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Strangled, but not dead

  • Net neutrality has been abolished in the US for several months, but courts could overturn the decision.

  • That the providers block certain services, customers can hardly prove.

  • Several US states have launched their own net neutrality laws.


You never die so completely. That applies at least to the net neutrality in the USA. In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to give free rein to ISPs in transit traffic. Net neutrality advocates warned that telecom companies would now create a two-tier network that would only be fully exploitable by the one paying the most. For eight months, the new rules apply. But the last word has not been spoken yet.

A few days ago, a federal appeals court in Washington is negotiating D.C. the question of whether the FCC justified the move well enough. Regardless of the judgment expected in early summer, the case could move to the Supreme Court. And in Washington, the eyes are already on the presidential election of 2020. A Democratic incumbent could once again occupy the FCC so that net neutrality holds again.

Meanwhile, customers have a problem: they can not unambiguously find out if and why their provider is throttling certain services. “If your Netflix is ​​slow, how likely is it that you can tell if the problem is at Netflix, your Internet service provider, or your technology,” US media scholar Amanda Lotz outlines the situation.

The FCC had announced that it would oblige the providers to be transparent. In practice, they need to put online a Traffic Guidelines document that is in the style of General Terms and Conditions. Logically, providers always reserve the right to limit their traffic. Whether they use them to stop botnets or a horde of excessive youtube watchers, only the companies themselves know.


Slower speeds

Significant evidence of intervention has now been found by a research group from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which has been investigating network traffic since 2014. In the meantime, it is relying on the help of 100,000 people who have been collecting data on video, audio and voice-over-IP services themselves since the beginning of 2018 with the app “Wehe”.

The principle: The system compares the speed of data traffic. Once it sends the data packets with identifying information such as the Youtube server address Googlevideo.com, then as a data salad. If a provider treats all data equally, the speed should not be significantly different.

Since net neutrality fell last summer, researchers are observing a development: “In the US, almost every mobile service provider has throttled a certain type of application, and that’s video streaming,” says David Choffnes, who authored the project study. The provider Sprint slowed according to measurements, the video calling service Skype. For comparison: Users in France did not have any special features in the Wehe measurements.


Regional initiatives and lively lobbying

At a request from three Democratic senators, the vendors justified themselves by “optimizing” all video services equally. They would only act on bandwidth availability.

In addition, they argue that a coherent analysis would also have to include the parties’ mobile phone contracts: throttling could also have been triggered by a customer exceeding his data volume.

Against a general “traffic jam” say that the reduced speeds were measured at various day and night times, replies Choffnes. In addition, just not all video services were affected, as would be expected in a volume throttling.

“They blamed the customers and the networks … all, just not themselves,” US Senator Ed Makes (Massachusetts) said in a statement. He and his two colleagues have asked the FCC to investigate. However, this is very industry-friendly under its spearhead appointed by President Donald Trump.

Twenty US states support the lawsuit against the abolition of net neutrality. A total of 30 have even initiated initiatives with which they want to create their own rules.

California’s flagship network neutrality law reveals the conflicts and limitations of such an initiative: the legal text removed the prohibition on “zero rating”, ie the use of selected applications such as Spotify or Netflix without any credit to the data volume. Those services can thus buy privileged access to the customer.
The Ministry of Justice sues within minutes

To mitigate the law, the telecoms industry, which is also one of the major policy donors in California, has activated several dozen lobbyists and put politicians under pressure with social media campaigns. Seniors were reportedly receiving automatic calls predicting higher bills in case of adoption.

When the then governor finally signed the milder law in October, a few minutes later, the lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice denied states jurisdiction. Due to the uncertain legal situation, the net neutrality in California remains in force for the time being.

In Germany, the Telekom because of their offer “Stream On” trouble with the Federal Network Agency. But as controversial as in Europe offers such as “zero rating” in the US were never anyway: Already the tilted network neutrality rules of the Obama era had put the practice only under scrutiny reservation in individual cases. Also, the rates at which mobile customers for extra money guaranteed HD videos are delivered, were introduced before the Trump era and not counted as a violation of net neutrality.

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