promote transparency regarding ISPs´ traffic management by ?forcing? providers to make more precise statements in terms of their general business practices.

For policy makers, this is yet another factor that needs to be taken into account regarding potential regulatory interventions in this field and an explicit network neutrality stipulation may be required in order to safeguard the openness of the Internet and protect consumers´ basic rights of information and well-grounded choice.

Sunday September 29, 2013 10:10am - 10:45am PDT
GMUSL Room 120

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